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Happy October,


I am honored to be invited to Praxis by founder, Jessica Pinsky, for a reading of my book My Indigo World and tataki-zome workshop this Sunday (October 15th) in Cleveland, OH! I wanted to share more about Praxis' commitment to their community in building a an environment centered around a shared love of fiber and Sukumo indigo.


This blog was written and submitted by Jessica Pinsky.


1. Location & Environment


Praxis is located in North Collinwood, a neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland, OH in the county of Cuyahoga. The terms “Cuyahoga” and “Ohio” are both derived from languages of various Indigenous tribes that lived here for thousands of years. We recognize those people for their careful stewardship of this land and acknowledge the thousands of Native Americans who today call Northeast Ohio home.


Although most Americans own a piece of denim in their wardrobe, most don’t know its origin and connection to slavery in our country. In a neighborhood whose population is majority African American, it is important to Praxis to hold the memory of this complex history within our indigo practice. It is also important to promote a safe, socially inclusive, and equality-d


riven, farming practice for a crop that was historically discriminatory and dangerous. We make sure to explain that African indigo was majority grown in this country, we are invested in the japanese tradition here at Praxis.



2. Indigo plants & practices


Praxis Fiber Workshop connects our community to a broad picture of the contemporary and historic textile field. We share about textiles as they grow from the land all the way to the most advanced technological equipment. When it came to growing, we were complete novices. It wasn’t until meeting Rowland Ricketts in 2016, we knew we had to grow indigo! Rowland specializes in the Japanese tradition of sukumo (Polygonum tinctorium). He explained that Japanese indigo would grow best in the climate in northeast Ohio, similar to his set up in Bloomfield, Indiana. And this started our deep dive into growing and processing sukumo! In early 2018, Rowland sent us a bag of seeds harvested in 2016 which were expected to germinate around 30%. We turned to a local org, Cleveland Seed Bank for advice and assistance in starting our seeds and planning our garden. Shortly after, we met the most passionate team of landscapers who adopted us and began to prepare our VERY rough land for a giant community planting day scheduled just days ahead. Dozens of people came to help us plant seedlings that year and it sparked our joy and commitment to seeing this project through. We went to Indiana to learn how to harvest and to see the composting floor Rowland has built and we began to plan for our own facility here in Cleveland. We turned harvesting into giant community parties and shared the joy and magic of indigo with our neighborhood.



After more weeding, watering and harvesting than we ever thought possible, we had only 150 pounds of dried indigo leaves- a far cry from the necessary 400 it takes to produce sukumo. Sukumo is made by composting dried leaves and the large amount is necessary for the compost pile to reach a higher temperature. Undiscouraged, we doubled our funding and doubled our scale in year 2. This time, we involved a local K-8 school and developed a curriculum for the 4th grade where students would create an indigo themed play. With Praxis staff, the students wrote a script, created costumes and a set, all to tell the story of indigo! We were months away from our public production with the 4th graders when the pandemic started.


At this point we relied heavily on volunteers to grow the mass amount of indigo required for sukumo. We had started our seeds, and didn’t know how the project could continue. Because we were unable to gather volunteers for our 2020 growing season, we asked those volunteers to adopt indigo to grow in their home gardens. 75 people grew five indigo plants each at home and every week, Praxis released a YouTube video explaining how to care for the indigo, how to harvest it and education revolving around the dye. This project was so deeply connecting and meaningful during such an isolating time, that we continued in 2021 with an unexpected 200 people participating!! We worked with local artist and dyer Tony Williams to great programming around the weekly videos and finished season 2 with more love than ever for our community project.



It took us almost 4 years and endless labor to create our first ever fermented sukumo vat. Once the composting is complete (a 14 week process where we turn the compost pile each week) we slowly add wood ash lye to the sukumo to create the dye. Rowland came to help us build our very own composting floor - only a few of these are in the US! We partnered with our local wood fire pizza restaurant for the wood ash and slowly made 5 strengths of lye for the vat. We now have a composting floor and continuous vat alive and available for use at Praxis. But, what now? We have been rebuilding our community post pandemic and our collective needs are always changing and evolving. In order to create a program with the needs of the community in mind, we have launched an indigo cooperative. So far, we have 11 members who are meeting monthly to care for, use, create and learn around the Praxis indigo program. We are building a curriculum and ultimately hiring community members to help us expand our dye production. Indigo is truly a collective effort and we have learned so much from this amazing plant.


3. Culture & Story of the region


North Collinwood is a unique district on Cleveland’s east side. Collinwood grew around the rail yards of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway and is divided by these same tracks into the neighborhoods of North and South Collinwood. During the train yard’s most popular days, the close corridor of Waterloo Road was a bustling commercial district. When the train yard closed in 1981 it left over 2,000 Collinwood residents jobless. The economy of the neighborhood has shifted and changed since then, leaving a partially restored, partially sunken community. With assets such as highway access and lakefront property, Collinwood remains a hidden gem in Cleveland. It draws attention from an artistic community attracted to the possibilities of a neighborhood with relatively low real estate value and multitude of vacancies.


When searching Cleveland for the exact location of Praxis in 2012, we fell in love with North Collinwood. We love that this corridor sits within a deeply rooted residential community and hosts foot traffic from many visitors throughout the week. An organization has a responsibility to its neighbors; to provide opportunities to learn and connect. We do this in many ways, but our natural dye initiative is our most mature program. Since 2018, we have grown around 4000 indigo plants per year on two vacant parcels in the residential area of the neighborhood. We lease this land from the city land bank and have made deep connections with the surrounding neighbors since cultivating indigo on this land for the past 5 years. In 2019, we doubled our scale with a second lot which ultimately is located on the vacant parcel next to our Digital Weaving Lab. We are so happy to now have indigo growing on site at the Praxis campus.





3. Mission and Vision


Praxis Fiber Workshop builds the international network of fiber artists and makers through classes, workshops, residencies, and collaborative projects that teach the art form and demonstrate how fiber art can be used to build healthy, resilient, and inclusive communities.


Praxis Fiber Workshop was established in January 2015. In collaboration with Cleveland Institute of Art, Praxis leased the equipment that previously belonged to the Fiber Arts Department and opened as a community arts space in the Waterloo Arts District of Cleveland. The organization is described as a gem among Northeast Ohio’s diverse network of small arts organizations. At the same time, in our short life, we have achieved recognition in national and international circles.


1▪ Service to fiber artists and makers. Praxis offers classes, studio space and exhibition space (for credit to CIA students) to a growing local community, and partners with local schools to reach underserved youth.

2.Neighborhood sustainability. In 2018, Praxis launched a Natural Dye Initiative, growing half an acre of natural indigo in its neighborhood and distributed indigo growing to community members throughout Northeast Ohio.

3▪ Digital Weaving Lab. The Digital Weaving Lab offers boundary-pushing technological weaving equipment to artists from all over the world and includes an apartment for artist residents.


Connect


Contact Praxis' Team: contact@praxisfiberworkshop.org

Follow on Instagram: @praxisfiberworkshop





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“My first trip to Jeju Island with my grandma and mom was full of excitement. That’s when I first saw for myself how the blue of the sky meet the blue of the sea” from “My Indigo World” by Rosa Chang


Over the last three years, Indigo Shade Map has been focused on serving as a platform to share and document indigo stories from people all over the world. I’ve decided to begin sharing more of my stories as I’ve been traveling a lot lately. You can continue to follow my and the Indigo Shade map journey through our blog or social media page.


Today, I’m so excited to share my beautiful experience and update everyone about the Indigofest retreat I attended a few weeks ago. I was invited to join the full four days of the Indigofest retreat on August 10-14th, 2023 at Sou'wester Historic Lodge & Vintage Travel Trailer Resort in Seaview, Washington.



I found myself seeing how the blue of the sky met the blue of the sea on my first trip to the beach in Seaview, Washington as I saw it in Jeju Island when I was young. Indigofest retreat is an annual event that was originally co-founded by two amazing artists, natural dyers, and educators, Britt Boles and Iris Sullivan, in 2019. It was my first time joining the Indigofest retreat and I served as one of the 6 blue crew members to assist participants and engage with them during the retreat. Gratefully, I was able to run two book reading sessions with my debut picture book My Indigo World on the last day of the retreat. I’m grateful for both Britt and Iris who offered the space for me to connect with the Sou’wester team while hosting a public book reading session. I’m sharing my personal “best moments” and selected visual memories during Indigofest to say farewell to summertime and celebrate the beginning of the fall.



I can’t stress enough how summer is such an important time to be engaged with natural indigo. Probably any indigo grower and dyer who sees this blog will anticipate it. This summer we harvested loads of indigo plants from our garden/farm and underwent the entire extraction process of the pigment. The humidity and hot sun accelerate the fermentation process, allowing us to earn the precious blue pigments from the fresh indigo leaves… Even the indigo vat making process and the fabric dyeing process, too!



Simply, it was a celebration of Indigo and Mother Nature. I was so struck by seeing Britt and Iris sharing many different ways of dyeing fabrics with natural indigo and each way created different shades of colors, not only blue but even pink and purple! Buckets of a variety of Japanese indigo plants (Polygonum tinctorium / Persaceria tinctoria), cultivated and harvested locally in the Oregon region, were provided during the fresh leaf dyeing session. Personally, I enjoyed joining the fresh leaf dyeing process so much because it reminded me of my ancestors back in my motherland, Korea, who have been practicing the summer event since ancient times.



The beautiful turquoise color of the soaked indigo water, full of indirubin, made so many different shades of blue, purple, and pink!



Building the local vat, an invention by Britt and Iris, was also such a special time.



A fermented indigo vat called “Local vat” created by Britt and Iris by using all locally sourced ingredients: Indigo pigments were extracted from locally grown polygonum tinctorum plants (Oregon), Salal berries (locally grown in the Pacific Northwest region) for the sugar source, and burnt oyster shells (locally sourced) for the alkaline solution!



Free studio times were provided along with Britt and Iris’s detail-oriented dye demonstrations so that participants were able to work on their own personal projects. Reduction vats such as iron vats and Indigold vats (pre-reduced indigo from Stony Creek Colors) were provided with loads of fabrics as well as a large pot of Cassava paste resist and a variety of pattern making tools such as wood blocks, threads, and clamps.



The summer breeze from the ocean in the Pacific Northwest not only cools down the weather but also lets me be peacefully embraced by Mother Nature. I had some unknown heavy feelings leaving behind the reminiscence of the glorious Indigofest retreat and the beautiful indigo blue shades.



During the retreat, I learned about Chinookan people. Britt sold handmade indigo postcards to fundraise in support of the Chinookan people, the original people in the area where the Indigofest is held (Oregon and Washington State). The indigenous people that inhabit the lower columbia river have the most intimate relationship with Mother Nature in the region. She taught us about the awareness of the Chinookan people not being recognized by the federal government after so many years. There are streets and places named after them and their language in the region. They heavily struggle to preserve their habitat, heritage, and culture. I would humbly say learning about the Chinook people was one of the most memorable moments from Indigofest even with so many eye-catching colors and nature…including the cute retro camping cars, wonderful heartwarming people, and the bonfire spent time altogether.


Image from “My Indigo World” by Rosa Chang


The darkest blue sky in the silent night created a peaceful time to listen to my inner self…including in which direction I'm heading toward with the Indigo Shade Map and what the indigo plants have taught me. “Indigo weaves together many lives and people in complex history to better connect one another and the beauty of slow process. Good things take time”.



I hope my first personal blog post with Indigo Shade map leads you to research about Chinookan people as well as the original people/tribes in the area where you reside.


You can find more information about the Chinook Indian Nation or contribute through their website, here. You can find the same link on Indigofest’s homepage as well.


Special thanks to Britt, Iris, and our Blue Crew (Sara, Marian, Wren, Betsy, and Jessica)!


Bye Summer, welcome Fall.


Rosa


Photos: All photos from Rosa (myself)'s iphone.


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Happy April,

Our newest indigo story of April is from Iris Sullivan who is an Oregon-based textile artist and grower. I hope you enjoy the introduction part of her story as well as her indigo journey in the Pacific Northwest region.


My first meeting with natural indigo happened while attending the University of Oregon.

Because I had learned to weave as a child, I ended up with a work study job as a teaching

assistant in the weaving department, even though I was studying biology at the time. The magic of indigo transported me, and contributed to the choice to reorient my studies away from biology, towards fiber arts, finishing with a BFA focused on natural dyes.

Soon after graduation, my husband Joe and I relocated to Astoria, Oregon so that I could teach at Clatsop Community College. I taught weaving, dyeing, and book arts there for 8 years. We have two sons, now in college, whom we homeschooled.



In 2005 I traveled to Laos to visit indigo dyers and weavers, with my mentor Michelle

Wipplinger. This experience, being with the Laotian weavers and dyers, was incredibly

impactful. The genuine sharing and connection across barriers of language and culture that

happened gives me hope for the world to this day. As an artist my goal is to create installation spaces that help people connect more deeply to themselves, and to the natural world. I often include indigo in my work, as I believe natural indigo contributes to the mending of our hearts, and has the capacity to bring us together across our differences.


Starting to grow indigo was a watershed event. I met Persicaria tinctoria through Brittany Boles, when she gifted some plants to our mutual friend Kestrel Gates in 2017. Britt and I hit it off, and started our joint venture, Indigofest, in 2018 as a community gathering to celebrate and learn with this marvelous plant. (We are happy to be hosting the retreat again for 2022 after a 2 year pandemic hiatus.)


In addition to Indigofest I teach workshops on natural dye and indigo regionally, and

occasionally in other parts of country. There is so much mystery and beauty in the process of

working with indigo, that as a dyer, the vat, and the indigo plant itself, will continue to be my

teachers for the rest of my life.


1. Location & Environment

All photos were submitted by Iris Sullivan


Dream Bird Studio is tucked into a forest of Sitka spruce, western red cedar, red alder, and

maple trees on a north facing hillside overlooking the Columbia River estuary in Astoria,

Oregon. The USDA growing zone designation for the North Oregon Coast is 8B. This is a

temperate rainforest, receiving over 2 meters of rain each year. The historic temperature range

is cool and mild year round, 40-65 °F, (4-18 °C) with only occasional freezing temperatures, and rarely hot. The Coast Range mountains hug the Pacific Ocean, gathering moisture. Forests here have been extensively cut over the last 100 years. Intact old growth forests are now rare sacred places of wonder and deep beauty.


2. Indigo plants & practices

I first began growing Persicaria tinctoria indigo in 2017. That first year we tried fresh leaf dyeing, and fermented the leaves, going straight to a vat using fructose and lime. In 2018 I purchased seeds and planted indigo at our house, gave away some starts to neighbors, and began growing additional plants off site at a friend’s farm.


The growing site at our place is a deck on the south side of our woodland house. It receives about 5 hours of direct sun during summer months. There is enough room for about 100 plants in large pots. I have noticed a wide assortment of native pollinators hanging out with the indigo. A few of my kind neighbors also grow dye plants for me in their sunnier gardens. These plants grown close to home are what I tend use for fresh leaf processing, and sharing with classes.


Farmer John Huelman, a friend who grows three to four 50’ rows of Persicaria plants for me, lives in Knappa, Oregon, 12 miles further inland. His site receives full sun, and is about 10 ℉ warmer in the summer. The plants get somewhat larger on the farm, and also seem to have a

higher pigment yield, which I assume relates to his more optimal site. These plants get turned into pigment, using the water extraction method.


For pigment extraction the first few years I used multiple buckets, and garbage cans, and now use an 85 gallon stock tank. I have found that aerating in the stock tank with a good sized stick is a more pleasant experience for me than either the paint stirrer drill attachment, or the immersion blender I used prior.


I have dried some leaves each year, enjoying it as tea. Last year I dried 15 pounds (7 kg) of leaves, and participated in an online small scale sukumo making class, with Debra Ketchum Jircik. The class was guided by the book The Way of Indigo by her teacher, Takayuki Ishii. I am very much looking forward to making my first sukumo style vat later this spring with the results. Drying even at this scale is challenging due to the high humidity here on the coast.

I usually store pigment wet so that it is in a good state for creating vats, or printing with. I have been experimenting with both minimizing the lime I use for extraction, and washing the pigment with vinegar to remove lime in an attempt to increase the purity of the pigment. Some pigment is used for other art processes, including paints, inks, paste paper, and to color handmade soap.


Over the years I have used several types of vats. While our boys were little we even made a sig vat using their urine with indigo pigment from India. (Very smelly while in use, but now that my boys are grown, I treasure the things dyed in it.) My favorite vat for work in the studio is the fermentation vat, usually made with madder.


3. Culture & Story of the region

Dream Bird Studio is in Clatsop County, Oregon, in the Alderbrook neighborhood of Astoria, overlooking the Columbia River estuary. These are the traditional lands of the Clatsop and Chinook peoples. There is no known historic use of indigo in this region by original peoples.

My ancestry is mostly Irish, with a sprinkling of Scottish and French. I grew up in rural Michigan, and learned many farmwife skills from my relatives before setting out into the world.

I have been entranced with nature, color and string from a young age. One of my earliest memories is burying tiny bottles filled with colored water as gifts to the trees in our yard. An aunt began teaching me to weave at age seven, and the rhythm of the loom has been present throughout my life. The first experience with natural dyes came with my mother, who taught me to dye with black walnuts, which she used to dye the basketry materials she worked with.

While at university I studied weaving and dyeing under Barbara Setsu Pickett, who brought traditions from her Japanese heritage to our studies, and inspired a deep appreciation for Japanese textile to my practice as an artist.


I continue to seek knowledge about the dyeing practices of my own ancestors. This effort is somewhat hampered by a lack of documentation, as Irish dyeing traditions were very disrupted by colonialism. Woad, the indigo bearing plant of my lineage, is considered a noxious invasive plant in the state of Oregon, and illegal to grow. Growing Persicaria tinctoria, as a stand-in for woad, allows me to dye with home grown pigment. This process aligns both blue worlds for me - of my teacher’s ancestors, and my own. I like to imagine the ancestors smiling as they watch the hand work of artisans today.


More About this place:

The word Clatsop comes from the Chinook word, łät’cαp, meaning "place of dried salmon,” and was originally the name for a single village. The Clatsop and Chinook people, though currently denied federal recognition, continue to reside here, and to organize for recognition.

Early contact with European sailing ships in the late 1700’s brought disease ahead of western settlement, and caused enormous loss of life for the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest who had lived and worked here for many thousands of years.

The history of this place in the last 200 years has many dark stories. The expedition led by Lewis & Clark in 1805 was soon followed by more people eager to exploit the land. Astoria was established by 1811, making it the oldest western settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. The emphasis on resource extraction has often been twined with violence in the region.


Waves of white settlers came here to clear the ancient forests and fish for salmon in the Columbia River. There were also migrations of Chinese and Indian Sikh workers. Both of these groups faced significant hostility from white owners and workers of the canneries and mills. Conditions for all workers were generally dangerous, and there was frequent violence against any workers who tried to organize. Finnish Socialists in particular did have some success in forming worker owned cooperatives for both fisheries and lumber workers in order to improve conditions. (These early activists provided an inspiration for the 10 year grassroots effort which successfully prevented the building of a Liquified Natural Gas export facility at the mouth of the Columbia in the mid 2000’s. (https://www.columbiariverkeeper.org/news/2016/4/ victory-oregon-lng-withdraws)


In the early twentieth century there was widespread corruption, and a brief though notable KKK presence, which was focused against Catholics, the Finnish Socialists, and immigrants.

There were several massive fires in Astoria around that time, which in combination with over cutting forests and over fishing, largely ended the boom days. The resulting decades of economic depression for the area were only relieved in recent years. The population in 2022 is still roughly 2/3rds what it was prior to the 1922 fire, which burned the entire business district and many homes. The 1922 fire has been linked to activities of the KKK, and may have led to their fall from favor.


In the last 25 years Astoria has undergone significant changes, including gentrification and an influx of new residents. Its economic base has largely switched away from resource extraction, and towards a tourist economy.


Contact

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