Dyeing arts

Dyeing arts: Foraged inks and natural dyes

“Being a writer who still uses ink to write out, and then cross out, each early draft of a manuscript,” novelist Michael Ondaatje writes in his foreword to Jason Logan’s incredible book Make Ink, “I had to meet him.” Ondaatje had been given samples of Logan’s inks made from peach pits, clam shells, kerosene — his specialty, and the subject of his book, is creating ink from foraged materials. When they met, “it felt like being introduced to someone with the skills of some lost medieval craft.” The fact that Ondaatje still writes in ink is astonishing, but also, what kind of craft book includes a conversation with the likes of Ondaatje, and artwork by a panoply of creatives (or “visual thinkers”) from artist/illustrator Gary Taxali to painter Hiroaki Ooka* to writer Margaret Atwood? We’ve got bookstore aisles for literary fiction and creative non-fiction, but a literary craft book is a different breed of cat. And one I’m highly on board with — albeit belatedly, as this has been sitting on my desk since September, waiting for me to notice how great it is.

There are loads of craft books so pretty you might happily put them on your coffee table and never do anything more than flip through them admiringly. Others you actually crack open and make things from. As beautifully written as it is photographed and designed, this one begs to be read from cover to cover, like a good essay collection, whether or not you ever attempt to make your own inks (or for what purpose). Especially if you’re the sort who enjoys learning the obscure histories of things — like, say, Oak Gall Ink:

“… an inerasable ink called iron gall, oak gall, or, more recently, registrar’s ink. It was the ink of record for weddings, funerals, and contracts; before that it was the ink found in one of the oldest surviving Bibles, the Magna Carta, and Beowulf. It was the favored ink of da Vinci, Victor Hugo, Bach, and the US Postal Service. This is an ink with a pedigree.”

Oak Gall is black, yes, but like any good dye book, this one is full of recipes for an entire rainbow of colors, to be used in art making or writing, on paper or fabric, presumably. I’m particularly smitten with the aqua blues of Copper Oxide Ink, and although I may not ever make any, I love knowing it’s possible. And look forward to reading every page of this gorgeous book.

. . .

Also, not a book but I recently discovered that natural dyer Kathryn Davey (who I took a class from several years ago) has a full-length tutorial on her blog for dyeing with avocados. I’ve been wanting to try this for a long time and can never find enough info to feel like I know what I need to do. It’s so simple that most dyers, when asked, go “oh it’s the easiest, just boil ’em up and add your yarn or fabric.” But … pits or skins or both? How much dye matter as a ratio to the water? Do you need to worry about mordant? Thaw the pits if you’ve frozen them? Strain it or what? I have so many questions, and Kathryn’s is the most in-depth blog post I’ve seen.

. . .

Happy weekend, everyone! What are you working on?

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*Ooka was new to me and I love their work.

PREVIOUSLY in Books: Weaving Within Reach — Or, what to do with your yarn leftovers

Elsewhere: Sheep, avocado pink, and the unending cleverness of makers

Elsewhere: Sheep, avocado pink, and the unending cleverness of makers

I have an epic stack of links for you this round, so we better get started!

— Please read this one when you have time to sit with it: Navajo shepherds cling to centuries-old tradition in a land where it refuses to rain (thx, Katherine)

— And this: Physicists are decoding math-y secrets of knitting to make bespoke materials (thx, Martha)

— Are you doing the spring 10×10 challenge? This one is co-hosted by @selltradeslowfashion and @buyfrombipoc, hence the extra long hashtag. I’m sitting it out as usual (except the one time) but always love poring over the feed

— Seen Renée Gouin’s Women in Clothes (via @ebonyh) and Liisa Hietanen’s crochet humans? (thx, DG)

— Used Ravelry’s Road Trip Planner?

— “He has the gentle, attentive touch of someone washing a baby. Only with sharp metal blades.” (photo above right)

Ode to avocado pink (photo above left)

Immigrant Yarn Project looks amazing (thx, Carolyn)

— I’m loving all the offers of help for BIPOC trying to break into the industry, like this and this and this — if you’re aware of others, please link them in the comments!

— I’m a little obsessed with all the patchwork #wikstenhaori jackets, such as Edina’s and Arianna’s

— Amy Palmer’s amazing Captain Marvel sweater

This video of screenprinters in India adding layers of color to yardage

— This sentence: “She knows love is often a few rows short of perfection but keeps you warm anyway.”

— and this miniature style muse

If you haven’t seen all the great responses on Wednesday’s Q for You — or haven’t weighed in — don’t miss that, either.

Happy weekend, everyone!

IN SHOP NEWS: For the first time this year, I think, we’ve got all three colors of the Town Bag in stock, all three colors of the waxed canvas Field Bag (camo! plum!) and all four colors of the plain canvas Field Bag. (Although very few of some, so use that Notify Me button if you run into it!)

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PREVIOUSLY: Elsewhere

Elsewhere

Link list for fiber and textile lovers

Happy Friday! Oh wait, that’s not right. But happy last blog post of the week! And sorry about forgetting to actually hit publish on yesterday’s until mid-morning — thanks to Kate for telling me it wasn’t up. Oy! There’s a ton of exciting stuff happening at Fringe HQ right now — from fall blog events to new goods coming down the pike — and I’ve decided to take a two-day break from blogging while I concentrate on getting all these other ducks into their respective rows. But I’m leaving you with plenty of links to dig around in, and I’ll be back to blogging for Monday!

– In case anyone missed the late note on Monday’s post, there’s now a video version of my folded neckband tutorial saved at the top of the @fringesupplyco Instagram profile (the written version is here)

Good news and bad news with regard to how our clothes/fabrics are dyed (Related: Stony Creek Colors US-grown natural indigo dye is now easy to get!)

– And speaking of natural indigo: Wow, wow, WOW

– Excellent summary of 9 ways to take a conscientious approach to your wardrobe

Sienna’s handmade travel wardrobe is awe-inspiring

This beautifully drawn queue makes me want to resume my Fashionary one

Great interview with Jen Hewett about perfectionism, diversity and so much more

Felix might be the dress for me

Karyn has me considering a cut-and-sew cardigan

Want to invest in a yarn dye house?

Wear smiley-face overalls?

Hang a fringe chandelier in your bathroom?

It’s your life, friends — do your thing!

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PREVIOUSLY: Elsewhere

Top photo © Karen Templer; bottom photo © A Verb for Keeping Warm

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Squam part 2: Knitting, dyeing, hiking, wearing

Squam part 2: Knitting, dyeing, hiking, wearing

Squam Art Workshops takes place at an old summer camp in New Hampshire, on the shore of Squam Lake (where On Golden Pond was filmed). It’s actually two camps, built one right after the other in the late 1800s by a civil war widow and her protegé, and combined into one after the death of the older woman. It’s about as picturesque a place as you could ever imagine, so you spend a lot of time just ogling and photographing your surroundings, from the rustic cabins with their screened porches and iceboxes (literally) to the docks and the woods and the paths and the phone-booth cabin and the dining-hall window … and the list goes on. My first afternoon, before my cabin mates arrived, I wandered around shooting Fringe bags everywhere, from the woodshed to the wheelbarrows. It’s the sort of place that makes everyone look like a brilliant photographer.

On the second and third days, I taught my cables class. And on Friday afternoon, when my second class let out, I was overcome with that school’s-out-for-summer feeling. I’d be working like a madwoman before I left, then teaching (which I sincerely love and enjoy) and then suddenly I realized I had almost 48 hours to just enjoy the place and the people and my cabin mates, which this year were Kristine and Adrienne from Verb, my beloved pal and two-time cabin mate Mary Jane Mucklestone, and Jessica Forbes, the co-owner of Ravelry, who’d I’d met briefly on many, many occasions but had never gotten to spend any time with. She is a HOOT! So there was a lot of dock-sitting and knitting, porch-sitting and knitting, fireplace-sitting and knitting. On Saturday, MJ and Adrienne and I hiked up to the top of Rattlesnake (point? ridge? peak?) and took in the incredible view of the lake. This is MJ at the tippy-top, below right:

Squam part 2: Knitting, dyeing, hiking, wearing

But I’m getting ahead of myself. So Friday afternoon: Class is over, I’m done teaching, and I’ve come prepared. The really hard part about teaching is not getting to take classes, when you’re surrounded by all these people learning to block print and macrame and make beautiful journals and … so many temptations. But before I left for camp, it occurred to me there might be the slight possibility of dipping a little something into Kristine’s natural indigo vats when her students were done. She was very sweet to indulge me (even though it was really wrong of me to ask) so these little bundles are what I had packed in my bags, just case:

Squam part 2: Knitting, dyeing, hiking, wearing

And here’s how they turned out:

Squam part 2: Knitting, dyeing, hiking, wearing

The upper one is the white linen shell I had sewn just in time for Squam last year. And the smock is my once-white State Smock, which was getting a little “ring around the collar”-y. The both came out almost exactly as I had imagined them, and I can tell you that dyeing with a few friends and a can of beer, on the wraparound porch of a lodge building overlooking a scenic lake, is one lovely way to spend a Friday afternoon. My biggest thanks to Kristine for the dyeing and to Mary Jane for the beer!

So I came home with two new-again garments, but I know you’re wondering how my ultra-minimal packing list played out in the woods. Here are all the ways the contents of my suitcase got worn (with a bonus tee I bought at the gift shop while I was there) —

Squam outfits

The cardigan was frequently in my bag (or over my shoulders) just in case, but it was mostly too warm for it. I wore the clay pants 5 out of 6 days, and the jeans only once. Those pants are PERFECT in this setting, and barely even showed dirt. And it was fine that I only had my Chucks with me — even on the bouldering part of the hike. (Although I did also have flipflops for shower shoes, basically.)

For the full inventory/origins on the garments, see my packing post. And to see the real-time Story of my week in motion, watch the highlight reel in my Instagram profile. I’ll be watching it anytime I need a moment of peace.

Squam part 2: Knitting, dyeing, hiking, wearing

PREVIOUSLY: Squam part 1, Gauge (and other) lessons

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Craftlands: Slow Fashion retreats

Craftlands: Slow Fashion retreats

One of the sure signs that the Slow Fashion movement is growing all the time is the number of slow-fashion-focused retreats that have been cropping up. At present, I’m aware of 4 that are happening in the coming months, and no doubt you’ll know of others — please do mention them in the comments! Some of these are sold out while others still have openings, but I believe all of them have wait lists and will also be repeated. So make your interest known to them!

Slow Fashion Retreat / Saco, Maine / July 22-27, 2018
Launched by Samantha Lindgren of A Gathering of Stitches last summer, this was the first one I heard of. Sam organizes 30 students into smaller groups that rotate between in-depth classes taught by Cal Patch (garment sewing), Katrina Rodabaugh (mending) and Jessica Lewis Stevens (dyeing), so everyone gets to learn everything. There’s also a clothing swap, guest speakers and more. Katrina says, “It’s held in a summer camp venue in Saco, Maine … we have a private classroom that’s literally across the street from the ocean.”

Slow Textiles Retreat / Hudson Valley, New York / September 21-23, 2018
Katrina and fellow dyer Sasha Duerr hosted a retreat last fall, which they’re repeating this year in Katrina’s own barn-studio. This one is more intimate, at 12 guests, and the focus is on foraging for and working with natural dye plants as well as incorporating dyeing and stitching/mending into a slow-fashion practice. In other words, a serious consideration of our relationship to the textiles we wear and how to make it as meaningful and long-lasting as possible.

A Study in Slow Fashion / Oceana County, Michigan / August 23-27, 2018
This will be the first retreat from newly formed Kinship, and will explore various aspects of building a handmade wardrobe, all in a gorgeous yurt in rustic Western Michigan.

New England Fiber Arts Summit / Wing & A Prayer Farm, Vermont / Spring 2019
Tammy White has been hosting small-scale gatherings on her beautiful Vermont fiber farm the past few seasons and has one in the works for next year that’s slow-fashion-centric, with an incredible lineup of teachers, but that’s not quite public knowledge yet. So I’m just giving you a heads-up on this one! Watch @wingandaprayerfarm for further news.

I’ve been invited to attend or guest/speak/teach at a few of these and have yet to be able to make it, but I hope one day my schedule and a gem of a retreat like this will line up!

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PREVIOUSLY in Craftlands: Lost and found at Stitches West

Photos courtesy of Katrina Rodabaugh

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.

. . .

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!

. . .

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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