Iviva Olenick

Textile arts workshops: embroidery, natural dyeing, weaving and more

Indigo dyeing workshops, NYC, 2019

In 2017, I began growing indigo from seed in my Brooklyn apartment after reading the legend of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, credited with having made indigo a North Carolina cash crop from 1745–75. Understanding the role enslaved laborers played in indigo’s success, including applying cultural knowledge of how to grow indigo and extract pigment, I decided to try producing indigo from seed to dye as a performance of labor and empathy. In the process, I began learning cultural, technical and social global indigo traditions, which I share in free, public workshops at several NYC sites, including Old Stone House and Wyckoff House, Brooklyn, and GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden, all three of which provide free space and plant care in exchange for my public workshops and knowledge. While I grow seeds at home, I plant seeds with friends around NYC, and the Education Greenhouse of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden also sows seeds.

Below is documentation of this summer’s workshops.

Japanese indigo grown from seed at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden.
Participant in free indigo dyeing workshop at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden separating indigo leaves from stems. Only the leaves contain blue pigment. 9-14-2019
Participants continue preparing to dye fabrics blue by separating indigo leaves from stems and collecting leaves in a bowl. Free workshop at GrowNYC’s Teaching Garden, 9-14-2019.
After separating leaves from stems, dyers pour salt onto the leaves, and massage the leaves and salt onto silk fabrics, releasing the pigment onto the fabric. Free indigo dyeing workshop at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden, 9-14-2019. Photograph by Sina Basila.
Dyeing with indigo leaves requires time and patience. Senior participant in free, public workshop checks the progress of the dyeing process, seeing the color begin to oxidize from green to teal. GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden, 8-24-2019. Photo by Sina Basila.
Silk fabrics dyed with fresh indigo leaves turn from green to turquoise to blue through the chemical process of oxidation. Participants in free indigo dyeing workshop at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden wait for fabrics to oxidize and dry while learning to weave or harvesting additional indigo. 9-14-2019
Fabrics dyed earlier in the summer by Teen Garden Apprentices at Wyckoff House and Farm, Brooklyn, NY, achieved a darker blue. Earlier in the season, the indigo leaves contain more pigment. Once they start to flower, the amount of pigment drops.

Natural dye workshops, NYC, 2018

In addition to growing and dyeing with indigo, I forage for and collect other plant matter found around NYC. At a natural dyeing and embroidery workshop at Wyckoff Farm in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, summer 2018, we used Rudbeckia flowers and pokeberry found on the farm to create natural dyes. We simmered these in separate dye pots and added alum, a pickling salt, as a mordant. After an hour of simmering, we added silk handkerchiefs.

Rudbeckia flowers harvested from Wyckoff Farm simmering to make dye, summer 2018.
We collected this dye stirrer on the farm, too. Wyckoff House. Summer 2018.
Pokeberries grow wild throughout NYC. We collected some from Wyckoff Farm to put in a dye pot. With so few berries, our resulting color wasn’t very saturated. Summer 2018.
Pokeberry stains hands!
Pokeberry dye on silk. With more pokeberries, the color would have been more saturated.

Walk-in embroidery workshops, 2019

In September 2019, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council opened a new art space on Governors Island. I was invited to lead a walk-in embroidery workshop as part of the Take Care series, emphasizing sustainable use of materials. While some students used freshly cut pieces of fabric as a stitching surface, others brought clothing and other textiles to mend through embroidery. Below are several students’ works in progress. Participants included children and adults of all ages and prior levels of experience with sewing and embroidery.

Textile arts workshops with seniors at Midwood Active Adults, 2018

Through my (Im)migration Lines Artist Residency at Wyckoff House Museum, sponsored in part by a Brooklyn Arts Council Community Arts Fund grant, I led monthly textile arts workshops for seniors at Midwood Active Adults from January – June 2018. Participants revived childhood and adult skills in embroidery, beading and needle arts, threading narratives through stitched drawings. We began by reviewing basic stitches and making samplers, after which, participants took initiative to create personally expressive artworks. Several finished pieces were included in the BAC-sponsored Nou la – We Reach! exhibit at Wyckoff House from June – October 2018, and in my residency culminating exhibit from November 2018–April 2019.

Pamela, an experienced embroiderer, participated in some of the workshops I led at Midwood Active Adults. Self-directed, she often asked for more complex assignments and stitches, like the pinwheel inside the “P” and the woven stitch at bottom left.
Joan learning couching stitch and starting a stitch sampler, 4/11/18. Midwood Active Adults collaboration with Wyckoff House Museum.
Robin’s Self-Portrait in Progress. May 2018 workshop at Midwood Active Adults in conjunction with my (Im)migration Lines Wyckoff House Artist Residency sponsored by BAC.
Robin’s completed piece installed in Wyckoff House for Nou la – We Reach! 2018 exhibit.
Linda beginning her embroidered and beaded artwork, 2/7/18 through my workshops at Midwood Active Adults in conjunction with BAC-sponsored (Im)migration Lines Wyckoff House Artist Residency.
Linda’s finished piece installed in Wyckoff House for Nou la – We Reach! 2018 exhibit.