New York-based natural dyer and textile designer Cara Piazza’s work is inspired by the natural, organic movement of things. Her designs are abstract in nature, drawing from the beauty of the natural world and free-form artistry. She creates one of a kind textiles only using natural dye stuffs such as botanicals, plant matter, minerals, non-toxic metals, and food wastes.
Tell us about your background; how did you become interested in textiles and artistic dyeing and how did you learn the craft: I grew up in New York city where my first love of nature came from being fascinated with how despite her concrete cages, she would always find her way through the cracks. I went to university in London at the Chelsea College of Art and Design where I studied textiles and first came in contact with natural dyes through a workshop in my final year. After being exposed to the magic, I dedicated my thesis to the profession and haven’t looked back. When I began natural dyeing, I immersed myself in all the books I could find on the topic. In doing so I came across India Flint’s Eco Colour. I tried every one of her techniques and was transfixed by bundle dyeing. Since I didn’t have a garden in London where I could grow my own flowers, I was forced to get creative and use food wastes from the scraps of my own food. I began also experimenting with leftover flowers — I’d dye anything I could get my hands on.
From where do you draw inspiration for your designs? The obvious answer is nature. I think of myself merely as a conduit for her to act through me as a medium. I’m also inspired by artists who explore control and minimal abstraction through their work, Sol Lewitt, Clyfford Still (the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy left me speechless), Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, and so on. I’m also inspired by esoteric movements, choreographers like Merce Cunningham and gestural drawings and the female form.
What sort of materials do you utilize for the dyeing process? I use only plant-based dyes and pigments, animal, and non-toxic metals for my dyes. Organic and inorganic compounds like clays, and I try to recycle flowers and food wastes where ever I can.
Describe your creative process: I’m naturally a little hurricane. Meaning I create, collect and make a mess of information and then comb through the piles and edit down and clean up the mental wreckage. It begins with research for me, I’m constantly reading, visiting museums and galleries. I take a flaneuristic approach as well and often find myself on long walks. Getting lost and letting my feet find my next source of inspiration. I photograph and sketch what I see, and then begins the next step of sampling on fabric. I like to let the dye stuffs talk to me as well. They dictate the colors and forms of the patterns. It’s selfishly a very therapeutic and mediative process when I’m experimenting and often feel I’m in a trance like state when I achieve my best results.
How are your materials sourced, and how does your practice of sustainability factor into your process? I make sure all of my pigments are sourced ethically, or organically only using providers I trust. I also work with florists and restaurants to collect their leftovers to turn into dye which helps intercept waste streams that might otherwise go to landfill.
How do you go about designing a custom piece for either a designer, or a private client? When working with clients, we meet and assess their inspirations first. We discuss their preferred color pallets and then I create a mind map/recipe for the seasonal ingredients that will make the colors. Then I create a swatch book of them and we move to the final piece from there.
What has been your most intriguing project to date? I love all the projects I’ve worked on! Each one brings a new set of challenges and problems to solve. It’s never a dull day at the witch lab.
To learn more, visit Cara Piazza.
Photography courtesy of Andrea Gentl of Gentl and Hyers.