Indigo Dye: The Results, The Reveals

My most recent dye experiment is now complete. The indigo garments and fabrics have been dried, rinsed, washed, and dried again. You can see the results in these photographs. The shirt and child's vintage dress were dyed by full immersion while the little leggings (my son's pajamas, I couldn't resist) and the scarf were dyed with a shibori folding technique resulting in the pattern. I also saved several strips of cotton thread that were used to tie and bind the fabrics--they were just too pretty and potentially useful to throw away.

The women's top is a silk and cotton blend, the scarf is linen, and the leggings, thread, and presumably vintage baby gown are all cotton. You'll notice that while the top and baby dress were fully immersed into the dye vat without any twisting, tying, or pattern-making techniques they still resulted in mottled color. I'm guessing this is because the dye vat was very full with garments and this didn't allow the fabrics to move freely in the dye. So some parts of the fabric might have been twisted, held air pockets, or even stayed above the dye creating this marbled or mottled look.

I'm still deciding how I'll use the linen scarf. Should I keep it as a scarf? Stitch it into a infinity scarf? Or cut the fabric into a top or tunic? Decisions, decisions. I already have a bag full of fennel waiting on my back steps for a dye vat so I'll have to move to the next project quickly. I'm also wrapping up the creations from my Make Thrift Mend project and will share the findings with you here soon. So much in-progress in the studio this month.

Hope you are having a wonderful week. And to my friends in the Sonoma and Napa areas most severely hit by the recent 6.1 earthquake in the Bay Area--my heart is with you. We woke to the shaking at 3:20am but we suffered little more than insomnia, anxiety, and a good sobering dose of reality that we do live in earthquake country. Please send an extra good wish to my neighbors just a short drive away in the North Bay.



Indigo Dye Soiree in Sonoma

Take one gigantic vat of indigo dye, one beautiful Sonoma backyard, and a handful of textile lovers and you get one very beautiful Sunday afternoon. That's the formula. My dear friend, Kathryn Clark, hosted her second annual indigo soiree this past weekend and it was something of a natural dyers retreat.

We each pitched in a potluck dish to pass, Kathryn outdid herself with gorgeous main dishes and desserts to die for, and we brought our light-colored cotton, linen, wool, and silk goods to her backyard for an afternoon of dyeing.

I love the community building nature of many textile gatherings. A clothing swap, a mending circle, a dye party, or the classic quilting circle--it creates such a beautiful space for community, conversation, and getting the job done. There's something inherently political in these humble and heartfelt circles.

Like our simple gathering is an act of resistance against a much bigger consumer industry that would much prefer we just go to the store and buy whatever it is we are making, mending, or designing. It makes me breathe a little easier when these gatherings occur. I do believe it matters when we take the time and attention to make things with our own two hands. Even more satisfying when we can share this making with friends and colleagues.

I'm convinced that indigo wants to be shared. Unlike some other simpler, smaller dye vats (a small pot of onion skins, a pile of wild fennel, or a few cups of coffee grounds) the indigo vat requires more in-depth preparation, calculation, and tending. There are several different types of indigo dyeing techniques--stemming from different cultures, different customs, and different times in the history of industrialization. But regardless of the method used, it seems to me indigo wants to be shared.

It wants conversation, connection, and communion. And what better way to share shibori techniques or compare folding, twisting, and tying experiments than with a group of friends? It reminds of me graduate school, or an artists residency, or more simply summer camp for adults. There is a great pleasure in learning from somebody else's experiments and also sharing what you've learned with the kind and receptive women around you. I concur.

I am still rinsing, drying, and finishing my indigo dyed pieces from yesterday's vat. So I can't yet show you my finished creations. They dried overnight on the tiny clothesline on my back steps and this afternoon they soaked in vinegar water before being rinsed with cold water and a mild detergent.

By tomorrow they should be ready for another washing to avoid too much crocking--that's when the blue of the indigo rubs off on your skin, your light-colored furniture, or anything else it touches. It's also why our blue jeans fade with time. I'm researching techniques to reduce crocking. Thinking, a few cold rinses and line-drying should be enough.

I dyed two of my own tops, one pair of my son's pajama bottoms, a vintage baby gown, and two pieces of fabric. The dye vat was much stronger when we started than when we finished as you can see in the range of blues from very dark indigo to a pale sky blue.

You can see hints of the shibori techniques on the pajamas and fabric while the tops and dress received a full, untied dunk. (You can see the damp vintage baby gown here below, I couldn't resist.) With such a crowded vat each garment received a mottled color as there wasn't enough room for it to move freely and receive equal parts dye. I like this variation though. I'm okay with mottled.

I can't wait to add these garments and fabrics to my wardrobe and studio but I also admit that it raises my spirits each time I walk into our tiny back porch and see the indigo dyed goods strung from my tiny back steps. Like my own urban homestead is very much alive and well.



Exciting News: Our Tiny Art Studio


I have exciting news. Last week my husband premiered our tiny art studio at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts BAN7 exhibition as part of the performing arts program. This week, we are eager to announce the launch of our new artist residency program, Range Studio.

Range Studio will be a collaborative husband and wife team effort to offer short-term creative artist residencies to artists from various disciplines; collaborate with institutions to create adaptable, site-specific art programming; and act as a platform for social action, community engagement, and creative social practice.

For those of you who've known me for a long time, you know this dream has been in the making for the better part of the last decade. My husband and I have dreamed of starting an artist residency center and we've gone through great pains to research, visit, and evaluate old farm houses, abandoned urban spaces, and sprawling acres of undeveloped land as potential residency sites.

At some point in the next decade I hope this big beautiful vision takes center stage in our work and home. But in the meantime, Range Studio feels like the "tiny house" seed to a roving residency center for artists, environmentalists, and creatives. It's the version of our residency center we can start from our small apartment in Oakland, CA.

My husband secured funding from the Center for Cultural Innovation to design and build this first tiny art studio, Studio 1. Studio 1 is a portable studio on wheels inspired by the Tiny House movement. It's built of sustainable and reclaimed materials, operates on solar power, and is clad in reclaimed redwood fencing. It's something of a modern maker's tiny house meets small urban art studio.

It was designed to sit on a flatbed trailer and park in the small driveway at our Oakland apartment. It's made quite a splash in the neighborhood since arriving from the warehouse where it was being built. A few days after arriving it was carted off to its first public exhibition at YBCA complete with micro residencies with four performing artists. It's been a very exciting week.

But our love for the studio propels us to share it with our beloved Bay Area arts community. And with the community at-large. We imagine this studio is the first step towards creating an adaptable, agile artist residency center from the comforts and confines of our small urban apartment.

We also imagine it might serve as a model to other artists and institutions looking to resolve the ever pressing issue of affordable arts space in urban centers. We also just hope it might inspire a handful of DIY art studios in its midst. (It is totally possible to build your own, for the record.)

We were fortunate to receive a feature article in the SF Bay Guardian last week sharing some insight about Studio 1 and the launching of Range Studio, you can read more here: Sm/Art Car. We've also just completed our new Range Studio website and we're eager to share it with you.

In the coming months we'll be focusing on sharing the news, solidifying partnerships, and writing grants to support residencies in the short-term. At present, we are each balancing a handful of individual art projects and see Range Studio as another collaborative art project that will orbit in our midst.

There are still 1000 details to configure but it feels like a big beautiful beginning. I keep looking out my studio window at the tiny art studio parked on our street below. Part of me still can't believe it's actually real.

As any dream starts to take shape and come into physicality after so many months or years of imagining, we can only guide the dream into place and let it be as willful and wonderful as it must. Launching Range Studio and seeing Studio 1 below our apartment feels like the beginning of a much bigger dream. One that I am eager to guide and steer in the many months and years to come.

Welcome to the world, Range Studio, and dear world, welcome to Range Studio and Studio 1.



Wiksten Tova & Tank and the Cool Sewing Club

I have two Wikstenmade tops in-progress. One is the Wiksten Tova (gray) and the other is the Wiksten Tank (blue). If you asked me to make these tops one year ago I would have told you that I can't follow a pattern. Okay, that's not entirely true. I would've told you that I struggle to follow standard sewing patterns and prefer to make my own. That's closer to the truth.

But in undertaking the Make Thrift Mend project one of my goals was to push myself outside of my sewing comfort zone, to better my garment-making skills, and to try a handful of new patterns. And so that's what I've done here. Push, better, try... that about sums it up.

I remember these patterns circulating the internet a few years ago when they were first released. This was before Instagram and Pinterest really set the stage for visual communication online and many of us were still communicating through Flickr and personal blogs. I miss the days of the personal blog before everyone had corporate sponsors, a professional graphic designer, and even a blog team. Sigh.

So much has changed since then (some for the better, some for the worse) but one thing that hasn't changed is the appeal and beauty of these simple patterns. They are just gorgeous when finished as you can see from the many images of Wiksten Tanks  and Wiksten Tovas. So pretty, right? Mine are still in-progress but they are oh-so close.

But I remember thinking there was no way I could make these tops. Even though I've been sewing for the better part of 20 years I still have not conquered my fear of sewing patterns. The artist in me rears her individualistic flag and I struggle to make original patterns that are pieced and patched together instead of following tried and trusted ones. I am a Slow Design supporter simply by instinct.

What I felt when I saw these beautiful tops being made was also jealousy. That's right, jealousy. I felt jealous that I didn't have the time, skills, or attention span to make these tops. It felt like all the cool sewing girls were making these tops and I was not invited into their Cool Girl Sewing Club.

This, of course, was nothing more than my own imagination. And as my yoga teacher calls it, The Compar-o-matic. The Compar-o-matic is the treadmill of comparison that we eagerly climb and call out in our mind all the ways we are better and worse than the people around us. It's a vicious cycle. It ends in no good.

But in launching the Make Thrift Mend project I wanted to embrace discomfort. That's right, I wanted to step fully outside of my known comfort zone and push myself to try something harder. Something that even felt too hard at the time. Something that felt too big so the only way through it was to take it one garment, one pattern, and one clothing label at a time.

While these tops are not yet finished they will get finished as soon as I can turn my attention back to a few hours of studio time. (The blue needs binding at the neck and armholes while the gray needs a binding at the neck and also sleeves. The sleeves are the most intimidating but this too I can overcome!)

One of the glorious things that has happened in my life in the years since these patterns were released? I became a mother. I quit my desk job. And I waded out into the murky unknown unpredictable life of a freelance artist, writer, and teacher. I'm not sure what frightened me more: Bringing home a newborn baby or quitting my desk job.

I'm still not sure how I'd answer that question but the good news is that everything is working out okay! Most of the time. And the other good news is that parenthood has taught me that not everything will happen today but the things I love the most will absolutely still happen. Just on their own timeline. It's also taught me that the beautiful mess of not knowing is just that: It's just another beautiful mess.

I wouldn't say I've conquered these patterns (the tank is pretty easy but the tova is probably the hardest pattern I've ever attempted, to be totally honest) but I would say that I've conquered my fear of being kicked out of the Cool Girl Sewing Club.

That's right, my imperfect seams and studied approach to any pattern is just fine by me. I'm learning where to insert my imagination, where to bend the sewing rules, and where it just doesn't matter so much. Not so different from parenting, right? I don't think so.

Now, I'm crossing my fingers that I can get one of these tops finished by the weekend. The toddler Goddesses willing.



Upcoming Workshops: Sashiko, Fundraising, Grantwriting

I'm excited to announce three upcoming fall workshops that I'll be offering in the Bay Area. I've taught several workshops this year and each time I'm reminded how much I love to teach--online and offline too. Mark your calendars, follow the links, and join me if you are in the area. I'll be offering three workshops in September and October. If you're not able to visit San Francisco or Berkeley to attend one of these workshops then be sure to follow the links to my next online workshop. It's going to be free!

Exploring Sashiko Embroidery: A Creative Approach at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco on Saturday, Septebmer 6 from 1:30-4:30 for just $35. We’ll use the mini quilt as an opportunity to explore patchwork, hand stitching, and embroidery with Sashiko. We’ll discuss ways to personalize your work through an improvisational approach that can be adapted to large-scale projects or other creative pursuits. We’ll also talk about the fine line between art, design, and craft and why this benefits textile enthusiasts like you. Basic sewing and stitching skills are required.

Fundraising for Artists: How to Fund Your Work? at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley on Tuesdays September 30 and October 7 from 6:30-9 for $75. I've taught this workshop with various arts organizations and I love teaching it so much. It's so rewarding to share my many years of nonprofit work with other individual artists looking to better understanding fundraising, grantwriting, and securing funds for their creative work. More details about this workshop are available at the above link. If you're curious about funding your next art project, please join me for this workshop.

Grantwriting for Artists: Beyond the Basics at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley on Saturday, October 18 from 10-4 for $125. This workshop is the sequel to the fundraising workshop I'll offer on Sept 30 and Oct 7. This workshop is intended for artists who have already written their first grant proposal but want to take their skills to the next level. Grantwriting is a technique that can be taught but learning how to hone your skill takes time and practice. I love teaching this workshops because it's my chance to wave the "Yes, you totally can!" flag in a room full of artists. And what's not to love about that?

Hooray! So excited to offer these workshop in the Bay Area this fall. For those of you reading from many miles away, you can still join my mailing list to have first dibs at the free online textile workshop I'll also be offering this fall. (Many thanks to the Puffin Foundation for supporting this workshop so I can offer it for free.) I'm hoping to have all the details confirmed for this workshop in the next few weeks. Stay tuned. And, as always, if there's a workshop you'd like me to teach or a venue you'd like me to visit, please share your thoughts in the comments.



A New Dress: Improvisation and Indigo

I'm excited to share my new indigo shibori handmade dress! I started working on this little frock before I left for summer vacation and I was so excited to finish it when I returned. Nothing like a few weeks away from the studio to light a fire when I return. (A proverbial fire, of course. Don't worry nothing has completely burned down in my studio as of yet. Knock on wood.) I didn't use a pattern for this dress and I have mixed feelings about that but overall I love the way it turned out.

Mixed feelings because I ended up spending quite a bit of time altering the top to make it more fitted. (Notice the hand-stitched darts and the triangle cut into the straps? These were my creative fixes to a top that was too big). I also made the skirt too small the first time but I couldn't bring myself to rip out all those beautiful French seams so I decided to cut the skirt up the center and add another panel in the front and back.

The hand-stitched details made the top fit perfectly and the skirt panels are less noticeable with the pleats. Win win. But it would have been SO much faster if I'd used a pattern. In time, I hope to have a handful of go-to patterns but also embrace improvisation as a creative guide. Is that possible? I'd like to think so.

I made this dress from two yards of fabric I hand-dyed with indigo last summer. I used several different shibori techniques to make the prints (in the dye) but then I cut the prints where I thought they were best highlighted on the dress. I used nearly every last scrap of fabric in this dress. The pockets were happily just big enough to fit my hands as that was all the fabric that remained aside from one small panel.

There are so many hidden details in this dress. There's a poem tucked into one of the pockets and then there's my horoscope constellation embroidered in French knots on the other. That's right, the tiny French knot configuration is actually the constellation for Capricorn. And then the tag was a tiny project all its own--patchworked together and hand-stitched into place.

I wanted this dress to straddle the line between art project and wearable garment and these details helped push it into the art category in my book. (What do you think? I'm experimenting with this idea of attachment in fashion. That if we are more emotionally attached to our garments we will keep them longer. Makes sense, right?)

I'm realizing how much improvisation plays a part in my artwork. And my sewing work is no different. Some of the dresses I've made in the last year feel more like art projects than fashion designs. And I like this space of the hybrid. I like imagining that some of the dresses are evolving from my art practice and some are more straight-forward sewing techniques--teaching myself to follow various patterns and bettering my sewing skills as I go. Goodness sake, I still have so much to learn about sewing.

If I had to give this dress a name I'd call it Cosmic Blue Bodies. That's right, sky inspired. In looking back on my travel photos from our summer vacation I see how many times the skyscapes played into my viewfinder--blue backgrounds with various white clouds slipping past. The patterns and colors of this dress look like those cloudscapes. And something about the various hidden details makes it come to life. Like these details give it breath and maybe a pulse that it might not have had otherwise.

Forgive my awkward modeling in these photos--I still cringe every time I get in front of the lens. If I could afford to hire a model or find a friend with my exact measurements and work schedule I would happily slip back behind the lens and let somebody else model these garments for you. What a dream! For now, me trying to hide behind the camera while appearing in front. There you have it.

I'm already scheming my next creation. I feel compelled to make a few more garments before the summer's end. On August 1st I will have completed 365 days of my fast fashion fast. Meaning that in just two weeks the first year of Make Thrift Mend will be completed. I'm deadline inspired. I admit it.

(Hi friends. I hope your summer is smashing! I missed you while I was away.)