Move over, tie-dye! Natural dyeing is the newest craft Chicagoans are learning at the Maker Lab this Summer.
When Nature Meets Art
They say inspiration can strike anywhere and for Kristin, a textile artist, natural dyer, and Chicago Public Library’s Summer Maker-in-Residence, this is especially true.
Ideas come to her randomly throughout the day, whether she’s gardening, reading, researching, or taking a walk.
Her biggest muse? Nature.
“Not only do I grow a lot of the material that I work with, but I also spend a lot of time learning from the nature in the city and at my job at the Garfield Park Conservatory,” she says.
Creating and sharing art under the moniker Field and Gardner (a fitting combination of her last name and mother’s maiden name), Kristin grows plants like indigo, coreopsis, and marigolds, alongside food and cut flowers – and extracts dyes from those plants and pigments to create watercolors and inks. She then uses those natural hues to create beautifully unique prints, textiles, and more.
The Secret Ingredients of Natural Dye Recipes? Patience and Time
As I learned from Kristin, the process of natural dyeing truly begins months before a project is even imagined.
“It starts with growing the plants, which I usually start in the Spring. Then you extract the colors and inks which can sometimes take hours,” she explains. “The final product is fulfilling but it takes a while to get there!”
As the Maker-in-Residence, Kristin was provided the opportunity to share her craft with Library users through classes that break down the art form. Makers also work on final projects that will be displayed on Harold Washington Library’s windows. Check out previous Makers’ work here.
So, how exactly do you break this down into a 12-week residency? It was a challenge Kristin was up for! For her workshops, she started the dyeing process before classes began, scouring and mordanting fibers in advance and letting the dyes simmer for a good amount of time.
“I did give participants an overview of the process and how long it takes just so they knew what it entailed. I also showed them things they can dye with, like food waste and the plants that are native to Chicago,” she explains.
In all her classes, Natural Dyeing 101, an Intro to Shibori (a Japanese stitch resist dyeing technique used on textiles to create patterns), and eco-printing, participants sewed their own designs, printed dyes from a plant onto fabric, and just had fun experimenting with natural dyeing.
“A few people attended all workshops and created wonderful designs. One person made a jellyfish design on his textile. It was hard to believe it was his first time because it was so great!”
And though natural dyeing is a tedious craft to teach, Kristin enjoyed sharing it with others! “It was so fulfilling seeing people take what I taught them and create their own projects and ideas. Everyone learned at their own pace and created something unique to them.”
An Ode to Chicago
Following Maker-in-Residence tradition, Kristin was working on her own final project throughout her residency. A beautiful and colorful ode to the plants and nature found in our city, her project is on display now through the Fall on the windows facing State Street outside of Harold Washington Library Center!
“My project consists of three cotton panels that are 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide. One is all dyed with coreopsis. Another consists of indigo and black walnut dye, which is native to Chicago. And the third one is an eco-print of different tree leaves native to the area.”
And though Kristin’s residency is over, she hopes she instilled in library users a curiosity and desire to understand the nature around them. “I hope showing them this process, and showing them what dyes they can get from specific plants piques their curiosity and reminds them that the natural things around us can be used and worked with and that we can make our relationship with nature deeper.”
Learn more about Kristin via her Instagram, @FieldandGardner.
Happy 10 years to the Maker Lab, the only FREE maker space in Chicago. The Maker Lab is a donor-powered program where Library users can experiment with state-of-the-art technology such as design software, electronic & laser cutters, and 3D printers to make a creative project, business idea, or design prototype come to life. This program is made possible thanks to our sponsors: Comcast, Exelon, Peoples Gas, and generous donors to the Library Foundation.
Make a gift today to help provide Makers with materials and resources to bring their projects to life.