Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

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

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

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

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

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Photos © India Flint, used with permission

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!

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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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Bandhani day

bandhani dyed shawl design by abdul-jabbar khatri

Let’s get one thing perfectly straight right off the bat: I had nothing to do with the exquisite bandhani-tied, indigo-dyed shawl seen above — other than that I bought it the moment I saw it. It was designed by Abdul-Jabbar Khatri, who was teaching the bandhani class I took at A Verb for Keeping Warm on Sunday. Bandhani is a traditional Indian resist-dye technique whereby you pinch off a teensy bit of fabric (usually silk) and wrap it in thread, again and again and again, until you’ve made a remarkably elaborate pattern, at which point you dye it and then remove all the knots. Jabbar showed us wedding shawls with up to 40,000 knots tracing out all kinds of intricate designs — really amazing. Then he showed us how to do it and we tried to not to embarrass ourselves. Here’s part of my handiwork:

bandhani dye pots

That was fun and fascinating to learn about — I’ve seen lots of pieces made from this technique without having any idea (or appreciation) for what goes into it. But the fun kicked up a notch when we got outside to Kristine’s dye pots and Jabbar showed us the basics of clamp resist — folding silk in precise ways and using small C clamps (or in our case, binder clips!) to hold the folds in place and create resist areas while the fabric is submerged in the dye. That’s Jabbar’s sample on the left below, followed by my first attempt and my two classmates’.

clamp resist dye silk scarves

Kristine had smaller strips of silk for us to play around with — plus four pots of natural dye: madder, fustic, logwood and indigo — and everyone had a blast trying out different folds and clamping methods and dye combinations. Then I got ambitious:

cotton clamp resist dyeing

indigo clamp dyed cotton

Yep, three yards of indigo cotton splendor. There aren’t actually any white spots — that’s the sun glinting off the soaking wet fabric.

What am I going to make from it? Don’t know yet. I’m still a little high from the fun and sun and indigo fumes of it all.

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