I'm honored to share this interview with artist, quilter, natural dyer, and friend, Jessica Lewis Stevens, of Sugarhouse Workshop. As you might know Jessica and I have been working on a three-part collaboration, Field Study, that will culminate in an opening exhibition at Hawkins NY in Hudson, NY on August 20; a daylong retreat at Whistle Down Farm with Drop, Forge, & Tool on Sunday, August 21; and an ongoing photo documentary sharing our work in-process on Instagram with the tag #fieldstudyfiber.
I wanted to share a conversation with Jessica in honor of the upcoming weekend and all of our work together. But also because Jessica is such an inspiring human and I wanted to highlight some of her creative practice, her studio work, and her seasonal approach to sustainable textiles. Not to mention, her heartbreakingly beautiful quilts made from naturally dyed fabrics and a few cameos of her home.
KR: Hello, Jessica! Thanks for joining me today. I thought it would be nice to share some insight into your work in honor of our upcoming collaboration, Field Study, and our pending exhibition, workshop, and process over on IG. Thank you for agreeing to join me here. I’ve loved your work online for many years and it’s such an honor to join forces for this collaboration. Can you tell us about your creative journey? And maybe share some of the highlights that led you to the work you’re making today?
JLS: Hi Katrina! Thank you so much for having me here. I’m so thrilled to be collaborating on our Field Study project, and to have a chance to share our work together later this month in Hudson.
I feel as though I’ve always been fascinated by artists, makers, and creative folks of all kinds, and I’ve always made room in my life for making. My mother ran a frame shop growing up, and I spent many of my teen years interacting with art and learning to make frames and stretch stitchery and match colors just so. I worked in framing to put myself through college and graduate school, after which I took a position as the Program Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center, a non-profit organization in Buffalo dedicated to the traditions of letterpress printing and making books by hand.
I fell in love with the processes of printing and bookbinding there, and beyond that it greatly inspired my continuing interest in reconnecting with the more analog craft traditions of the past. Once I had made these things the “hard” way and had a chance to see what a remarkable difference the human hand can make, it was hard to ignore the beauty and sense of pride and effort the more modern, automated processes lack. This eventually led me to explore beyond the paper arts to textiles, where I feel as though I found my home in making quilts and soft goods using traditional patterns and techniques.
KR: I love your use of natural dyes and sewing to make beautifully handcrafted objects. Your work ranges from quilts to buntings to project bags to baby goods to thoughtful children’s toys and beyond. Can you talk about your approach to making these objects? And your interest in creating objects with such attention to detail and craftsmanship—dyeing the fabrics by hand with plants from your yard before you begin any construction?
JLS: So many of the objects I create, and how I create them, are tethered to the idea of making a home a home. I have always really enjoyed seeing how others integrate good design and usefulness into their lives. I have shelves of books of interiors and antique quilts and boards and boards on pinterest of objects and homes I love to look at. But so often, these things are either out of reach, or manufactured without the human hand. Both out of necessity and a desire for well-made, thoughtful objects, I started making those things I wanted myself. And I think if you’re going to make something, you should make it well, give it a life beyond its utilitarian value.
For me, that means using the bedstraw root growing in our field to color a changing pad cover for our new baby, or making a bunting for my son’s play space with marigold flowers we grew together last year. It became obvious to me through conversations and feedback on these things I was making that a lot of people want that kind of connection to their objects. Not so much added preciousness or expense, but added care and consideration and authenticity. It’s those values that really drive my shop collections, and the things I make for our household.
KR: Your work is very tied to the land and to place. Perhaps it’s your gorgeously curated Instagram feed but I always see your work as inherent to your surrounding, to your home, to your garden, to your kitchen—can you talk about your relationship to place and how that might influence your projects?
JLS: We live in southern Vermont now, and the landscape here is out of a dream. Every season is so perfectly itself and so completely enchanting. Living in the country forces us to change our lives with the seasons, what we do, what we cook, what I make, and I really love that about making a life here. I can dye fabric all summer when the plants and fresh water and sunshine are abundant, and spend lots of time in winter putting hand stitches into quilts and knitting sweaters for my son when keeping warm becomes a priority. It allows me not to tire of a specific part of the process, and constantly be inspired by the new colors and moods of each season as they come and go.
KR: I love how you so seamlessly tie together your domestic life and your creative life. I love seeing images of your son, Henry, and your baking and glimpses of your home throughout the season next to your creative work in quilting, dyeing, and running your online shop. Your version of domesticity is definitely something I want for myself and my children. It feels chosen. It feels liberating. It feels thoughtful and intentional and meaningful. Can you talk about this overlap and how one might relate to the other? Again, the work seems inspired and tethered by this sense of place.
JLS: I feel like it all feeds into itself in a really fulfilling cycle. In order for me to be home with Henry and our little one on the way and focus on my creative work instead of being employed outside the home, we’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices and really intentional choices about where and how we live. I find often that it’s the stretching of what we have and the need to be creative with our resources that encourage creativity in every part of our lives. From using what we have in the garden to bake and cook, occupying the days with a small child in ways that are meaningful and fun, working slowly on projects that help us to live well, it all requires a great deal of creativity and thoughtfulness and it all feels very connected.
I’m so glad you use the word liberating – I feel sometimes like I never leave the house, but truthfully it’s deeply freeing to need less, to depend on ourselves, and to let each part of our day-to-day be a part of the creative work of building an intentional life.
KR: I noticed that on your website you talk about your work as a natural dyer and a quilter. Did the quilting come first or the dyeing? Or did they evolve alongside one another as your quilts allowed for a use of the naturally dyed fabric and vice versa?
JLS: Quilting came first for me, though dyeing didn’t follow far behind. When I began to learn to quilt, I was less concerned with materials than I was with design and construction. I had stashed fabric for years for various projects, and it was really useful to have those yards around for all the experimentation and mistakes that come with teaching yourself to quilt. Following the birth of my son, my perspective shifted in a major way. I began to really question my practice in terms of what I was buying, what I was wasting, how my fabrics were made and colored. It was no longer enough to make a beautiful-looking quilt, it became important to me to consider my sources.
I had for many years made it a priority to buy clothes second hand, to make what I could, to avoid big box store clothing racks because of the conditions in which these goods are produced (I spent my 16th birthday at a panel talk and protest with former sneaker company sweatshop workers, if it’s any indication of my future priorities) but I realized I hadn’t applied the same ethical standard to my raw materials. At the same time, we had recently moved to the upper Hudson Valley where I became endlessly inspired by the abundance of plants and flowers and produce growing around me.
I began exploring natural dyes as a way to further connect with this abundance and limit my own chemical footprint, experimenting with easy things to find like queen anne’s lace from the roadside and onion skins from my kitchen. Slowly I started integrating these colors into my work until I no longer felt like I needed to buy conventionally dyed fabrics. Because each of these lengths of color felt so precious to me, I saved every scrap, and they eventually became buntings when my son had a birthday coming up or a needlebook to hold my hand-sewing tools, or a bag for my next knitting project.
My own needs have always been a muse; trying to make what we need has a way of inspiring some of my favorite projects. When I launched my shop, I realized other folks might appreciate these slowly made goods and I integrated them into my collections. Your Make/Thrift/Mend project was a big inspiration to me as I was continually trying to make these shifts in my practice – it felt like I had found community in considering these issues and I’m still so inspired by what you do to inspire others to make thoughtful and sustainable choices as a consumer and as an artist.
KR: Back to this idea of place, you also live in rural Vermont, complete with four distinct seasons including a humid summer and very cold, sometimes snowy, winter. How do the seasons influence your work? Do you plan your dyes according to what’s available throughout the year or do you tend to quilt more in the winter when you’re naturally indoors?
JLS: Yes, absolutely. I love the changing of the seasons. I spend a lot of time in summer dyeing. There is an abundance of dye plants growing midsummer, and it feels like there is hardly time to capture them all. But it’s worth the days after days of stirring hot dye pots to have a quilt on your lap or mittens on your kids’ hands in winter that are made from fibers dyed with summer’s colors. It’s easy to forget how cold winter can get in Vermont, but when it does roll around it’s wonderful to have little reminders of summer imbued in the objects we use every day.
I love to change the colors of my shop collections with the seasons too. In summer, I dye a lot with indigo because my vat is healthy and vibrant, and I love to make things that are useful for that season- dyed linen totes for the beach, or bright rainbow buntings. In autumn I like to focus on more subtle shades, and in winter I’m always drawn to the darkest colors and the most pale, neutral ones.
KR: What’s your favorite dye material right now? Could you share one recipe for a dye, mordant, and fabric with our readers? Just one combination you particularly adore.
JLS: Lately I’ve really been enjoying using iron to add some quiet depth to brighter colors. I’ve been dyeing with marigolds from last year’s harvest, and the iron gives a beautiful rusty gold character to it. Like a bridge between summer’s bright color’s and autumn’s rich browns. It’s not too late even in the northeast to plant a patch of marigold seeds if you’ve got even a little space or a big pot, and they yield a lot of beautiful color.
KR: I’m thrilled about our collaboration! When we first began I imagined we’d offer a workshop on natural dyes and stitching; that we’d create an exhibition of 10 collaborative pieces; and that we’d somehow document this process online to include community that might not be able to join in person. But I never imagined the process would feel so intimate! And so vulnerable. We’ve both written in emails to the other about how sharing our work and our thoughts about the work have felt incredibly intimate. Do you think this intimacy is often overlooked online? Or do you think the work is somehow more intimate than our other work and it’s just close to the heart in someway?
JLS: I really couldn’t agree more. I think for me, I’m not often so explicit when talking about my inspirations, what drives my work, why I chose the colors I chose. I often let my small shop collections speak for themselves or hint at the seasonal touches inherent in each object. But with Field Study, we’re really baring those connections that are important to us, sharing more elaborately the ways we’re interacting with our art, and it’s a vulnerable place to be. And a beautiful one!
I do think there can be an intimacy that is often overlooked when we’re constantly sifting through new images online every day. Things can sometimes feel very surface-level. I love knowing more about what inspires a makers work, and I’ve really loved having the chance to do that myself through this project. It has evolved in a way that I think is not only exciting for this project, but will continue to impact my future work in a wonderful way.
KR: Who are some of your biggest inspirations? I know there are so many, but if you could just list 3-5 who would you include that’s particularly inspiring to you today?
JLS: As far as other dyers and quilters, I am always inspired by Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers. Her work is beautiful and intentional in a way I deeply admire. I tend to draw inspiration mostly from folks who work in a different medium than I do – I love to think about how my quilts might look with someone else’s weaving or pottery or print on the wall, or sometimes a person’s writing style really strikes a chord I keep coming back to.
Some of my favorites include author Ben Hewitt, The Letowskis of North Country Folkware who make beautiful kitchenware, the cooking videos of Aube Giroux. I’ve been collaborating with artist Emily Halbardier on a series of seasonal baking books, and her illustrations are always so inspiring. She captures a playful, folksy sort of feeling so very well.
KR: Lastly, for somebody who might just be starting out with natural dyes what would you recommend? Are there any techniques or approaches you find particularly forgiving? Or any books or websites you adore?
JLS: Work with what you have! If you want to try natural dyeing, don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, or become intimidated by all there is to learn. Start where you are, boil some onion skins or avocado pits, and dip an old t-shirt in the pot. Just go for it. A beautiful book came out last year called The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar from A Verb For Keeping Warm. It’s an amazing resource for the beginner or intermediate dyer, and it’s full of projects for any level of experience.
KR: Thank you so much, Jessica! I cannot wait to teach with you at Whistle Down Farm in August. It feels like something of a dream come true.
JLS: Thank you so much for having me, Katrina! I am so, so looking forward to it.
I've been quiet over here lately because I've been so very busy in the studio. Teaching, writing, mending, and making new textile work. But mostly, I'm thrilled to announce my upcoming two-person exhibition, Field Study, will open at Hawkins NY on Warren Street in Hudson, NY with a reception on Saturday, August 20 from 5-7pm. This is part of my three-part collaboration with natural dyer and quilter, Jessica Lewis Stevens of Sugarhouse Workshop and we are so excited about this project! I want to shout it from the rooftops. Or the farmhouse tops. Or the Hudson Valley barns. Well, you know what I mean.
Our exhibit runs August 20- September 18 and will be on view during regular shop hours. (Thank you, Hawkins NY!) We've worked like crazy to make ten new, original, textile art pieces from naturally dyed fabrics, yarns, fibers, and hand stitching. Field Study is an exploration of the relationship between art, agriculture, traditional textile crafts like quilting and mending, and the underlying importance of place in sustainability. But it's all rolled up into one Instagram photo documentary; one daylong farm retreat; and one new exhibition. I am truly over-the-moon to debut this new work.
Also, because we want to break the rules of traditional exhibitions just a little bit, for my friends out-of-town we have arranged that you can contact Hawkins NY to purchase the work remotely while the exhibit is open. They'll even ship it to you. Hooray! All details will be on my website before Aug 20 but if you've been following on Instagram and want to purchase an original I just want you to have the details first: You'll call Sean at 1-844-HNY-3344 or email at email@example.com between Aug 20 and Sept 18 and he'll walk you through the process. For those of you nearby, please join us for the party on Saturday, August 20. We'd love to celebrate with you. Oh, yes, we are ready to celebrate this project.
Also, just a quick update that we only have a couple of spaces left in the Field Study: Natural Dye & Stitch Farm Retreat on Sunday, August 21 in Hudson, NY. This daylong retreat is hosted on my dear friends' organic farm and includes two textile workshops, an organic farm fresh lunch, and the most beautiful sweeping valley views. Plus, we're making sweet little gifts and Jessica's making berry pies. All workshop details are on the Drop Forge & Tool website. If you're already joining us for the retreat we hope you'll come to the party the night before too. Follow along on Instagram at #fieldstudyfiber
So. Very. Excited. To. Share. This. Project. With. You.
I'm thrilled to announce a new workshop offering this summer: Field Study Natural Dye & Stitch Farm Retreat is something of a dream come true. I'm collaborating with the ever-talented textile artist, natural dyer, and quilter Jessica Lewis Stevens of Sugarhouse Workshop to offer a three-part project this summer, Field Study. This project will result in an exhibition of 10 new works by Jessica and I; it will share an ongoing dialogue of our work-in-progress through a photo documentation with the tag #fieldstudyfiber over on Instagram; and it will offer this textile retreat on Sunday, August 21, 2016.
This daylong retreat will take place on my dear friends' working organic farm, Whistle Down Farm, just 10 minutes outside of Hudson, NY in the heart of the Hudson Valley. The retreat will include technical textile instruction in natural dyeing and hand-stitching from the cover of the beautiful barn on the farm and will include ample opportunity to explore the landscape and soak in the natural beauty of our surroundings. Jessica and I are preparing all sorts of special treats for the retreat participants in addition to the bounty of workshop supplies. Imagine special booklets, handmade gifts, and Jessica's berry pies! In addition to a vegetarian farm fresh lunch that will be provided.
As I continue down this path of sustainable fashion and the fusing of my art practice with slow fashion I am constantly brought back to the image of the farm. To our dependence on the farm. To the absolute need for our communities to support local farmers. To the beginnings of food and fiber in plants and animals that are raised on the farms. I keep considering how cotton, flax, hemp, wool, angora, mohair, and cashmere come from farms. And our dependence on these farms for textiles and fashion.
Slow Food has done for the food movement what I can only hope Slow Fashion will one day do for the fashion industry--it allows us to be mindful in our choices and to reconsider the true value of food or clothing and the many lives that touch that food or garment before it reaches our home. Enter into this conversation the idea of "slow textiles" or considering the materials, processes, and resources in textile work and engaging in handwork, honoring traditional practices, and considering ethical design.
This Field Study workshop will be firmly rooted in place. A very special place. A very important place. And a place that is very dear to my heart, Whistle Down Farm. This collaboration with Jessica is a multi-approach to exploring our thoughts on the intersection of fashion and farming; the crossing of fiber and farm; the importance of place and geography and localism; the dislodging of migration or relocation; and the pushing of traditional craft techniques like quilting and mending into a fine art medium.
In so many ways this collaboration with Jessica, this multi-faceted approach to collaboration, and this resulting workshop are the truest expression of my current work with sustainable fashion. The collaboration allows for dialogue and the sharing of ideas and the influence of form; the photo documentation on Instagram is a way for us to experiment with using social media as a core part of our collaborative project and sharing our processing with a larger community; and the daylong retreat allows us to come together in physical space to share our techniques, our muses, and our thinking about slow textiles from the location of a working organic farm.
Oh my gosh, I'm excited. Join us on Sunday, August 21 if you can. And for those of you coming from out-of-town feel free to ask any questions about lodging, food, shops, etc. and I'll be sure to answer in the comments. Hudson, NY is a magical small city fueled by arts and antiques and it has many wonderful accommodations, eateries, and special shops and spaces to crate a wonderful weekend getaway. I'm so honored to be offering this retreat to the world and I can't wait to meet the participants that will join us. I'm eager to hear your reactions so please feel free to leave any comments or questions below or over on Instagram.
Hooray for slow textiles and creative collaborations and organic farms!
Last week marked a very important event on social media. It marked the tremendous organizing efforts of the eco fashion advocacy group, Fashion Revolution. It marked the creation of a virtual sustainable fashion community consisting of designers, artists, makers, crafters, hobbyists, advocates, and otherwise concerned citizens looking to engage in the conversation regarding ethical fashion. These are the very best moments in social media. When online platforms are used as a tool for community organizing, public dialogue, and political advocacy. And the moments when this tool actually wants anyone and everyone to participate. People like me. And people like you.
This week marked the three-year-anniversary of the collapse of the garment factory known as the Savar building or the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013 the building collapsed killing over 1,100 people and injuring over 2,500. The building collapsed because of a structural failure that could have been avoided. It resulted in the deadliest garment factory accident in history.
From this tragedy grew an urgency in the grassroots Slow Fashion movement that was already gaining momentum with environmentalists, textile artists, and select fashion leaders worldwide. But the collapse created an urgency. An outrage. An international call for action. Slow Fashion called for a revolution in the fashion industry to better consider the welfare of people and the planet involved in the making of our clothing.
Fashion Revolution had a simple premise, to draw attention to the horrible conditions of garment factory workers by asking fashion labels one question: Who made my clothes? This question quickly inspired droves of concerned consumers to turn their clothing inside out, show their labels, and take a selfie on their cell phones that they'd post to social media outlets with the hashtag #whomademyclothes.
It was effective. It was instant. It was an inspired action to convince participants to share their labels and charge factories with a responsibility that was missing after Rana Plaza collapsed. It also humanized the movement by forcing us to consider the humans in the factories making our clothing. And remember the lives of the workers who were killed in the avoidable collapse. These images quickly flooded the Internet on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, April 24, 2014. And again on April 24, 2015.
Along the way designers and makers turned the phrase around to declare, "I made my clothes". And from this declaration other sustainable fashion advocates and artists added their own spin on how they were not only calling for a fashion revolution but participating in one. This year at the third anniversary Fashion Revolution organized worldwide events and increased the daylong memorial to a week long event.
This year the advocacy group took a longer approach and asked "makers" or designers, crafters, seamstresses, and other fashion enthusiasts to spend the week considering the potential of a fashion revolution from seven different angles. They invited followers to post on a different prompt each day for seven days. The topics included: 1. I make my clothes; 2. By hand; 3. I mend my clothes; 4. Upcycled; 5. Second hand first; 6. Skill up; and 7. Goals.
It's impossible for me to participate in this work for Fashion Revolution without considering my own fashion fast that started three years ago. One of the goals of my project was community engagement and sharing resources and techniques I learned through the project. So this organizing effort is close to my heart as I continue to focus on these interactions and conversations outside of making, mending and teaching. It's incredible, the momentum that the Slow Fashion community has gained in the past three years since I started my project. It's thrilling to witness.
As many of you know, on August 1, 2013 I started a clothing fast, Make Thrift Mend, with the intention of abstaining from purchasing any new clothing for one year while I focused instead on making simple garments, buying secondhand, and mending. My fast was also largely inspired by the Rana Plaza factory collapse. It was also influenced by Natalie Chanin's writings on slow design and the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. I wanted to DO something about fast fashion. I wanted to change my shopping habits. I wanted to challenge myself to go deeper in the name of eco fashion. I wanted to align my wardrobe with my values.
Through this journey I also discovered mending as a form of art. I studied Japanese Boro and Sashiko and developed my own techniques for mending clothing. I started teaching mending workshops because it was part of my Make Thrift Mend project goals. With a background as a textile artist and an arts organizer I wanted to push myself to focus on what's known as "social practice" or community engagement or finding a way to work outside the structure of galleries and shops to engage community. I hosted mending circles, I won a grant to offer a free mending workshop online, and later I organized textile artists on Market Street in San Francisco in lunchtime demonstrations.
The first year of my project turned into the second and I shifted the parameters to include the purchase of new clothing from local brands or independent makers. The third year suddenly appeared and I included the purchase of select new clothing from ethical brands. I taught more mending workshops.
I wrote about Slow Fashion. I published an article on what I like to call, Mendfulness, and I gathered in community with other artists, makers, designers, and authors working for eco fashion. My interest in the project only continued to grow as the years gathered--I can hardly believe I haven't purchased new clothing from a big box store in three years. If you had asked me if that was possible before I started my fashion fast I would have said, "No way. What would I wear? I don't have the money. I don't have the time".
Somewhere along the line I surrendered the rest of my studio practice to my Make Thrift Mend project. I had a second baby. I bought an ancient farmhouse 3,000 miles away from my apartment and studio in Oakland, CA. And I moved my growing family from that small apartment in a beautiful urban center to a sprawling old farmhouse in the beautiful rural community of the Hudson Valley.
But somehow mending and Slow Fashion and this combining of sustainability and fashion and textile arts centered my creative work in a time when my life was arguably busier and more demanding and more chaotic than ever before. The mending practice became metaphor for mending in general. For repairing. For focusing. For accepting imperfection. For experimenting. For embracing the natural process of breakdown and reinforcing what was torn with my stitches. It became a meditation, Mendfulness.
I taught more mending workshops. I bettered my techniques. I listened to my students about what they wanted and what was working and what wasn't. And I started teaching at new venues and considered multiple requests to travel to teach in locations across the US. I admitted to myself that this one-year-project had not just turned into a three-year-project but it had turned into the core my creative studio work. And it had altered my relationship with fashion so deeply that there was simply no turning back to the sales racks of my favorite boutiques of yesteryear. Thankfully.
But this week brings me back to the catalyst for this project that quite frankly changed my life. It brings me back to the people. To the humans. To the lives lost. To the photographs of the factory collapse that could have been avoided. And to the aftermath of various mega fashion brands refusing responsibility and refuting pressure to shift their manufacturing practices.
But it also brought me back to the makers. To the designers. To the advocates. To the activists. To the community of people around the world that are so dedicated to this cause that they cannot, not do something. They are motivated to create change. And they are inspiring. They are designing, making, selling, mending, altering, plant dyeing, and otherwise creating an alternative fashion industry that aligns with their values. They inspire me to keep moving my own project forward too.
They remind us that we do have options. We can buy less. We can support independent makers. We can consider the fibers in our clothing and educate our selves about the journey from farm to factory to retail. We can decide to take a break from the fashion "trendmill". We can say, enough is enough.
We can find other outlets besides impulse shopping. We can mend our clothing. We can buy secondhand. We can even consider the design elements in mending and making to create repairs that actually add value to our existing garments. And we can release our selves from the pressure to make perfect seams on handmade garments and instead just go ahead and begin. Where we are. With the skills we already have. We can say, "I'll start right here, right now."
The three-year-anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, the organizing efforts of Fashion Revolution, and rounding the third year of my own fashion fast offer an opportunity to reconsider choices. To confront the system I support in my garment purchases. To stop focusing on what I can't do to support sustainable fashion and instead decide what I can do to better align my values and my closet. At the end of the week of online activity the prompt was "Goals".
I took a few moments to jot down my goals and realized that advocacy is still my number one priority as I move ahead with this project. And by advocacy I mean social practice, community engagement, public dialogue, and reaching outside of my studio and classrooms to support change. I also want to continue to step outside my comfort zone in making garments--approach sleeves, pants, and other contours I've been avoiding. And to develop a handful of projects that use castoff fabrics because let's admit it, sometimes the garments are beyond repair but the fabric has so much potential.
This week, this anniversary, this tremendous organizing effort by Fashion Revolution allows us to pause and notice our habits. That's how my fashion fast began--I wanted to notice my shopping habits by abstaining. I wanted to create a break in the habitual and this came through fasting and ultimately re-approaching fashion through an intentional lens, Mendfulness. This week allows us to just decide on one thing we can shift to better align our wardrobe with our values. Just one thing. Anything. Just a specific place to continue. Or to begin.
I'm thrilled to announce that on Friday, March 11 at 7pm I'll be co-hosting a free, community-building, slow fashion event at A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland, CA. This event was recently added to my lineup of mending workshops and I've asked several of my favorite slow fashion/ sustainable fashion/ slow textile artists to join me in public conversation. This is something of my Bay Area Slow Fashion Dream Team and I couldn't be more excited to join forces with these amazing artists for an evening of community building, conversation, and sharing our projects with the public. Here's just a brief biography on each of the artist who will join me for the panel:
>>> Sasha Duerr <<<
I'm honored to be joined by friend and fine artist/ natural dyer/ expert colorist/ slow fashion advocate/ and kindred artist Sasha Duerr. Sasha approaches natural dyeing and natural color like nobody else I've ever known. She has a sensitivity and intuition and engagement with the natural world that is somewhat spellbinding. Truly. If you have the opportunity to take a workshop with her and the Permacouture Institute please do it! She's also an author, fine artist, teacher, mama, and community builder very active in the Bay Area creative community.
>>> Sonya Philip <<<
I'll be joined by my dear friend/ artist/ fashion designer/ maker Sonya Philip of 100 Acts of Sewing. If you're at all interested in making your own clothing and you don't know where to begin I highly recommend checking out Sonya's project, patterns, and her various social media feeds. She's taking the fear of "perfection" out of handmade clothing and providing simple, stylish patterns and so much information on fabrics, sewing, styling, knitting, and creating a handmade wardrobe. Sonya is also a writer, artist, teacher, mama, and all around dear creative.
>>> Kristine Vejar <<<
Next is the wonderful and inspiring Kristine Vejar artist, dyer, organizer, and owner of Oakland's finest A Verb for Keeping Warm. Kristine just published her first book, The Modern Natural Dyer, and it's a treasure trove of images, narratives, and DIY projects focused on natural dyes. This book is visually stunning. Kristine teaches workshops, hosts events, advocates for slow fashion and handmade textiles all while managing AVFKW--a yarn, fiber, and fabric shop complete with a classroom, dye studio, and beautiful outdoor dye garden. Kristine is a wonderful resource and also an inspiring entrepreneur, artist, author, and sustainable fashion advocate.
>>> Alice Wu <<<
Lastly, we'll be joined by the very talented designer, producer, curator, and artist Alice Wu. I met Alice many moons ago when we both lived in Brooklyn, NY and she was in the early days of her ethical fashion label, Feral Childe. She co-founded this fashion label with distribution in over 100 independent retail shops and some of the most creative, stylish, unique, and totally awesome clothing I've seen from a small label! The label has since come to a close but we are thrilled to have Alice's insight and her added perspective. She's now working as a curator, organizer, and fine artist and she's a wealth of knowledge regarding slow fashion.
I am so honored to share an evening of conversation with these talented women. When I launched my fast fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend, nearly three years ago one of the priorities was to host community events and participate in social action and what's often known in the art world as "social practice". So organizing mending circles; writing grants to offer that free online slow fashion workshop; last summer's Social Textile Experiments in our tiny art studio on Market Street in San Francisco; and this upcoming Slow Fashion Forum all help to push realize this goal in my project. And it's an honor to share this work with the broader public.
Lastly, we've added one more workshop to my offerings at Handcraft Studio School on Tuesday, March 15 from 11-3pm. (Saturday's workshop is sold out and there are just a few spots left on Sunday, March 13.) It's wonderful to be returning to the Bay Area to engage in this work and to continue making connections with this incredible community. And for those of you outside of CA, stay tuned, there will be more offerings for you in 2016.
Happy New Year!
I'm thrilled to announce upcoming mending workshops in three different locations. In March I'll be back in California at the beloved Handcraft Studio School teaching my favorite Sashiko Mending workshop; in April I'll be offering this same Sashiko Mending workshop locally at Drop Forge & Tool in adorable Hudson, NY; and in May I'll be traveling to Portland, ME to offer a special daylong Mindful Mending workshop at A Gathering of Stitches.
If you've been curious about modern mending inspired by Japanese Sashiko and Boro; about sustainable fashion through creative and personal repairs; or about taking a workshop with me in-person... now is the time. These workshops often sell out so be sure to register quickly if you want to attend. In 2016 I'm also hoping to offer an online slow fashion workshop complete with mending tutorials so be sure to hop on over to my mailing list to be the first to know. For daily studio updates let's connect over on Instagram--my daily photo outlet to the big virtual world.
On Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13 I'll be back in my beautiful California teaching Sashiko Mending with my dear friends at Handcraft Studio School! Join me in the San Francisco Bay Area for this favorite workshop. These workshops will include a Sashiko embroidery project, sustainable fashion resources, and individual attention to mend your garments. If you're anywhere near Emeryville, CA come join me for an afternoon. This is a truly gorgeous space filled with wonderful students and it's always a lovely gathering. I can't wait to return.
Saturday April 9 I'll be offering my Sashiko Mending workshop back in the beautiful Hudson Valley in Hudson, NY at Drop Forge & Tool. The owner of DFT is a friend of mine from California and I love what she's creating to support the local arts community here in Upstate NY so this workshop feels extra special--California meets NY in the best possible sense. This is currently my only local workshop so be sure to sign-up soon if you are in the area and want to join me. I'd love to meet you! Hudson, NY is just about two hours north of Manhattan by car or train. And it's adorable.
On Memorial Day weekend I'm thrilled to be teaching at A Gathering of Stitches in Portland, ME on Saturday, May 28. This workshop has been developed specifically for the retreat sessions offered by this amazing venue. It will be a daylong workshop focused on Mindful Mending--diving deeper into sustainable fashion, mindfulness, and the creative opportunity in repair. It will also give participants a chance to spend more time considering the design aspects of repairs and the beauty of slow stitches.
I'm honored to join the line-up of *amazing* teachers working out of AGOS in 2016. Seriously, have you seen the offering of classes on their website? I want to take every single workshop. Portland is such a wonderful and vibrant city that I haven't visited in years so I'm thrilled to return. I hope you'll join me if you are anywhere nearby. Or it could be a great weekend destination too--hint, hint.
I'm thrilled to be partnering with these three amazing spaces, run by three amazingly inspiring women, to offer mending workshops in three beautiful states. I've selected these spaces very carefully as I feel they truly embody the philosophy, aesthetics, community, and professional practices of a leading contemporary craft school. They are working diligently to create beautiful spaces that not only offer craft workshops but build creative community, support artists & makers, and consider the inherent value and importance of handmade objects.
Join me for these workshops--it will be a honor to share my sustainable fashion resources, to help support you in your own slow fashion journey whether that's mending one garment or starting a fast fashion fast, and more practically to work with you to mend your clothes through beautiful and purposeful stitches.
Happy 2016. Happy mending. Happy making. Happy wintery days that sparkle and shine.
Today is a very special day. Today, I'm thrilled to host a book giveaway of my friend and fellow slow-fashion artist, Kristine Vejar's, gorgeous new dye book, The Modern Natural Dyer. Have you seen this beautiful book? It's been traveling through the Internet at rapid speed with guest appearances on beloved sites like Selvedge and Design Sponge and many other beautiful, virtual spaces. Each time I see this book featured in a new location I cheer a little bit, oftentimes aloud, I confess.
Kristine is a dear friend, a fellow fiber artist, a generous spirit, a thoughtful advocate, but also someone I respect SO much for the work she's done to build community and support slow fiber, slow fashion, and sustainable textiles throughout the Bay Area and beyond. She's the founder and owner of the ever-inspiring shop A Verb for Keeping Warm (AVFKW) in Oakland, CA where she sells yarn, fabric, sewing patterns, books, tools, offers workshops and special events, and where she conducted all the research for her gorgeous new book.
If you live anywhere near the San Francisco Bay Area I highly recommend you sign-up for the AVFKW mailing list so you can attend the wonderful fiber events and workshops hosted in this magical space. Not to mention, you can purchase the book, the dye kits, a dye journal, and oodles of other wonderful crafty goods from the AVFKW website. (Hint, hint Christmas shoppers.)
The Modern Natural Dyer must be one of the most gorgeous craft books I've ever held in my hands. Is that an overstatement? Well, I don't think so. It's actually that pretty. I first got an early glimpse of this beautiful book this summer when Kristine joined me for my Social Textile Experiments on Market Street in our tiny art studio on wheels--Range Studio.
I saw the cover and I gasped. So pretty! Then I flipped through the photographs and I paused at each one to notice the dye projects, the raw materials, and the incredible composition and intention in every single photograph. The book exudes Kristine's refined sense of design, beautiful aesthetic, and also her incredible insight into the natural dye world. I want to make every project in this book!
The dye recipes are fantastic, the projects are inspiring and easy to follow, and the book leaves you feeling like you've just taken a course with Kristine without ever leaving your home. Gorgeous photography, stunning styling, thoughtful writing, inspired how-to projects, and brimming with in-depth information from the author's lifelong work with natural dyes. I actually have a pot of foraged walnuts soaking in my busted-up laundry room as I type--the beginnings of a natural dye project from this book.
Now, I have the very great honor of not just reviewing this book but offering one lucky reader one free copy. Hooray, a giveaway! And, if that wasn't enough, Kristine has also generously offered to send that one lucky winner a free dye kit of her/ his choice. (Choose from the four dye kits on the AVFKW site.) Yes, that's right. You can win a book AND a dye kit just because it could be your lucky natural dye day.
You just have to go over to the AVFKW website and decide which dye kit you'd like to call your own. Then come back to my blog (or my Instagram post, or both) and leave a comment with the dye kit you'd like to win. Maybe say something else about what you'd like to dye or why you think this work is completely and totally awesome and could quite possibly change the world! (Okay, that last part is just my personal pitch for slow fiber work. Eh hem.)
Next Monday I'll announce the winner in the comments section of this post. You can enter here on my blog or on my Instagram feed and I'll choose one winner at random. It's pretty much like your birthday and this blog post rolled up into one. Trust me, you want to win this book and this dye kit too. And if you don't win, or you can't wait to see if you might win, or you just know you need a second copy for a family member or friend, then head over to Kristine's website and purchase a copy for yourself. I bet you'll find something else over there you might want too.
I couldn't be happier for the author, the book, the contribution to the natural dye world, and this very important advocacy for sustainable fiber and slow textiles and more simply some encouragement for foraging for natural dye materials, raising dye plants in your garden, or even just purchasing the dye materials from AVFKW. Hooray for this work seeing its way into publishing and textile arts.
I'm convinced, the better we understand the process of growing, harvesting, spinning, weaving, dyeing, sewing, knitting, and otherwise making textiles the better our chances to do this work in a sustainable, thoughtful, ethical, beautiful, and FUN manner. This book is all that at once. Kristine, this book is a work of genius, my friend, 1000 congratulations.
Hope is my motto for November. It's the word I keep tacked in my brain as I slush through boxes and home renovations and stacks of laundry that might just swallow me if we don't get our formerly-split-pea-green-colored laundry room put back together soon. As I mentioned in the last post about moving to the Hudson Valley in October, I'm so very glad it's finally November. It means the boxes have all come inside and the first round of items on our to do lists have actually been achieved. But mostly, it means the shock of our move is subsiding.
People ask me if we're settling in and I have to pause a moment before I respond. Settling in? With two small children and a 200-year-old farmhouse to renovate and winter approaching (without appropriate winter clothing) and our dearest friends and all that's familiar some 3,000 miles away? No. No, we are not yet settling in. I do not imagine it will feel like we are settling in for many months to come. Though the boxes will be unpacked and the barn will be cleaned out and the rooms, one by one, will be repainted and re-patched and repaired. Instead I respond, "Day by day". My expectations have downshifted. Just put one foot in front of the other each day. And that seems to be working today so I'm going with it. I think of that Arthur Ashe quote:
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
But the thing I've identified as the most important in our journey from urban CA to rural NY is not the appropriate clothing for winter, the pacing of our newly painted rooms, the long list of things we will change in our old farmhouse as the years go by, or even the pacing of caring for small children, working, moving across the country and suddenly owning a home. It's not any one of these things that pushed our October into a state of overwhelm and sadness and ache. Instead, it was the culmination of all these things all at once. The pile up.
But October is over. Forever. That's the beautiful thing about the passing of time. And November is about hope. But I think that word is so overused that it's actually lost its meaning. Hope. Love. Dream. Believe. Joy. Trust. They all read like Hallmark greeting cards that I avoid at all costs though, admittedly, I see their necessity or their appeal in the hands and hearts of many. I get it. We want to access those feelings. We want to share that sentiment. We want to connect to those feelings in our selves and in the recipients. Yes, of course we do.
But those words are actually Big Huge Life words. Life changing words. Life affirming words. Life shifting words. And we've tried to boil them down to bite-sized chunks of feeling and meaning and connection. We're busy. We're tired. We need a quick emotional fix. Sure. But Big Huge Life words and feelings and needs and considerations are, of course, much bigger than bite-size and often quite messy. They are much more important than one mouthful and they require more attention and time and consideration. Hope: It's actually the stuff that life is built on. And it can be reductive, if not offensive, when these Big Huge Life shifting words get boiled down into bite-sized chunks. Maybe we need more than a nibble. At least I do.
When I think I can tap into these Big Huge Life feelings for bite-sized amounts of time and see any true redirection I'm always disappointed. Because, of course, I can't shift my life in one bite. I have to sit with all these feelings. I have to mull them over. I have to swim in them. I have to let them flood me from time to time and just sit there with all those feelings and notice. Sometimes I don't have to do anything at all but sit there and breathe deep and acknowledge. And from this place of noticing I can start to realign to the life I want to create instead. For me this often has everything to do with fear. But it also has everything to do with trust. That wonderful Georgia O'Keeffe quote keeps playing through my mind:
I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.
Yes! Thank you, Georgia. So, hope. Hope is what I've identified as the most important word for me right now. Hope that this house will eventually feel like my own. Hope that we will actually get all these old rooms patched and painted and ultimately repaired. Hope that we'll find meaning here. Hope that we'll find comfort and relief and a reflection of our selves here. Hope that we'll thrive. Hope that this place and this house and this transition will provide something we needed. Will provide the opportunity for something different. Something bigger. Something we could only imagine and now we're working to make come true. Something more closely aligned to where we see our selves headed. Something relevant and important and, ultimately, something good.
Or why else would we do it? Why would we change our locations, our relationships, our jobs, our homes, our havens, if we cannot see the shift lined with opportunity and meaning and importance? I don't think we would. I think we would just keep things very much the same. But sometimes we need to change our lives. Or our homes. Or our relationships. Or our work. Sometimes I don't just need a minor shift but an actual overhaul. Sometimes I need to take huge risks and have huge hope at the same time.
Because, I'm convinced, of the necessity of hope. Because we hope and we envision because we get down close to the roots of our lives and we see what's most needed there. We breathe slow. We get quiet. We look around with a flashlight and try not to freak out at what we find. We collect data. We gather information. We mine for details. And then we take all this important information and we try to find the direction forward. We try to see what needs to change and what doesn't need to change and we calculate and we consider and then eventually we act. I keep telling myself: Trust deep.
So with each painted room, with each patched hole, with each floor we sand or paint or oil I try to maintain hope. I try to keep my eye on that beacon of promise. I try to let all the fears and sadness and uncertainty flood me as it will. Let it come. Let it go. Let it wash in and out and in and out again. Mine it for data. Listen to the roots and try not to freak out at the findings. And then I try to keep moving onward.
Maybe because it's just my way through it. Maybe it's just the set of survival skills my particular constitution has gathered together over the decades to help me move my life forward. But maybe because it gives me hope. And maybe that's the flag I need to replace the little soft white flag of surrender I had to wave over my home in October. Maybe hope is the flag of November and maybe that's just where I need it to be. Not what I expected, but certainly, there is a life here for us waiting to be uncovered. Maybe it's just under the last room full of old linoleum, waiting patiently for its turn.
As many of you know, on October 1st I moved to the Hudson Valley with my family after 10 years of living in Oakland, CA. The decision was fairly practical: We wanted to own our home and ultimately send our boys to a good public school. With the punishing cost of housing in the Bay Area, this didn't seem like an option for us in our beloved Oakland. So we set our sites on the Hudson Valley in 2012 and after three years of looking for a house, we purchased our 1820 farmhouse on July 15, 2015.
We were thrilled. We were relieved. We were filled with optimism about this new life waiting for us some 3,000 miles away in the country. I grew up in rural Upstate NY and went to college in the small city of Ithaca less than an hour from my hometown so rural life wasn't completely foreign to me though it was a few decades behind. When I was 22 and finished college I moved to San Francisco. And I lived there for three years. And then when I was 25 I moved to Brooklyn, NY and I lived there for another three years. And when I was 28 I moved back to Oakland, CA to start graduate school.
Fast-forward 10 years and 1 marriage and 2 children and several wonderful jobs later and it was time for a bigger place and to look further down the road towards schools and proximity to our extended family and overall cost of living and also career opportunity for two working artist parents. The Hudson Valley quickly rose to the top of our list as satisfying many of these criteria at once. Just two hours from Manhattan we could afford a 3-bedroom farmhouse with several outbuildings including an old carriage house (our future art studios) and several smaller structures. And there's a rural art community here that doesn't exist in many other rural spaces as a result of the influence from Manhattan. After a few visits to the region, we were convinced we could make a home here.
But as October 1 crept closer and closer from our July 15 house closing I felt increasingly more anxious. More concerned. More afraid. And I also felt sad. The Bay Area was such a welcoming and befitting community for us. We felt at home there. And leaving it was a big, huge, gigantic decision but one that felt inevitable.
So we packed our house, found somebody to drive our car, and boarded a plane with our two small boys to head to NY. September was nothing short of exhausting. Packing a family of four for a 3,000 mile move felt epic. Of course, many families have done it before us and many families will do it after us but it was still exhausting. Add our infant who doesn't yet sleep through the night and our very part-time childcare and we weren't sure we would make it. But, of course, we did.
But as a first-time homeowner and as the first-time I've ever moved with children, I only paced myself to that very moment when we would board the plane--much like a first-time mother only paces herself to that moment of childbirth somehow forgetting that the moment the child is born she is responsible for 24-hour care. I didn't think about the life that would be waiting for me to nurture it on the other side of that plane ride.
And so I gave September everything I had and then I got on that plane, completely unprepared for the challenges of October, and felt temporarily relieved while we were suspended in flight. When we finally arrived to our "new" 1820 farmhouse I was completely in shock. My husband found the house in January on a business trip and while we looked at 30 odd houses in this area over 3 years I never actually stepped inside this house. My new house. It was completely foreign.
Moving was exhausting but arriving was completely overwhelming. The barn was filled with mildewed cabinets the previous owners left behind. The garage was filled with old musty furniture and strange fish silhouettes on the walls that must have been used as decoration but were now just a faded fish mark on the drywall at the back of the garage.
And the house, though filled with beautiful potential and the "good bones" we saw in photographs, was one room after the other of needed updates. Some updates were bigger than others. Renovating a home with one preschooler and one infant after just moving across the country is quite a feat. Not to mention, it's even more disorienting to live among paint cans and ladders when you also work from home. We could not find respite.
I was sick five times in six weeks and twice required antibiotics. I was running on empty. I felt vacant. Hollow. Overwhelmed. Sad. Raw. Exhausted. And hinging on depressed. I felt like my body was something I was dragging around behind my head. I was so deeply exhausted that my chest was like a hollow cavity that held my heavy head on the top of my neck. Empty. I felt empty. Empty of all the things I knew and loved about my beloved California. I knew it would feel strange to relocate to a new place 3,000 miles away but I didn't know it would be so disorienting or depleting.
In addition to the exhaustion of moving, the exhaustion of an infant, the demands of a preschooler, and the need to keep nudging our careers along, we were also sitting in a house that looked nothing like us. I looked for opportunities to see myself in this new space but I just couldn't find them. I kept thinking that we had landed on a new planet and we were running a marathon. Not even to mention our new and utter dependence on our car was shocking. Though not isolated by rural standards--we have neighbors on three sides and we're only a 10-minute drive from the nearest small town--it was an epic switch from our recent life in America's big, beautiful, and walkable cities.
We only saw one solution: We had to slow way down. Down to snail's pace. One of my biggest challenges in parenting is my inability to do anything else. I've become fairly competent at using naps and limited childcare to accomplish great heaps of work with the time management focus that only parenthood can bring. But renovating a house cannot be accomplished during naps. It takes so much time to remove debris, prep walls, prime walls, paint walls, and shove boxes from one side of the house to the other. Not to mention, it's noisy.
So we started with a huge purge: Remove shag carpets, carpet pads, and the layers of linoleum and newspaper and random fabrics used as insulation. Remove everything from the barn--everything down to the drywall and the concrete floor. And remove almost everything from the garage. And then we decided we needed help. So we found a recent college graduate to help us paint 15 hours a week. And we came to the realization that our moment of rest and settling and complete unpacking was still several months away.
We made a plan: We would live downstairs and paint the upstairs and then we'd move upstairs and paint the downstairs; we'd also refinish the wood floors. We put a curtain up over the window in the full bath and pretended the chocolate tile bathtub didn't depress us every time we stepped inside it. Reluctantly, we put our dishes and our food into the crappy cupboards in the kitchen so we could make food and start some sense of "normalcy" while finishing the upstairs renovations.
We set our beds up in the living room--all of our beds--so that we could get off the cold, drafty floor and say goodbye to our air mattress. We praised the split pea green laundry room every time one of our boys spilled something down their shirts as we could actually do laundry in the meantime. Thank goodness.
And now, four weeks later, we are still living in the chaos. Boxes line every room and furniture waits stacked in the barn. We've organized our suitcases by person so each of us can locate pajamas and knee socks and clean clothes each evening and again each morning. Eventually we'll renovate the bathroom, the kitchen, and the horrible split pea laundry room too. Eventually, we'll renovate the barn and the garage and the outbuildings. Eventually, we'll plant a garden and some fruit trees. For now, we just want white walls and smooth floors and to fill our dressers with our clothes.
But November has finally arrived. Finally! Marking our one month in this house. Marking the end of the month we moved. The end of the hardest part. The end of the very raw beginning. The end of the packing and the moving and the shifting and the arriving and the not-knowing and the shock and disturbance and sadness and grief of leaving a place we loved so intensely for over a decade.
And November marks the beginning of something new. It marks the beginning of settling in. It marks the beginning of seeing our new pace with house projects, searching for childcare, turning one eye back to our careers to secure work in this very new place, and also the first month of our brave 4-year-old and his new preschool somehow already filled with new friends.
Quite frankly, November marks the beginning of hope. Hope that we will not just survive here but that we might actually thrive here with enough weeks or months or even years under our belts. That this house and this land and this exact space on the planet have something to share with us. Something to teach us. Something to offer that we had no idea was coming. Shocking, disorienting, filled with longing and loneliness and ache this place will eventually give way to something beautiful.
Something that looks like the very hard work at the beginning of a very long and beautiful dream. The doing. The sorting. The sifting. The planning. The purging. The building. The very beginning of something that might be the most beautiful hard work we've ever done. Of course, it looks nothing like we expected. But the beginning of a new phase of growth. And ultimately, what might actually be the gateway to the next best thing.