Witches’ Brew

Taking rust and dyes to magical levels
At the age of 17 I began to study the traditions of the witch’s craft. One of the aspects that interested me the most was herbalism which involved medicinal uses as well as magically charged oils, and incense with plants and tree saps. From a very young age I remember the magic of seeds with my father and the cycle of growth that every year brought in our garden.  
 
From this foundation my introduction to natural dyes was the moment that everything started to rush together.  I was in college in 2001 at the university of Washington studying sculpture and working with metal as my primary medium when I discovered a world of unlimited potential in the fiber department.  Rusted nails on silk…….  What a beautiful thing!  I could hardly contain myself.  All I wanted to do was go to my space and create.  And so I did.  There was no real instruction but a list of ingredients that made the magic happen: metal (rust), fiber, water, salt and sometimes vinegar.  The soft subtle nature of the silk and the fluid movement of the rust as it crept through the warp and weft leaving its mark was pure spirit.  So with this, I began my love affair with rust and plant dyes. 
From years of experimentation I developed new techniques that would have never existed unless I was creating bodies of conceptual work. This work flows through me from the universe and I am so very grateful to be a messenger and a student and a now a teacher.  My influences come from traditional practices of Japan, India, and Native America. My colors come from the earth.  An alchemy of iron, plants, insects, salts, and fruits; in which I harvest locally as much as I can. 
 
In 2007 I ventured into fashion.  It seemed a natural choice and I felt I could work conceptually and still create a serious collection of wearable undergarments.  It was an interesting experiment and I loved pushing myself to create new patterns, colors and styles all with natural dyes and rust. I started asking:  Who would not want to wear plant dyed underwear to protect our most delicate parts?  Why are consumers unwilling to spend a little extra money on heirloom quality instead of cheaply made and mass-produced?  This kind of questioning in my mind is part of what compelled me to use repurposed items for fashion collections that may never be wearable on the streets but draw attention to consumer waste and our societies obsession with ‘more is better’.   
 
What truly inspires me is earth, air, fire, water, and all the moments in between.  The movement of the earth gives the momentum for our cyclic nature and to live with that movement is natural and yet it takes our undivided attention.  
 
When I begin to design, be it visual art or pieces for a collection there is always a taste of what came before.  Everything builds towards the next piece and future collections are always on the back burner.  For example in my 2016 collection- Painted Hills- I created several color ways based off of a pattern I developed years before (Hawks Eye).  I now had the time to understand this process better and wanted to make it colorful with different combinations of barks and homemade extracts that change hues with the iron that I love to introduce. I also began creating small silk panels for gallery work in an accidental experiment and loved the results so much I try to incorporate it in most of my pieces today.  This process involves small doses of concentrated extracts that the silks drink up and the result is brilliant colors with ombre like variations.  What I really wanted to do was try to make it on a larger scale so I created a panel for this collection called Xylem.
 
The location and styling for a photo-shoot is something I let come to me in the wee hours of the night and somehow every time it comes.  For this one I wanted to visit a sacred site in Oregon, my native home, called the Painted Hills.  I had only seen a few pictures so I knew the general look of the backdrop I was about to work with.  But, when we arrived I was so overwhelmed with the beauty.  This beauty was color that nature splashed on every surface.  I could not help but notice that my work looked exactly like the little mounds in color hue and abstract pattern.  In these moments I feel blessed, complete and everyone involved is filled with this magic. 
 
Currently, I am making textile collections that feature scarves and pillows.  I spend many hours trying to become a better communicator so I can understand my footsteps, which led me here.  In doing this I can formulate ways to teach my processes and begin to unfold the essence of who I am. 
 
To learn more visit www.riowrenn.com.
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