“Having an indigo vat is like babysitting a sleeping baby who sleeps through almost anything, but when you do wake it up you have to keep it warm, fed, and any movement you make could agitate it. Oh, did I mention that baby reeks of ammonia?” Alyx Jacobs said.
Alyx, in the simplest terms, has a kind face. The curves of her cheeks are soft and her dimples give the impression that she’s the type of person who’s always smiling. (I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her for years and know this to be the case.) Her arms and legs are decorated with all sorts of tattoos — from a rendition of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” that sits tucked away on her inner bicep to a large mum that descends intricately down her thigh and calf.
Since I’ve known her, I’ve marked Alyx in my mind as one of those people who seems to ooze a creative sense of self. After almost a year without seeing each other, we reconnected over coffee and she told me about a new obsession — indigo dyeing and quilting.
When I first met her she was still a student at the Kansas City Art Institute. She’s since graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design major + in Fiber.
“In the graphic design department, I was creating simple, yet intricate designs. Then I went down a path of taking sustainable clothing classes, which led to the natural dyeing. Kim-Eichler Messmer, my quilting teacher, is the one who introduced me to natural dyeing and quilting. I was lucky enough to show my quilts with her after I graduated,” she said.
Over time, Alyx explained she was drawn to the tactile nature of quilting.
“I always found a way to integrate thread and yarn into my paintings,” Alyx said. “My mom was so surprised when I chose graphic design as my major because she assumed I would always be working in the computer. Which wasn't completely true, but I did need more variation in my education. I signed up for a quilting elective somewhat randomly.”
Quilting, and natural dyeing lead Alyx to Athens, Georgia to study with an indigo farmer.
“I wasn't sure what to expect. Donna picked me up in her little Mazda 3, with her indigo tattoo proudly displayed on her wrist. Her house was simple and tucked back into the woods off of this road about two hours away from the airport.”
All week long, indigo was the core of all activities.
“Every day, we would wake up early to get the vats ready, whether it was making concentrated indigo to start a new vat or heating up the vats so that we could use them later in the day, indigo was always our first priority.”
Her experience in Georgia exposed her to more than just dyeing.
“The whole experience was an introduction into this beautiful, simple, wholesome life. Donna had a garden where she grows medicinal herbs for homemade tinctures and veggies. I fell in love with the lifestyle.”
Indigo dyeing is something Alyx spoke about fondly.
“Indigo dyeing is definitely a labor of love,” she said. “It really forces you to take a moment to stop and think — to be mindful of the process and how much time and effort you're putting into one piece of fabric. It is really easy to take advantage of going to a fabric store and buying any color of fabric that you desire without even batting an eyelash, but when you have to dip, wait, let oxidize, dip, wait, let oxidize, fully dry, wait more, etc. to build up color, you really appreciate the colors that you're getting because you've spent the time with each dip.”
When I look at Alyx’s quilts, I see modernity, but her hand-stitch shows a more delicate nature. Alyx’s choice of hand stitching is a tribute to the slow nature of indigo dyeing, and the long history of indigo. The traditional style of Japanese quilting she practices is called Sashiko. Sashiko is a traditional way Japanese farmers would mend their work jackets. Indigo is also traditionally used to overdye fabrics throughout time in the Japanese culture. Her deliberate use of these small white stitches takes time and love to hold the layers of indigo-dyed linen fabric together.
Alyx does add a touch of modern to her quilts. During her time with Donna, she explored a new idea: screen-printing with indigo dye — an art that hasn’t been fully explored.
I asked her what was next; what were her long term plans? With her dimples showing in full force, she smiled about a recent wedding proposal and a new last name, telling me not to worry that he fully supports her blue-dyed hands. Beyond that, she was happy not to have an answer.
“This is always an interesting question,” she said. “I didn't know the answer to it when I was a lost high schooler going into art school, and now that I've graduated from college, I still don't necessarily know. People have responded very well to my quilts and it makes me so happy to just have people interested in them. I am currently working as an admissions counselor for KCAI. In this position, I get to travel the country and talk to young artists about their future in art, and that is what I love to be doing. Luckily, quilts are very easy projects to travel with!”
See more of Alyx's work at here.