In the Dye Studio: Acknowledging the Present in My Practice

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I just returned from Vancouver, where I spent 4 days taking class with Brian Whitehead, an artist and natural dyer. Brian has lived in Japan for 25 years and raises silk worms, indigo, and madder. I wanted to meet Brian because he grows, composts, and ferments indigo. As we have our new fermentation vat, I've desired learning as much as possible - and wanted to hear Brian's experience. We hope to grow and compost indigo in Oakland next year though could never do it on the level as Rebecca has, so are looking for a slightly smaller production. I came to learn that Brian does a slightly smaller production and feel encouraged that with some organization, and help from the community, we may succeed.



All of this said, I went into class with one goal, and left with my mind swimming with new ideas and insight. I took this class from Brian at Maiwa. Ever since returning from India the 1st time in 1999, I've always dreamed of visiting and it did not disappoint. Dyeing, and the art of it, takes center stage at Maiwa. Being there reminded me of my studies in India - to be fully immersed in dyeing from a cultural point of view - instead of from a hobbyist (as knitting is often thought of) point of view. In India and Japan, dyeing and the knowledge of it, holds an honorable cultural importance and significance, similar to what painters hold in our culture. Except there's an added bonus in cultures where dyeing registers as a high art, and where dyers are recognized as artists, the pieces they make are wearable - functional. The creation and layering of techniques upon a single cloth and the making of that cloth - be it woven and / or knit, dyed, and sewn - in Japanese fashion plays as big of a role as the concept, design, and cut of the garment.



When teaching, and explaining bound resist in India and Japan, I describe India as excelling in tradition and staying extremely true to it. An example, in India, each state has at least one style of woven and / or dye style that signifies that state, similar to our country and football teams / football jerseys. In Gujarat, where I lived, bandhani, and style of tied, bound resist, in which little bits of fabric are tied with thread, the fabric is dyed, the pieces of thread removed, leaving little polka dots on the fabric. The majority of bound resist in India is bandhani. In Japan, they also have bound resist, the over-aching name is shibori. However, there are hundreds maybe thousands of styles of shibori. In Japan, there is an acknowledgement of tradition, the fabric is examined, the dye is examined, and then the question asked - how many ways can I do this in the best way possible?



Being at Maiwa reminded me of why I wanted to be a natural dyer. That there is a magic and beauty to natural dyeing. The use of plants - an organism that had a life all onto itself before I had contact with it. The fact that some dyes appear easily in the nature that surrounds us - for me that would be walnuts or eucalyptus - and some dyes cultivated which includes the art of the farmer who pulls these plants forth. The perfection of nature - where all colors come together harmoniously are echoed in natural dyes and the hues they offer. When was the last time you looked at a hillside covered in trees, plants, and flowers and said "well those colors don't go well together" - or "I'm not a pink person". In nature all colors are valid and beautiful.



I created the challenge for myself to be a production natural dyer. I wanted to prove to myself that given the varied circumstances of natural dyes - the change and shift within the plants from one batch to the next - that I could control the outcome and create reproducible colorways. I have viewed my work as a practice and as a craft, spending as many hours possible exercising the same techniques within a controlled environment. I also thought that this type of dyeing would be necessary in order to run my business.



Creating Horizon really gave me a taste of living in the moment - of knowing with happiness and sadness that this yarn may never be again - because it is so close to the source. Every year Sally, the grower of Horizon, has hundreds of hurdles to contend with - and has to make decisions for her business which make her happy and secure financially. What we are working with is truly a fruit of her labor. And when working with Horizon, I feel that sense, this moment in time. It is a exact emulation of life - of presence in this moment.



I have new ideas. I am not sure that production dyeing is the way I would like to interact with the process or with this medium. I would like to give space and time to using natural dyes and allowing them to express themselves, to learn from their aliveness, and to take what I have learned and to keep expanding. I am not sure if my new ideas will work - and to some respect how they will work. All the yarn may not be the same, just as day to day life, people, and weather isn't the same - which makes life interesting, admirable, and creative.




I envision creating a line of yarn and fabric, with materials that may not be able to replicated, and dyeing it with materials that may not be easy to find, or using processes that I feel like utilizing that day, that are a reflection of where my concentration lies, and to place the finished yarn out there, for you - and learn whether or not you like it and want to use it and for you then to go on and to fulfill our collaboration - because that is how I see you, as my collaborator - and your work as art.