Every few years, discussions about using straw as a building material, in bale form, come up again. Now, as our environmental challenges mount—from wildfires to hurricanes—straw bales seem to offer an answer to a good many of them. As we step into October, and the one-year anniversary of Northern California’s first wave of historic fires, it’s time to ask: Has the straw bale’s time finally come?
By MEA MCNEIL
Almost hidden on a funky old pier along San Francisco’s waterfront, Autodesk, a world leader in digital tools for makers, is running a prototype shop that seems more like a high-tech playground for grown-ups. In between contracts to make, say, a steel ship propeller with a massive 3-D printer, the company takes in sculptors, engineers, and architects who are pushing the boundaries of their own work. The effect of all this energy is a level of innovation that is expanding—and perhaps redefining—the meaning of craftsmanship.
By TODD OPPENHEIMER
While the fashion industry continues to produce more and more clothing made from synthetics, with all their harmful effects, we’ve ignored the wonders of wool. The material is natural, durable, and endlessly renewable; more important, its creators (the sheep) can help regenerate the world’s drying, fire-prone landscapes. Fortunately, a wool revival seems to be underway.
By JUDITH D. SCHWARTZ
As we inch closer to another summer, a tinkerer’s mind is likely to go looking for the chance (and the time) to build that rare, handmade item that he or she has always fantasized about. To inspire such glorious flights of fancy, last spring we created a guide—the first of its kind—to the most respected…
By NATALIE JONES
Gorgeous pens have always symbolized the art of writing at its finest—the quintessential combination of beauty, tradition, and skill. But did you ever think of the fountain pen as a tool of environmental consciousness? Our author certainly does. Considering the fountain pen’s myriad varieties, and the powers of vintage pens in particular, he also shops very selectively, cleans his pens regularly, and searches for (and sometimes even makes) the perfect ink.
By TIM REDMOND
Most artisans struggle to pay the bills, hoping for a little good press along the way. Ann Morhauser started with all of those odds, and then some, in a tiny studio near Santa Cruz, California. Today she runs a nationally renowned business, with glassware featured in stores across the country—and in the Smithsonian. What was her secret?
By PEGGY TOWNSEND
In a corrugated tin shed that somehow survived California’s massive fires in Sonoma Valley, Gary Freeman labors to keep old VW Beetles and vans—the cars that defined the counterculture of the 1960s—chugging along. Some become great “daily drivers” for as little as $15,000; some get auctioned for more than $200,000. It’s all part of one man’s quest for automotive immortality.
By OWEN EDWARDS
Photography by ANDREW SULLIVAN
Jill Giordano makes women’s clothing in what might be called sustainable designs: coats, pants, and dresses made with fine fabrics in timeless styles, and in combinations that can be mixed and matched any number of ways. Welcome to the art of “system” dressing—with quality. The goal: Improve your look, save the planet, and save money.
By LAURA FRASER
Across the U.S., scores of schools and other programs offer courses and workshops in everything from boat-building to glass blowing to knife making. But no one has created an informed guide to all these courses—until now. If you’ve always wanted to become a better woodworker, make and smoke your own sausage, or fix your grandfather’s antique violin, here are detailed descriptions of the nine best programs we could find.
By NATALIE JONES
Photos courtesy of the schools