A Verb for Keeping Warm incorporates founder Kristine Vejar's love for fiber, community, preservation of longstanding textile traditions, and desire to see others create a textile-centered art practice.
To do this, A Verb for Keeping Warm occupies a 1700 square foot space in Oakland, California that is comprised of a shop selling yarn, fiber, and fabric, two classrooms, two dye studios, and a natural dye garden.
Textiles, in the form of quilts and sweaters were always part of Kristine's family’s cultural landscape. They weren’t striving to win awards, rather, they gathered to make textiles as a form of social activity; to make friendships and to tell stories. Years later, textiles put aside, Kristine moved to California to attend college, and found herself in India studying Art History. There, her attention quickly shifted from studying painting to learning more about the fascinating textiles appearing at every corner turned. She met with a group of nomadic herders, named Rabari, renowned for their intricate embroidery and applique, and quickly found myself in their sewing circle.
Over the course of a month long research project, the Rabari taught Kristine to notice cloth and clothing - something she had previously taken for granted. She realized textiles can embody endless potential to communicate identity and ethics. Like her own family, she witnessed how textiles brought people together, and provided a focal point over which to exchange news, stories, and lessons. Through learning about the Rabari's way of choosing materials, colors, and ways of using motifs as symbols, she found that textiles can be a way to document one's journey and ideology. These textiles are very important, as they provides the only written record of the Rabari's history from their perspective. This trip set off a two-year adventure of living in India studying textiles and where she first discovered natural dyeing. Kristine returned to the US only briefly, to complete her degree and to work at The Textile Museum, Washington DC, documenting their Northern India textile collection. She returned to India via a Fulbright grant to continue her research with the Rabari and to explore textiles further. She met artisans and craftspeople within a wide range of textile tradition and production; from those who weave cloth with ikat patterns to those who spin cotton by hand. A community of natural dyers were particularly influential, filling Kristine with the desire to one day have her own line of naturally dyed textiles.
Upon returning to the US, she worked to learn everything she could about textiles through researching their history, working in a fabric store, taking classes to practice the technical aspects of making textiles, and meeting other makers. She knit often because it was transportable and there was an active knitting community online, making it easy to become inspired, to learn new techniques, and to discover new patterns. Many independent dyers began offering their yarn. She was inspired and desired to explore natural dyes, so she created her first line of naturally dyed yarn in her kitchen. It were an instant success, and with the profits earned, she created her first natural dyeing studio, located in Berkeley. As word spread, more people sought out her studio, so she opened a small shop. It was not long before it became apparent that for Verb to support its community, and for it to grow and stabilize, the need for a larger space.
She walked through the door of 6328 San Pablo Avenue and fell in love. The size of the space, 1700 square feet, would make it possible to have a shop, dye studio, and classroom. The open floor plan made it possible to have large community gatherings. The large windows would provide the natural light to see color easily. The outdoor space would make it possible to have an educational dye garden and a space for indigo vats. With help from the city of Oakland and their matching grant program, the customers of Verb, and her mom (yay for moms!), she was able to build a simple dye studio and open the shop.
A Verb for Keeping Warm has the wonderful support of its staff - currently, a group of six women, who all excel in making with fiber. Without their help, it would be impossible to run Verb.
From making textiles throughout her life, and through living in India, Kristine places a great importance on the need for handcrafted textiles in our society. She has seen everything from the joy to which the textile process can bring to a person and a community, to unfortunately, the dire circumstances of those around the world are placed within to create textiles and clothing for others. Her goal is to teach as many people as possible to sew and knit, in hopes that by sharing the time, energy, and materials it takes to create textiles, people will develop a greater first hand knowledge of textile production, and that they will share her belief in the great value of textiles and the process of making them hold in our lives. Her dream is to see the ethics and production of textiles in a fair and ecologically sensitive manner enter people's minds, just how it has for the organic and local food movement.
To support the act of sewing garments, Kristine launched Seam Allowance - a group which meets monthly who have pledged to make at least 25% of their own clothing. She also collaborated with local pattern-drafter, Tasa Gleason, to establish a line of sewing patterns.
Kristine always desired to create a line of yarn using local wool. Upon learning from a local sheep shearer that thousands of pounds of wool were being thrown away or sold for pennies to China, Kristine made it her mission to finally create a line of California wool yarn. In 2012, Kristine released her first line of yarn made from California raised wool. Called Pioneer, this yarn is composed of 100% organic Merino grown by organic cotton breeder, Sally Fox. At this time, she launched the California Wool Project, in which she dedicated herself and Verb to supporting local farmers, through the purchase of their wool. Since the release of Pioneer, she has created two more batches. In Summer 2015, she released Flock, a yarn made from wool grown by three northern California farms. She is in the process of making a worsted-weight yarn from California-grown Rambouillet wool. This yarn, name to be determined, will be released in Winter 2015.
Committed to creating more locally available natural dyes, A Verb for Keeping Warm has its own natural dye garden. The garden was started in 2011, when the San Pablo location opened. As the garden has taken root, it has been primarily used for education purposes - to teach others what forms of natural dyes are available and what they look like, while also teaching us at Verb how they grow in the Bay Area climate. In Summer 2015, Kristine utilized lessons learned from the garden, to guide Verb's first foray into farming: a nine hundred-foot long-row of dye plants planted at Sally Fox's Capay Valley farm. In 2011-12, local dyer and Fibershed founder, Rebecca Burgess began growing indigo in Marin County. Under the guidance of Roland Ricketts, Kristine helped Rebecca to create a special floor, modeled upon the traditional Japanese structure, to compost dried indigo leaves. Now, with this exceptional tool, Rebecca was able to create sukumo (composted indigo) using locally-grown indigo. And Kristine was able to establish fermentation indigo vats based upon those utilized by Roland Ricketts and based upon the traditional style of Japanese fermentation indigo vats. Currently, A Verb for Keeping Warm has two of these indigo vats. Fall 2015 will mark the first season in which A Verb for Keeping Warm will be able to create an entire rainbow of colors using locally grown dyes.
In 2014, Kristine completed her first book, The Modern Natural Dyer (Abrams / STC, Fall 2015). This book features a comprehensive list of dyes which can be made from plants, and one insect, cochineal. Instructions on working with both protein-based and cellulose-based fibers are included. There are 20 projects. Each featuring a different aspect of natural dyeing. Some projects use pre-sewn items, others incorporate sewing and knitting. Kristine just filmed a series of videos about using natural dyes with Creativebug. They will be released starting in January 2016.
Kristine hopes you will visit us and join us in creating handcrafted textiles and clothing.