Public Art, Slow Textiles, and Social Experiments

Range Studio on Market Street with weaver, Meghan Shimek.
When I started my fast-fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend, almost exactly two years ago I knew I was embarking on an experimental journey. I knew that I wanted my shopping habits to change, that I wanted to deepen my relationship to sustainable fashion, and that I wanted to better my garment making skills but I didn't know exactly what the journey would entail. I knew I wanted to frame my fast as an art project, to push my work out of the studio and exhibition world and into the sphere of what's known as social practice. I knew I wanted to combine my passion for sustainability with my creative work and that I wanted to focus on making, mending, and buying secondhand.

Range Studio with printmaker, Jen Hewett.

Print samples by guest artist, Jen Hewett.
I didn't know that I would fall in love with visible mending and that I'd spend endless hours researching mending, stitching, darning, Sashiko, Boro, and opportunities for repair. I didn't know that natural dyeing was within my reach as a continued studio practice. I didn't know that I'd find some sense of healing between my usually juxtaposed rural upbringing and the urban spaces I've called home for nearly 20 years now.

I didn't know this fission existed so deeply or that this healing would begin with urban foraging. That as I led my family on urban adventures to collect eucalyptus leaves, fennel fronds, and sour grass flowers I would be reminded of the time spent in the wilderness when I was young. That I'd feel reconnected to my departed father. Or that I'd finally see the connection between my studies in sustainability and my textile work. I didn't realize this work would take on such depth. I didn't imagine I'd focus on teaching mending workshops or amass a collection of reading and websites focused on what I now know to call Slow Fashion.

Range Studio featured artist, natural dyer Sasha Duerr, working with sunflower seed dyes.     

Sasha Duerr working with natural dyes and seasonal flowers.
So when my husband asked me if I'd take a week's residency in our tiny art studio, Studio 1, when it was commissioned by the Mayor's Office of San Francisco I knew I wanted to focus on Slow Fashion. Again, I didn't know what that would look like. I didn't know what shape it would take. Having an infant in my life again meant my studio work would inevitably slow down for an undefined period of time until we found our new rhythm and until I had enough support to accomplish more than the bare minimum in my work. All this meant there would be no major projects this year. Instead this year would be about supporting the work I had in motion before my beautiful baby Jude was born.

But this week long residency provided a new opportunity. It provided the opportunity for a condensed collaboration. To foster new relationships with textile artists I adore and to deepen relationships with textile artists I already know personally but never get to see quite often enough.

And it also allowed this very contained amount of time for me to throw open my studio doors and let the world peek inside. I knew this was an opportunity for experimentation. I knew this was an opportunity to revisit my initial goals in creating the Make Thrift Mend project. And I knew this was an opportunity to push slow craft and slow textiles and slow fashion into the very fast paced downtown scene.

Featured artist, Meghan Shimek, weaving on her custom built loom.
I don't have any grand conclusions on what the weeks' residency meant. Not yet anyway. But I do know it felt important. I know it felt vulnerable. I know it felt radical in someway to sit in my secondhand linen garb somewhat hidden by the indigo dresses and mended jeans swinging in the doorway of our tiny studio as my fellow artists offered inspiring and incredibly generous demonstrations to the downtown crowd. It felt disruptive. It felt meaningful. It felt like I was offering a public slice of a very private journey. And that felt right.

But what I didn't expect was the overwhelming positivity I received every single day. What I didn't expect was to feel like people needed what I had to offer. What I didn't expect was to have some folks visit two, three, or four times over the week and to become familiar with my work or with the work of my colleagues. I didn't expect it to be so much fun. And I didn't expect it to feel so positive.

I guess I expected folks to be indifferent or even adverse and maybe they were but if so they didn't share it with us at all. What they shared with us was curiosity, gratitude, engagement, and a desire to infuse more art into their work. Some folks even told us we were a bright spot in their week. I was honored albeit a bit surprised. But ultimately I was grateful.

Indigo shibori dye by artist, Kristine Vejar, owner of Verb.

Range Studio on Market Street, working with indigo dyer, Kristine Vejar.
And now this has me thinking how my project might eventually lift off the Internet and out of my studio and classrooms and continue to engage with both the intentional and the incidental passerby. How it might again push at the edges of public art and social practice. It makes me remember that outreach and engagement and collaboration are central to my work. That making and creating are only part of my process but building community is also part of my experience as an organizer and as an artist.

For now this will continue to take the shape of workshops, writings, and casual convenings but it has me wondering about future opportunities in public space. About the role of the activist and artist to engage with the public and to share our thinking and resources on a larger scale. To consider ways of moving the work outside of my studio and into the community through partnerships, public art, or what I've started calling "social textiles".

Range Studio with Marie Hoff, member of Fibershed.

Sample of locally sourced fibers provided by Fibershed

It also jump started my mending work once again. The small pile of mending that had been pushed deeper and deeper under my studio table has resurfaced and taken center stage once again. And this is very exciting because it allows me to experiment with new stitches, new layers, new lines, new textures, and to allow the work to fail and succeed and fail until it shapeshifts into a new technique.

And this is how I know I'm working. This is how I know I'm actively engaged in the creative process once again. That I'm right where I need to be. The feeling of inspiration combined with a tinge of complication or not-knowing or even a practical design issue that needs resolution. It's that tension that holds the most power for me as a maker.

This journey in Slow Fashion is just that... my journey. And I'm honored to share it with you and with the kind strangers on Market Street too. For now, the journey simply continues. Holding fast to my intentions but also allowing enough space for the future to still be full of potential and failure and success and the glorious unknown. Ultimately it's the surprises and serendipity and discovery in this project that keeps me moving forward. Perhaps, it's the experiment that keeps the work alive.



  1. I loved reading of your experience with the tiny art studio. its great that you got to share with others, very inspiring

    1. Thanks so much, Eimear! It's been a pleasure to share this work with folks online and in-person. Thank you for visiting here.

  2. Hi Katrina, I love your creations with Indigo! Its always good to use sustainable stuff. BTW we are also a manufacturer of Natural Bio Indigo and we are supplying to various countries. We also have other natural dyes like Mallow, Rubia, Bee, Nimbus and many more. please let me know if you need any of these dyes for your beautiful work.
    Visit our website - www.amaherbal.com

    Warm regards
    Swati Kapoor

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Three cheers for this and many more tiny studio adventures. xoxo

    1. Yes! Such a great experiment. I'm looking forward to the next one.


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.