The company that first brought naturally dyed indigo jeans to the scene in California– is returning to their roots. As apart of the We are Workers campaign, Levi’s is coming home to America in a fascinating and beautiful way.

In honor of this movement and campaign, my dye garden was full of potent, pigment rich dye vats, ready for use by five designers who came out from San Francisco to experiment with real native California colors.

In honor of the historical relationship that the company has with blue, the fermentation indigo pots were alive and well, and ready for a day of dye work.  I intended to illuminate that indigo can be grown in our homeland– and is well suited to create the shades necessary for quality denim designs.


JeWon Yu, Aylin, Karany, Alisa, and Alex, brought beautiful bags of white and blue denim samples and piles of vintage garments for the project.  We prepared everything in alum mordant baths and then spun them dry in my washing machine, preparing everything for same-day dye processes.

The group prepared sample books for all of their fabric swatches, the covers were made of mango leaf dyed hemp.

As a team, they covered a huge amount of natural dye territory.  The clothes line was packed with horsetail, coffeeberry, indigo, black walnut, sage, and bee plant colors.  After giving the group a presentation on the emerging reality and possibility of botanic based dyes- we were all brainstorming and feeling inspired to see the colors take a broader shape in our world.

Rollie the miniature doberman/terrier mix was a wonderful addition to our dye community.  He found interest in every nook of the garden, and especially loved the hay for resting upon.

The process of experimenting with true California color has illuminated a host of earth tones– greens, oranges, yellows, and pinks– all of which are essential representations of our native palate.  And due to the history of the Levi’s company, there will likely always be a love for indigo.

I have been cultivating a source that can grow easily in California, and has the potential to offset the need for synthetic sources.  As the group worked the dye vats, we remained surrounded by test plots of Polygonum tinctorium– the Japanese Indigo variety that I love, and I intend will have a future as the premier choice of blue.

We used our rinse wash to water the crop, a process that allowed everyone to see how pure the natural dye process truly is.  The plants are fed by remains of the dye baths.

Solar Dye vats created these beautiful hemp and cotton samples.

The horsetail was so pinkish orange that day.. the quality of the dye vats at this time of year are just miraculous.

Not sure how these coffeeberry shoes turned out– but the process was fun.  The group also dyed American currency.  They reminded me the money was cotton– and that it would take dye like any natural fiber.

The car was loaded up with bags of ready dyed materials, on their way back to the Levi’s offices– ready for presenting to a bigger audience.. with the intent that botanic dyes have a significant presence in Levi’s future design plans.

The Young Ones

July 20, 2010

It was our final week at Ecological Arts camp this year.  I worked with four and five year olds for five dayes of adobe, felting, natural dye painting, immersion dyeing, harvesting, silk paper making, and spinning.  The two ladies in the above picture are sharing their prayer flags.  They used one color at a time.  Each paint symbolized a part of the ecosystem.  We began with soil, we then added a layer of plants in the form of indigo wash, and finished the pieces with a layer provided by insects– cochineal beetles.  Each member of the ecosystem contributing to the colors– overlapping, and intersecting through each child’s imaginative intention.

Ben is seen here admiring his adobe house, wearing his Toyon dyed recycled T-shirt and habatai silk scarf on his head.  He became a Ninja, once he decided to wear his silk scarf around his forehead.  Dicing the air with his hands and kicking at invisible attackers with his feet.  He was quite entertaining.

Hannah was the youngest of our group.  She dyed an old towel dress, and her silk scarf in Toyon.  Her adobe house can be seen in the corner of the above picture– she called this her pancake house.

The Pancake house was a perfect home for a hand.

Some of these houses were perfect homes for little creatures– this one was made for insects and butterflies especially.  Working with such young children is a pure joy.  When we painted our prayer flags the children meditatively painted for an hour.  One girl said, ‘this is the best day of camp I’ve ever had,’ as she carefully painted ochre onto her cotton flag.

It amazes me how simple the requirements are for facilitating joy.  The children responded purely and with such focus to the use of these natural paints, not once did they request other colors– they peacefully and gratefully worked with the palate that nature provided.

Eco-Arts on the Bay

July 4, 2010

Two weeks of Eco-Arts classes just wrapped up… and I can say I am thoroughly content and exhausted from the experience.  In one week we cover between five and seven ancient art forms whose modern applications have a strong potential to create a more sustainable material culture– adobe house building, wild paper, animal and plant fiber spinning, felting, weaving, and natural dyeing are all covered..

The children create their own adobe houses from clay, sand, and dirt… We gather, cut and measure willow frames, and make our own silk paper roofs.

The silk paper is made with raw fibers, and gathered objects that the children harvest from the site.  We make sure to use materials sourced from the ground– or from invasive species for this particular project.

The houses are sometimes quite minimalist…

And others are more ornate..  In both cases, there is a strong attention paid to detail, and the houses always represent the aesthetic of the creator.  Every child spends hours, and sometimes days composing their homes.

This year I was asked if they could add jellyfish to their adobe homes… I gently re-directed the beach gathering practice to sea glass, and rocks, which make much better furniture than do dead jellyfish.

These sisters were very proud of their sticky monkey dyed T-shirts and silk scarves, the hint of pink came from cochineal that was painted on as a final touch.

Milo made his T-shirt come alive with cochineal brush work, and a pounded pansy.  His silk scarf was placed just-so– that he could be a ‘sushi chef.’  All of the Japanese shibori patterns, kumihomo braiding, and silk paper must have trickled into the children’s psyches, because by the end of the week, they were all pretending to be sushi chefs.

We also made paint from soymilk and clay.. This cotton fabric piece was painted with red dirt, and filled in with a cochineal wash.

By the end of the week, we were weaving medicine pouches with all of our naturally dyed wool yarns.  Some of the children handspun their wool as well.  I brought a spinning wheel in for them to begin to learn and understand the processes of fiber– and the technology surrounding it.  Overall, a fabulous week was had by all– and as you can tell– a very excited, and sometimes silly group makes for a great learning community!