Indigo, madder root, cutch, Osage orange, cochineal. Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management (TATM) studio and lab technician Bailey Knight uses these natural dyes to create her vibrant, textural fiber art, which ranges from hand-printed garments and wearable art to large wall pieces.
“Color in the human life has always been a complex and prevalent need – it evokes emotion, and has created associations specific to cultures and individuals,” said Knight on her website. “In most of history, color has originated from naturally occurring materials. When synthetic dyes were industrialized in the 19th century, the use of natural dyes dissipated in a society quickly industrializing. In a world of fast fashion and mass production, we have been blinded by cheap consuming and often forget how the earth has shaped the things we wear and the textiles we use.”
An artist from a young age, she was drawn to textiles early. She realized that when she painted, she was mainly interested in the ways she could create texture on the canvas. It was this attraction to texture that sparked her pursuit of a career in textiles.
“My grandfather worked in textiles,” she said. “He designed some yarns [working near] Shelby, North Carolina, so it was really kind of sweet when I started realizing that I was falling into textiles.”
Knight graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Art + Design (emphasis on fiber arts and fashion) from the College of Design at NC State. She competed in student-organized fashion show Art2Wear in her junior year with her collection, “MycoLogic,” which investigated the form and color of mushrooms native to the Piedmont area of North Carolina.
“The theme was ‘Obsession,’ and I really dived into my obsession with texture,” she said. “So I kind of talked to that [as well as my] obsession with the Earth. That’s why I used strictly natural fibers and natural dyes, and all of my forms were inspired by mushrooms, because I found mushrooms to be a very fun, bright, textural thing that the Earth creates. All I want is for my work to be fun and bright and that’s what my collection was. It was fun and bright, kind of clunky and not [traditionally] elegant — but elegant in some of its own ways.”
In the fall of her senior year, Knight traveled to Florence, Italy for a semester abroad at the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute, where she studied Italian, art history and fashion. She also took a road trip to Wales, where she completed a work-stay through WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), an organization connecting visitors with opportunities to live and work on sustainable farms in 132 countries around the world.
After graduation, she interned for the summer at Penland School of Craft, a craft education center in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She worked in the textile studio, which taught weaving, surface design and sewing. She credits the experience with teaching her much of what she knows about equipment, as well as how to effectively and safely manage studios and labs.
“The best summer of my life was the summer of 2017,” she said. “I made a lot of really close friends. All the social [elements] I missed out on in college because I was working too hard, I caught up on at Penland. I got to rest and work with lovely people. I lived in a little farmhouse down the street, so I got to walk up the road every morning and look at the beautiful fog over the mountains.” She returned to the school for a workshop this past summer, and will complete a residency this winter at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
After her summer at Penland, Knight worked for the City of Raleigh as studio coordinator for its Pop-up Studios, in which community centers are transformed into art studios for two months at a time, offering free art classes for children and adults. She was simultaneously the city’s camp coordinator for its Art4Fun Camp, a summer camp for children ages 6 to 12.
In 2019, she joined the Wilson College of Textiles as the studio and lab technician for TATM. In this capacity, she helps students and faculty with projects on a range of machinery, and conducts maintenance on these machines, including sewing machines, laser cutters, embroidery machines, screen printing equipment, floor looms, a 3D weaving machine and more.
She enjoys working with all the machines, but her favorites are the pleating machine — “I really like the noises that it makes, depending on the settings” — and the industrial dobby loom, which is “just like hand weaving except that it does all of it for you, which I just think is cool…It’s kind of the in-between of hand weaving and Jacquard weaving.”
Knight also teaches indigo dyeing workshops at the NC State Crafts Center, where she worked during school as a front desk attendant.
“Honestly, dyeing with indigo, all you need is the indigo itself and fructose crystals — which is just the sugar that’s made from fruit — and pickling lime, which you can get at Ace Hardware or Food Lion,” she said. “So it’s very accessible, which is what draws me to teaching it, because anybody can do it at home — you don’t even need a stove.”
When she’s not working, she can often be found at her studio space at Bonded Llama Studios, a studio cooperative in downtown Raleigh. She recently completed several large wall pieces for her show, “Touched Every Thread,” with weaver Natalia Ehrlich at Sertoma Arts Center. The show runs through Oct. 29, and Knight will be teaching a workshop on natural indigo dyeing on the afternoon of Oct. 27 in conjunction with the exhibition.
“Almost everything is dyed with indigo,” she said. “They’re really just explorations of texture, and they’re meant to give a feeling of comfort and home. The nature that they’re soft pieces really does that. For instance, one of my pieces is pretty much a big quilt. A lot of my work right now is referring to places that give me a lot of comfort and relaxation; you’ll see the mountains in some of my pieces. I am not a person who relaxes very much at all, so I’m giving myself that imagery in my work.”
Her next project will likely center on weaving and the interplay of different natural fibers and dyes.
“I plan on spending my time at Arrowmont weaving,” she said. “One thing I am trying to explore is the way different types of natural fibers take color, and I think I’d like to see what it’s like weaving with different things like cotton and wool in the same cloth, so that when I dye it, the cotton and the wool takes the color differently. These natural fibers, they all have different properties, and when you combine them in the cloth like that, they could really do anything…Weaving can be punk rock.”
Bailey Knight’s website: https://fiberessence.squarespace.com/
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