We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica Unsell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessica, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born and raised in a log home in Brecksville, Ohio. Brecksville is very close to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a 32,572-acre National Park outfitted with wildlife, hiking trails, waterfalls and much more! Being a child of the 80’s, I spent a lot of time outside making mud pies and forts. I spent summers exploring the river and the winters sledding and making snowmen.
My parents were avid campers/ travelers and we spent a lot of the time on the road. By the time I was a teenager I had traveled as south as Florida, swam in the Atlantic in many beaches, seen the Blue Ridge Mountains and rode to the top of Pikes Peak (The Rocky’s) on the back of my dad’s Harley. Growing up in a location surrounded by nature and having the opportunity to camp and travel really shaped who I am today as a creative working with nature. While on camping trips, we would frequently meet other families and make friends with complete strangers. Looking back, this was probably the beginning of learning how to talk to strangers, which has helped me tremendously on my career path to make connections and relationships with people. I believe these interactions as a child helped me to have the confidence to teach workshops.
Before the internet and cell phones, we were forced to use our imagination and that really fostered the creator spirit in me. I spent a lot of my childhood “making” things, playing in trees and getting dirty. As a natural dyer, gardening and working with plants is a core part of my process. Even now, when I am gardening, I feel a strong connection to my inner child and my upbringing. Natural dyeing isn’t a glamour craft. It’s messy and dirty and takes a lot of patience and I am still being humbled by its lessons.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
The type of art I do is textile art, but more specifically Natural Dyeing. What sets me apart from other natural dyers is my background in fashion/textiles and my homegrown dye stuff. I’m fortunate enough to live in Southern California where dye gardens have a long growing season. In fact, some flowers bloom year round. Natural dyes are easily accessible online, however growing your own dye stuff is ‘next level’. This is my third year growing my own plants to use for dye. Not only do I grow my own plants, but harvest my own seed and sow from them the following spring. I also dry flowers all summer long to use during the winter months. Much like people who preserve jams and pickle foods, I preserve the summer blooms to get me through the winter. It’s a cycle of “plant, flower, preserve, save.. repeat”.
The second thing that sets me apart from others is that I’m a fashion designer by trade. I went to fashion school and have a B of A in Fine Arts and a Textile Minor. In college I specialized in floor loom weaving and I still weave till this day. My studies in textiles started in 2001 when I first began printing on silk and dyeing my own yarns for weavings. This is where I fell in love with textiles. My background in fashion and pattern making allows me to make an idea from scratch. I can design, draft, cut, sew, and dye a complete garment. I am most proud of how far I have come in this craft and most excited about what the future holds for my brand! I hope to eventually expand into a bigger space with a larger garden where I can host workshops and natural dye retreats. I would love to have a space where students can come visit the dye garden, pick their own dye stuff and learn how to dye with them.
It hasn’t been an easy road to get to where I am today. It’s taken a lot of trial and error and dedication. I usually overcome challenges by taking it one step at a time, and sometimes seeking out guidance from more experienced dyers. Natural dye has taught me many lessons but mostly lessons in patience! I would love to spread the word about natural dyes and get more people interested in this craft.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
f my best friend came to visit I would first take them to my favorite local places! Montrose is packed full of delicious restaurants and we have a farmer’s market every Sunday. I live near the foothills and there’s a lot of hiking trails near us. We would definitely visit Descanso Gardens and the waterfalls at Chantry Flats. I would also take them to Newport Beach to eat at our favorite Italian restaurant and maybe to State Street in Santa Barbara for some shopping. We would also go to the LA Zoo and the Aquarium of the Pacific. We would probably also chase down our favorite taco truck and get a lobster roll.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There’s so many people toShout Out! I would like to first shoutout my parents, for fostering creativity and never telling me that I wouldn’tmake it as an artist. To my sister, friends and other natural dyers who have always been there for me on all the wild journeys! To my husband and kids for their endlesslove. I would like to shout out toLiz Spencer (The Dogwood Dyer) for teaching me natural bundle dyeing and Southern California dye gardening; GrahamKeegan, anadvocate for natural color; Brittany Boles (of Indigo Fest) for being my indigofairy godmother, Botanical Colors (www.botanicalcolors.com)for supplying all my dye needs. I would like to thank natural dye master Michel Garcia and John Marshall for their knowledge. I would also like to thank Niki Tsukamoto, Flora Arbuthnott, Maggie Pate and Rebecca Desnos for their natural dye and pigment workshops.
Ashley Walker Photography