Origin Stories: Wing and a Prayer Farm

Origin Stories: Wing and a Prayer Farm

BY HANNAH THIESSEN // If you have the pleasure of following @wingandaprayerfarm on Instagram, you know all about Tamara White and her merry cast of creatures: pot belly pigs and guinea hogs, goslings and chickens, ducks and turkeys. Ponies, alpacas, angora goats, sheep and farm dogs. You might even have seen Bilbo the miniature donkey chasing the mail truck. Tammy shares it all through photos and video, and her worldwide audience is eager to soak up a bit of Vermont farm life from the comfort of a phone screen. I certainly find daily escape from my own life of computers and chores that are so ordinary in comparison, so imagine my excitement when Katrina Rodabaugh offered to “introduce” me to Tammy after she returned from the Hudson Valley Textile Summit they had both attended.

Tammy began her history with farm animals early. The fourth of five children, she grew up in a family of makers, learning to sew, knit, crochet, can, bake and garden at home and through 4-H. The life of a big family kept her busy as a child, and she has carried that momentum into adulthood: She ran her own floral business, worked for a textile manufacturer, and eventually home-schooled her children for over a decade. The children were the impetus for the farm: In their first year of home schooling, Tammy and her husband invested in a dozen chickens, then purchased some Shetland sheep, and continued learning and expanding their skills and animal roster until suddenly they found themselves with a full-blown working farm.

Many of the animals she has brought into the fold have stories all their own, or have found their way to Wing and a Prayer Farm because of unique circumstances or lost homes. Many acquisitions are the result of neighbors’ life changes and an animal’s need for a safe place to land. Tammy has a way of finding just the right name and story for each creature, and has found the ideal balance between pets and livestock: a loving, warm welcome for all, and place for them in the farm’s future.

Many of the animals are fiber-producing, and Tammy has been carefully selecting the finest fleeces at shearing time and sorting them into unique blends for wool lovers: a 100% Shetland is in the works, while the Taconic Twist blend (long wool, mohair and a bit of fine wool) undergoes revisions each time. (This time, it will feature Wensleydale rather than Cotswold.) She eagerly works within her friend-and-farmer group to create new blends and projects, as well. Ellen Mason (Odacier) lent a bevy of Clun Forest fleeces that promise to become “The Happiest Yarn of 2017,” an ideal blend for colorwork and knitting creativity. Mary Jeanne Packer, proprietor of Battenkill Fibers Spinning Mill, lent the Wensleydales for this year’s Taconic Twist. A blend of her own alpaca and Shetland is also currently at the mill and due out this summer.

Tammy is one of many farmers who believed in their work and did not give up when their fleeces did not sell or move in years past, but simply kept experimenting and learning, and are now enjoying the rise in awareness and popularity of farm yarns.

These days she takes the time to educate not only herself, but others, hosting a rotating series of workshops on topics that range from homesteading to garment making. This year’s workshops promise pies, slow (practical) fashion, natural dyeing and shearing, with a culminating event at the farm titled the New England Fiber Summit. In a return to her roots, Tammy leads small groups of industrious students through tasks and skills that, for many, have been lost to time. One thing that I learned is that Wing and a Prayer Farm is ultimately about reclaiming the joy in hard work, stewardship of animals and individuals, and the simple pleasure of knowing (and making) your way in the world. I cannot help but admire Tammy’s advice for those of us who may feel too busy to enjoy wherever we are in our lives:

This is the time in my life when I am enjoying the hosting of events and the raising of fiber animals as much as I am enjoying spending time with my craft. Much of what I like to do sitting at the wheel — or with a pair of knitting needles in my hands or at the sewing machine — is something I will continue to do for the rest of my life. But this workshop hosting, sheep and goat wrangling, and alpaca handling is limited. One day my body will not want to carry 50-lb. grain bags or hoist hay bales into the loft. One day my body will be more than happy to sit tight in the morning, sip a cuppa and knit. But that day is not quite here yet!

Origin Stories: Wing and a Prayer Farm

Hannah Thiessen is a freelance creative & social media strategist who specializes in yarn and fiber. She knits and dabbles in other crafty pursuits on her blog, www.handmadebyhannahbelle.com, and you can follow her on Instagram as @hannahbelleknits

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PREVIOUSLY in Origin Stories: Upcycled Wool and the Gang

Photos © Wing & a Prayer Farm; used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // There is so much to love about the clothing label Elizabeth Suzann it’s dizzying to know where to begin. The obvious entry point might be the beautiful lines and subtle geometric shapes of her garments that push these classic designs into cutting-edge contemporary minimalism but somehow beckon to the studio artist and the professional urbanite simultaneously. (Just look at that oversized diagonal pocket on the beloved Harper Tunic for solid proof.) Or maybe it’s the beautiful natural fibers, ranging from linen to silk to wool in the most delicious neutral colors, and how they effortlessly combine with other garments in her collections to make the dream wardrobe for linen-loving minimalists everywhere.

But if the designs and fibers didn’t immediately win you over, just scratch the surface of designer and owner Liz Pape’s ethical fashion philosophy — why she offers a living wage to all of her employees; how she’s kept her operations under one Nashville TN roof; that she sources beautiful biodegradable fibers, refuses to follow the traditional seasonal collections of the fashion world and instead makes three collections for all months and seasons (Signature, Warm Weather, Cold Weather). Then start reading her blog. Just start with any post. Just dive in with any question about why she creates clothing the way she does — and, yes, why she needs to charge the prices she charges — and I promise even the toughest critics among you will feel a quiver of light and hope in your Slow Fashion-leaning heart.

If you still aren’t convinced, take four more minutes to watch the video for the Diversity Campaign because it’s the best thing I’ve seen in fashion videos, maybe ever. What designers go this far to connect with their customers and to let their brand be defined by the actual community of humans supporting this important work? So much love. So much celebration. So much connection, all through clothes that are made with intention and worn with pride. Swoon.

I’ve loved Elizabeth Suzann for a few years but sharing her story in this series made me an official Fan Girl. If I could give Liz Pape the Gold Star of Contemporary Ethical Designers, I’d hand it over in two seconds flat. I can’t think of another fashion label that I’d rather support in all their efforts to create a more ethical and ecological fashion future. Liz Pape is the real deal and she’s raising the standards for designers and consumers alike.

. . .

Welcome, Liz. I admire your designs and your work ethos so much, and it’s truly an honor to be able to share your story. To get started can you just tell us about the beginnings of Elizabeth Suzann? When did you launch? What was your impetus for creating an ethical clothing brand?

I launched Elizabeth Suzann in late 2013. It was a very organic thing – I didn’t have this big concept or pitch or business plan. My husband and I moved to Nashville right after I finished undergrad so he could attend law school, and I was in a kind of limbo for a year. I was planning on pursuing grad school (studying art history), so I was taking some time to look at schools and make a game plan. I had sewn in college and made money on the side that way. I reevaluated what I was making, really simplified things aesthetically and thought hard about what I wanted to make, worked on my pattern drafting skills, and experimented with different textile techniques. I took a very small selection of pieces to a local craft fair – Porter Flea – and everything did really well there. After that weekend I realized there was some actual potential here, and I started taking things seriously.

I got a business license, did all of that jazz, and started selling online in addition to traveling to craft shows in cities like Brooklyn, Chicago and Austin. Customers I met at craft fairs would come back and order from my Etsy shop, and shortly after I had enough online business that I stopped doing the shows. I moved off Etsy to a standalone site, and we just kept rolling from there. I think it was a few months between that first craft show and moving into my first studio, in the back of a gym downtown. I was doing everything myself (design, drafting, sourcing, cutting/sewing, packing/shipping, support, web design, photography — all of it) in the beginning, but I brought on an intern, then hired a part-time seamstress, and another — it just kind of happened one step at a time.

In regards to starting an ethical clothing brand, I don’t really look at it that way. I started Elizabeth Suzann because I was making things I loved; things that I thought had value. The way that I made those things was just the way that made sense to me. There wasn’t a decision point where I chose to “launch an ethical brand.” I try to do the right thing whenever I have the opportunity to make a decision, and the result of many decisions like that is a responsible business. In the beginning I did think really hard about the choice to add physical products to the world. I knew that to feel comfortable bringing consumable things into existence, they would need to be damn good, and they would need to be made in a way that I feel good about. I have no interest in being one of many, in producing products you can buy elsewhere. I have no interest in being ordinary or adding detritus to an already detritus-filled world.

Your designs are timeless and classic, and yet they have this compelling contemporary edge. Your website says, “We seek classic silhouettes that are still modern, with style that transcends time and place.” Was this minimalist approach at the center of your brand from the beginning? Meaning, did you set out to create clothing that was somehow both classic and contemporary?

I think the seeds of it were there in the beginning. When I first started selling clothing in college, it was ridiculous. It was all incredibly kitsch, bright, printed – lots of vintage inspired things, lots of lace and trim and excess. It was popular with the college crowd, and it was what I was wearing at the time. But I never felt like myself in garments like that – I always felt like I was wearing a costume. That’s still how I feel about a lot of color, or anything too “of a style.” So when we moved to Nashville and I started working on that first little collection for Porter Flea, I tried really hard to get to the root of why I never felt comfortable in my clothes. I found that the images that really resonated with me as a person and the things I felt most comfortable in were the simplest ones. Denim, white cotton, blacks and creams. Basic button downs, well-fitting pants.

This kind of light bulb went off, and I realized that I was trying so hard to express myself with all of this color and noise and complicated shape, but in reality I was drowning my identity. I began to appreciate the challenge of communicating more with less. I think the first year of ES I was still figuring this out and navigating my relationship with color and shape. (I am naturally drawn to exciting, loud things and still love this in others’ work – I just knew it wouldn’t be my highest point of contribution.) I think I really hit my stride aesthetically at about year two, in 2015. The sustainability of simplicity is huge to me as well – you will get exponentially more wear out of a garment that feels timeless and can pair with anything than you’ll get out of that beautiful but highly particular printed blouse.

I admit, I first fell in love with your silhouettes, but I was really sold on your use of natural materials. Since beginning my Slow Fashion project in 2013, I’ve become very interested in the fibers used to make my clothing. Your designs use the most beautiful natural fibers like linens, silks and wools. How do you go about choosing your fibers and fabrics? Which one is your personal favorite?

Natural fibers are so divine. Sometimes it’s hard to describe to someone who isn’t familiar with textiles why natural fibers are so wonderful, but it’s one of those things you can’t ever go back on once you’ve fallen in love with them. As a teenager and early twentysomething, I couldn’t tell the difference between polyester and silk. But I did know that all of those poly-chiffon tops I wore made me incredibly sweaty, and they looked great on the hanger but always fell flat when I put them on. I somehow ended up with a silk blouse in my closet from a thrift store, and it just felt so different. It felt alive; it felt luminous. It was comfortable and soft, and complemented my skin. Now I can’t unsee the difference — I can spot polyester, nylon and viscose from a mile away. Silk and linen have been my favorite fabrics from the beginning. Silk for it’s luxurious and unbridled beauty (the subtle sheen, unbelievable movement) and linen for it’s durability, rustic but elegant aesthetic, and complete comfort. I added in cottons and wools where we needed them for pants, coats, etc., but linen and silk will always be our core. I really love fabric and enjoy getting to the bottom of the source to make sure we’re using the best product possible. Last year we developed a new wool supply chain with an incredible ranch in Oregon, and I’d like to go that far down the supply chain with each fiber, one by one. When designing products now, I always start with fabric first. I review swatches, order sample yardage and test wash a few yards. Then I can start looking at silhouettes and get a feel for where the fabric will serve best.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

So your designs are incredible, your fibers are beautiful, but your work ethos really melted my heart. When I read the post about your transparent budget — when you shared your costs on the Artist Smock and showed blog readers your actual profit — I was hooked. I so appreciated this cost breakdown and your thoughtful approach. Were you nervous to show these figures? Did you think it might dissuade costumers in some way? Sharing finances can seem so private.

Thank you! That was definitely a scary piece to write. As I’m sure so many of you are familiar with, the price of high quality, ethically produced clothing made with good materials is a sensitive subject. Some shoppers feel that prices are astronomically high, some think they are fair, others are willing to pay it but think that companies like ours must be rolling in cash. I felt a need to kind of clear the air and get our story out in the open. I am really proud of our business, the unique way we manufacture things, the opportunities we’re able to provide for our staff, and the products we make. I don’t ever want there to be any confusion or doubt surrounding the way we run our business. I was really nervous to share real numbers, primarily because private companies almost never publish that kind of information. I was bracing myself for a lot of negative feedback, but it never came. It was our most popular piece of content ever, and customers really appreciated the concrete, no-frills information. I think brands can get so caught up dancing around the truth, trying to present things in a way that customers will understand. That is exhausting, and customers are smart. Telling the truth in a non-watered down, non-salesy way resonates really well with our audience.

I imagine there are plenty of hurdles in running a sustainable fashion brand but could you tell us about one of your biggest challenges to date? I imagine sometimes just finding time to sleep might be the week’s biggest hurdle, no?

Ha — I think you are right on. We’ve certainly had our fair share of unexpected challenges, and every day is an exercise in fire-fighting and rapid problem solving. But I think the longest, hardest hurdle I’ve encountered is figuring out how to not always be working. The growth and never-ending pace is exhilarating, but also a recipe for burnout. Our team is incredible though, and this year we’ve seen staff really step up, which has brought a bit more balance to my life.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

And then, what’s been the biggest reward in running a Slow Fashion company? Because I think your work is SO important, but I wonder what you think is the most satisfying aspect.

I think the biggest reward has been seeing and hearing our customers and staff articulate our vision in their own words. That feeling that others are really understanding and believing in what you’re doing — and also feel invested in it on their own — is incredibly fulfilling. It’s like our mission has a life of its own, and it resonates a bit differently with everyone, which is magical.

In my opinion, your work is some of the most exciting work in fashion design right now. But I’d love to know what you think: Who do you think are the most exciting Slow Fashion designers creating work today? Could you name a few of the folks you think are truly at the forefront?

Han Starnes is a local favorite. She has such impressive aesthetic discipline — she never puts out any work that doesn’t perfectly align with her vision and perspective. I admire that so much, and wish I had a bit more restraint. She uses absolutely divine fibers, and manufactures things in a very careful and intentional way.

Alabama Chanin is one of the icons here — they have taken slow fashion to the next level. Their hand-stitched pieces are literal works of art, made by a team of artisans in Florence, Alabama. All organic cottons, all beautiful silhouettes from the mind of Natalie Chanin. She’s also created such a strong community around the brand — I love the whole ecosystem there.

Your Diversity Campaign made me love your work even more. I watched the video of the selected customer-models visiting for the photo shoot and I was actually teary by the end. There was so much joy and connection in that room! Did you expect it to be so moving?

We absolutely did not expect it to be so moving. I was incredibly excited about the project, and of course had high hopes for it, but man I was totally unprepared for the emotion and strength in that room. Meeting the women who embody the spirit of the brand, hearing how our clothing has impacted their lives, watching them be both vulnerable and strong in front of each other and the camera — it was incredible. It felt like summer camp, and we all left with a group of friends for life. It was so powerful and meaningful both for our customers to get this immersive, personal experience with the brand, and for our team to get this immersive, personal experience with the women we serve. Epic.

Okay, top three creative tools you couldn’t live without?

1 – My iPhone. I know that’s probably awful! But seriously, I take notes all day long (I send myself emails with thoughts all day long — by the end of the day my inbox is a mess), screenshot images that inspire me, and use it to stay connected with our customers. Our business would be very different without this device!

2 – A good, fresh pen.

3 – A blank bulletin board. I just can’t get that into Pinterest, I need to see things physically, on a large scale. Old school mood boards all the way.

Lastly, advice you’d offer to emerging fashion designers interested in sustainable and ethical fashion? Any tips or encouraging words you might lend to someone who is just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to take risks, but more importantly don’t be afraid to work your ass off. This isn’t the exciting, magic trick advice most people hope for, but I truly believe that what separates most successful businesses from those that never get off the ground is sheer effort. The product must be great, the process must be great, but those two things alone won’t cut it. You have to be willing to put everything into it. The encouraging flip-side is that, if you’re willing to put in the effort, I’m pretty confident you can do just about anything. Focus on filling a need, find an original way to contribute to the conversation, find your unique perspective — that is where you’ll add value. Don’t try to cash in on an idea that’s already saturating the market — you’ll just be playing perpetual catch-up. Trust your instincts, do the right thing, and you’ll be fine.

. . .

Thank you so much for joining us, Liz. It really is an honor to share your story in this series. Your commitment to Slow Fashion — or more simply to people and the planet — is so exciting and inspiring. I can’t wait to see what you do next. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines.

See also: How much can we know about where our clothes come from?

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: Tom of Holland

Photos © Elizabeth Suzann, used with permission

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O’Keeffe

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post marks a full year and the last installment of Jess’s lovely and thoughtful Swatch of the Month column, and it might be my favorite one! It’s been a true pleasure, Jess, thank you for going above and beyond. And if anyone missed any of it, you can read through all twelve of them right here.
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O'Keeffe

BY JESS SCHREIBSTEIN | Last January, my partner and I went to New Mexico for my 30th birthday, and I haven’t really been able to shake the place from my mind. Even in the dead of winter, the landscape feels alive and endlessly inspiring. Rust red rock erodes and splatters the sides of the freeway like paint, and bleached ivory and camel-colored cliffs look outright sculptural against the expansive sky and low-lying rabbitbrush, cholla and piñon. At higher altitudes, like in Santa Fe, you’ll wake up to a dusting of white snow over everything that’s usually gone by lunchtime. It’s easy to see why New Mexico, and Santa Fe in particular, has attracted tradesmen, artists, medicine people and even nuclear physicists for generations. There’s a magnetic, intoxicating quality to it.

Of its many famous inhabitants, Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most well-known. While her husband, the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz, preferred the energy of New York City, O’Keeffe preferred quiet and isolation for her painting. She first traveled to Santa Fe in 1917, when she was a relative unknown, and instantly fell in love. She later wrote, “From then on, I was always trying to get back there… and in 1929 I finally made it.”

Before we went on our trip, I picked up a copy of Laurie Lisle’s biography of Georgia, Portrait of an Artist, and continued to read it during the trip and after we’d returned home. The descriptions of Georgia’s attitude and approach to making a life – her painting rituals, design sensibility, mode of dress – were equally reflective of place and her own persona, both modern and of its time and completely her own.

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O'Keeffe

HER LIFE

Georgia and Stieglitz met in New York where he ran his famous modern New York gallery, 291, which introduced American viewers to artists like Matisse, Rodin, Cézanne and Picasso. He was married and more than twenty years her senior, but they instantly fell in love. In 1918, Georgia accepted Stieglitz’s offer to move from Texas (where she was living and teaching at the time) to New York, where he would financially support her so she could paint. He displayed her early charcoal drawings and, later, her now-infamous flower paintings on the walls of 291, and her career took off. By the end of the 1920s, she was the most successful and highly paid woman artist in America.

In 1924, Stieglitz divorced his wife and he and Georgia married. Their marriage was intimate and passionate, but also a constant struggle through Stieglitz’s repeated infidelities and Georgia’s vying for professional and personal independence. Lisle writes:

“When some people resented her special position as Stieglitz’s paramour, she found it necessary to remind them that he had given her two shows before ‘he knew me personally,’ as she put it. After their marriage, when people addressed her as ‘Mrs. Stieglitz,’ she briskly corrected them with, ‘I am Georgia O’Keeffe.’ ‘I’ve had a hard time hanging on to my name, but I hang on to it with my teeth,’ she explained. ‘I like getting what I’ve got on my own.’ Once when an interviewer referred to Georgia as his ‘wife,’ Stieglitz objected on her behalf. ‘Don’t call her my ‘wife.’ There was a Mrs. Stieglitz I was married to for twenty-four years,’ he said. ‘From the beginning she just felt she was Georgia O’Keeffe, and I agreed with her. She’s a person in her own right.’”

While Georgia was deliberate about her appearance and persona throughout her life, and Stieglitz largely supported her, he was also responsible for perpetuating an overtly feminine and sensual interpretation of her work. Stieglitz took hundreds of photographs of Georgia in their early years together, many in the nude, which created a public sensation and defined her as a sexual being. He also encouraged the interpretation of her flower paintings as female genitalia, although Georgia flatly denied this. She wanted to be respected as a serious artist, not a serious “woman” artist. She rejected modern feminism, wanting to be compared to men’s work without her identity diminishing how others saw her.

In 1929, after Georgia had been hospitalized for exhaustion and depression, she traveled to Taos, New Mexico, with a friend for several months where her spirit and work were reignited. She bought a Ford Model A and learned to drive, and enjoyed exploring the landscape and collecting bones, rocks and other found objects for her paintings. In 1933, she was hospitalized again for a nervous breakdown, and returned to New Mexico in 1934, when she visited Ghost Ranch for the first time. For the next twenty years, she traveled every year between New York and New Mexico, leaving behind Stieglitz in New York. In the 1940s, she bought Ghost Ranch and later a crumbling hacienda in Abiquiu, which she restored as a home and studio for herself. After Stieglitz died in 1946, she spent the last thirty years of her life there. Her homes are beautifully captured in the book pictured here, Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses.

Growing up, Georgia always stood out for her unusual but self-assured attitude and wardrobe. While other girls wore ruffles and floral print dresses, Georgia dressed in all-black, preferring tailored, structured garments. According to Lisle, Georgia’s former classmate Christine McRae wrote many years later:

“The most unusual thing about her was the absolute plainness of her attire. She wore a tan coat suit, short, severe, and loose, into this room filled with girls with small waists and tight-fitting dresses bedecked in ruffles and bows. Pompadours and ribbons vied with each other in size and elaborateness, but Georgia’s hair was drawn smoothly back from her broad, prominent forehead, and she had no bow on her head at all, only one at the bottom of her pigtail to keep it from unplaiting. Nearly every girl in the study hall planned just how she was going to dress Georgia up, but her plans came to naught, for this strongminded girl knew what suited her and would not be changed though she approved of other girls dressing in frills and furbelows.”

Her style didn’t change much as she grew older. Georgia wore predominantly androgynous, at times monkish, attire. She was a master seamstress and sewed and altered many of her own clothes, preferring natural fibers like silk, cotton and wool and keeping some of her dresses for as long as sixty years. And although she’s known for her vividly colored paintings, she was highly sensitive to color and insisted on everything else being minimalist in color and detail, choosing to work in empty white rooms and to dress in black and white almost exclusively. She once said, “Nothing is less real than realism ― details are confusing. […] It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get the real meaning of things.” At another time, when she was asked by a reporter, “Don’t you like color?,” she responded, “Color does something to me,” and tried to explain why she needed to paint in a colorless room. “I like an empty wall because I can imagine what I like on it.”

Now, thirty years after her death, Georgia’s work and personal style have seemed to erupt across our public imagination. I see portraits of Georgia – mainly the ones by Stieglitz – across social media regularly, and her design sensibility seems to be fresh and on trend. Even Solange paid homage to her in her music videos for her album “Seat at the Table,” saying, “I shot a lot of my [music] videos in New Mexico, just that entire Georgia O’Keeffe vibe — I’m dying to see her exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.”

Speaking of that exhibit, Georgia’s wardrobe and work are now on display, side by side, in Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit, Living Modern. The reviews from The New Yorker (previously linked out by Karen), The New York Times, Huffington Post and New York Magazine are all worth reading for their take on the exhibition and Georgia’s style, as well as lots of photos. I haven’t made it to the exhibition yet myself, but I’m hoping to catch it before it closes this summer.

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O'Keeffe

THE SWATCH

Using Georgia O’Keeffe and Santa Fe as a touchstone, I wanted to knit a fabric that reflected the New Mexican landscape she loved, and that would feel at home in Georgia’s wardrobe. It would be easy enough to find a black or cream yarn (I have plenty in my stash) that Georgia would have undoubtedly worn, but I chose a rust-red wool and hemp blend with flecks of cream from Elsebeth Lavold. When I saw the skein of Misty Wool in a yarn shop, everything clicked for me – it so perfectly mirrored the color and texture of the New Mexican landscape.

Next, I wanted the fabric to have both structure and texture, as well as honor Georgia’s minimalist style. Much of Georgia’s early work is comprised of abstract black and white lines and shapes, and her later work continues a focus on lines, divisions of space, blocks of color. With these elements in mind, I chose a herringbone stitch from my stitch pattern book, Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, something that I thought could be easily incorporated into a heavy jacket or rectangular shawl.

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O'Keeffe

Yarn: Elsebeth Lavold Misty Wool in Color 11
Needles: US 7 / 4.5 mm bamboo needles
Gauge: 30 stitches / 28 rows = 4” in stockinette stitch

M E T H O D

For stitch method, please see “Little Herringbone” stitch pattern on page 98 of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker.

Jess Schreibstein is a digital strategist, knitter and painter living in Baltimore, MD. Learn more about her work at jess-schreibstein.com or follow her on Instagram at @thekitchenwitch.

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PREVIOUSLY in Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

New Mexico photos © Jess Schreibstein / book pictured is Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | It’s a true honor to share this interview with today’s Slow Fashion Citizen, Tom Van Deijnen otherwise known as Tom of Holland (and @tomofholland). Tom is a crafter, knitter and teacher based in Brighton, England, and he is also one of my Slow Fashion heroes for his work founding The Visible Mending Programme. (That’s right, heroes — and I don’t use that word lightly.) Soon after I started my slow fashion project, Make Thrift Mend, in 2013 I stumbled upon Tom’s images of high-contrasted handknit sweaters and my heart ached with how much I loved them.

You know that feeling? You ache a little. You might stumble. You might lose your breath. You might have to sit on that impossibly small bench in the center of the gallery and stare a little bit longer at what just leapt off the wall and tried to crawl under your coat. Because now it’s burrowing under your skin and it’s heading for your heart folds and suddenly you gasp at the sensation of this thing crawling into your heart but also at this incredible experience of seeing something so beautiful and necessary and relevant and absolutely new. There’s just one word for it and that word is YES.

This was my reaction in stumbling over Tom’s work with the Visible Mending Programme. I had to sit down on that figurative tiny bench and catch my breath. The colorful darning filling in the missing sections of yarn brought visual interest to an otherwise beautiful garment but the repairs were also arresting, defiant, edgy and demanding all at once. “Look at me, there was a hole here and now it’s even more beautiful.” I was instantly drawn to the interplay of craftsmanship and color — the required knitting skills and knowledge of darning necessary to technically repair the garment, but Tom’s artful approach to celebrating the repair and adding visual interest through high-contrast stitches. YES. And thank you. And swoon.

Tom’s work with the Visible Mending Programme has absolutely influenced my work in sashiko mending and I’m confident saying he’s influenced the work of many contemporary repairs around the globe. Tom’s work lends a rich voice to the conversation about Slow Fashion, textile arts, homemade wardrobes, knitting and repairing garments because of the invention of the Visible Mending Programme. It’s as if there is an international conversation about mending through images and repaired articles of clothing and imperfect stitches meant to celebrate the most beloved garments that naturally breakdown, but through our mending we can make them even more meaningful. And certainly Tom is one of the most distinctive voices in this ongoing conversation. Let’s welcome this month’s friend from the UK, Tom of Holland.

. . .

Tom, thank you so much for joining us today. I adore your work and you’ve been such a huge inspiration for me in my own mending, repairing, and rejuvenating garments. Can you start by telling us about the Visible Mending Programme? How did it begin and how has it evolved?

Hi Katrina, many thanks for having me! I’m so pleased to hear that you find my work inspirational, as that’s exactly why I share my work. The Visible Mending Programme seeks to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the Programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

By writing my blog, running darning workshops and taking repair work commissions I provide mending inspiration, skills and services to people and hopefully persuade them that shop-bought clothes deserve care and attention too, just like a precious handknit. Even as a teenager I was always interested in buying clothes with the aim to wear them for a long time, even if they were cheap. As I’ve always enjoyed needlecrafts, I naturally started embellishing and repairing them when I felt the need. This has grown very slowly and organically into the Visible Mending Programme as it stands today.

I always credit you as the founder of the term (and the hashtag) “visible mending” — it’s really the perfect phrase. How did you invent the term? Why did that phrase feel so important when you started this work?

The term Visible Mending has very simple roots: when I first started repairing, I attempted to make my repairs invisible. As this requires a lot of skill to achieve, I never quite managed it, and over time I have come to accept that my repairs can be visible, and now I positively celebrate a visible repair and have started to use the term Visible Mending. By repairing in a visible way, I can add to the story of the garment, and show it has a history. I like things that look used, as it gives them character and makes them more individual. And when it comes to shop-bought clothes, adding a Visible Mend is also a chance to add some of your own creativity.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

One of the things I absolutely adore about your work is that you have this very developed craftsmanship through knitting that you apply in this completely original and inspired way through high contrast darning and mending. It’s as if you are honoring the tradition of the craft while simultaneously pushing it forward into a contemporary and more innovative space. I know this an impossible question but I’m going to ask it anyway: Do you think a crafter needs to first learn the rules before he/ she breaks them?

This is indeed a difficult question! My initial reaction was: Absolutely! Learning the rules allows you to understand how things fit together, but it will also allow you to start questioning tradition and see whether you can push yourself in new directions. However, it can be very liberating to start playing with a craft without knowing anything about the baggage that may come with it. It is a completely different way of pushing boundaries, and you’d soon learn whether certain things work or not. For me personally though, I enjoy researching how things are done traditionally, and compare and contrast techniques. It’s like having a discussion with the past, and on some things we’d agree, and others we wouldn’t.

I see your work as central to the Slow Fashion movement because it forces us to reconsider usage. But then it goes beyond usage and basic repair to embrace the creative opportunities in darning through basic design elements like color, scale, texture and composition. I find this really pushes the work to the intersection of fine art and craft. You not only repair the garment but you celebrate the usage and the opportunity for design. Can you talk about this embrace and the importance of this angle in Slow Fashion?

As my practice has grown so organically, I have developed my creative language at an equally slow pace. I’ve always been drawn to the used and imperfect, as opposed to the new and perfect. Clothes that you like wearing rarely stay looking new and perfect for long, so it makes sense to me to embrace and celebrate the fact that garments have a history, and to use a repair opportunity as a way to be creative. If we can make a change in what people find acceptable to wear, and are happy to wear something that no longer looks pristine, then that removes a reason why some people feel they need to replace their clothes so frequently.

When did you learn how to knit? Was it love at first stitch or did your knitting evolve more slowly or labored over time?

I was originally taught to knit at primary school, and also by my mum, although I remember not enjoying it much when I first started out. I made a little scarf for a teddy bear. It had brown and cream stripes and a cable. The tension was way too tight, so every stitch was a struggle. I then didn’t knit until I was an adult, and things went surprisingly easy for the beginning. I never looked back since!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

Who do you consider to be the most exciting makers in the Slow Fashion movement today? Why?

There are a few exciting makers I’d like to mention, although some of them you may not consider a maker as such, but each and every one of them provides me with lots of inspiration and food for thought, hoping to be able to implement some of their practices into my own:

Manonik (Yoshiyuki Minami): Manonik makes amazing clothes, the cloth for which he weaves himself, and sometimes also spins the threads. His weaving is shaped according to the pattern pieces required, which reduces waste considerably. All materials seem to be sourced from small, independent producers such as Sally Fox’s beautiful cotton, or made especially by or for him.

Gridjunky (Jerome Sevilla): Jerome recycles a lot of old clothes, and documents his processes meticulously. Sweaters are unraveled and the yarn reknit into new garments; jeans are carefully picked apart, and every bit, including the sewing thread, will be used again. I like his considered and mathematical approach to creating new items from the old and undervalued. [ED NOTE: More on Jerome here]

Logo Removal Services (Miriam Dym): I first met Miriam at the first MENDERS symposium in 2012, and we got on really well. She does a variety of slow textile related things, but I picked Logo Removal Services because I love the subtle subversive message of excising unwanted brand names, logos, tags, stains and marks, and replacing them with new shapes in fresh colours and contrasting threads. It makes a mass-produced item completely individual.

Bridget Harvey: Bridget is another person I first met at the MENDERS symposium, and we’ve worked on a few things together since. Bridget makes me think about the interventional act of repairing, and what that means for the object repaired: by repairing similar objects in many different ways (for instance, a series of broken plates are repaired by using glue, plasters, wire, tape, etc) the use and function of the object is questioned and re-contextualised.

Craftivist Collective (Sarah Corbett): Sarah might not be considered a maker as such, although she’s definitely making waves as the founder of the Craftivist Collective. Through this collective, Sarah shows people how they can use craft as a tool for gentle activism aimed at influencing long-term change.

I’ve noticed that lately you seem to be collaborating with larger brands, institutions, or shops. Was this an intentional step for you to move into darning in a more public space or was this just a natural extension of your work teaching, exhibiting, and knitting? I love that you’re taking the work to a larger audience through your collaborations, particularly the work with The New Craftsmen.

Although not an intentional next step, in the back of my mind it’s something I have dreamt about doing for a while. By being able to work at “the next level” I hope I can share my way of looking at the world with a wider audience, and make repaired clothes and other items something acceptable and normal. Working with, for example, The New Craftsmen, let’s me lure people into my world, which allows me to show them that repairs can be beautiful, thoughtful, and made with great skill and integrity.

If you could identify one most important aspect about Visible Mending what would it be? What’s the most single most important aspect of this work for you personally?

I think the most important aspect about Visible Mending is to inspire others, and be inspired by others. This is why I write blog posts, run workshops and take repair commissions. In this way it’s possible to strike up a conversation, and explain to people why I want to repair things, and at the same time I can learn from others, hear their stories and concerns around slow and fast fashion. I love it when people share their visibly mended items on social media, and I would encourage everybody to do so, and use the hashtag #visiblemending. This way you can inspire others, and be inspired by others.

What’s your advice for folks who are just starting to darn or mend? Any tips or encouragement you’d offer?

I think you need to give yourself some time to learn the skills needed to darn, and don’t be too critical of your own work. Start with something manageable, and if you’re not sure, do a little practice run on a scrap of fabric. Look at other visible mending examples. See if there’s a Repair Café or other communal mending groups and join in, either as a volunteer, or to learn how to repair.

Three favorite tools for knitting or darning that you cannot live without?

Apart from the obvious such as the tools needed to do the job: My notebook to write down how I’ve done something, makes notes and sketches and keep track of things (I’ve started using the Bullet Journal method); my library of mending and knitting books, which are mostly about techniques. I have relatively few books with actual knitting patterns in them. A large stash of wool yarns and threads for making and mending!

. . .

Thank you SO MUCH, Tom. I have this daydream that we’ll get to teach together someday so I’m going to cross my fingers that will actually happen. Until then, I’ll keep applauding your work from across the Atlantic.

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: India Flint

Photos © Tom Van Deijnen, used with permission

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

QUICK NOTE: I’ll be on a plane to France this afternoon, but never fear — I’ve got blog posts queued up in my absence and DG is manning the Fringe Supply Co. shipping department as usual, so order all you want! Please forgive any delay in comment moderation (new commenters) though, and I expect to be sharing liberally on Instagram while I’m away, so follow me @karentempler. Now here’s Jess!
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

BY JESS SCHREIBSTEIN | Back in November, I wrote about my trip to Rhinebeck and the gorgeous Hudson Valley Fibers yarn I brought home with me. I also wrote about how I wanted to “get back to basics,” knit that cream-colored “throw-over-anything, cropped and boxy cardigan” that is somehow a deficit in my handmade (or store-bought) wardrobe.

And that got me thinking about the rest of my wardrobe, the things I desire most, the things that I feel are missing, the things that are hardest to find – pre-made or otherwise. I really want a few pairs of high-waisted pants, some classic trim trousers in a structured wool for winter, or wide-leg sailor pants for spring and summer. (Psst … Emily Wallace sewed up her own Kamm pant lookalike in a must-see sherbet pink, for a fraction of the store price. Adding that to my “someday” to-do list!) I’d also love to have a select few boxy, seamed, set-in-sleeve pullovers knit up in a DK or worsted weight, with a snug, foldover neckband. I could imagine those sweaters being just as dreamy and necessary in a tweedy toffee brown or a bright, speckled colorway. And of course, I long for that basic cream cardigan. You can check out my Pinterest “Spring” board to get a better picture of what I’m envisioning in my head.

I list all of this out because I’m seeing a discernable pattern here. I’m thirsty for well-constructed, timeless but modern basics. I love juicy cables and an Icelandic yoked sweater as much as the next knitter, but those sweaters ultimately aren’t the ones I usually reach for when I’m getting ready in the morning.

There’s something about “basics” that sounds dull and ho-hum to a knitter looking for a challenge, but I think there’s a way to bridge that gap between “I want this thing” and the perceived snoozefest factor. Knitting in straight stockinette or rib can be dull knitting, sure, but it can also zip up pretty fast and be meditative and gratifying in its own way, especially if the yarn is a dream and you’re designing or modifying your own pattern to make it really yours. I’m also finding that it pushes me to be more attentive to shaping and finishing details that set a handmade garment apart from my earlier work.

So, back to that cream dream cardigan – I put it on my 2017 to-do list, and here we are, five months later and at the start of spring. I’ve swatched and cast on my second top-down sweater using Karen’s tutorial, and quite frankly, I’m in love. I carry this project with me everywhere and the knitting has been addictive.

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

MY PLAN

I’m knitting a slightly oversized, boxy, cropped cardigan. I want to keep the lines and visual interest minimal, having this sweater be a truly throw-over-anything kind of piece. I cast on a total 56 stitches for the neck to start, breaking up the stitches as follows: 2 | 1 | 9 | 1 | 30 | 1 | 9 | 1 | 2. That means 1 stitch for each side of the front of the sweater with 1 selvedge stitch each, 30 stitches for the back, and 9 stitches each for the sleeves. I’ll use a basting stitch to seam up that 1-stitch raglan across the yoke. I’m working the entire sweater in stockinette, with the exception of some ribbing for the sleeve cuffs, bottom hem and a neckband.

To work my increases, I increased on either side of the raglans every other row a total of 23 times for the sleeves, and 25 times for the body. I also increased a stitch on either side of the front of the cardigan every 8 rows to give a steep sloped “V” in the front. Since this is such a simple pattern, I wanted to be extra mindful of my choice of increases, so I opted for the following method that I picked up from Julie Hoover’s Cline pattern:

Inc-R (Increase – Right Leaning): Lift right leg of the stitch below the first stitch on the left needle onto left needle and knit it, then slip the first stitch on left needle purlwise

Inc-L (Increase – Left Leaning): Slip next stitch from left needle purlwise, then lift the left leg of the stitch below the slipped stitch onto left needle and knit it though the back loop

Once my increases were complete, I cast on 15 stitches for the underarm on each side, and will continue working the rest of the sweater flat, without shaping, to achieve that boxy look.

Sizing: With the increases I just laid out, the cardigan should be around 38″ at the bust with some generous sleeves, a 14″ diameter around the top of the sleeve with an 8″ armhole depth. After I made it through about 1″ of the body, I put my live body stitches on some waste yarn and blocked the whole thing, to really make sure that the fit was what I wanted. So far, so good!

Yarn: Oh, let me tell you about this yarn. I picked up a few skeins of Blue Sky Fibers’ new Woolstok in Highland Fleece (undyed) colorway over the winter, and it has a really unique balance of softness and tooth. It’s a worsted weight, 2-ply yarn produced out of Arequipa, Peru. You can read more about the origins of Woolstok (and see lots of stunning photos of Peru and the production process) on Blue Sky Fibers’ blog. It’s bouncy, bright and blocks beautifully.

Curious about those other swatches in my photos? I’ve been knitting up a lot of stockinette swatches lately with pullovers and baby sweaters in mind (for lots of friends and my new niece — don’t get any ideas). The speckled yarn is Madelinetosh’s Tosh DK in Filtered Light, and that gold swatch is Plymouth Yarn Company’s Merino Superwash in 0061 Gold colorway.

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

THE SWATCH

This swatch is as simple as they come. It’s a basic stockinette stitch pattern (knit on the right side, purl the wrong side) with a garter stitch border.

Yarn: Blue Sky Fibers Woolstok in Highland Fleece (undyed)
Needles: US 6 / 4 mm metal needles
Gauge: 20 stitches / 32.5 rows = 4″ in stockinette stitch

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

M E T H O D

Cast on 40 stitches. Work six rows in garter stitch (knit both sides of work). Begin stockinette pattern as follows:

Row 1: Knit

Row 2: Knit 3, purl until 3 stitches remain, knit 3.

Work until desired length, then repeat six rows of garter stitch to finish border. Bind off loosely.

Jess Schreibstein is a digital strategist, knitter and painter living in Baltimore, MD. Learn more about her work at jess-schreibstein.com or follow her on Instagram at @thekitchenwitch.

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Origin Stories: Starcroft Fiber Mill

EDITOR’S NOTE: Happy Friday! Today I’m pleased to launch another new regular column, this one by Hannah Thiessen (whose book Slow Knitting is due out this Fall) on the subject of yarns with great origin stories! I hope this will be a great resource for all of us who want to know more about where our materials come from, representing a wide range of sources, fibers and price points. I also want to say a special thank-you to photographer-knitter Gale Zucker (follow @galezucker on Instagram) for providing the shearing-day photos for this piece! For more of Gale’s photos of Nash Island, see her blog.
—Karen

Origin Stories: Starcroft Fiber Mill

BY HANNAH THIESSEN // The first time I encountered Jani Estell’s yarn from the Starcroft Fiber Mill, it felt a lot like being let in on a well-kept secret. I was in New York, attending a fiber show, and some friends of mine mentioned that there would be a yarn-related pop-up show the same day in Greenwich Village. Having never been to Greenwich Village before, and always enticed by the idea of undiscovered yarns, I hailed a cab and headed out for adventure.

The weather was chilly (perfect for those having wooly thoughts), and the rotating art-space venue was just the right amount of cozy, rustic, and full. The glowing warmth of incandescent light and fading sunshine lit up several large farm tables and rustic benches, laden with Starcroft Fiber Mill’s Nash Island wools. Jani Estell wove her way through those purchasing single skeins and sweater lots, while some knitters settled in on skinny, wiggling benches and pulled out their projects to chat. I couldn’t resist the pull of this perfect moment and purchased seven skeins of Nash Island Light, a soft and shiny worsted (almost aran) weight yarn. The color I chose was the palest, faintest collection of cloudy blue: what I dreamt as a reflection of the story of this wool.

The story, really, is simply the best part of this yarn. Yes, the hand is lovely, the colors are beautifully applied, the finished knit has character in abundance — but so many yarns can lay claim to these attributes. It is after the true “yarn” untangles, after I discover the story of a wool, that I truly fall in love.

100 years ago, in 1916, a woman named Jenny Cirone’s father became the lighthouse keeper of a small island off the coast of Downeast Maine. Jenny started a flock of sheep that she tended on Little Nash Island. Over time, her family purchased the land of the small island and its neighboring, larger one, Big Nash Island. When the lighthouse was decommissioned, she moved to the mainland, but continued tending her flock until she was 92 years old. In her will, she entrusted the flock (now wild, with free reign of the island) to her neighbors, the Wakemans, with whom she had a deep friendship (and had taught to lobster-fish!). They continue to care for the flock today in the same way, leaving the sheep free to roam, and rounding them up for shearing. The wool from each shearing was partially sold at wool markets and also combined with a local wool pool, until Jani began working with them around 2005.

Jani Estell started up a small spinning mill just a few miles inland from the Nash Islands in 2000. She began processing fibers for small customers and eventually came into contact with the Wakemans and Jenny (who passed in 2004.) As a local purveyor of yarns, Jani got to know a shearer who worked with the Nash Island flock and was asked along to complete the circle — help out with the shearing. She felt immediate kinship with the Wakemans and with Jenny, whose passion and love for the sheep on her islands was contagious. After working with the sheep, Jenny, and the Wakemans, she fell in love with the story behind the wool and felt a desire to create yarns that could fully celebrate the uniqueness of the island’s fleece. Jani shifted the focus of her mill to producing only her own Starcroft-branded yarns, and providing the Wakeman family with the viable income needed to support the continuation of the Island flock. She is now involved full-time as the wool manager for the flock and purchases all the wool from the islands at fair-market price.

Origin Stories: Starcroft Fiber Mill

After 100 years on the island, the sheep are truly their own landrace breed, with Coopworth and Romney wool introduced through breeding for continued genetic diversity. They produce heavy fleeces with a 6-8″ staple fiber: a medium wool that is surprisingly soft, airy and shiny, with a glowing halo. She sees the wool as akin to a fine wine: Changes in weather and diet for the sheep can yield small changes, giving each shearing a unique vintage. Unlike hay-raised wools or other rustic wools, Nash Island wools are almost completely free of chaff, due to the diet and habitat of the sheep, making them easy to work with and requiring minimal processing. Jani dyes them in a range of “fog-washed” colors, similar to watercolor washes on wet paper.

The sheep are absolutely wild by nature, and do not interact with humans regularly. They have formed a dynamic community and Jani says that they tend to stay together in family groups: Grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and a matriarch ewe might be seen ‘standing vigil’ in lambing season. Their caregivers do their best to minimize contact and observe from a distance. For now, the future of the sheep is clear: It is the desire of Jani and the Wakemans to continue to care for the sheep in just the way that Jenny did. The island is privately owned and cared for with the same level of respect and dedication, and the Wakemans’ three daughters have grown up with the islands and sheep as part of their lives. The eldest Wakeman daughter and her mother have even learned to shear, allowing the mantle to be passed down from Donna Kausen and Geri Valentine, friends of Jenny’s who have been shearing the flock for 35+ years. Shearing is a community effort, with Jani, the Wakemans, and friends from near and far joining to ‘complete the circle’ and bring the wool to the mainland.

Jani has now fully dedicated her time and the mill to solely producing yarns made from the wools of the island flock. Currently, there are three yarns available from Starcroft Fiber Mill: Nash Island Light, a light worsted-weight 2-ply from ewe wool; Nash Island Tide, a DK-weight 2-ply from ewe wool; and Nash Island Fog, a special fingering-weight 2-ply made exclusively from the flock’s lambs’ wool, with an added touch of Maine-grown angora. This Spring, she’ll introduce a new yarn, which I will await with eager anticipation and ready needles. In some small way, by buying the yarn, it’s almost as if I’m getting to complete the larger circle: the story of lives entwined with wool.

Hannah Thiessen is a freelance creative & social media strategist who specializes in yarn and fiber. She knits and dabbles in other crafty pursuits on her blog, www.handmadebyhannahbelle.com, and you can follow her on Instagram as @hannahbelleknits

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Photos of Jani Estell, husband Grant and sheep © Gale Zucker and yarn photo © Holly McBride for Starcroft; used with permission

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.

. . .

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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Photos © India Flint, used with permission