I caught up with designer Heidi Iverson at Taylor Maid coffee in Sebastopol, a place we occasionally meet to talk shop in the areas of natural dyes, mushrooms, local fiber, fashion and whatever else is going on.
Heidi works on a number of ventures, including H-Luv Fabrications—which include angora booties, dolls, and plush toys; and HIJK, a natural fiber clothing business she founded with Jen Kida. Her work is process-based, the finished products reflecting the stories made during production.
The clothing line is unstructured and casual, easily worn in the garden or the coffee shop. It includes woven tops and dresses, and knitted tops made from Sally Fox cotton and naturally dyed with oak galls, indigo and other plants. The current highlight is a set of wrap skirts, inspired by her grandmother.
Today, I want to talk with her about natural dye and local fiber. I am interested in her inspirations, her process, and how those things influence her final products. As we talk, a layered story begins to emerge.
Karen Hess: How does the natural dye process influence your clothing line?
Heidi Iverson: With the HIJK naturally dyed clothing line, the main idea behind using natural dyes is gathering them to tell a story within the seasons and then also to tell a story geographically. All the fabric that I use is from Sally Fox’s cotton in the Capay Valley, but part of it was milled and dyed in Japan. That particular fabric has the dye from the factory and I’ve started playing around with over-dyeing it with natural dyes to see if I can get more of a visual dialogue of what’s going on.
KH: Why did you gravitate toward the natural dye and natural fibers that you use?
HI: So as far as the natural dye, I used to work for Kate Bishop making hats, and I was her dye technician, so that’s really where I got into dyeing fabric. Then I did the knitting patterns for Rebecca Burgess‘ dye book, Harvesting Color. So I was really inspired by Rebecca. That was when I really started getting into natural dyes, mostly because I found them fascinating and magical because they’re way less predictable than a commercial dye, depending on the season and all kinds of other stuff.
KH: What were your initial inspirations for the clothing designs?
HI: The clothing design inspiration was because I couldn’t find what I wanted, or if I found what I wanted, I couldn’t necessarily afford it. I wanted to make pieces that could easily blend into any wardrobe, and depending on how you accessorize, could be dressy, casual, or even sleeping wear. Like, like the all-purpose outfit. As far as the wrap skirts, there’s a straight one and then there’s one that is made from a pattern of the skirt that my grandmother wore the whole time I was growing up, It’s a little fuller, has a great big pocket on it, and you could wear it as an apron, or you could throw it over a slip or whatever, but it’s like super comfy and a little more of a party skirt.”
KH: How did your skills evolve and why?
HI: I have really good sewing skills, and I enjoy pattern making. That came from a friend of mine who had a studio in the same building, Hillary Heavyside. Hillary’s an amazing pattern maker and designer, and she helped me really understand pattern making, and gave me the confidence to just be like, “oh yeah, I can do this”. And so I started messing around with pattern making, and then I was able to take patterns that I liked but weren’t right and do all the adjustments, so they actually fit better and look better and are exactly what I want.
KH: Your grandmother was a big inspiration too, tell me about her.
HI: My grandmother taught me how to embroider and sew and cook, and since she was a depression-era baby, she basically taught me how to make something out of absolutely nothing, which is a skill that I don’t think many people have anymore. Because it was a necessity then, and now we have such an abundance that it’s a good challenge to see if you can make something out of nothing.
KH: And there’s a holistic quality to it too; it seems like in that era, and what we do with the natural dye and the fiber today is not just about making a product, it’s a way to create meaning and beauty in our lives.
HI: It is, and it’s kind-of a form of meditation I think, because if you know what you’re doing, then you don’t have to think about it much, and you can just be outside enjoying yourself. It’s a win/win all around. And then you also just have the memory and the record of the day of making the dye baths, and it’s like a whole kind of beautiful story.