October of last year I attended a wedding in Austin, Texas, for two friends- Callie & Eli. They were married under an alter covered with sunflowers built for the ceremony by friends. A violinist serenaded the couple as they joined their party in celebration under sprawling oak trees.
The best part- I was asked to make the wedding dress.
I met Callie and Eli 2 years ago. I was new to Austin and they were studying at a small design school. We shared interesting stories and to this day it’s still hard to pull myself away from our conversations.
Callie is the designer behind BEAM, a textile collection drawing inspiration from desert road trips and her observations of the natural world. Each work begins as a painting then undergoes transformation as Callie digitizes the work and creates repeat patterns for printing onto cotton voile and canvas.
Callie and I met 3 times for her gown. We spent a few hours taking measurements, in fittings and planning the pattern layout. She chose Lace Wing (right), influenced by the intricate patterns of insect wings. We played with scale and landed on a smaller scale for the bodice and larger scale for the skirt. It sounds simple but neither of us realized the infinite possibilities for design with all the variables: pattern, scale, orientation, seams.
The result was more personal than anything I’ve made, a journey I would love to take again. – Céline
WildCraft Studio School is a creative mecca for traditional skills, plant medicine, studio art and craft, located in White Salmon, Washington. If you’re a dyer, chances are- you follow WIldCraft in some format. Founder Chelsea Heffner drove down from the PNW to teach a native plant dye workshop in partnership with Healdsburg SHED owners, Cindy Daniel & Doug Lipton. Chelsea and I met over the airways and I drove up to assist with an unexpected large class on May 31st.
Chelsea is a multi-disciplinary artist and Assistant Professor at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. She led the workshop and a native plant walk through Cindy and Doug’s wild gardens before harvesting several dye plants for the class to test. Among them were wild fennel, cherry plum tree, and black walnut.
We simmered the baths for 30-45 minutes before filtering them into dye vessels. Each student had silk and wool samples, mordanted with various minerals. They took turns soaking their samples in steaming baths- some experimenting with shibori. By the end of the class, we’d tested 7 natural plant dyes.
My favorite moment was a listening to a conversation between Chelsea and another participant about a weaving class she’d hosted. The artist and teacher, a Native American man, was reluctant to teach anyone outside of the tribe. He made an exception and taught Chelsea’s favorite workshop to date- a highly challenging, multi-day workshop on hat weaving with native plants. Chelsea said each student walked away full of appreciation and pride.
Follow WildCraft Studio School on Instagram, here.
Cindy and Doug’s home was an enchanting backdrop to the workshop. They built the home after returning from an inspiring stay in France and added sustainable features like rammed earth walls. Although they have an orchard and some landscaping, they’ve been working to restore the rest of the property to wild native gardens.
Interested in attending one of WildCraft Studio School’s Classes? Click here.
Ancestry Quarterly is a print publication. The magazine’s writers and designers have three jobs- their day’s work, the publication, and a new and burgeoning creative agency. They’re walking the ropes and reaching always for more. AQ is a forum for that middle ground, the space between “day job and dream job”.
Lauren and Jordan, AQ Art & Marketing Directors, asked if I could help with a natural dye project for new tee shirts. We tested a few plants but decided on walnut for its dark color, lack of mordanting required, and availability. We harvested walnuts off the ground that’d been there for a year and soaked them for one day in a large stainless steel pot. The walnuts simmered the next day for 45 min and we extracted a rich brown-black hue. After a three man filtration step, and two hours of Jordan’s shibori work, the tees were added to the bath.
These weren’t just any old tee shirts- they’re Jungmaven. Made from drought-hardy hemp, Rob Jungmann’s knits are the product of years of experiments and going back to the drawing board. His goal is “Everyone in hemp by 2020,” and if you felt the hand of his tees, you wouldn’t mind replacing your Hanes with his hemp.
It’s easy to work with a label like Jungmaven as their culture and values feel good and fit with my own.
Two full days of work and one wash later, the shirts are marked with the twisted memories of Jordan’s shibori binds and the slow steel grays of the walnut bath. This is my second collaborative project with Jungmaven tees. The hemp and cotton blends absorb natural dyes easily, and each time- the end result in an expression of the dyers themselves. This time- adventurous, spiraling, layers and layers of complex skeletal folds.
Punica granatum or pomegranate is eaten for its tart and nutrient dense properties. It is native to Iran, cultivated all over the world and, because it is drought tolerant- grown in Texas as an ornamental shrub. I was surprised to learn that pomegranate inspired the naming of the grenade, from the spanish Granada.
Luckily, my neighbors grow 2 pomegranate shrubs that produce bitter fruit and they were happy to gift me inedible fruit for a dye bath. Remember, fruit is not the only indicator of dye color- leaves, branches and bark can also be rich sources of color.
Pomegranates are easy to harvest and fun to break apart (video below). They can be fresh or dried before extracting color. When I first dyed with pomegranate in Oaxaca, the fruit was dried. I soaked them in water for 2 days before adding heat. If you collect fresh pomegranate, I recommended soaking them for 24 hours but if you’re limited on time- soaking is not necessary.
Dyeing is a good solo activity but much more fun with friends. Natalie Davis is owner/designer of Canoe in Austin, Texas. She is a friend and talented leather worker and came over to test leather in a few dye baths. Watch her break up pomegranates for the dye bath. If you do this at home- wear protective eye wear and protect your work surface from hammering.
I mordanted fabric prior to dyeing and we spent the day testing materials and overdying with cochineal, pecan and indigo. Fabric was for 30 minutes to an hour and hung to dry in the hot Texas sun.