To look at a work by Bay Area-based textile artist Carrie Crawford is to see the influence of nature. At first, it may resemble a painting, but actually her pieces are created by layering indigo and other natural dyes of her making on raw linen and then stretching the fabric over a wooden frame. Her chosen materials and the mesmerizing organic patterns speak clearly to the physical world, but also to each other. “I appreciate how the color bonds with the fiber,” she says.
Crawford’s process begins each afternoon at her studio, where she checks on the pH balance of the dyes. “They need daily tending,” she notes. She adds to the vats any necessary ingredients (fructose, ground limestone and iron, to name a few). Each work has many steps to achieve the final composition, and the first is to give the raw linen a dye bath of motherwort. But to achieve the deep blue-black indigo hue she’s known for takes many hand dips into the liquid–sometimes 10 to 12–and letting the cloth dry in between each one. “So much patience and surrender are called for in these works,” the artist observes. It is during this stage that she creates her lyrical shapes by holding various pieces of fabric outside of the dye, while other parts are submerged in the pigment. It isn’t until the indigo has reached a dramatic richness that the pieces are rinsed, dried a final time and stretched for framing.
Crawford’s daily routine speaks of dedication to her art but getting to this point was a slow evolution. Growing up in Los Angeles, she was surrounded by art, as her mother was a ceramicist and painter. “She had a profound influence on me,” Crawford says. “She was a very playful woman. Her perspective deeply informed how I see the world.”
But Crawford didn’t see herself as talented enough to pursue a career as an artist. “I felt like I couldn’t study art because I couldn’t draw representationally,” she explains. She experimented with watercolors for a time while living in Montana, but she felt like she was outside of the art scene. “There was nothing formal about my artistic pursuits there. I wasn’t connected to the galleries,” she says.
It was when she returned with her family to Southern California to care for her ill mother that she took the plunge. “In the chaos of taking care of her, I decided to go back to school,” she says. Crawford entered a textile design program at Los Angeles’ Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and, upon graduating, pursued a career in textiles, eventually settling in the Bay Area. It wasn’t until she took an indigo-dyeing workshop that she found her true passion. “I realized how process heavy indigo is,” she says. Yet, it is the process that Crawford loves. “It brings visual life to a deeper inner experience,” the artist says. “It’s an endless quest. Each piece captures a moment of that quest. It’s really exciting to work on a design–and then another one after that.”