At 5 a.m. on Fourth Monday of Block 3, it was below 20 degrees with several inches of snow on the ground. It felt like the middle of the night: the stars were still out, and the sun didn’t rise for nearly two more hours.
There were already more than 20 pairs of shoes curving through the scattered orange armchairs in front of Worner Desk. The sign-up for Block 4 art classes began at precisely 8 a.m., but by 6 a.m., the anticipatory line was nearly to the door.
It’s the most popular block for art classes, as students scramble to make last-minute holiday gifts. The offerings include everything from stained glass and enameling to screen printing and embroidery. Beginning art classes meet twice a week for the entirety of the block, while open studio courses allow students greater flexibility. A $10 payment secures a spot and covers all studio use and materials.
Beginning wheel throwing, weaving, and jewelry were some of the first to fill up this time, and some students, like Eloise Kelly ’21, spent Sunday night camped out in Worner with a pad and sleeping bag to guarantee a spot.
Kelly is well-known in the weaving studio for her colorful rugs and overflowing bags of naturally dyed yarn. For her junior year of high school, she transferred to the Putney School, an alternative high school located on a farm in Vermont. According to Kelly, their fiber arts program was amazing and it was there she learned to spin wool, weave, and manage a dye garden.
After graduating high school, Kelly took a gap year, part of which was dedicated to intensive weaving. Using wool from sheep on her mother’s farm and plant dye from her garden, Kelly started a small weaving business, selling her work at local craft shows, online, and through word-of-mouth. She estimated that she’s made about 100 pieces so far, including eight blankets and four rugs. From start to finish, weaving a scarf takes up to eight hours, she said.
Natural dyeing has been around for thousands of years. Since the mid-1800s, it’s been eclipsed by the mass production of synthetic dyes, used to color nearly all fabric today. But people are surprisingly receptive to naturally dyed products now, Kelly said. She’s even been contacted by a New York gallery interested in displaying her work.
Kelly uses plants that have been documented over the centuries to remain lightfast, meaning they won’t lose their color when exposed to sunlight. She finds plants like goldenrod and marigolds growing wild in fields, and raises other plants like purple basil, mint, and dyer’s coreopsis in her garden. Most flowers produce a green or yellow dye, but indigo and madder root give vibrant blues and reds. Part of the excitement of weaving, Kelly said, is that even flowers in the same species can produce dramatically different colors depending on the soil conditions and environment they’re grown in. Marigolds in Vermont, for instance, produce bright orange dyes, but marigolds in Maine can only produce greens. And naturally dyed products have a rich color and earthy tone that synthetic dyes rarely match.
“I love the process of dyeing,” said Kelly. “It makes weaving constantly entertaining.”
Kelly doesn’t dye fibers while at Colorado College, but she’s considering teaching a natural dyeing class in the future. Instead, she dyes all her wool while at home in Maine and drives across the country with a car full of dyed fiber for the upcoming year.
A likely Environmental Studies major, Kelly said it’s been really important for her to have access to the arts studio.
“It’s been a chance to have art as a part of my life but then pursue other stuff,” she said. “For my mental health, it’s huge.”
Kelly is currently working on Christmas gifts for her siblings, but she’ll be selling some of her work at the annual craft fair, held in Worner Campus Center during the first weekend of Block 4.