Episode 12. Natural Dyeing with Ella from Handmade Millennial

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Natural Dyeing with Ella Clausen of @handmademillennial The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this episode, we get to know Ella Clausen of @HandmadeMillennial. Ella is a Black and Filipinx garment sewist based in Oakland, California. Her Instagram account highlights her adventures in making, including sewing, natural dyeing and other fiber and textile arts. Learn more about Ella at: https://instagram.com/handmademillenial For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-12-natural-dyeing-ella-handmade-millennial/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective


Patterns & Designers mentioned

Wide-Strap Maxi by Peppermint Magazine & Elbe Textiles
Clyde Work Pant by Elizabeth Suzanne
Redwood Coast Quilt by Strawberry Creek Quilts
Reynolds Dress by Helen’s Closet

Fabric Shops Mentioned

Blackbird Fabrics


Natural Color: Vibrant Plant Dye Projects for Your Home and Wardrobe, Sasha Duerr

Natural Palettes: Inspiration from Plant-Based Color, Sasha Duerr

Rebecca Desnos (Natural Dyeing blog)

WorkshopSF, DIY Classes (San Francisco)

Show transcript

Ada: I just wanted to add, “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.” Arthur? Anyone?

Nicole: Oh no, I used to watch it a lot.

Ella: Yes!

Nicole: I don’t remember that though. But yeah.

Ada: It’s a whole music montage. I’m going to send you the music video after this.

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice, as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. I’m your co host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the US, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan skincare, that C-H-U-A-N and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram,

Nicole: And I’m your co host Nicole. I’m based out of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the Council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m Filipinx-American and I’m a woman and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.

Ada: Soo before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole: Yeah, I am currently working on a Peppermint Maxi Dress. Have you seen that pattern before?

Ada: I have seen that pattern before. It’s the Peppermint Mag free pattern right?

Nicole: Yeah, so it’s the Wide Strap Maxi dress and it’s free but you can, and probably should, also donate a few bucks to peppermint magazine. And I believe this one was in collaboration with Elbe Textiles. And so it’s super cute and I am currently making it with a check chambray type thing. It’s probably going to be on my feed by the time this airs but I actually purchased it from a destash, Instagram destash. I don’t know if you’ve ever shopped another sewist’s destash. I should probably do that too.

Ada: Was this Macy’s destash?

Nicole: It was! I was texting you during that and I just bought a bunch of her stuff. It was. It’s a little bit, what makes it heavier is the plaid. Plaid-plaid. It’s like plaid Inception. Like binding, but like I’m not doing a great job describing this, on chambray in a check pattern but the binding itself is plaid.

Ada: Ooooh.

Nicole: It’s really cute. It’s almost…I’m not a really cute person. I mean, I am cute, but like, I’m not like a cutesy patterns and stuff kind of person. But I really like it so it’s cut out and I just have to stitch it up. But oftentimes, after I cut fabric that’s kind of where the work stops. I’ve got to put it back in my “Just get to it Nicole” pile but I’m looking forward to wearing it. I mean it’s getting toward the end of summer but I’m still pretty much just making summer stuff so we’ll see. What are you working on Ada?

Ada: I was gonna say maybe I should cut one out and join you but that would require printing finding the motivation to print and take the matter first which, on a maxi dress, you know that’s a lot of pages.

Nicole: It was.

Ada: So if you recall in season one I may have done two front crotches on a certain pant pattern the Elizabeth Suzanne Clyde pants and I have rectified the problem and found the right size for me. So thank you Mariko on our team for helping measure the rise of your pants to tell me some more sizing information. But I just finished some Elizabeth Suzanne Clyde shorts, which basically involves just shortening the pant leg about 20 plus or minus some inches. I just measured the pattern pieces on myself and then kind of chopped a line across at under the crotch curve and was like I’m gonna match the curves on the patterns and then just like fold the pattern up and cut the fabric this way. But I really wanted them for a craft fair that I did this weekend for my business and I just needed pockets. Like you need to hold your phone, your wallet, your keys and then your like card reader and all the things whenever you’re running a booth and so it just seems like a really practical pattern for me and all my other shorts are short shorts. Which also didn’t feel very on brand or like me that I wanted to be wearing at the booth. So, I whipped those up on Thursday and I got to wear them on Saturday. And then it was so hot that I normally don’t wash things immediately like after one wear unless I have like really sweat through them, activewear notwithstanding like that you should just wash because you’re sweaty. We’re so hot, I sweat so much that I just needed to throw them in the wash. So I will photograph them when they’re out of the wash. But they are in the matching fabric that I sent to you, Nicole, that I thrifted with that big floral print, and you too can make some shorts and we can match.

Nicole: I know. I have enough left. I made a dress for a test. But when I saw you made the shorts, I was like, we should matchy.

Ada:  I didn’t pattern match these either. You don’t have to pattern match this pattern.

Nicole: No, I definitely didn’t when I made the dress. But yeah, now that I’m thinking about it. I just made a new pair of shorts, too. And when I saw that you made those Clyde shorts was like, Oh, I should make some and we should match. And nobody can see him because they’re shorts on the podcast.

Ada: Yeah, the pattern is funny because you think with a pocket. So it would have to be a longer short. But actually, at least on the size that I made, which I believe with the size six regular, the pockets come right below the crotch curve anyway. So you don’t have to worry about cutting the pocket bag or the pocket lining when you’re shortening the pant legs. You just have to shorten the pant leg, the front and back pieces, which was kind of nice, because I was a little bit worried about that. 

Nicole: It makes easier to turn it into shorts. 

Ada: Yes.

Nicole: Very cool. We’re delighted to introduce Ella Clausen a Black and Filipinx garment sewist who can be found on Instagram at @HandmadeMillennial. So for any of our listeners tuning in today, who are new to you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who are you? How do you identify and how does your identity intersect with your sewing?

Ella: Yeah. Hi, everyone. So I’m Ella Clausen. I am home sewist in Oakland, California area and the creator behind Handmade Millennial. So it’s been a fun project where you know, for the last couple years, I have been teaching myself how to sew mostly through patterns and on YouTube and kind of wanting to share that experience with folks. I focus on sustainable ways to create garments and beautiful modern styles and focusing on things that are interesting to people just like me. So that’s what I do at night. And then in my day job, I also work at Levi’s at their Red Tab Foundation, so very far away from the actual garment production process, but still kind of a through line of being in the textile world and among textile-appreciative people. So yeah, you can find me on Instagram there where I talk a lot about my projects and what I’m up to and always looking to connect with new folks.

Ada: Thanks, Ella. And since Nicole and I just rambled for a few minutes about our current sewing projects, is there anything you would like to share with the audience that you are personally sewing at the moment

Ella: I cut into a big project this weekend. I’m so excited. So I downloaded the Rose Cafe Bustier dress pattern by Daria Pattern Making and I’ve worked through a couple toiles over the last few weeks. I cut into the fabric for the final garment today, which is so exciting because I had some troubles with fit on this one. I’m kind of small busted. And so getting the cup to bustier fit just right was a bit of a challenge. But it’s actually going to be my wedding rehearsal dinner dress. And I’m getting married next May. And so that was really fun to get to cut into the fabric. It’s this beautiful embroidered beaded white fabric. And I’m just so excited to use it and also really nervous because I’ve never worked with beaded fabrics before. There’s all these weird things you have to do so that the fabric doesn’t like unravel. And so it’s an interesting fun challenge to be using that and also to be doing a bustier dress,

Nicole: The pattern, I’ve seen it around and it looks amazing. But the fit is what kind of scares me like getting the fitting right. But maybe I’ll take a crack at it someday because I did see what you were working on. And it looks really really beautiful.

Ella: Thank you. Yeah, two toiles to get it right. And even then I reached out to Daria herself actually and sent her a video and was like, What am I doing wrong? And she actually gave me a personalized consultation like, “Try this. Try that.” That’s what I love about indie patternmakers. Like she was available within like, 12 hours to help me with a problem. And so yeah, it’s been a fun process. And I love working with indie designers.

Ada: Two, does not seem like too many. I was gonna when you said a lot. I was like, Oh my gosh, did she do five because I’ve also seen the pattern and I’m also smaller busted. And so I’m like, eh. Those cups I think in ready to wear, they never fit me. Or, you know, you have to like do some pinching and like some minor adjustments. Not minor, like you have to deconstruct the cup. But that has definitely helped me off but maybe I’ll just like follow along and buy the pattern and do it do.

Ella: Absolutely. I never toile so two was like a lot for me. I never have patience for that.

Nicole: Yeah, I’m on the other end where I was like when you said two I was like, Oh. I don’t I’m also not a toile-er. So I’m like that’s how that does sound like a lot to me, I was like, eh…

Ada: I’m a wearable toile-er. I’m all for it, or like barely wearable or like, wearable by if you have a sister or a friend who’s similar sized who doesn’t really mind because you know what they’re buying for ready to wear, it probably doesn’t fit them that well anyway. Like this top is a wearable toile of a hack of the Atlas top from Stitch Witch Patterns. Esther from our team helpfully told me how to move the bust darts. I just, they’re not correct yet. They’re not. But hey, I have a sister who is similarly sized on top. She does not listen to this podcast as far as I know. So I can say that it’s going to her with plenty of mistakes.

Nicole: Yeah, she’s not gonna know.

Ella: That’s the way to do it. 

Nicole: Yeah, it’ll be fine. So, Ella, we’ve been following your sewing journey since the end of last year. And can you tell us a little bit more about your sewing journey, like the journey itself during the pandemic? 

Ella: Yeah, so I decided I wanted to learn to sew right before the pandemic. I just had it in my head. Like, I’ve always been interested in textiles and like upcycling clothing, and like I did a little bit of hand stitching as a kid, but not really do they know anything. And right before I was just like, in this place where I felt the styles, the clothing I wanted to wear, like didn’t feel financially available to me. And I was like, you know what, I’m gonna learn to do it myself. There was like a jumpsuit from Reformation that really inspired me. I was like, “That looks easy. I’m gonna make it.” I took a six hour sewing machine workshop at a place called Workshop SF in the city that was super helpful.

Ada: I love them!

Ella: They’re so good. They do the best workshops for anyone in the Bay Area. And I was so excited. We may made a tote bag in that class. And I was so excited by it that I literally like straight from workshop SF to the fabric store. And I made so many mistakes. I accidentally spent like $120 on fabric because I didn’t know what I was doing. But like I was just so excited and jazzed, I borrowed a sewing machine from my to-be mother in law. And that was history from there. So I was on and off for a little bit. And then really in the pandemic is when I actually started truly creating more garments and really digging down because it’s a hobby thing that, you know, made a lot of sense for when we’re locked up indoors on our own. Yeah, and it was an interesting experience, because I’m sure you guys understand that sewing is kind of an isolating hobby, like, you have to do it yourself. You’re in a room like often, you know, not with other people in your life, like you’re just kind of isolated on your own. And so I was looking for friends and community and people who understood what I was doing. I was like making all these cool garments and like sending photos to a couple of my best friends and they’re just like, Oh, cool. That’s great, you know, but like, no one can talk about how good that hack was. Or like, you know, what do I do with this beautiful like French fabric I found like, this is amazing! No one else was as excited. So that’s how I decided I want to get more involved in the Insta sewing community and make some friends honestly, just to like nerd out with about stuff. And I’ve had a lot of fun, like just really growing my skills over the past year and a half or however long it’s been while we’ve been we’ve been home just making like practically an entire new wardrobe for myself, I should probably clear out some of the old clothes or upcycle them to make room because I’ve made a lot of stuff. And it’s just it’s been a ton of fun. They’ve really been able to up my skill level.

Ada: That is amazing. Yeah, I totally agree. That’s why I started a separate sewing Instagram account because I was posting on stories on my personal account and all my friends from, you know, school and life and work were like, “That’s cool. But what are you talking about?” And I actually, funnily enough, met up with another podcaster whose podcast has nothing to do with sewing and she walked into this outdoor bar setting wearing a dress that looked really familiar and I was like, kind of looks like a Reynolds dress from Helen’s closet. It was she. She and I both listen to love to sew. It was a Blackbird fabrics, linen viscose blend, I believe in this beautiful chartreuse color. And she was wearing the Reynolds. And we had gotten kind of off topic because we were talking about non-podcasting stuff. And then I was telling her about this podcast. She was like, wait, you know? And it was like this little secret like aha moment and I won’t out her on this podcast because she’s fantastic. And she has a sewing “finsta” as we’ve called it, but it was just nice to actually like be able to nerd out. And she said the same thing. Like being able to nerd out about techniques and learning with somebody else, especially like I would say like in the millennial subset, group generation, whatever we call ourselves now has been really nice. And I’ve been following you on Instagram for a while Ella and I think you were traveling right before the pandemic and there was something like you visited 10 countries and it looks like you got some great fabrics as you were showing us before. Can you share a little bit more about the fabrics that you brought back with you? And maybe did your travels at all, like influence your sewing over the past year, year and a half?

Ella: Yeah. So I was really lucky with the timing right before the pandemic, I was in between jobs. And I decided I was going to go on this big backpacking trip on my own. It was really scary, like being a solo lady traveler. And I kind of just did like a full eastward circuit around the world. I started in Vietnam, and I went to Myanmar, India, Singapore, I was in Rome and Italy in London to visit a friend for a bit and then ended in Morocco and Egypt. And I bought one yard of fabric and a blue fabric specifically in every single country I went to. This is how new I was to sewing that I didn’t realize that one yard is nothing. I’m so mad at myself. And I carried all this on my back, mind you, like I was backpacking, and I was so passionate about textiles and so interested and I’d only been sewing for like three or four months before that. So I didn’t realize you know, I hadn’t bought that much fabric besides that really bad trip to the first fabric store where I overbought. But yeah, so I have all these beautiful textiles from different places around the world. And I came home and I made a patchwork scarf that is now like a beautiful like heirloom of my journey. And it’s just a beautiful piece. And so yeah, I learned a lot about various textiles in different parts of the world. Most of the pieces I bought in like street markets, different places. And even when we were in India, I learned a lot about the method of hand block printing outside of Jaipur. And that is something that’s super special and beautiful to me. It’s like these beautiful fabrics where they literally take wood blocks and carve out the designs and then handprint them on fabrics. So I did a workshop actually where I learned about that process. And I brought back lots of block print textiles, because I’m in love with them in different beautiful fabrics from all these places. And yeah, I don’t know what to do with a lot of them, because there’s not enough to do much. But I look at them, and they look great.

Nicole: That’s amazing. And it’s something that I hope to do someday. You know, I started actually right as the pandemic started, sewing right when it started. So it’s like I bought my sewing machine, February 29, I think until 2020. And so I’ve just been sitting here and like I want to travel and I want to do what you did. I want to, well, I will probably not backpack, but like I want to go to places and I want to go fabric shopping, and I want to learn about how people produce fabrics. And one of the accounts I’ve been following is actually a company in the Philippines that works with local artisans in and around different areas of the Philippines and the weavers and the techniques. And I might have, I’m just trying to think like one yard. Like what would I mean, I could probably do the same thing and pretend I know how to make a quilt and then I’ll do something. But yeah, very cool. What the different patterns mean for the different areas. So I hope someday to do what you did, or and, I might have, I’m just trying to think like one yard. Like what would I mean, I could probably do the same thing and pretend I know how to make a quilt and then I’ll do something like that. But yeah, very cool.

So in one of your posts, you mentioned that you were raised by your mom, an immigrant from the Philippines who had no understanding of the black experience and that you were raised mostly in a white community, you share that “It wasn’t until I flew the nest that I really came to acknowledge and appreciate what it means to be a black woman in America, the beauty and the sorrow of our people, struggles, joy, superior dance moves, and quote.” So could you talk a little bit about your experience of being mixed race woman black and Philippine acts like what has your experience been like in the sewing community?

Ella: Yeah, absolutely. So you know, just to reiterate a little bit more of my background, I was raised only by my mother, who you know, came here forty years ago as an undocumented immigrant and later got her citizenship. And my father’s from like, the streets of Detroit, like very different background. And I don’t know how I was created, because they’re like, they don’t mix. I was a love baby. And it’s just, it’s this interesting experience, where I was raised by my mother who did not have that understanding, and very much grew up in a context of feeling like a Filipina woman, feeling like an American woman and definitely identifying as the child of an immigrant, like, maybe you guys understand. But like the experience of being an immigrant and or coming from an immigrant family in America is so different than other people’s experience, or the “average” Americans, average in quotes Americans experience. It’s something that is always been really important to me and like even looking at most of the friends I’ve had historically through my life, like if I look at the commonality and a lot of them a lot of them’s that they’re also children of immigrants. And it was like it was an eye opening when I decided to leave home and kind of opted more into what it means to be a Black woman in America. To opt into that culture and make Black friends and get to know more of what that means and even reconnecting a little bit more with my father. And you know, also kind of looking back at the racism I had faced in my childhood that I didn’t identify as racism like microaggressions. And things that I didn’t pick up like why shopkeepers were always following me around their stores, like I thought maybe everyone had that experience, or, you know, like thinking back on why, like certain parents weren’t so excited about me being friends with their kids, even though I was like a straight A student. And so yeah, I had, I had an interesting awakening. And one of the ways that you know, now I’ve chosen to live in a majority Black community in Oakland, and I’ve paid a lot of work and attention to issues of race and equity within my career and the things that I do in my professional life. And in my sewing world, it’s been a fun experience of one of the ways that I’ve continued to, you know, embrace my identity and who I am is through working with Ankara, wax print, African print fabrics. It’s kind of like a beautiful way to exhibit Black pride and kind of honor and homage this culture, this West African culture and use these beautiful fabrics that are so vibrant, and gorgeous. And it’s been a fun practice.

Just in a nutshell, I’ll talk about, you know, wax print fabrics are really interesting in a very small way. I’ll tell you that the history behind them is really interesting in that they are like Indonesian batik wax resistant dyeing methods that were taken by the Dutch colonizers that were in Indonesia, and they tried to reproduce the methods to be able to resell them better than Indonesians did. And that didn’t work. The Indonesians like knew that was not, you know, traditional wax print fabric. And so they and the Dutch ended up selling them to many parts of West Africa, where they were then adopted and created to be part of the culture and now are just a huge part of West African, like the way their textiles are their history. And so it’s kind of beautiful in that, you know, wax prints fabrics are like this melting pot of culture of Indonesia, the Dutch and West Africa. And like, my heritage is also a melting pot. So I just love that inclusion. And it’s another one of the reasons why you’re getting to sew with fabrics like that is really special to me. So I haven’t gotten to experiment as much with Filipino fabrics and styles. I know, Nicole, you had done some experimenting with like terno sleeves. And that sounds awesome. I would love to try some of that as well as so someday I’ll make with more Filipino fabrics and stuff as well.

Nicole: Yeah, I would love to see you dive into Filipino or you know, modern Filipiniana as well like, the more the merrier. Let’s reclaim it. You know, and I think I’ve read briefly probably about as much as you shared with us the history of wax print, and I find its metamorphosis fascinating. And of course, the fabrics are beautiful as well. So maybe we’ll look into that I don’t know for a future episode or something. But thanks for giving our listeners a primer into the history of wax print for sure.

Ada: And it’s definitely on our list. It is truly a melting pot, like you said. So fabric kind of leads us into my next question, which is it’s been fun to see your work across different mediums like embroidery and your videos on fabric dyeing. And your account is all about slow living and self-sufficiency, and creativity and your makes across those different mediums. So can you share a bit more about how you got started as a maker?

Ella: Yeah, so I’ve as I mentioned, I’ve always been really interested in like upcycles and textiles and like I was totally that kid in high school, like I bought studs and gems to like DIY my own jeans and like was totally handy with a box of Rit dye, dyeing things. Those dye jobs look so bad. They look bad, but it was a lot of fun. So I’ve always done things like that and just been interested in being able to do things yourself. And then you know, I also when it comes to textiles in particular, I’ve done a lot of work and understand a lot about the damages of the textile industry. There’s a lot of global mistreatment of garment workers, and I always wanted to be able to, you know, kind of opt out of that system. But yeah, so I’ve had a lot of fun with dyes and garment construction. I love embroidery. I actually have it on my list, I want to learn sashiko like Japanese visible mending embroidery, and I just bought some supplies to try that so I’m always trying something new trying to do something beautiful with textiles.

Nicole: So how did you get inspired to dye fabrics using things like avocados and black beans and onion skins. Like I was surprised that avocados make pink. So I mean, how did you get inspired to start trying natural dyes and then do you have any tips for sewists who want to get into natural dyeing?

Ella: Absolutely. Natural dyes are so amazing. It’s like amazing what plants can do, as you mentioned, like I’ve only done a couple but avocados make pink and black beans make beautiful shades of blue and purple and onions make gorgeous goldenrod yellows to paler yellows. There’s a million things in the plant world. I’m actually growing right now, in our little balcony garden, I’ve got a couple pots where I’m growing Indigo plants, because you can use leaves the fresh Indigo leaves to die things like kind of a teal blue. So that I’m like so stoked for I’ve been growing this Indigo for like four months, I can’t wait to dye and stuff with it. But I got kind of started on this concept because I had done like a workshop at work. I also, it’s funny, I’ve worked at two textile companies and learned like practically not that much about textile production from either, but I used to have a job at the North Face. And they had a couple naturally dyed products. So we did like a little workshop where we dyed some things with avocados and also with rosemary, which makes  grays and blacks. And so yeah, it’s really beautiful. And especially like I don’t know, if you guys have ever used chemical fabric dyes, but they’re really scary in that you’re supposed to wear gloves the whole time because the chemicals are really toxic. And you know, if you splash any anywhere, like your counter is going to get stained, and that is so irritating. And also scary, you know where it’s like if I spill some like of my avocado die, it’s literally just avocado pits and water. It’s no big deal, if I just like to dive my hands in there, you know, it’s not going to poison me. And it also doesn’t poison water systems, like putting chemicals into water systems is not so good. I’m not so much sure how bad that is at home level, but in industrial garment production, dyes are one of the worst polluters of some waterways in textile production. And so to anyone who’s interested in diving in, I would definitely take a look at some bloggers who do natural dye stuff like some of my favorites are Rebecca Desnos. And Sasha Duerr was the person who taught my first workshop that I found really interesting. She has good books, and actually one of my favorites for natural dyes, and just general sewing resources, is like your local library. I had forgotten as an adult about the library, but the library is so great. And when I went on the online Oakland library thing and typed in natural dyes, there were so many natural dye books and it’s like why it just blew my mind and sewing books. I’ve gotten really good sewing books. I even got the newest Named Clothing, their latest book with the patterns and all. There’s good stuff at the library y’all so do that, you know, if you’re interested, check out a book and just learn some of the concepts. And then something like avocado dyeing is a great way to start. You just like literally take your pets and skins from your avocados, store them in the freezer until you got enough and then you just like soak them in some water. And that makes dye. It’s seriously magic.

Nicole: I have an avocado sitting on my counter right now that I was going to use for dinner. So I’m like maybe now’s the time. So I’ll have to take a look at my local library. I always get inspired when people come on the podcast Mike, I’m going to try that. And I’m going to try that but this one actually see I’m literally going to eat an avocado later. So it seems like something that’s doable. Maybe I’ll dive in.

Ada: I think Ella told me in her DMs cause I was like how did you get that many avocados like I can’t possibly eat that many that fast? And you told me to like just store it in your freezer. Oh my god and Shilyn, also part of the podcast team, was talking about dyeing on one of our last like informal kind of get togethers and was like, Oh, you can store them in the freezer. Brilliant. That doesn’t go bad. I mean, you know, make sure your freezer’s clean and all that. Aside from the Indigo that you’re growing, are there any other organic items you want to try dying with next?

Ella: Yeah, I’ve got hibiscus in my cupboard that I’ve used for tea. Like I make this hibiscus iced tea all the time. And I saw recently that that makes a gorgeous dye. So I want to try that and then not like something from food scraps like those things but madder root is another thing that makes beautiful vibrant reds and I got some of that at my local thrift store. I don’t know why anyone would give up madder root dye but I scored. And there’s a really interesting one called cochineal that I learned about and this is so strange y’all but listen to this. It’s like cochineal are these little bugs that are found on certain cactuses and they make the most incredible, they dry them so sorry everyone this isn’t vegan, but they dry them and they make the most incredible like beautiful reds and pinks and I got some of that as well. So I’m really curious to try some beautiful things with that. Natural dyeing is so great and I love that it’s not toxic and it’s a beautiful way to kind of have your your clothes and dye them yourself. Especially if you have clothes that are stained, you know and you want to overdyed that or just like I don’t have anything white because I’ve dyed everything. So if you have boring like clothes you want to upgrade.

Ada: Or maybe they’re a little stained because you’re kind of a messy eater which is my constant problem. But also I tried madder route a few months ago. And it actually, I mean, I need a bigger pot. Let’s be honest, I was using my like largest pot that I use for hot pot at home in my kitchen. And it was probably not big enough for this long sleeve jacket that I made, shacket, for home. But it came out the most beautiful shades of rusty red, orangey pink. And I think it depends on the madder root and the grade that you get, but also how long you’re leaving it in there. And like the heat and all that stuff. But it was a great introduction to anybody who is looking to get into dyeing. If you can find it at a thrift store, all the more power to you. nI found mine on Etsy.

Ella: Also great. That’s awesome. I have to matter root soon because that shade sounds incredible.

Nicole: I have a follow up question. So it’s kind of what Ada was saying about using her her pots that she cooks out of…

Ada:  I washed it! I washed it before and after. 

Nicole: I believe you. It’s natural dyes, right? So we don’t have to worry about eating out of the same pot. But what are like a few things that you recommend someone who’s interested in trying natural dyeing, procure, like do you want to just get a separate pot or apart from the organic items that you talked about?

Ella: Yeah, so there’s like a whole science to it. And I’m like, I don’t always follow like the real people who are pros, like they’re very specific about what you use, and you don’t use I’m kind of iffy like, I don’t always follow the like, quote rules. But you generally want like a pretty big pot, because you want the fabric to be able to flow fairly freely. So I thrifted a massive, like can fit a turkey in it type pot, and in general, I think you do kind of want to keep them separate, just because pots do tend to like absorb some of the like foods or you know, whatever you’re cooking, like the pot does absorb a little bit of it. And so depending on what you’re doing, that may change actually the results of your color. And then there’s also specifics on like, what kind of pot you want, I believe I went for I think aluminum and stainless steel are really well recommended. So I think mine is I think one of those that that does also matter a little bit too. But outside of that, it’s like I have a separate dye pot and dye tongs. And then just like your organic dye ingredients. And then also there’s a couple things that you know people there’s a million ways to pretreat and soak the fabrics beforehand to get them prepped for dying. One of them is an ingredient called washing soda that you use to like prewash the fabric to really just like it’s basically a deep cleaning, you scour the fabric, that’s what it’s called. And you can either buy washing soda premade, or I actually found out that you can take baking soda and put it in the oven and just heat it and it changes the chemical composition to be a different type of pH that is washing soda. So I didn’t even go out of my way to find washing soda. I just had baking soda already at home and I did that and but you could buy baking soda. And then also alum is another pretreatment that you can optionally use to make the dyes brighter and more beautiful. And that’s something you can also find at your grocery store. It’s like in the spices aisle, people use it for canning.

Nicole: It all seems accessible, mostly.

Ella: Finding the pot is the hardest part.

Ada: I was gonna say like that sounds like… for anyone who’s into cooking you need like a stock pot that is tall. Don’t go with the seven quart pot that I went. Because that is not large enough. I’m curious, since you’ve dyed so many different things and made so many different things. Is there any one piece that is your favorite so far?

Ella: Yeah, I love the avocado dyes the most. It’s like for anyone who hasn’t seen this, it’s like a peachy pinky coral. If you do it, right. It can also be a lot paler than that depending on, you know, the level, the pH level of your water and all sorts of different things. But I’ve made a couple of tops that I did, or I dyed the fabric and then I made a couple tops out of them. And they’re like, absolutely my favorites. And you know, another thing about natural dyes as well is that they actually if you wash them, right, they shouldn’t fade in the wash, but they do fade naturally over time with sun exposure. And that’s kind of another part of the process, you know, it’s natural, and it naturally fades and the color changes and evolves. And I think that’s a beautiful part of it. And so like my black bean dyed fabric already started kind of a periwinkle blue, and it’s already turning into like a vaguely grayish purple II color. So they change, they change over time. 

Nicole: Okay, so that really sounds amazing. And I think a lot of our listeners might be interested in starting up. So thanks for giving us the tips, hopefully at least to get started. And you know what, like, I am a fan of the public Library. So if that’s if that’s a good place to start, then I’m a big proponent of that as well. So are there any other fiber arts that you’ve tried or that you’d like to get into? 

Ella: I did macrame for a while as well like knitting and crochet like before sewing like it’s a miracle that sewing stuck for me because I am like a serial crafter. I pick something up, I go full tilt, I drop it two months later and never look at it again. One of the things, right, yeah, one of the things in the closet behind me is this big laundry basket full of all these yarns, because I was so excited, like so like, you know, like I collect it just like we collect fabric, you’re so excited by the possibilities. And then I don’t know, I should probably donate those or sell them. I’m really curious to learn more about quilting, especially with so many scraps and I want to find more ways to use them and not waste them. So that’s something I want to do at some point is definitely quilting. And then as I mentioned, I’m trying to learn soon sashiko embroidery, I’m excited about that.

Nicole: Very cool. And I think quilting is one of those things as well for me that I feel like I was not interested in at all until I started to meet people who, for lack of a better way to put it like I related to more that were also into quilting. But yeah, Ada’s got a quilt behind her right now.

Ada: First truly quilted piece of anything because I had done I guess it’s called like a single piece. Quilters are gonna get mad at me.

Nicole: Sorry quilters!

Ada: It’s like single piece quilting. So I did one of those as a baby blanket for a friend and then sent that off and had a decent experience with it. Like I didn’t hate the quilting aspect of it. So then I tried piecing together this Redwood Coast Quilt, Bhiravi who is pretty close to you, actually, Ella because they think she’s in Berkeley. This pattern is great. I just didn’t anticipate how many pieces there would be. And it felt like, you know how sometimes you get to a pattern and you’re like, I’m almost at the end, there’s like only two more pages of this PDF, and then you realize that there’s actually like 10 steps in the two pages. That is how I felt finishing up and that is not any fault of the pattern or Bhiravi I still highly recommend it. I just was not prepared as a garment sewist for like how many pieces would be involved because you know, like pants, you’re like, front pieces back pieces waistband, it’s like five pieces. This there’s like 100 piece on here.

Ella: That is intimidating. That’s pretty intimidating. Hurrah that you’ve even made it this far.

Ada: I have three more months to go before the baby who this is destined for is gonna see it. And as other folks have pointed out, Aarti on the podcast team, especially because she is a quilter, the baby won’t know if the seams aren’t straight.

Ella: That is true. I love that. 

Ada: And like neither will the parents probably hopefully, they’re not taking a ruler into it.

Ella: Quilting it seems one of those things where it’s like before I was, you know, kind of immersed in the indie powder world seeing like other young sewists, what they’re up to, like, there seems it seems. And I felt this way about sewing too, that there are so few resources for people like us who are interested in these things. Like one of the reasons I wanted to start my channel too and like kind of curate like indie and fresh and kind of modern feeling resources is because the things that are out there for sewists and I think for quilters as well are just like very much like for a certain demographic of person who you know, is a little older than us and you know, has a different style. And not that, you know, they’re probably sewing for their grandkids and not that that’s a problem because those people need resources. And I’m so glad that exists. But like, it was so hard to find resources that felt young and fresh and modern. And like even that featured people of color. And that was so strange at first. And yeah, and I just wanted to find a way to kind of celebrate and curate when we did find those cool things. And now I’m glad to see now that I’m a little bit more immersed in it, that there are lots of young people who are creating resources for each other and designs and you just have to dig a little deeper and be deep on the internet.

Nicole: It’s a lot of it is the resources, the loudest voices are they tend to be the oldest and the whitest. And so I am neither. Well, you know, old is relative, but like, you know, they so I mean that. But um, so I appreciate the work that you’re doing and sharing and promoting these unique and fresh, they don’t even have to be young but you know just something new and different because that’s how I get excited about stepping into a space like potentially quilting. And when we talk to Bhiravi or when I met Aarti I was like I have never really seriously considered this is something that like I said, like I related to so it’s very cool that you’re keeping an eye out and sharing those resources with everyone. So just turning a little bit from sewing I do want to talk about your your day job. So you work at the Red Tab Foundation as part of Levi Strauss. So what is it like working for a garment company and have you found any inspiration or tips from the industry apart from your previous position? Where you dabbled in natural dyeing back then.

Ella: Yeah, so the Red Tab Foundation is an emergency hardship Assistance Fund. So we help Levi’s and are using some factory workers and anyone who works for the company who like emergencies, like if they’re about to be evicted from their house or something like that, we’ll do cash grants. So it’s very different from clothing production, unfortunately, and I have been like starving to meet some designers and some people who are in that side of the business, but I started the job in the pandemic, so I haven’t gotten as deep as I someday know that I will. They promised me a tour of the Innovation Lab, I’m waiting. In my dream scenario, I’m going to meet some people who will give me beautiful scraps and like rivets and back patches and I’m like, I’m waiting. But it has been really cool to hear a little bit more about the influences. And also to learn a little bit more about I will say, I don’t know a ton about like the technical production in factories that happens and how you know a lot about the design process but I do know a lot about like sustainable practices in the garment production space, you know how to better treat factory workers and the people who are making the clothing and so that’s been really interesting and you know, in my personal shopping and kind of what to look for when people talk about how companies treat their garment workers and how things are produced. Look for Fairtrade organic cotton, you know, things like that, wherever, wherever you can, as consumers. Look for companies that have like worker wellbeing programs and such. To get to your point as well like another one of the favorite examples I’ve had that have affected my sewing personally was like, when I was really starting to get into machine embroidery, I bought a machine that’s a combo sewing and embroidery machine. And like I don’t even call myself an embroiderer because machine embroidery is cheating. It’s cheating. You buy a design, you put it on a USB, stick it on the machine, you hit go, you know? So it’s not like I like really do much except for choosing the colors and the placement, which you know, that could be considered art. I don’t know, I feel like I’m cheating. I still enjoy it. And Levi’s has tailor shops all over the country. So they’ll do like custom embroidery, like whatever design you want. They’ll embroider on something. And so when I was first getting into it, I had reached out and was successful in finding like the head embroiderer at the San Francisco shop. The master tailor, I think I said he was called and was just like, Oh my gosh, how do you stabilize your fabric? What type of machines do you use? Like what kind of thread like all these things totally nerded out on him. And he gave me some really helpful and cool advice how the pros do it, which is fairly different than like my cheater machine. So like not all of it was relevant. And it was it was a lot of fun. And so some day soon, I’ll get to learn more about, like how they actually make the designs and stuff and how the sourcing works for the materials.

Ada: So somewhat related, unrelated questions since you work for the Red Tab Foundation, which is part of Levi’s and Levi’s is known for jeans. Are you interested in making jeans at all? Have you tried it and does being kind of in that part specific part of the fashion and textile industry make you more interested in jeans as a garment.

Ella: I haven’t tried making jeans. I feel like that’s where I draw the line of like, where they might get mad at me. I’m gonna leave that to the pros. It’s there’s this funny thing to like, if you ever you know, hear people who work at a clothing company, but you’re kind of expected to wear that clothing when you show up to work. And so I’m going to show up in my me mades because, that’s that. But if I showed up in like my own jeans, I don’t know if they get mad, but I’m probably gonna just keep buying. But I do hope I get some denim scraps and I have said had some fun like upcycling some denim that I already had into different projects like during the pair of Jason’s jeans into like this cool tote bag that we then get used to his sister as a gift and some fun projects like that. So I have, I’ll probably more upcycling with denim because, you know, we make like it’s really sturdy jeans. And that’s one of the benefits to denim is that it can be used like and upcycled so many times because it’s like a forever material in a way.

Nicole: One of the last times I spoke to my mother-in-law, she lives in England. And she’s been sewing all her life. She said that she has a pile of denim just like that she had sourced from people who are giving them away or sending them to the charity shop. And you know, some are super old. Some are kind of tatty, but like she’s gonna make stuff with it because of the like the integrity of the material. Like you just you know, you can turn it into something else and reuse it. So she’s, she’s pumped.

Ada: Am I turning into your mother in law? I basically have a pile of those too.

Nicole: Yeah, you’re basically the same.

Ada: Right. You know, me and an old English lady. I’m not kidding, I have like four or five pairs down here because Vincent is a crotch seam buster, as am I, but he did not enjoy the patches that I put in a few times. He was like, fine, like you can just have these make something with them. So in sitting on those I was thinking of making slippers because they are so it’s kind of it’s my machine can tolerate it. I wanted to make like the base and kind of like an espadrille style esque thing because I think it would be really cool.

Ella: It would be really cool.

Ada: Right? Yeah. might require more handwork?

Ella: Yeah, probably. I also heard of someone recently who said denim was the ultimate hat fabric because it’s so stiff so like a thick denim interface was like if you’ve so you’re unhappy they won’t like flop like a lot of fabric hats did. I haven’t tried that thought I saw someone shared that.

Nicole: Like denim as the outer fabric or like the inner?

Ella: I guess it’s like kind of like the inner you know, yeah, like almost like batting or something like between.

Ada: The only hat I’ve made is waxed canvas. And it itself is like pretty stable. Anyways, so you mentioned at the beginning of the episode that you are getting married in May, so we all can’t wait to see updates on your wedding dress. And I know you mentioned the rehearsal dinner dress, but you’re also making is that the only dress you’re making? Are you making multiple outfits and kind of what does that whole project look like for you?

Ella: So we’re doing a small destination wedding which means I have like a four day event and I’m like, well I’m nothing better to do maybe I’ll make four days of outfits. I don’t know. Right now I’ve just got that rehearsal dinner dress. I tried on poufy dresses and I was like I never thought I would like a poufy dress but I’m going to make that one it’s like a backup. Then I am also making the wedding dress it’s been such a fun project and you know I have this like this experience I don’t think a lot of people have where I’m like, it’s just another dress. I think there’s this like American, maybe capitalism driven thing, where like people epitomized their wedding dress or their whole lives and you have to be the most beautiful you’ve ever been. Like I’m just making another cool dress but this time I get to justify using really expensive materials for like the first time ever. And so I’m having a lot of fun with that. I tried on dresses in the shops to get a sense of like what kind of style I liked and what suited you know my body and I learned to like you know couture placement techniques like where you should place the straps to frame your collarbone and stuff like that from trying on dresses. I was going to self drafted but like the style I’m going for I realized I don’t know if I really need to right now I’m thinking about like a sweetheart cut up top, maybe strapless and then kind of fitted through the hips and then like a trumpet kind of flowing out at the bottom. So fitted through the bottom of my hips and then open at the bottom and I procured some like gorgeous white silk and I have my eye on some specific like gorgeous gorgeous beaded fabric. So the rehearsal dinner dress is also like practicing these into the fabric. Before I cut into like the really good fabric.

Nicole: It’s like a rehearsal… in more than one way.

Ella: Yeah, it is. That’s a good point. And so yeah, I should probably start around, I’ve got like seven months, I’ve got enough time to still like, I’ll make a couple muslins and then I’ll just whip up a dress and it’s been it’s been so much fun. It’s like, I’ve looked at every YouTuber who’s made her own wedding dress, like there’s such fun stories and you’re so proud of it, you know, and it’s gonna take forever, like beading. Like I might have to do a lot of hand stitching. I don’t know, but it’s like, this is my hobby. You know, like, I don’t mind if it takes forever. It’s like the way some people build miniature houses. I’ll just like, you know, hand stitch my dress.

Ada: I love it. I’m in the same boat, but my wedding. Hopefully it’s not until next August and I only have to make a tank top which you know, like, maybe it’ll spiral. We have a year to get there.

Ella: You got a time you should get on the train, make your dress sounds fun.

Ada: So we’re also doing destination. Again, I hope, because this venue like questionable. But, yeah, like you said it’s three or four days you have multiple outfit changes. I think if you’re into garment sewing, you’re obviously into clothing. And so for me, it was like, I’ve got the dress and then I’ve got like some other outfits planned. But you’re right. There’s more that could be done. There’s plenty of time, right? No panic sewing here.

Ella: Yeah, absolutely. Honestly, like, I don’t even I don’t even care so much about wearing the dress so much as I care about the process of making it. It’s just like another challenge. You know, like, a good challenge. And I don’t have any occasions to wear nice things like what am I ever going to make a nice dress, I don’t go anywhere. So it’s my like one chance to use the nice fabric and like have people that want to see a cool dress I made and like yeah, it’s less about wearing it. And it’s more about the fun. That comes with like a big challenge.

Ada: Love it.

Nicole: That sounds really special. I got married a while ago so and way before I learned how to sew, but I have thought about like, I would love to have done something like that. I saw my wedding dress and I feel, I felt a little bit like you lol or I was like it’s just another dress. So I was just like I found one it was reasonably priced. I look great. And then I’m like, great. But, and I don’t have regrets. The only would be that like if I could somehow have learned to sew before is that I would have done it myself like because I think I would really, really enjoy that. So maybe for like an anniversary or something. I’ll take apart my wedding dress and like use the material and remake it. But that’s very exciting for you. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. You’ve got time and so we look forward to following along with your journey there as well. So I’m going to close this out by asking you a very important question. Can you tell us a little bit about your dog whose name is Kitten?

Ella  Yes, Kitten. The dog is my quarantine puppy and my most important sewing advocate. He is a mini golden doodle. We got him right when the pandemic started he shows up on my on my Insta a lot. He’s just like whenever I’m up until 1 am sewing like he’s there by my side keeping me company like he’s on the ground with me when I am cutting fabric on the floor. And he has this amazing attribute where he sees the you know the fabric and the paper and he’ll never step on it like he just naturally knows not to walk into the sewing zone. It’s magic! I didn’t teach him that. So it’s great. And with all my scraps sometimes I’ll make like a matching bandana for Kit. I’m like totally like cringy person who like I love using those scraps. And Kit and I have like six or seven matching outfits. It’s cool.

Nicole: So first of all, that is a magic skill, because Zizou, my dog is always like, in my business whenever I’m anywhere near the ground.

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: Like he loves. He loves fabric. 

Ada: Mochi loves fabric. He just likes to go and sit on it.

Nicole: Yeah. And I think maybe he likes the sound, my dog likes the sound of like his paws on paper. Like, ah get off that took me forever to tape. So there’s that. Fantastic Kit. Well done. And then Ada and I were talking about like making matching outfits with our dogs is like  Season Two…

Ada: Yes. 

Ella: Yeah!

Nicole: I am totally that type of dog parent. Like I’ve had my dog. He just turned 13 and I’ve had him since he was 10 weeks old. So we’re like this. I always, people in the podcast may have heard me say this already. But I’ve had him longer than I’ve known my husband. So we know where the hierarchy is in our family.

Ella: The number one. Your number one advocate.

Ada: I just can’t believe… like can, Kitten can teach Mochi not to sit on fabric.

Ella: I don’t, I don’t know. It’s a beautiful, it’s beautiful skill. We also we named him Kitten because it’s funny. Like I just think It’s like hysterical to name a dog after their opposite. Like, that’s just my sense of humor. I think that’s so funny. But it’s good. It’s funny to see like how people reacted to a dog named Kitten, you know, it’s either they like laugh and like, oh, you’re my person or they’re like what, like so confused, which is also funny.

Ada: I love it. Thank you so much for joining us today Ella, we so enjoyed getting to know you and Kitten better. before we sign off. Can you remind our listeners where they can find you and keep up with your work?

Ella: Yeah, so I’m mainly just on Instagram at HandmadeMillennial, all all just one word.

Ada: And we will have a link to Ella’s profile in the show notes and on our Instagram as well. Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast next week, we will be digging into the topic of mindful fabric selection and we walk you through the refurbished usage and waste that the fashion industry creates as a result of our overconsumption. We mentioned that on an individual level, the best way to have positive environmental and social impact is to try to pick quote unquote sustainable fabrics. We try to demonstrate why this is easier said than done by looking at mainstream fabrics and their pros and cons. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give a little back to our currently all volunteer team and guests and our team works so hard to provide you with new content each week. The link to our Ko-fi page can be found in the show notes on our website and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram at Asian Sewist Collective that’s one word Asian Sewist Collective and you can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends we would also appreciate it if you could rate review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, pocket casts on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. All the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website that’s AsianSewistCollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on a future episode at AsianSewistCollective@gmail.com.

Nicole: This episode is brought to you by your co hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Aarti Ravi produced by Ada Chen and me and edited by Henry Wong. Video Editing was also provided by me Nicole Angeline. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.