We love finding inspiration in our creative community of textile artists, food lovers and activists, and we love sharing them with you to learn more about the projects that they are working on.
For Kelli Thoumsin, food and fiber go hand in hand, inextricably linked. She runs Bedhead Fiber, foraging and sourcing local dyestuffs, spinning yarn, and being an all around advocate for slow textiles. Earlier this year, she and her sister, Chelsea Thoumsin, (who runs the Pollinator Project) launched a special packet of dye seeds, intended to attract pollinators as well as produce blossoms to dye with.
We caught up with her to learn more Bedhead Fiber and what food and fiber mean to her.
Tell us a little bit about Bedhead Fiber
Bedhead Fiber has been a little egg since 2011, but it didn’t really come to fruition until 2016. After I graduated college I felt like I lacked “real life” education and skills. I pinpointed one of the most important aspects of our lives–food–and realized that I had no tangible knowledge of how to grow, tend, harvest any of it. So I farmed abroad for six months in six different countries, and while the knowledge I gained was varied, intricate, and vast, the overall lesson was that everything is connected. The water, air, soil, seeds, plants, animals (humans included), were all dependent on the other being healthy to maintain their own health. It was revealed to me that we must take care of everything in nature in order to take care of ourselves.
While I fell in love with farming and it is ultimately my dream job, I was heavily pulled down the fiber facet of farming. I was taught how to knit by a German woman whose farm I worked on in Greece. As is the case with many knitters/crocheters, the hobby spiraled into spinning, weaving, and natural dyeing. Natural dyeing, for me, is the most visual example of how food and fibers aren’t separate. We should be growing our fibers and their colors like we grow our food – oftentimes they fall into both categories! There are so many plants, flowers, mushrooms, lichens and bugs that reveal colors hidden inside them and it’s just downright mind blowing that we choose an artificial and chemically toxic way to color our textiles. While I know it’s not “economical” to naturally dye every piece of fabric, I long for others to slow down and consider the stories behind our clothes, home linens, furniture (or, non textile-based: our phones, computers, cars)? If we respect where things come from, their lives, and how they grow, we in turn respect what they have to offer. We also have to make it affordable and accessible to do so, as it’s those who are the most heavily impacted by these imbalances who are the most restricted by the costs.
That’s a really long and convoluted way to explain what bedhead fiber is and does while only still skimming the top, but that is what bedhead fiber is: a long process. We use and are inspired by naturally sourced items like plants, flowers, mushrooms, lichen, and bugs to create lush, sometimes soft, sometimes vibrant colors on US grown and milled fibers, primarily based out of the Pacific Northwest. Most of the materials have been hand foraged by myself or traded with other foraging friends all with sustainability in mind–only collecting fallen lichens, never more than ¼ of what is offered, and often growing my own dye materials. I supplement raw material dyes with extracts from Botanical Colors, who only sources from certified sustainable and or direct farmers. This year, I collaborated with my sister who runs Pollinator Project, an education based company that helps the efforts of bees and other pollinators by selling easy to sow pollinator attracting seed packets. We created a special seed packet that not only is easy to sow, attracts pollinators, but are also dye flowers. Creating my own dye garden has been incredible, comforting, and the very long process makes me appreciate the entirety of it all so much more. I never imagined I would shift my focus from a primarily food focused garden to a happy balance of flowers and food, but I’m so thankful I did.
Why is dyeing with natural dyes important to you?
Care, respect, and honoring people and plants are important to me, and natural dyeing seems to encompass all of those. It also helps that the natural dye color spectrum is stinkin’ gorgeous. Also see above 🙂
We often think of foraging as foraging for wild foods, but you can forage for dyes as well. What do you like about foraging for dyestuffs?
I just love foraging in general! I’ve never seen foraging for food and dye stuff as separate, because I often find both, cohabiting. There’s the unrealistic part of me that loves thinking I can collect and survive off of nature and be self sufficient in a cave someday, but the more realistic side just loves being in the forest. I was raised in a desert with very little green, so the forest has always been a beautiful, lush, but sometimes spooky place that offers so much. Honestly, part of the reason I’ve tried to grow a bountiful garden is for the times I can’t escape to the woods.
What inspired you to create the Pollinator Project dye flower seed packets?
Bees. I had a garden that I had cared for and spent so much effort in, but saw very few bees or other pollinators. The bee death epidemic and climate change are signs of an imbalance, and I want to do what I can to help tip the scales back, even if it’s only slightly. When I was farming in Finland, I worked on an apiary–helped revive them after a Finnish winter, observed maintenance, pest inspection, harvested honey etc. Learning more about bees from that hands on experience as well as from my sister has been life changing. That sounds really dramatic, but I’m being totally serious. Learning how bees have their own communities, tasks, purposes, how they collect pollen (bumble bee buzz pollination anyone?) again solidified that humans are only a part of the chain even though we assume the largest chain. The dye flower seed packets came as a natural progression, to spread the love to and of bees as far as I could.
What do you see as the intersections of food and fiber?
They are impossible to separate in my mind. When they are separated we see things like massive amounts of textile waste in landfills and waterways, fast fashion which leads to a throwaway culture, polluted waterways with chemical dyes in production and in everyday wash with micro plastics to list a few. It’s all an imbalance with a focus too heavily on only one aspect of a whole system.
Anything else that I didn’t ask that you want to talk about?
Just an appreciation for the fiber and textile community. They have been kind, open, and engaging, and I’m so grateful.
Images: Bedhead Fiber