Campus Spotlight: Culler Studio/Sara Ashford

Culler Studio is the work of textile and dye artist Sara Ashford, located in the south studio of Building O. Sara was among the first partners of TwispWorks, procuring and renovating her studio almost thirteen years ago when the campus was still in its infancy.

Sara’s space is exploding with inspiration, packed to the gills with patterns, trinkets, tools, and textures. Vials and jars filled with vivid color line the walls, vibrant paintings and radiant fabric hang from every surface available. A garden of indigo awaits just outside her south window.

In her kitchen, four vats of deep turquoise liquid are continuously fermenting, a process that requires her to stir every day. The liquid will soon become a solid concentration of immensely valuable natural blue dye. Another massive open container is filled to the brim with the dry leaves that will meet a similar fate.

“I’m trying to get 15 pounds of dry indigo leaves, which is hard, they’re so light. I need that much for a Japanese technique I’m trying out this year.” A sentiment she shares a lot: always experimenting, tweaking, and testing.

Sara has been at this for over twenty years. She discovered her passion for color, pigment, and dyes when her children were in their pre-teens. Already working with textiles, weaving, and crocheting for some time, it wasn’t until she happened upon a natural dye class at a weaving conference in Coopville, taught by dye master and UNESCO award winner Michele Wipplinger, that she found her inspiration.

“I just saw the colors it could make, I couldn’t believe it.” Michele and Sara would go on to work together on many projects; Michele acted as a mentor and guide for many techniques that Sara uses today.

When Sara got started, the natural dye community was small, having only a few key members carrying the practice and a handful of folks who were interested in learning. Over the last ten years or so, says Sara, the practice is becoming increasingly popular with young people consistently requesting and signing up for mentorship. Sara has taught and mentored many people in her tenure at TwispWorks, having a handful of ILC interns each year and a steady flow of locals and travelers looking for guidance.

“People want to connect with the land and the earth, learn how to make things for themselves. Use their hands,” she said.

Sara is also a student herself, always studying new horizons of her craft. Earth pigment painting, an early 1900’s Japanese style, became a serious passion of Sara’s after taking a series of classes with John Marshall, an expert in Japanese textiles. The technique requires homemade soy milk as a protein binder, allowing the pigments to adhere to fabric, specifically silk. The work Sara has produced using this technique has been featured in many publications and galleries, namely a special design show in Beijing in 2018 where she represented the USA as a dye artist.

Looking to the future, Sara is continuing to take interns from the ILC. She’s also guiding another ILC student in the creation of a dye garden at Classroom in Bloom, helping select the correct plants, and eventually instructing on the process of extracting their dye. She might even teach an adult class this spring. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that she does!

If you’d like to get in contact with Sara Ashford, you can reach her at her email: cullerstudio@gmail.com.

Thank you so much for the light you bring to our campus and our community Sara. We can’t wait to see what you make next!