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Hyperlocal Foraged City Plants Make 'Neighborhood Dye' for Oakland Textiles

You can try and change the world, but how about first starting with your own neighborhood?

Kristine Vejar says her revolution began in her own backyard with plants. The founder of Oakland, California based A Verb For Keeping Warm, says by being conscious of the materials used in her fiber shop, she leads a quiet, but no less active role in changing how she and others see place.

In Oakland, where Vejar strives to use materials that support neighbors who are trying to raise sheep and grow plants for natural dyeing, she is also trying to teach as many people as possible to knit and sew. She says that by giving locals access to skills to make their own clothing, she can take energy away from sweatshops and slave labor in clothing manufacturing.

She and a group of fiber artists even pooled together all of their resources to create an organic California wool yarn line.

“Hopefully, we will dye it with plants culled from the UC Botanical Garden and give a percentage of the money to them. We have a dye garden here at the studio that is maintained by members of the community and would love for that to progress to planting dye gardens in vacant lots,” says Vejar.

Vejar says she also likes to educate the community about what’s around them by hosting at least two free community centered events yearly and says that by inviting the community in to learn about craft and one another.

“We continuously try to humanize textiles. From these events, people grow to know one another, and look forward to seeing one another at future events. And many of them form relationships and friendships that extend outside of the shop,” says Vejar.

At Interface Gallery, also in Oakland, connecting neighbors through textiles seems (pardon the expression), a common thread. Gallery owner Suzanne L'Heureux says the current exhibition at Interface “Manzanita, Yarrow, Sweet Gum and Jade,” was designed to inspire a sense of wonder and curiosity about the rich possibilities medicinal plants have to offer.

Throughout April, Interface Gallery will be a studio/laboratory/workshop space for exploring and visualizing the invisible qualities of medicinal plants familiar to the Bay Area. In this ongoing exhibition, artists Susanne Cockrell, Sasha Duerr, Alyssa Pitman and Suzanne L'Heureux will collaboratively represent their research and experimentation with specific local plants.

These "Thursday Sessions" will include activities such as tasting kefir waters infused with new medicinal plants each week, and helping brew natural dyes, made with medicinal plants found in the surrounding Temescal neighborhood. Each week a new "neighborhood dye" will be brewed.

“We wanted to call attention in particular to plants that are all around us in the Bay Area, and even more specifically, plants that can be found right in the neighborhood where Interface Gallery is located. These are plants we walk by every day, without knowing that they have the ability to heal us,” says L’Heurex.

Susanne Cockrell, Associate Professor in Community Arts at California College of the Arts, and an artist in Interface Gallery’s current exhibit says there are a lot of young adults who are interested in community building and says the workshops at Interface offer a way to see neighborhood in a new light.

“Many of us are in a process of relearning how to grow and cook food for ourselves and families, which is also medicine, things our ancestors knew how to do for centuries,” says Cockrell, “These everyday arts, practices and crafts are nourishing and take time, slow us down. We crave this slow.”

Alyssa Pitman, another artist in the Interface exhibit agrees and says one of the main questions running through her work is something she thinks about all the time—how does one know a place?

“If one knows a place, does one value it more? And if one values it more, does this encourage more balanced and connected relationship to that place? In an environmental sense, I am asking how to live more sustainably. Yet I often think that to live more sustainably there needs to be a change deeper than buying compostable trash bags, recycling, and using compact florescent light bulbs,” says Pitman.

In the gallery, she says this process of knowing is what she is excited about highlighting. “Someone commented that they have so much to learn about plants and I responded that you don't need to know the names of all the plants in your neighborhood but instead choose one and really get to know it. A whole world will open up once you have a deeper connection to one plant.”

Which, when added up, makes for one well-loved planet.

Hang out with your neighbors on the last Saturday of April (a day we're calling "Neighborday"). Click here to say you'll Do It, and here to download GOOD's Neighborday Toolkit and a bunch of other fun stuff.

Images courtesy of A Verb for Keeping You Warm and Interface Gallery \n

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