Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // A Verb for Keeping Warm is one of the loveliest fabric and yarn shops I’ve ever visited and yet it’s so much more than a supply store for San Francisco Bay Area fiber enthusiasts. This space also hosts community events, book launches, classes, fiber clubs, an outdoor dye studio, a full range of materials for knitting, sewing, weaving, and regular appearances by the knitting world’s luminaries. Yet it’s also just a friendly place to buy fabric. To browse craft books. To trail your fingers gently across naturally dyed yarns and find some respite from the bustling pace of urban life.

Kristine Vejar (@avfkw) is the owner of “Verb” and she’s also an avid researcher, dyer, maker, author and teacher. Her passion for creating connections in the natural dye world, inspiration for a homemade wardrobe, and dedication to supporting the handmade community all spill over into the aesthetics, energy and attitude of her beautiful shop. When you enter Verb it’s like you’ve entered Kristine’s auxiliary living room. It’s difficult to summarize Kristine’s contributions to the Slow Fashion community because they are so wide, wonderful and heartfelt. She’s a savvy businesswoman, an artist and author, and she’s just so good at making folks feel welcome in her space.

Her book The Modern Natural Dyer is iconic in the natural dye world. It’s exquisitely designed, highly informative, and chock-full of gorgeously styled photos. Yet I get the sense that all of this is just the beginning of Kristine’s offerings.

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A Verb for Keeping Warm is so much more than a shop. Was it always your intention to create a community gathering space when you opened?

Yes! Absolutely! The times in my life when I have felt most connected to others, and most understood, was through the act of stitching and making textiles.

I grew up within my grandmother’s knitting and sewing circles in rural Illinois. My grandma’s best friend, Doris, owned a yarn and gift shop named The Black Sheep. It was in a little house on the town square, across from the amphitheater where the local orchestra played Sunday evenings in the summer. Women were always gathered knitting and stitching. I adored going there as a child and still, in my memory, it is the epitome of a knitting store.

Years later, I went to school in India to study art and architecture. I found myself gravitating to a specific collection of bright, colorful textiles created by nomadic herders named Rabari. I traveled to the desert and found myself feeling at home amongst large groups of women stitching. Upon returning to the US, I learned to spin yarn and joined a spinning group. Again, in the circle of spinners, I felt at home. Oakland and the Bay Area have a lot going on. It can be overwhelming and exciting. I found that having a group to spin and knit with have helped me turn this big town into a small town. I felt I had a sense of place.

When I opened my first natural dyeing studio in Berkeley, I had studio sales and began to meet lots of people. By the end of the year, I rented another space, turned it into a little store, and more people began to gather for events and classes. Finally, I was at the crux of needing to decide the next direction for Verb. Would we move into a warehouse and cultivate a wholesale business, or would we go the community route and open a shop and school?

Due to my memories of stitch circles, I decided to go the community route and opened in our current location on San Pablo Avenue in 2011. I wanted to teach people how to use fiber, yarn, fabric and natural dyes. I wanted people to meet one another who share this same interest. And I hoped others would experience a sense of belonging brought on by textiles and community.

I think of others who make products similar in ethics to Verb as my community. So I felt that by creating a shop, I could support this community and carry their products — like Brooklyn Tweed, Quince and Co, Stone Wool, Spincycle, Manos, and Twirl yarn, as well as Merchant & Mills fabric, Fringe Supply Co. goods, etc. This year, we have traveled a lot to study natural dyeing and have brought a lot of materials and dyes home to Verb. It has been great to be able to support these independent artisans and farmers.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

Verb focuses on sustainable, handmade, independently designed, small batch, or otherwise ethically produced fibers. Was sustainability always at the forefront in your work?

When I went to school in India, we traveled way out into the country. I stayed with a family and farmed. To be honest, it was hell. They had one cow, a plow and a mud hut. (There is absolutely nothing wrong with having only three things in life, if it is a choice and if there is a safety net – security that if your crop fails, you will not starve.) I spent my time there on my haunches in over 100-degree weather, weeding. I had already been pondering the differences in socio-economic conditions between people: why and how such disparity existed, and why it is acceptable. And in that experience on the farm, my world and perspective broke open. In the following days, everything I saw – t-shirts, pants, rice, flour, vegetables – I saw those farmers bent over, for endless hours and days. I thought if I am paying only 5 cents for a bag of rice (or even in the case of the $10 t-shirt in the US), given how many hands all of these products must have travelled through, what must the farmer earn?

Meanwhile, still in India, I wandered into a shop one day. There was a man behind the counter wearing clothing which in my mind looked traditional – or what I had seen in photos – a kind of cloth pill-box hat, and a shirt which had a short collar and 4 buttons along the chest. Behind him in glass cases were stacks of cloth and clothing. I asked to see these pieces. There was a rustic quality to them – although sometimes the fabric was very fine – there was an irregularity to the threads. I looked above him and there was a photo of Gandhi. I felt confused. He gave me a book to read. I had known that Gandhi led India’s fight for independence from Britain in 1947, but what I learned is that Gandhi encouraged people to spin their own cotton and weave it into cloth, in their homes, as a way to boycott their British colonizers. The action of making cloth undermined Britain’s financial hold on India. The cloth in that shop was handspun and handwoven. It is called khadi cloth. And to this day, the government subsidizes these shops. I found this incredibly inspiring on so many levels. Cloth having the power to either indenture someone or free them. Individuals taking the power back by creating their own cloth. And the fact that each person, in their own small way, can make a difference. Cloth was and can be a medium for social justice.

About a year later, when I was again in India, I was working with dyers. There were chemical dyes in puddles. I began looking into what these dyes were made of. And again, I questioned how the choices I was making through my consumption were altering the lives of others in negative ways. And how does the health of the Earth impact the health of humans? How can we co-exist with the Earth, work with our hands, and be healthy and financially stable? Why do we value and are willing to pay programmers or CEOs millions of dollars but not the people who grow our food and fiber? How can I redistribute this money to those whose work I believe in – those who treat people, the Earth, and their animals kindly. People who are purely profit-driven are behemoths. So how do I focus my attention and energy on all the “little people” whose work resonates with me.

I began to think about equality. No one should work so hard and have to suffer. And I certainly did not want to contribute to this suffering. In that moment, I wanted to make things better. I wanted to help increase the value of these everyday objects that are so easily taken for granted. Life is complex and complicated. I was stunned by what to do. I felt judgmental to insert what I believed should or could be done in a country that was not my own. So I returned home to the United States, where I thought that possibly I could engage in a conversation and/or create a product which could increase value for the work of those around the world. That said, I was really young and lost. I got a 9-5 job. It was a good job but not my passion. This came as another life lesson: There have to be others like me for which corporate culture makes them unhappy. I began thinking about the possibility of being able to create a company that could employ others, like me, interested in textiles and people.

And then the conversation about global warming began to be more widely discussed. I went to school for Art and Art History so I had a lot to learn (still do). I began to learn terms and theories – like thinking about my carbon footprint. Of course, from living in the Bay Area I was aware of Alice Waters’ work and growing food locally in order to reduce one’s carbon footprint and to support local farmers. So as I began my yarn line, I desperately wanted to have yarn made from local farmers’ wool. But it was a puzzle. Every time I could find local wool, it was really scratchy. I liked it but I knew it would not sell well. Natural dyeing is labor intensive and the dyes can be expensive. Every time I found soft wool, it was very expensive and available in small supply. I pushed forward using imported yarn.

Also, something to note is that investing in local fiber typically means investing a lot more money up front. In most cases, there would be a distributor who would make that initial investment and order thousands of pounds of yarn at once, and we would receive the opportunity to order small quantities of yarn on demand. As we have moved towards more local fibers, we oftentimes pay thousands of dollars for wool, which we will not see in yarn form for 6-9 months. Once we receive the yarn, we still need to dye it, so it could be a full year before that yarn hits the shelves. So before we could fulfill my mind’s eye, we had to have enough financial (and emotional!) stability to feel confident enough to take the plunge.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

In 2012, I met Sally Fox, the notoriously independent, organic, colored-cotton breeder, and we hit it off. She lives about 90 miles from me. With her guidance, I made my first local yarn from the wool of her sheep and named it after her: Pioneer. We are now on our 4th batch of Pioneer and have made at least a half dozen other yarns composed of California and/or US wool.

There are more people now who care if my yarn is made of US wool, but for many years, and somewhat still to this day, there are other things of greater importance to customers – like color or price point. So using US wool is something that I care more about, and intend to supply, than the current demand. This is a risky place to be in — most business advisors recommend seeing where demand is and filling it. You know, give people what they want. I guess I am stubborn. For instance, we are in the process of shifting our yarn called Annapurna, which is made of imported superwash merino, cashmere, and nylon (an extremely popular blend industry-wide) to California Rambouillet wool. While it is soft, it is most definitely not going to be as soft as Annapurna and the hand is going to change slightly. We might really upset our long-term customers. So the question becomes: When might people alter the expectations (softness/color/hand), to support wool with a lower carbon footprint that will help the environment and which will support a local farmer? Or who knows – maybe the stars will align, everyone will love the new yarn and I will have spent many nights worrying for nothing.

I’ve come to learn that my days of working in 100-degree-plus weather on a farm are far from over as I’ve helped Sally over the years with her farm: planting cotton, dye plants, skirting fleece and lots of weeding. And still, as I’ve spent hours, and look out and see how much is left to do, or how there’s been too little or too much rain, needing to surrender to what is, I think of those farmers in India – and of the thousands of other farmers around the world growing fiber and food. And once again become committed to leveling the playing field, education and uplifting the value of farming.

There’s such an incredible community of textile artists, knitters, crafters, makers and otherwise insanely talented people in the Bay Area. Are there particular ways that you proactively engage community through the shop or through your work with teaching and dyeing?

We hold a monthly meeting called Seam Allowance that is essentially a support group for people who have pledged to make at least 25% of the clothing they wear on a daily basis. People share what they have been making, perhaps where they are stuck, and what they hope to make in the future. It’s been amazing to watch people’s progress. We have had people who just learned to knit make sweaters, and eventually learn to sew, and make dresses and shirts. And there is a sector of this group that has become really involved in learning about materials and is focusing on farm-raised, local materials.

We also host many teachers from around the world. It is wonderful to have the community come together to take class from these teachers. And then, like you said, we have very talented local artists and makers in this area and they teach at Verb as well. I love being able to support their work and to offer their products to other makers. We also offer a series of free knitting and sewing demos.

This year is different than prior years. Since June 2016, we have traveled to Iceland, Oaxaca, Indonesia and Japan to research natural dyeing. Usually, I am home nearly the whole year and teach natural dyeing about once a month and classes focused upon the work of Natalie Chanin and Alabama Chanin. Then, about three times a year, I host a community indigo dip, where people are invited into the studio to dip a piece of fabric and try their hand at indigo dyeing. Seeing first-hand dyeing of fabric in India was so life-changing for me that I try to expose people to the process of dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting and sewing so they may be drawn into the process and engage! In 2018, I am planning to travel less, so we will be able to resume more of these community-specific events.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

There’s been so much interest in natural dyes lately and it is so exciting to see a wider audience taking interest in plants dyes. Can you talk about the opportunity natural dyeing creates for you to connect with your garments or fibers?

It is so exciting! I don’t think a day goes by when I’m not in awe that color can come from plants and attach to cloth. The more I learn about natural dyeing, the more I realize I have only scratched the surface. For example, although I work with plants on a daily basis, I know .5% (maybe less, there is that much to know) about plants. There is SO much to learn regarding the different plant families and the properties of those families, and how their relationship to soil affects pigment.

Even scientists, such as botanists, are discovering new plants and learning more about plants on a daily basis – especially as it becomes easier to test genetics. In the past five years, a type of indigo grown in Japan shifted in name from Polygonum tinctoria to Persicaria tinctoria. Sometimes I find this overwhelming. I crave an answer. The answer. I want to understand. I don’t want the answer to change. For me, natural dyeing symbolizes the ability to surrender to the unknown, but finding beauty along the way, staying curious, being a student, and feeling uncomfortable because I am stretching my knowledge and understanding of nature.

I am most calm when I am in the woods. Natural dyeing is a way to bring the woods with me in the form of my clothing. Natural dyeing is a challenge. How can a rich, beautiful palette, possibly consisting of 100 colorways, be made with 7-10 plants? How have people around the world used materials found within 100 miles of their homes to create clothing, embedded with color and motifs, which upheld their culture and community through the cultivation of their distinct local fashion, where the clothing is worn with pride of place, as a signifier of connection to the land upon which they live and work for survival?

The Slow Fashion movement is so exciting right now for the multiple ways it’s engaging makers — dyeing, mending, sewing, knitting, weaving — but I always try to consider the way folks might engage if they aren’t at a technical place to make their own garments. What do you suggest for folks who are truly beginning or not yet making clothing?

There are so many points of possible engagement. Anything from purchasing clothing secondhand to purchasing clothing from a local designer, possibly one who is manufacturing their clothing locally, and possibly also looking closely at the materials chosen to make the clothing. Learning to thread a needle and take a few stitches. Dropping into a yarn shop and acquiring yarn and needles to make a simple garter stitch scarf. Try dyeing a piece of clothing.

Have a few extra hours? Perhaps a local farmer, small yarn producer, or designer needs an extra set of hands. Maybe you are a writer, and can lend your voice. (If I have to read one more New Yorker article about the dawn of time, and not have textiles mentioned as an incredibly influencing factor over just about everything, I am going to scream.) Or an artist, who could create a piece of art reflecting the images and portraits of things you find inspiring and motivational. A song would be great!

People might laugh at my answer, but I truly think for this movement to take root, we have to explore the natural affinities clothing shares with other pillars of our culture – like food, shelter, art, literature, music and dance. Plus, that crossover can be so interesting, and draw in more people who have not previously thought of clothing as more than something to just cover one’s self. And sometimes, from the inside, it is hard to see. So having someone new come to the table and add to the experience is a wonderful thing.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

You have a beautifully handmade wardrobe ranging from knitted garments to sewn garments, dyed garments and so much more. What have you learned to be the best combination for patterns, fibers and colors? We’re all looking for that magical combination in a homemade garment that we can wear over and over again. Do you have a formula like, say, neutral colors in natural fibers that are loose fitting? Or is it more serendipitous?

Aw, thanks Katrina! You know, funny enough, I have a long history of making things that wouldn’t be called basics. I do have a history of following fashion, i.e. making things that go out of style. The first time I sewed my entire wardrobe was when I was going to work in Washington D.C. at the Textile Museum in 2001. It was January. I had been working at Poppy Fabrics (R.I.P.) and I made my pants, blouses, dresses and coat. I loved everything I sewed but it was made solely for that experience. I was there to work as a consultant for about two months. None of that clothing transitioned back into my life in Oakland.

The same thing happened when I returned to D.C. that summer. And again, when I went back to India to live. And now it continues: I find myself most apt to sew when I am about to go somewhere. I make these little collections. The geographic location and climate cultivates the restraint around what design I choose and the materials I use. Otherwise, I find the process can feel too open-ended. Some of these pieces do make it into my daily wardrobe. Currently, this tends to be a collection of linen dresses which I mainly wear to keep cool.

I am what some might call boring. I tend to like all neutrals and indigo blue, and all natural fibers, especially linen, cotton and wool. The focus of my clothing is more where the fiber is grown and what it is dyed with than a high level of technical sewing skill. My knitting tends to be more technically adept. Although because I find myself dialed in so much to my dyeing, which can be quite fussy, I will fully admit to wimping out and forgoing a sweater pattern because it is written to be knit in pieces (rather than seamless). So in other words, I am most satisfied when I enjoy the process of making, the materials I am using, and then feel comfortable wearing once complete.

Lastly, tell us three tools you personally cannot live without.

My Addi Turbos! Specifically the super sharp Rockets and the interchangeable lace needles with long handles. I love that these are made in Germany and are traceable. They are smooth and help me knit very fast!

My camera, as it helps me to record a visual journey of my time traveling, researching and creating.

My dye journal so I can understand how I have achieved specific colors and to learn more about plants.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Kristine Vejar

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 Citizen: Karen Templer

Photos © Kristine Vejar, used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // I’ve known Sasha Duerr (@sashaduerr) for nearly two decades—from something of a previous life or previous lives in my early days in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late ’90s. When I met Sasha I was instantly drawn to her kind nature, open heart, astute observations, and also her thoughtful approach to fiber arts, gardening and her wardrobe. Fast-forward a few lifetimes, jobs, relocations, children and homesteads later, and Sasha and I have remained steady friends while finding more in common in our creative and professional lives.

I mention our friendship because it’s this kinship and kindness that’s part of Sasha’s nature across her personal relationships and her relationship to her work that offers something so unique in her contribution to Slow Fashion —she’s generous, kind, intuitive, and deeply invested. And this tending, this attention, or this attunement is something that’s so prominent in her work with natural color. Sasha’s been working with natural dyes and “regenerative fashion” for nearly twenty years but her relationship to her work and to the slow fashion community feels like it’s own sense of stewardship—she’s protecting dye recipes, creative practices, and slow fashion community for generations to come. Her work evolves from her passionate connection to the land and permaculture but it extends to color, fiber, and human interactions. She lives a very intentional life as an artist, teacher, mother and homesteader, but from the bustling, urban and decidedly modern space of Oakland CA.

It’s an honor to share Sasha’s work and words in this series. Though it’s apparent she is just scratching the surface of what she has to offer at the intersection of permaculture, art and design, it’s this shifting of mindset and language that I always cherish in my interactions with Sasha. I leave our conversations wanting more insight into her resources, mentors, and philosophical approach alongside tips to creating those gorgeous plant-based colors. Welcome, Sasha!

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Your work has been inspiring me for years and it’s such a thrill to share your story. Can you start by giving an overview of your journey working with natural dyes? 

I was fortunate to grow-up spending most of my time outside—splitting every 6 months between the northern coastal woods of Downeast Maine and the rainforests of the Big Island of Hawaii. Living within these very different ecosystems deepened my love and relationship with plants at an early age.

Studying painting in college, my work focused on transformations found in nature, but I was using primarily oil paints and acrylics. Ironically, I started to get sick from working with my materials, and as I researched ways of making my own lesser and non-toxic colors realized that much of the information was outdated, difficult to understand, or with recipes that used toxic sources. This led me to travel (towards Indonesia and India) and to seek out teachers and lineages of this knowledge. Upon arriving back in the US, it also brought me to women in agriculture — on farms and deeper research and knowledge in the indigenous communities that I had grown-up within.

Early after college, I also became active in urban gardening and working with the slow food movement in the Bay Area, recognizing obvious and striking parallels between not knowing where most of our store-bought fashion and textiles came from and how disconnected most were from the process of production—as well as the exploitation and environmental degradation that lies below the surface of the sale bin.

While working on my MFA in Textiles at California College of the Arts in 2001-2003, I received a two-year grant to develop natural dye curriculum at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California. Through my work there, I started focusing my thesis on the direct connections between slow food and slow fashion — how sensory experiences were key to change.

After graduate school I explored natural dyes in my studio, through research, teaching workshops, hosting conceptual natural color related events and sought out further studies in gardening — particularly Permaculture. This work led me to found Permacouture Institute to explore ideas for regenerative design in fashion and textiles.

From 2008 through 2012, I collaborated with my friend and designer Casey Larkin on the creation of a locally made and all seasonally naturally dyed (by me) alpaca knitwear. We learned alot about what was possible and what was needed in slow fashion, local and natural fiber dyeing production, especially as new moms, but the work we created together was invaluable and I evolved so much in terms of knowing the power of storytelling through plant palettes and slow fashion. (I am now so grateful that Fibershed exists to connect the gaps between farmers, producers and designers to rethink regional production as it is very needed!)

My work in natural dyes also led me to develop curriculum courses in the intersection of social practice and slow fashion and textiles at my alma mater, CCA. I have been a professor there for the past 10 years and teach a course called “Soil to Studio” where we done an abundance of research and experimentation over the years in plant dyeing recipes and natural dye applications, we also maintain a community edible, fiber and dye garden with a fiber and dye seed saving library (available for any student, faculty or staff to check out) and collaborate with community partners, such as UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Cultivating the connection of creating color from by-products of food, flora, medicinals, and plants beneficial to our ecologies has become my life’s work — and for me there is no comparison to the beauty of the true hues that have emerged in the process.

It seems that maybe your personal migrations from Maine to Hawaii to California play a part in your approach to dye work, foraging for dyes and working with the local landscape. This also has the benefit of allowing you intimacy and familiarity with local plants in various ecosystems. Would you agree?

Absolutely, paying attention to and knowing the plants in our immediate surroundings connects us wherever we are. Plants can often become invisible to us in our everyday landscapes. It’s surprising how few most of us know by name — even trees in our own backyards.

As an artist, I am also fascinated by how natural color can become a vital tool to help us become more aware — to realize that what we know about our everyday surroundings can constantly surprise us, and that a brilliant spectrum of hues can be found in places that you may never expect, beautiful colors made from compost from a dinner with friends, or a rainbow from the weeds you pass by every day without a second thought. What we consider “valuable” is always an interesting question as well. For instance carrot tops provide gorgeous gold and green colors, we take it for granted and we toss the tops or they are pre-cut for us at the grocery store but at one point carrots were actually grown for the tops and not the roots as they are very medicinal and flavorful!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

Your work with natural dyes feels so much deeper than creating color and experimenting with various fibers. You mention Permaculture in your work and you founded the Permacouture Institute. Is there a deeper philosophical or ecological approach to your work with dyes and plants?

What I love about Permaculture is that people and planet are considered equally when thinking about a system. In 2007, I founded Permacouture Institute (with the help of dear friends and supporters). Permacouture became a great way to explore ideas of slow fashion and textiles and to bring people together, to document, research and create through multisensory events and ultimately environmental connections.

Throughout the years we’ve nurtured programs and events to think holistically about natural dyes, slow fashion and textiles. We’ve organized social events about rethinking consumption called “Weed Your Wardrobes” where we dye unwanted clothing and textiles giving them fresh life while weeding urban community gardens and using those same weeds to dye the garments. We’ve explored plant-based “compost colors” by hosting “Dinners to Dye For” and “Seasonal Color and Taste Palette” workshops with slow food chefs, bringing communities together through seasonal meals and using the byproducts of those very same meals.

There are so many ways in which working with natural color can connect us deeply to people, place, and to the planet. The process of growing a dye plant from seed, or of reusing plants that may be taken for granted, plant colors can connect us to something greater, bringing a naturally embedded meaning not possibly squeezed synthetically out of a tube. When you are working with natural fibers and color as well as with fair and just labor, in contrast, you’re constantly aware that you are working on nature’s schedule, not just your own. This allows you to be directly involved with the natural world, communities and individuals, as well as with a plant or animal’s life cycle in relationship to your own.

Cultural continuation, celebration of biodiversity, and awareness and appreciation of supply chain and the labor involved in creating and making additionally helps in stewardship of resources and care of materials.

The growing conditions of the Bay Area for experimenting with natural color have also been a blessing. Knowing the full and unique dimensions that plants can provide —food, medicine, color, fiber— supports deeper roots in our communities, culturally expands design possibilities for food and textiles, and purely from an ecological perspective a healthier and happier future not just for people but for all life.

You’ve been ahead of the trend with natural dyes and sustainable fibers. Although we’re the same age I always consider you an elder in this work — you’ve been considering fiber sources, dye plants, slow living, and sustainable fashion for over 15 years now and that seems like forever in slow fashion. Can you talk about the broader shift you’ve witnessed in the past 10 or 15 years in relation to the interest or awareness in slow fashion?

A major shift that I’ve seen over the past 15 years is that there is now so much more support, strength and organization both within the slow fashion movement and from the mainstream. It has been so wonderful to see how the facets have grown and how many slow fashion and textile nonprofits, artists, advocates and designers are now working in the field.

I think the general consciousness of embracing the uniqueness of artisan and plant-based color has definitely gained more awareness. Navigating the complexities of our wardrobes and where things come from can be nothing less than overwhelming to the average wearer. One way that plant dyeing has been a very successful tool for the slow fashion and textile movement is in how easy the process (which is nearly if not identical to the process of cooking) of applying plant-based color to anything that you already have in your home or wardrobe as a connective and sensory process, thus allowing you to WANT to know more.

I will say that I am also happy, especially as a teacher and professor who has borne witness to so many talented souls and their creative ideas, to see all the diverse practices emerging in the ways that we can think about, approach, participate and add to this movement. There really is not one way. Being creative with what you have in your own individual life, connecting with your community, rethinking and strategizing modes and methods of art and design, supporting others in their efforts all add in the ways in which we can begin now, right where we are.

Your work just gets richer and richer — it feels like your connection to sustainable living and your practice as a colorist are entirely intertwined. I see your work as equal parts process and product. As if the teaching, gardening, art making and personal living are all interconnected. Can you talk about this blurring of boundaries and how one influences or provokes the other?

The process of making a dye bath often becomes an ultimate form of creative “flow” for me, it can awaken all the senses from growing and gathering the plants to the smells, even tastes when you are working with edibles, and of course witnessing unique and multifaceted living color. For me, it is a constant renewal of awe.

I enjoy working holistically, collaborating and connecting with the process, starting with what you have and going from there. I have always loved the practice of plant dyeing both for the process and the results as well as a tool to talk about bigger picture aspects. I believe one of the greatest plights of our modern times is the true cost of over-consumption. Plant dyes, whether you are connected from the seed of growing the color or are just conscious that by pruning your fruit trees in winter you can not only help your peach tree to grow healthier fruit in the summer but the clippings themselves can also provide an abundance of other uses including but not limited to all the seasonal color inspiration and ingredients one may need.

In addition to your work as an instructor and fiber artist you’ve also consulted with various fashion brands around their sustainability efforts. You mentioned the metaphor of “Turning an ocean tanker around versus turning a row boat” meaning that most of the independent artists, designers, and makers have an easier time switching directions, taking risks, and responding to information than a large institution that already has so many systems in place. Can you expand on this thinking of flexibility and adaptability?

Yes, I always say this to my students as they are at a point of starting small and being able to grow intentionally and with new creative initiative. Although there can be big changes and ripple effects that happen when large companies re-approach their methods toward more ethical practices (both environmentally and socially) independent artists and designers play a particularly important role as starting small and showcasing how things can be done differently, with more intention, care, collaboration or innovation can be extremely powerful. Starting small often allows you to see what works and to build in ways that can be most effective. Flexibility is also key to design for what an individual or community may actually need and what can best support their needs in changing or growing in the process.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

You recently published your second book, Natural Color, and it’s a favorite on my bookshelf. The how-tos in this book focus primarily on food scraps, foraged plants and easily accessible dye materials versus prepared extracts, powders or natural dyes you might order online. Is this connection to the whole plant pivotal to your work?

In my own practice of working with plant-based color, I often use whole plants rather than extracts, I need to be aware of their seasonal availability, growth cycles and color potential. With this knowledge I can develop a color palette specific to a time of year, much like planning a seasonal menu. Working with plant color is one of the easiest and most accessible ways of connecting with the cycle of our ecologies and applying that knowledge directly to the design practice.

I love starting with the whole plant because I think it provides the opportunity for an added level of sensory connection to the process and therefore to the product. There is something so profound about the transformation that occurs when you start with the whole. I also love sharing with others the wow factor of taking something ordinary, like an avocado pit, and showing the gorgeous pinks and grays that can be conjured so easily, or from a bouquet of roses. Meanwhile you get to eat the avocado or enjoy the roses before they hit your dye pot — very difficult to do when you start directly with a powder or an extract.

Working on Natural Color was an absolute joy. We took an actual calendar year to collect and document the seasonal recipes made from gleaning, growing and harvesting a biodiversity of common and less-common plants as sources of dyes. Natural Color was also inspired by a project I’ve been working on for several years now called the Seasonal Color Wheel, which showcases natural colors you can make seasonally from common plants, often weeds and byproducts in various regions, especially urban centers.

In Natural Color we get a sense of this deeper relationship to sustainable living through your essays. The Slow Fashion movement only has a handful of theorists writing nonfiction at this point — Kate Fletcher quickly comes to mind — but it feels like the movement is rapidly developing leadership. What are your thoughts about connecting theory and practice in such a rapidly developing field?

Slow Fashion theory is important as there are so many people who will never grow their own fiber, sew their own garments or dye their own clothes, but supporting and understanding why these practices are important is equally valuable.

I often reference Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose’s book Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change; it is an incredible resource on diverse ways of thinking and designing. The environmental disaster that is fast fashion and textiles as we currently know it cannot be changed with consumption as usual even if it is replacing “toxic” materials with “eco-friendly” ones. Consumer behavior; how can we connect to what we have more deeply; how can we choose and care for what comes into our lives; how can we change or adapt what we have, transform it into something new; or whether ultimately that garment is designed for the compost pile or re-imagined all matter tremendously.

A topic that I love to think about with natural dyes is that these colors can have different life cycles, like our life experiences and relationships. Not everything (or every color) is meant to be permanent, and at one point fibers and dyes, just like with food, were so biodegradable that they left no trace. Our own sense of fashion is often dependent and driven by change and cycles, not permanence. In fact, our openness to recognizing this truth philosophically could also open new avenues toward how we provide stewardship for the future of natural color and how we can also increase the biodiversity of our palettes to include wider ranges of hues, potentially by being on nature’s timing and expressing different waves of sensory beauty in new forms.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

I love your use of the phrase “regenerative design” versus sustainable design. You write, “Permacouture … focuses as a dedicated educational and environmental arts lab that continues to research, teach, experiment, build curriculum, consult, and encourage regenerative design practices for textiles and fashion.” Can you explain the concept of regenerative design particularly within slow fashion?

“Regenerative” as a word can be an incredibly useful tool. It can help us to imagine new ways that we may actually be able to ADD positively to a system rather than merely just to sustain what already exists. It expounds on ways that we can build upon a practice and evolve it into something greater, renewing the system with additional life and energy. I think this word is especially powerful for fashion and textiles as it motivates us to think beyond the boundaries of what we may presently think is possible, while at the same time caring for and deeply nourishing the best of what already exists.

So many folks are hesitant to experiment with natural dyes because of the mordants. Or because of the fear they’ll get it wrong. What’s your advice to folks just starting out with natural color—maybe a few favorite dye plants you like best for beginners?

Plant dyes can so easily be made with ingredients already in our kitchens or gardens, or with materials already on their way to the compost pile. For beginners I suggest knowing your materials: choose all-natural fibers, clean them well, and remember when making a dye bath “longer is stronger.” Getting started, just like with cooking, can be a process of being aware, being patient, being open, and continuing to practice, practice, practice. A few of my favorite fall plant dyes for beginners to get started (and that don’t need an additional mordant added) are pomegranate peels; avocado pits and rinds; golden onion skins; and black walnut hulls. AND, as an added win/win, these colors are also all delicious byproducts. So you can have your color and eat it too!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Sasha Duerr

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 Citizen: Adrienne Antonson (State the Label)

Photos © Sasha Duerr, used with permission

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What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

Raise your hand if you’re crazy for indigo! Ok, what’s wrong with the rest of you? JUST KIDDING. But seriously, it’s been indigo-mania for a several years now (rightfully so), and the more I think about it, the more questions I have — some of which you guys have also asked me. So I asked natural dyer extraordinaire Kristine Vejar, owner of A Verb Keeping Warm and author of The Modern Natural Dyer, to set us straight on the difference between indigo and “indigo.” That is: natural (plant derived) indigo dye versus the synthetic lookalike more commonly used.

But first, a few answers to questions that are likely to come up in response to all of this:
– The gorgeous shawl above is Kristine’s Aranami (designed by Olga Buraya-Kefelian) knitted in Verb’s Flock yarn, dyed with natural indigo
– Verb sells a variety of natural indigo dyeing supplies, from dye stuffs to kits to classes
– We still have some of the gorgeous Verb kits for making an indigo-shibori and sashiko Stowe bag
– And yes, the indigo cowl kit we sell is dyed with natural indigo by Sincere Sheep

You can follow Kristine’s adventures on Instagram @avfkw, and take a peek into her crafting life here. Thanks so much for  this fantastic information, Kristine!

. . .

There’s so much interest in natural dyeing these days, thanks to you and many others, and I think a lot of us believe that indigo falls under the heading of Natural Dyes, but not all indigo is natural, right? For instance, commercial denim is no longer (or very rarely) dyed with plant-based indigo.

Indigo pigment can be found in 700-800 different plants, although there are only about 10 plants that have enough indigo pigment in the leaves to warrant the labor-intensive process of separating the pigment from the leaves, making it available as a dye. Today, indigo dye, extracted from plants, can still be found, obtained and used. This is referred to as natural indigo pigment.

Originally, all dyes came from plants, minerals and a few insects. In the 1850s, scientists successfully synthesized color. With this shift arose the idea — and then eventually the reality — that color could be created on demand, and no longer need to be coaxed from nature. This began a major shift in color, farming, trade, dyes and dyeing. It was only a matter of time before indigo underwent the same scrutiny. Scientists took examples of indigo-bearing plants, began to be able to identify the molecular structure of the indigo plants, zero in on indigotin, the essence of indigo pigment, and recreate it in a lab, which is called synthetic indigo. I personally don’t consider this indigo because I think of indigo as a product made by and derived from a plant. The same type of process occurs in food. Take for example artificial flavoring, like strawberry. Scientists take a strawberry, break down the molecules that make up its smell and flavor, and then create a few of these molecules in a lab to mimic a strawberry. I would never call call this flavor a strawberry. Or describe the experience of tasting this flavor as eating a strawberry. When I eat a strawberry, I can taste the sun. There is texture, nuance in flavor from one berry to the next, and indescribable joy when tasting a strawberry — especially if the berry has been picked right off the plant. The same principle applies to natural indigo pigment; there are many small nuances in color, texture, smell and experience when working with it when it comes from the plant.

True, commercial denim is rarely found dyed with natural indigo. Most of it is dyed with synthetic indigo.

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

I’ve taken classes that have used (and I’ve also used) those little boxed indigo kits you can buy online and craft stores, with the powdered dye and whatnot. Is that natural or synthetic? Can you talk about the difference between stirring up a bucket of that and what you do — creating and tending a natural indigo vat?

The boxes of indigo I believe you are referring to — typically made by Jacquard — is synthetic indigo. It is not natural/derived from a plant.

To examine the nuances of working with synthetic indigo versus natural indigo, let’s first discuss the basics of how an indigo vat is made. For indigo to attach to cloth, it must be transformed into a soluble material. To do this, the dyebath must be alkaline (pH of 10) and all of the oxygen in the dyebath must be taken out. This is called reduction. To raise the alkalinity, lye, soda ash and/or limestone is used. To take the oxygen out of the vat, reducing agents are used. Chemicals such as sodium hydrosulphite or thiourea dioxide may be used to reduce a vat, as well as natural materials such as henna, dates, fructose and/or bacteria.

The first indigo vat I learned how to make was a vat made with natural indigo pigment, lye to raise the pH, and thiourea dioxide as the reducing agent. This vat needs to be heated. In my search to use a cool vat — so I would not need a heating implement and could widen my choices of surface design — I learned to swap thiourea dioxide with sodium hydrosulphite. This is the fastest method to reduce an indigo vat (about 20 minutes) and to start the dyeing process. As the indigo vat reduces, the color of the water changes from blue to green. The vat is ready to use when the vat is green, and when white yarn or fabric is dipped into the vat, emerges green, and then turns blue as oxygen touches the yarn or fabric. To dye using an indigo vat, yarn or fabric is dipped into the vat, left under the surface for about 5 minutes, lifted out of the vat, and left to hang for about 5 minutes. This process is repeated to acquire darker shades of blue. Every time fabric or yarn is dipped into the indigo vat, oxygen is introduced to the vat, and the pH goes down. So part of the learning curve of being an indigo dyer is how to bring the vat back into balance — high pH and removal of oxygen.

Since dyeing with indigo has a learning curve, and countless questions are always in play, I like to teach beginners how to reduce the vat with sodium hydrosulphite (referred to as a hydro vat), as it is easy to see and to learn about the changes occurring in the indigo vat. From there, we can work our way out to using natural reducing agents, like henna or fructose, which take longer to reduce — anywhere from 4 hours to ideally 24 hours. Instructions for creating a hydro vat and a henna vat can be found in my book, The Modern Natural Dyer.

In my studio, there are many different types of vats going at once. All have their own specific applications dependent upon the type of fiber being dyed, the depth of color desired, and the price-point at which something is being sold. When hydro vats are used, most times, we continue to use them for months, adding new indigo. When fructose vats are used, we dye through the indigo in the vat until there isn’t any indigo left, and then start a new vat. Ok, so then, there are our very special vats. As you can probably tell, I am in love with indigo. It was only a matter of time before I began to dig deeper into this process, surpassing the natural indigo pigment to work with the plant.

About five years ago, we grew our first indigo plant — a variety called Indigofera tinctoria which is commonly grown in India. It stayed about 2 feet tall for 5 years until it finally died. The Bay Area was just too cold and foggy. Rebecca Burgess at Fibershed began to grow a variety of indigo, then called Polygonum tinctoria and now referred to as Persicaria tinctoria, which is commonly grown in Japan. This plant grows very well in this area. She called upon Rowland Ricketts, an artist and professor who studied indigo in Japan, to help transform the plant into dye. Following the traditional Japanese method, the plant, once harvested, is dried and then composted. Rowland came to the Bay Area. A group of us gathered to build a special floor — as similar as possible to the surface used in Japan — to compost the indigo. Its unique structure aids in air circulation and drainage of water so the indigo, while being composted, does not rot. The composting process takes about 3 months. Once the composting was completed, a batch of the composted indigo also known as sukumo, was delivered to Verb. Using ash, we created our own lye water to use as the base of the indigo vat. So this provides the high pH necessary when making an indigo vat. And then, slowly over 2-3 weeks, we combined the sukumo with the ash water and wheat bran, encouraging fermentation. In this vat, bacteria is the reducing agent. We have two of this type of indigo vat. Currently, we grow Persicaria tinctoria at Verb and we have spent the last couple of years experimenting with the leaves in a number of ways to extract indigo and to make vats from this indigo. I find working so closely with the plant the most rewarding. There are greater nuances in color and in shades of color. Less dye is released when washing the yarn and fabric. I find it fascinating to think about the Earth, nature, and the intricacies of how it works, and how nature, plants and dye can be applied to my own work — in terms of dyed yarn and fabric as well as when I teach others to work with natural indigo.

So back to synthetic indigo for a moment. Since synthetic indigo has the same molecular structure as natural indigo, you must still follow the same steps as when working with natural indigo to create the vat. Typically the instructions that accompany synthetic (pre-reduced indigo) use lye or soda ash and thiourea dioxide or sodium hydrosulphite. The same dye process would also be followed: dipping in and out of the vat multiple times to achieve multiple shades of blue.

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

So with synthetic indigo, there really isn’t anything about it that is genuinely indigo — it’s really just blue dye in a color that mimics indigo.

Synthetic indigo does mimic natural indigo in that the molecular structures are the same. Like I described above: making a vat is pretty much the same, the dyeing process is the same, and the way in which the indigo will wear is the same. For example, crocking. Indigo dye and the process of dyeing is the act of creating a physical bond between dye and fiber. There isn’t a chemical bond. Also, the indigotin molecule is larger than most (if not all) other dyes. So this means that indigo eventually works its way out of the cloth. Sometimes crocking occurs right when you get a garment that has been dyed with indigotin (natural or synthetic) because it can be difficult to remove the extra pigment — that which has not bonded — from the cloth. Many times, it takes actual physical pressure to remove the excess indigo. This is why you may see a tag that comes with your jeans that alerts you to the fact that your hands or legs may turn blue when first wearing your jeans. Then no matter what, with sustained pressure to areas in a garment, the indigo will work its way out of the cloth, which is why the fabric over the knee region of your jeans eventually becomes light blue or white. Historically, if a dark, uniform shade of indigo was desired, the cloth or garment would be re-dipped in the indigo vat over the course of its life. So it can be very hard to differentiate between synthetic indigo (some may refer to it as fake) and real indigo, unless you know the dye house and can see the nuances between the blue created by synthetic indigo and the blue created by natural indigo.

I place synthetic indigo in the same camp as other synthetic dyes — like acid and chemical dyes — which have a wide array of blues to choose from and are much easier to use. But why go through all the steps of reducing an indigo vat and the labor-intensive process of dyeing if the indigo is synthetic? If you are going to go through all the same steps, use natural indigo pigment, support an indigo farmer, and embrace the relationship with the plant, process, and depth and nuance of blues that can only be created using natural pigment.

And for those of us who might be using the boxed kit (or any other kind of indigo dyestuff) at home, what do we need to know about tending to and especially disposing of the dye bath when we’re done with it?

If you are using thiourea dioxide or sodium hydrosulphite to reduce an indigo vat, you can either mix oxygen — by taking a spoon or a stick and whisking air into the vat — or let the vat sit overnight and the vat will turn to blue, and can then be disposed of. The high pH is not a problem — if anything it will help clear your pipes. If you still feel worried, you can always neutralize the water by adding lemon juice (an acid). If you are on a septic system, call your local septic system company, let them know what type of alkaline and reduction agent you are using, and ask for their advice.

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PREVIOUSLY in What I Know About: Dress forms (with Liesl Gibson)

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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.

. . .

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

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

I met Ashley Yousling in person for the first time when she came to a Sit Knit Shop Sip gathering I had in the original Fringe studio back in Berkeley in late 2013, after we’d been online acquaintances for awhile. Since then she’s gone from @ashleyyousling to @woolful, launched her beloved Woolful podcast, and moved from San Francisco to a ranch in Idaho, where she and her husband are raising a son and a whole bunch of fiber animals, and aiming to one day build a mill. She’s been featured here multiple times in the past (don’t miss her guest post about her first sweater) but, especially given the major changes in her life/style — going from Silicon Valley graphic designer to yurt-dwelling Idaho rancher — I’ve been eager to get a closer look at her increasingly fiber-rich life. I’m so glad she agreed to answer my Our Tools questions, and know you’ll all enjoy this — thank you, Ashley!

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

Knitting is my first and forever love. It made several appearances throughout my childhood and teenage years, but never gripped my attention for good until the birth of my son. The needles haven’t left my hands since.

There are so many gifts that come from knitting — calming my mind, keeping my hands busy (fulfilling my desire to always be productive), exploring ingenuity in existing designs or your own, and the gift of the finished product whether for yourself or someone else. In my opinion, it’s one of the ultimate physical expressions of love, knitting for someone. The amount of thought, care and time put into the piece, every stitch, every row. Everything I’ve knit could tell a story of its own, its role in my own personal and fiber journey. The Mysig cardigan I co-designed and knit for the Tolt Farm to Needle book last year … knitting that design saw me through a very painful time in my life. Gosh, if stitches could talk.

I am very new to spinning and it’s coming in as a close second to knitting. I didn’t expect this at all — in fact, I was nervous to give up any of my sacred knitting time — but it’s actually filled a gap that knitting hasn’t. There’s a cadence to spinning that’s highly entrancing in a very giving way. I get a lot of calming energy out of spinning with lightweight focus and little energy put into it. A wonderful way to wake up in the morning. I’m getting to explore the fibers in a completely new way as well, learning their unique personalities and qualities. At the start of the year I began chronicling my spinning journey in a project called 52 Weeks of Wool. Each week I spin a different breed of wool or fiber from a fiber farm somewhere in the world, and I then share about my lessons in spinning, the specific wool and the farm it came from. It’s a lot of fun.

A couple years ago I began naturally dyeing, and it quickly became a fun hobby and way to explore the plants around me. I host a quarterly natural dye club through my little online shop, where I pick a small farm yarn base and then dye it with plants foraged from our property here in North Idaho. While I do love naturally dyeing, it’s a tremendous amount of work, and I’m learning I prefer to incorporate this as a Spring/Summer activity rather than a Fall/Winter one. My husband David and I are taking a mushroom workshop this Summer, and I’m really looking forward to being able to better identify mushrooms in and around our land, and eventually dye with them. It’s incredible how many colors you can get from mushrooms.

I do also sew, although not as much as I’d like to. I learned to sew when I was 6, when my mom had me attend a Summer sewing camp. We were taught how to sew three garments from patterns, and then at the end of the camp we had a fashion show for all of our families. My maternal grandmother is an amazing quilter, as was my great grandmother. My paternal grandmother was a maker and sewer that I can only hope to be one day, and together they’ve all instilled in me this strong passion for textiles and fiber. I have a strong desire to replace and add pieces to my wardrobe with garments I’ve made, but I haven’t yet been successful at carving out time to do so. Now that we’ve moved away from the city and have more space, I’m looking forward to upgrading my sewing machine and making use of the fabric cupboard, which is full of amazing colors and textures I’ve collected, just waiting to be used.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

My go-to needles are Knitters Pride Karbonz circulars and Brittany DPNs. I love the pointy tips of the Karbonz and smooth grip of the carbon. Brittany needles are so smooth and are a joy to knit with, I hope they’ll carry circulars one day.

Once I find I really like something, I stick with it. I knit continental, and I often find my gauge is on the larger side and have to go down a needle or two. I’ve been considering trying wood circulars again to see if I can remedy this, as I tend to knit tighter with wood needles. But in all honesty, I’ve tried very few brands of needles. Maybe I should get adventurous and try others, and see if there’s something else I love more.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

My tools are organized in two bags: one I bought at your studio in Berkeley and one David got me from a little shop in the Dogpatch. I keep my DPNs in a prototype roll-up case I made. But if I’m being honest, these three are often haphazardly organized. I let Coltrane play with all of my needles and notions — it’s a way to keep him busy and feeling involved when I knit. David lets him explore his cycling toolbox, and I let him explore my knitting “toolbox.”

We converted an old milk parlor on our ranch to a charming little studio for my dyeing and other making. I love to work out there during the Spring and Summer, but it’s not equipped for the colder months. Soon we’ll be installing a little pot belly stove and electricity. Right now it houses a workbench with shelves for tools, a double burner propane camp stove, a table we made from a slab of Madrona, some crates we made into shelves and some wooden toolboxes and trays we’ve collected at antique shops over the years. One of the walls has a growing collection of fiber-related finds. It’s a welcoming and rustic space.

All my spinning takes place in front of the wood stove in our yurt. I store my fiber along with my yarn in a large cedar chest David bought me a couple years ago. My wheel lives next to the couch.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

I used to be a monogamous knitter, but I have since graduated to multiple WIPs. I have a handful of Ambatalia Bento Bags, a Field Bag and, my absolute favorite, the large black canvas tote from your shop. Every project has a bag — usually my most active project gets the Field Bag, and the large canvas tote goes with me everywhere, whether I’m working from a cafe in town or traveling back and forth to SF for work.

We have yet to unpack all of our wonderful antique wooden bowls and baskets since our move to the ranch, but I’m looking forward to having my “catch-alls” back. I like to keep my largest wooden bowl by the door for whatever pleases me. I treat it like you would a key catch-all, but for yarn and WIPs.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

The first thing that comes to mind is the large black canvas tote — it’s the thing I never knew I needed, but now can’t live without.

I’m really blessed to receive some wonderful things from listeners of the podcast, and each touches me so much. Someone sent me a beautiful collection of vintage natural dye books along with natural dye sample cards from the ’70s, I love those.

All the wool and fiber that folks are sending me from their flocks and fiber animals for my 52 Weeks of Wool project has been some of the most beloved gifts so far. From their farm and loving care to mine … it’s pretty special.

It’s such a shame that tote is history — I love it as much as you do. Do you lend your tools?

I love teaching or encouraging people to knit, and helping ignite a passion in fiber arts, so I will oftentimes give them a pair of needles or yarn to get started with and grab a replacement pair of needles online or when I’m in the city. A good friend of mine and I often talk about one of our primary goals in life is to be experiential philanthropists. I see fiber arts and Woolful as this, so anything I can do to encourage the gift that keeps on giving, that’s where my heart is at.

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye?

Currently I do my most productive knitting while traveling — whether in the car, in an airport, in a hotel or on a plane. However, my favorite place to knit is at home in our quiet off-the-grid yurt, on my couch or bed, as cozy as I can get, with a cup of tea, some dark chocolate, and watching what’s going on out in the pastures.

I haven’t done a lot of knitting in groups, but I’m starting a local fiber night in our small town so I soon will!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I love all seasons, but Fall and early Winter have a special place in my heart. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, so I’m used to the rainy (read: cozy) days and making the best of them with my knitting. Since moving to Idaho, I’ve been enjoying the more defined seasons and all they have to offer. Amazing dye plants during the Spring/Summer and woolly inspiration in the Fall and snowy Winter.

I knit year round, and nothing stops me from knitting with wool, even in the couple hot months we get during the Summer. There’s a renewed fervor with each season, to start new projects and finish others. This will be our first Summer where we’re caring for livestock and a large greenhouse, so it will be interesting to see how that affects my making.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

I have a habit of bringing 4-6 WIPs with me when I travel, for fear that somehow I’ll run out of things to do, or because I think I’ll actually make it through all of them.

My guilty pleasure is collecting antique and vintage fiber-related items. Primitive yarn winders, spools, bobbins, shears, hand carders, drying racks … and anything with a sheep on it or made to look like a sheep. The local shops know me as the sheep lady.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a few designs for a collection coming out this Fall by one of my favorite brands, along with wrapping up a couple of self-published designs for Little Woolens.

I just counted how many WIPs I have, and I think I’m at 6:

1. Just about to finish the Morning Glory cardigan by Pam Allen in Swans Island Natural yarn, for David’s grandmother’s birthday in a couple weeks
2. Portland Pullover by Carrie Hoge from Taproot Magazine in Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter, for the Woolful Knitalong
3. Lucinda sweater by Carrie Hoge in Moeke Heritage yarn
4. Rikochan shawl by Melanie Berg in Quince Owl
5. A sample of a hat design for Little Woolens
6. A sample of a mitten design for Little Woolens

Our Tools, Ourselves: Ashley Yousling (Woolful)

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Julie Hoover

Photos © Ashley Yousling

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

Australian multi-crafter Victoria Pemberton is one of those people I fell for on the Internet before knowing she was a knitter. A year or two ago, a bunch of Aussies I follow on Instagram were suddenly all talking about a really amazing sounding pop-up that was happening, and it involved repeated mentions of one @vic_pemberton, whose shibori home goods were really beautiful. After following her for a little while, I was thrilled to discover that not only does she dye and sew, she knits! And I’m happy to be able to give you a glimpse into her world today. Thanks, Vic!

Be sure to check out Vic’s blog and her gorgeous wares at Bind | Fold.

. . .

Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I knit for pleasure, and also for the resulting product. I had three goes at learning to knit, and the third time is the one that stuck. I was 6 months in to being a mother, and I wanted to knit my son a jumper. I just went for it — I was so determined that this time I was going to ROCK at knitting. I was very slow, and I knit an awful sweater, and it was a struggle. My finishing was pretty rubbish, but then I learned about all these great things like mattress stitch, and kitchener stitch and knitting in the round, and OMG continental knitting! Switching my yarn to my left hand was the clincher for me — I could suddenly knit 3 times faster, with better tension, and I could hold both needles up at the same time.

I am also a sewer. I had wanted to sew a quilt for a really long time, and one day I borrowed a sewing machine from a friend and I made a quilt! And it was amazing! After that I got really into it — I bought my own sewing machine and made a few quilts. These days I sew mostly items for sale, but I also like to sew clothes for myself and my son when I can. I’d really like to learn how to make jeans and jackets. I love both of those things very much.

Finally, I am also a dyer. This is my work, my life, and the craft I pursue more than any other. I work with indigo and I have what feels like a living relationship with my work. I took up dyeing when my son was one year old (I seem to measure everything by his age), and it was summer and I wanted to give it a shot. I’d been thinking about quilting again and textile design, and dyeing looked like a good start. It was immediate and hands on. I used cold water dyes for awhile, but I became interested in traditional dye techniques, discovered shibori and then moved to natural dyes.

otos_vic_pemberton_crafts

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

For knitting, I use knit pro bamboo circulars. A woman I met on the internet put me onto them quite early on in my knitting journey and I’ve never used anything else. I really like that I can just change the tips and I’m good to go. I do need to look into getting metal ones for smaller sizes, though. I must have freakishly strong hands because I keep snapping them.

My sewing gear is quite limited. I have my trusty Bernina, my universal or microtex needles, and either cotton or poly thread depending on what I’m making. I don’t really deviate outside of that. Oh yeah, and scissors. Everyone get ready to cringe: I
cut paper with my fabric scissors all the time!! Arrgh!! Sorry internet.

For my dye tools, I love a good C clamp, a pipe and a well-twisted piece of cotton string. I’m also quite partial to bathroom tiles for using as a resist — it’s always interesting when you clamp them too tight and they crack. It can do really cool things.

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

Ok, my secret is out. I am an extremely organized disorganized person. I suffer from what I call “organizational fits.” These usually come about after “creative fits” where I have so much going on in my studio that I can’t find or do anything.

With my knitting, I’ll put all my needles, cables, tapestry needles, and stitch markers and string and tiny scissors in a basket. Then over the course of a few weeks, that basket gets full, so I reorganize into smaller baskets of stuff, grouping similar objects. This then deteriorates to stuff just being everywhere in random baskets, bags, cases and surfaces as I use things, change needle tips and start new patterns. My needle tips just end up everywhere, most recently I’ve been putting them in my random tool jar on my desk.

My sewing and dye tools are pretty much stored in the same way. They all have specific homes, it’s just they don’t get to live in them all the time.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

Ah, I’m not too bad with this one. I’m a one-project-at-a-time woman, most of the time. For knitting I used to just “store” my WIP on the back of the couch, and stuff the pattern pages down the side of the arm where I sit. But we got a puppy a few months ago and she is obsessed with my knitting, and she steals it and eats it! So now I have a basket up high next to the couch, and I only keep the project I’m working on and the tools I need for it in it, until it’s done. All within arm’s reach at the end of the day, ready for my next knit marathon. So far the dog has left it alone under threat of being forced to sleep on the floor.

My sewing works-in-progress get piled (neatly) all over the studio, on the ironing board, my desk, the back of my chair, and they just get moved about from all these really visible places. I leave them out to remind myself to “do some work!”

My dye works-in-progress just get to hang out in buckets with lids on them until they’re washed out. Then they join the piles in my studio. These then get organized into cupboards and shelves during one of my “organizational fits.”

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

No :( I should get some. I do love all my tools, though — they’re so useful. I’ve just asked a farm where the owner is also a spinner to hand spin me some top that I’ll dye first for a jumper. So that will be a splurge and it’s going to be a great project once it happens. It kind of makes me want to learn to spin too!

I suppose I do have one thing that is special. I visited Hiroyuki Shindo recently and I bought a new little pouch from him, made from his dye work. It’s my new knitting bag.

Do you lend your tools?

Well I haven’t so far, but that’s because I’m a bit of a solitary crafter. I do let my students use my tools when I’ve got a workshop on, does that count?

I’ve been trying to convince my husband we should do a “knowledge swap.” Where once a week, we teach each other something about things we love doing. I want to teach him to knit, and I said he could teach me computer programming, but he doesn’t seem that keen. I don’t think he has any faith in my geek abilities. I don’t know if I could lend anything, though; What if I
need it? Maybe I’ll buy my husband his own set of needles. Now I know what to get him for his birthday.

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/crochet/whatever?

My fave place to knit is on the couch, in front of the telly, or while listening to an audiobook. I have it all set up, with a little lamp so I can see my knitting late at night. My feet are on the coffee table. I have a cup of cocoa, and my basket of knitty things is beside me. On weeknights our dog curls up and sleeps beside me, and on weekends if I’m lucky my son comes and
sneaks in under one arm and we’ll watch a movie together. It’s pretty special actually. I sew only in my studio, and I dye only in the yard. If it’s really really pouring rain and I have to work and I only have small things to dye, I’ll work in the laundry. I don’t like to though, because there isn’t much room and it’s a white room. Every time I drip dye on the floor I freak out a little that it will stain. It hasn’t yet, but I still worry that it will.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I knit almost all year round. Last year I took maybe a two-month break around November. I think because it was quite hot, I was busy with work and next winter seemed so far away that I just stopped! I guess I sew more in summer, I’m obsessed with short sleeve tops made out of linen and other lightweight breezy fabrics.

I do like to knit in summer though, I feel like I’m preparing for winter. I like to have at least one sweater finished by March/April because that’s when it starts to get cold here. Sometimes to get me into the groove, I’ll watch movies or TV shows that have snow in them. It totally works! It just makes you want to get cozy.

I sew and dye all year around, since it’s for work, but boy, dyeing outside in winter can really be brutal. Last week I had three work days in a row where I needed to be outside dyeing, and we’ve just had what is being referred to as an “antarctic blast” — kind of like the polar vortex you had in the US, but milder I suppose. It wasn’t mild for us though, it was 2 degrees outside the other day! I spent all day with my hands in cold water in 2 degrees!

In summer though, gosh it’s great. It’s sunny, warm, and just relaxing. I think I could definitely get into being a seasonal crafter. I never used to like summer until I became a dyer, but now I kind of love it.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

When I first started sewing, I felt like building a stash was really important. I was really into quilting, and I loved all the great quilting fabric you could get, so I amassed quite a bit of it. The thing is, though, I never sewed with it. I ended up selling it, because I’d always find a different project that it wasn’t right for. I do have some amazing linen that I just bought in Japan, which totally makes me a hypocrite, but I have very real things to make with them, they’re not just for a future not yet thought of project.

So I guess I don’t really believe in having a stash! The same goes for my knitting. I like the immediacy of picking a project and the yarn at the same time. It makes it exciting. It’s a thrill. More of a thrill, I think, than finding a great pattern and then thinking “Dammit, now I have to use up some of the yarn I have, and it’s all BORING.”

No guilty secrets or quirks for my dyeing. However, I do really enjoy the different scents of most natural dyes. Is that weird? Some of them just smell like a warm hug.

What are you working on right now?

I am just sinking my teeth into the new Koto pattern by Olga Buraya-Kefelian. I love how structural it is; I’m really excited by it. It reminds me of Japanese architecture, concrete slabs and minimalism. I find it organic, geometric and soothing. Hopefully that makes sense! The yarn I’m using for it is from a farm called Tarndie, about two hours drive from Melbourne. It’s an amazing place and the owners are the descendants of the family who bred Australia’s first sheep, the Polwarth. It’s amazing yarn and I actually love it so much that my last three projects before this used their yarn. It’s incredibly soft and warm. For dyeing, I’m doing some new exciting stuff too, actually. I’ve been keen to try out some new ideas for awhile and I’m finally getting around to it. At the moment I’m trying out different resist techniques on different fabrics. Hopefully I’ll have something to show for it soon!

Our Tools, Ourselves: Victoria Pemberton

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Marlee Grace

Blog Crush: Resurrection Fern

blog crush margaret oomen resurrection fern

I know I have mentioned and linked Margaret Oomen a lot around here over the past year, so it’s no surprise to anyone that I admire and am inspired by her. But I wanted to say that in a more direct and formal way by adding Resurrection Fern to the annals of Blog Crush. Oomen makes, crochets, dyes and embroiders incredibly lovely things, plain and simple — and not just her unparalleled covered stones,  (for which she contributed a basic pattern to The Purl Bee). But I also love the blog for being so thoroughly genuine, and I have deep respect for how mindfully Oomen appears to live her life.

Also, her new kitten, Usher, is a dead ringer for my Slim.

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