Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | It is such an honor to bring you today’s interview with India Flint, aka @prophet_of_bloom. India is an Australian-based natural dyer, fiber artist, visual artist, costumer, teacher and author, best known for creating the “ecoprint” dye technique. Her natural-dye methods lead to eco-friendly, plant-based, biodegradable and locally foraged color for cloth and yarn, allowing the maker or designer to reduce the toxic impact of synthetic dyes while also gaining traditional skills and connecting with the land through foraging, gardening, or even using food scraps like onion skins or carrot tops before they head to the compost.

I first came across India’s work when I started my fashion fast in 2013 — her books Second Skin and Eco Colour were instrumental in my natural dye experiments. Second Skin is also a great book for considering how to thoughtfully care for our clothes, including some thoughts on mending, repairing, enlivening and ultimately honoring our wardrobe. When I started focusing on using quality secondhand fibers like denim, linen, silk and wool in my wardrobe, natural dyeing and mending became instrumental ways of repairing, rejuvenating and otherwise adding meaning or connection to clothing I purchased secondhand.

But more than her natural dye recipes or techniques was the visceral impact of India’ work and her ethos — this hard to describe, palpable modification of the cloth and wool as if to receive not only the imprint of the dye object but also the imprint of her passion for the environment. There’s a confidence and complexity to her work that I find to be the mark of a lifelong process — the journey to the core of one’s individual aesthetic that can only really be defined as self-recognition and confidence. It’s as if the journey of experimentation and surrender to the process is as much about gaining intimacy with her materials and with the immediate environment as the resulting finished object.

Technically her work might best fall into categories of fiber art and natural dye, but her dye method results in printmaking and surface design while her work with choreographers, galleries, and publishers pushes it further into an interdisciplinary practice that defies genre. I categorize India as a leader in the Slow Fashion movement as much for her dedication to natural fibers and natural dyes—more specifically local Australian wool and native eucalyptus — as for her ongoing experimentation with eco-friendly processes, slow fashion community-building through teaching and writing, and her attempts at harmoniously living with her environment. I love the term “regenerative design” in sustainable fashion and I see India’s work as regenerative and rejuvenating—to the actual cloth but also to the approach of adding color to our fiber.

India regularly travels to teach workshops around the world. If she’s coming to a workshop near you please attend one for me.

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Your book Second Skin is something of a revelation for me. I think it really embodies the ethos of the contemporary Slow Fashion movement — the way you gracefully move between origins of fiber, caring for our clothing, and sharing your own intimate connection with your wardrobe through natural dyes. Do you consider this work part of the Slow Fashion movement? It seems so intuitive to you, but how would you encourage readers to make this connection in their own wardrobes?

It’s the way I was raised, really, and just makes sense to me. I develop warm relationships with my clothes (no pun intended) and like to have them last as long as possible. So I wash gently, air and mend as required. Sometimes I re-dye. I don’t follow fashion trends and couldn’t give a hoot what people might think of the way I dress. My family practiced slow gardening and slow cooking well before such terms were used. As a child I stitched tablecloths while my mother knitted our sweaters. I’ve always chosen to wear natural fibres (synthetic ones itch, I find) and I’d rather wear things that are naturally dyed than have my skin come in contact with synthetic dyes.

Tell us about your journey to natural dyes. I know you’ve done extensive research on eucalyptus — the variations between species and the resulting variations in natural dyes — and that you’ve collaborated with choreographers and shown work in various visual arts contexts, but I’d love to know how natural dyes became the center of your work.

Not only did I grow up in a family of dedicated gardeners, I also spent many hours with my maternal grandmother, a thrifty woman who from time to time refreshed faded garments in naturally prepared dyebaths. As I was finding my path in my work I was for a time seduced by synthetic colour, but I returned to natural dyes when it became clear to me just how dangerous these products were. Research into various means of ‘natural dyeing’ led me to the conclusion that the traditional metal salt mordants used in natural dye work should also be avoided, and so I began to investigate less toxic means of coaxing colour into cloth.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

You’re the founder of the ecoprint dye method — using steam dyeing and bundle dyeing to wrap the leaf or plant material inside the fabric and gain the actual print of the leaf on the finished dyed cloth. I’ve tried my hand at this method a number of times and I’ve yet to yield results anywhere near as distinct as yours. Can you talk about your work with this particular method? How you were interested in conserving water? And how you developed this method as something of a form of printmaking or surface design on the fabric?

For most of my life I have lived in places where water was a precious commodity that we actively harvested from the environment. Traditional dyemaking with eucalypts (as explored by Jean Carman in her book of the same title) uses large quantities of water and leaves. When I first discovered the ecoprint I thought it a useful technique that would allow dyers to easily assess individual eucalypt species for their colour potential, as the print showed what the dye outcome would be if pure water were used to make the substrate. It did not take me long to realise that quite beautiful patterns could be made by combining different species of eucalypt. And then venturing into other genera, I found that the eucalyptus frequently had a contribution to make as a co-mordant.

The simple trick to making distinct prints on both cloth and paper is to remember that the key word is “contact.” Tight bundling to ensure contact is the answer.

Your books and your Instagram feed have this connection to the land — this interweaving of land, art, plant and fiber that feels holistic and profound. How do you communicate your connection to the natural world in your work? Or is it just so inherent for you at this point that you just continue that dialogue in your images?

It’s simply such a deep part of my makeup as a human being that I cannot imagine working in any other way. My love of the land feeds my work, and the work itself (in whatever form) becomes in turn an ode to the whirled/world.

Your books are gorgeous. I use them often in my studio and in my workshops. I love Eco Colour for the way you explore mordants and dye techniques from so many angles. You don’t just offer one-step solutions but various techniques. Do you still experiment with multiple techniques in your own dye work? Or have you found what works for you and you stick with it?

I am always playing and experimenting. In recent years this play has led to new book folds, new patterns for garments and to the discovery of more techniques for dyeing (many of which have not yet been published yet). I’m particularly pleased with one of my mordant ideas for cellulose fibres, shared with a couple of workshops so far but yet to go into a book. And I’m working on making naturally derived paints (for paper). Of course when I am dyeing cloth that needs to be resilient I stick with eucalyptus, but it doesn’t mean I cannot play with other things.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

As I mentioned above, you work across arts platforms in collaboration with performing artists and choreographers, visual arts institutions, and you also work as an author and teacher. How do these various aspects of your work inform each other? I find that leading workshops actually strengthens my creative practice because students ask difficult questions or share their challenges and I have to respond to their needs. Do you find this to also be true? Is there a synergy between your work for stage, exhibition, books and the classroom?

Absolutely. I love creating exhibitions because installing them allows me to manipulate space as much as simply showing my work. I teach and write primarily because I need to earn a living. I’ve been a sole parent for over a quarter of a century and though my children are all independent now, I still need to earn my living. There is no safety net. Travelling and teaching allows me to work with a broader spectrum of flora and to experience the influences of different water qualities as well as new environments. Making things that dancers are able to leap about in requires a different kind of thinking to making things that will hang on walls. I delight in taking up residencies from time to time, as they allow me to gain a deeper experience of place. And frankly, maintaining a diverse work practice offers the safety of not having all of one’s eggs in the same basket.

Who are three of the biggest influences or mentors on your creative work?

It’s hard to limit the answer to three. My late great-aunt, master bookbinder Ilse Schwerdtfeger continues to be a huge influence on my work. I think she would be quite proud of some of the folded books I have invented in recent years. American architect Roger Buckhout has been both friend and mentor to me since I was ten years old, and continues to be a light in the darkness. And lastly I must pay tribute to my late father, climate scientist, writer, musician, adventurer and consummate polymath Prof Emeritus Peter Schwerdtfeger who passed on to me an indefatigable curiosity about the whirled and a deep appreciation for nature.

Favorite dye tools or materials you can’t live without?

I have a couple of large cauldrons that have done sterling service over the years, and my favourite materials would have to be wool and eucalyptus. That’s a match made in Heaven.

Your work, your wardrobe, your surroundings and your photographs have this continuity and strength. When you post on Instagram your images are instantly recognizable. When do you feel like you hit your stride, so to speak, with this consistency in your work? Was there a surrender or “Ah-ha” moment when you felt aligned and had an added or increased momentum?

I cannot really put a finger on it. I decided to reject synthetic dyes completely in 1998 (the year I turned forty), was grateful for the development of digital photography because it allowed so much freedom compared to film (though I do miss those long nights in the darkroom) and will confess I love the magic of the iPhone as recording device. I think I am still learning, though, and I have a lot yet to learn — the vocabulary is growing and at the same time consolidating into a language that’s beginning to make sense to me.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

Advice for the novice natural dyer just starting out? In my experience you just have to begin and be willing to experiment but it can seem so intimidating at first. Any suggestions to quell the fears?

‘Do not be afraid.’ Play, it’s how I learned most of the things I know — at the same time, read. Inform yourself about the properties of the plants you choose to work with. When interesting results happen, consider all the elements that have played a role and try and repeat the process while they are fresh in your mind. Keep notes. And have fun.

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Thank you SO much, India. It’s really a pleasure to share this space with you. Your work has been so instrumental in my own slow fashion journey and I applaud you for all your efforts to lead the rest of us towards a more meaningful relationship to our wardrobes and to our textile arts practice.

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Photos © India Flint, used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | I’m thrilled to launch the Slow Fashion Citizen series with Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran, the founders of Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver. Many of you already know Fancy Tiger Crafts as a yarn shop, fabric store, workshop host, community space, or other craft-centered bricks-and-mortar but I’m most excited to talk about their role in sustainable fashion. I love the ethos of Fancy Tiger Crafts as an independent business dedicated to supporting other independent designers, farmers and businesses, but I especially love how Jaime and Amber embrace this ethos in their own wardrobes and their own homemade textiles.

When Jaime recently posted an image on Instagram of her most-worn homemade garments I was completely smitten. It was exactly the type of clothes I’d want for my own closet, and so I promptly emailed Jaime and Amber to ask them to launch this series with me. In the coming months I’ll share interviews with artists, makers, designers, writers and advocates for slow fashion. Some will be makers and some will not. Some will buy their clothing from ethical designers while others will shop secondhand and others yet will make their own garments — some will do none of the above or others all three. We each enter the slow fashion movement with our own life experiences, skill sets, aesthetics, budgets, schedules and lifestyles, and I aim to share a variety of these stories with you through my interviews.

There was something so joyful, so friendly, so accessible, so relatable and so refreshing about Jaime’s outfit in that post. It seemed to say, “Hey, I made these beautiful garments and I know you could too.” And that’s the spirit I wanted to offer as I begin these interviews. I absolutely love that Arthur Ashe quote, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” and I reference it often in my work with slow fashion. Typically, we just have to begin. So today we begin with Fancy Tiger Crafts to get a better sense of their history, sustainable fashion journey, and their incredible homemade garments.

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Tell us about the founding of Fancy Tiger Crafts — was it an impulsive beginning or was it calculated? Did you two already work together in some capacity or was the business partnership new? 10 years! Congratulations.

Thank you! Amber and I met in Galveston, Texas, in 2001 and were fast friends. I moved to Denver in 2006 to open Fancy Tiger when Amber was still in Galveston. She relocated to the Western Slope of Colorado to open her own yarn shop in early 2008 and that was when I asked her to partner with me instead. She did! The shop started very small and we’ve slowly grown over the 10 years we’ve been open. We moved in 2012 to a larger location where we are still located today.

Did you make clothing and then start a business or start a business and then start making clothing? When you started, who were your maker or handmade wardrobe icons? Who are they now?

We both started making clothing a year or two after we opened Fancy Tiger. I hardly sewed at all and was only knitting scarves and hats when I opened Fancy Tiger. Even though I was a novice crafter, my passion for crafting was limitless and I was motivated to inspire our customers so I poured my heart into learning more and more. It helps being surrounded by our awesome staff and instructors. In 2006 there was not this same movement, nor was there the same online community (no Pinterest, or Instagram) so I didn’t have any handmade wardrobe icons. There were some local makers here in Denver that were inspirational such as Christina Patzman and Sunne Meyer. They both began teaching at the shop early on and are still sharing their knowledge here today.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

On your website you say Fancy Tiger Crafts is a “revolutionary shop”. Can you say more about the revolutionary part? (Because I agree and I love this part.)

Fancy Tiger Crafts is a revolutionary shop because it was the first of its kind when we opened. Before Fancy Tiger Crafts, shops were usually committed to one craft — just yarn, or quilting or needlepoint. We wanted to do it all, so we sold supplies and taught classes for a variety of crafts, including quilting, garments, knitting, crochet, spinning, felting, embroidery and cross stitch. We were also unique in our age (we were in our twenties when we opened) which gave us a different aesthetic than the typical craft store of the early aughts and before.

You have such a great aesthetic and a great sense of community. How do you decide which products to carry or which artists to invite to teach?

Amber and I have very similar aesthetics so it is easy for us to decide what to carry — we carry what we love! We are both passionate about US-made yarns, natural fibers, sustainable products, and supporting small designers, farmers and businesses. All of this informs our decision of what to carry. We love carrying products when we have made a personal connection with the company or people behind the company. We have become friends with a lot of the makers we support.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Your handmade wardrobes are so inspiring. Did you consider sustainability or ethical fashion when you first started making clothing? It seems so central to your mission as a business.

We didn’t! We mostly started making clothes because we wanted to make a skirt out of that cute new Japanese cat fabric or something selfish like that. I think when you first get into making clothes it can be a bit of a novelty, and it’s cool to have fun with that. Of course, the more we make our own clothes the more the issue of sustainable fashion comes into play. Everything is a process and it’s been a journey to get to where we are today.

Jaime, you recently posted on Instagram about your favorite handmade garments, listing the patterns, fabrics and pieces that you were wearing in that image. I love your outfit! And I loved the blog post where you both share your most-worn handmade garments. How do you decide which pieces to make for your wardrobe — do you have a sense of your own fashion style, body type, material comfort or fiber preferences? Can you tell when you start making something if it will be a favorite, or is it a matter of serendipity that all the elements come together just so?

Thanks! I have very strong ideas about what I like and a good idea of what will fit my body. I’ve been making my own clothes for a while and they are not always a win, but it’s always a learning experience. Currently I’m into very simple and flowy, square-shaped tops. Sometimes I fall in love with the fabric or yarn first and then I have to find the right pattern to work with it. Sometimes I fall in love with the shape and fit of a pattern and have to find the right material. Since we buy for the store, I usually know what we have coming in and often have ideas of what I want to make with it before it even arrives.

I think so many beginning- to intermediate-level textile enthusiasts are scared off from making clothing. I think this is part perfectionism — fear we’ll get it wrong — and part that we’ve lost these basic skills and basic confidence because we can buy new clothing so inexpensively. Of course, cheap clothing comes at a high ethical cost but it’s often “cheaper” to purchase. So … how do you encourage students to take a risk on making garments? Was there a moment when you had to just dive in and start pushing outside of your own comfort zone? How do you calm the inner perfectionist as you sew or knit?

Absolutely, you have to take risks! It’s the only way to grow. We’ve made tons of mistakes. Sometimes we still wear things even when they aren’t perfect or didn’t end up how we imagined. If we’re not going to wear something, we will gift the item or put it on display here at the shop. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes instead of being defeated by them.

What’s your advice to other folks who want to make a garment or even an entire handmade wardrobe but haven’t yet taken the plunge?

Start small and then actually wear the thing you made! The confidence and excitement you get when you finally wear something you made will boost you to keep going — I promise. You are aware of every stitch in the garment and all the “mistakes” that might be there because you sewed every seam up close and personal; no one else will notice this. Your friends and family will all be impressed and inspired by your handmade garments, trust me.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

You carry such amazing materials and you are at the center of this amazing crafter’s community but if you had to recommend just three crafters for current inspiration who would you each suggest? And three favorite products or tools you personally cannot live without?

Jaime’s three current craft heroes: Tara-Lynn of Good Night, Day; Devon of MissMake; and Julia of Woodfolk. Jaime’s three tools: Swedish tracing paper for sewing, rotary cutter (how I cut out all my garment pieces), and 40″ Addi Turbo needles so I can knit anything I want using magic loop.

Amber’s current craft inspiration: Jen Beeman of Grainline Studio; Carrie Hoge of Madder; and Kristine Vejar of A Verb for Keeping Warm. Amber’s three tools: Oh, man, I agree with Jaime’s three picks. Those are essential. If I had to choose three other favorites I’d say a nice sharp seam ripper, a steamy iron — I love the Panasonic cordless irons we have in our classrooms — and a dependable sewing machine. I’m in love with my Janome Skyline and its automatic thread-cutting magic.

Thank you SO much for joining me. I’m so inspired by your business, your products, your classes and your amazing handmade wardrobes!

Thank you!!

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Introduction

Photos © Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran