Reviving the Ancient art of Indigo

Kristine Vejar’s passion for textiles shows at her store, A Verb for Keeping Warm.


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Vejar with indigo

Lori Eanes

Kristine Vejar’s passion for textiles started when she was a kid, knitting and sewing in her grandmother’s Midwestern living room with the neighbors. “I had a tumultuous childhood, and sitting with the ladies calmed me down,” she says. “I’d found my tribe.”

From those humble beginnings, Vejar went to California and took an undergraduate degree in art history—which included a research project studying the embroidery techniques of the nomadic, camel-herding Rabari people in India. From there she discovered the art of natural fiber dyeing, and in 2006 she was back in the states, experimenting with her first line of naturally dyed yarns and fibers in her California kitchen.

“Dyeing intrigued me,” she says. “As a maker, I wanted to get in there and experience it for myself.”

Now she owns a shop in Oakland, A Verb for Keeping Warm, where she sells yarn, fiber, spinning supplies, and dyes and offers classes. The shop also boasts a dye studio and an organic garden where Vejar grows plants that she uses to make her colors.

The art of natural dyeing is an endangered one, Vejar says, especially with indigo, a plant that produces the blue color used with cotton fibers. Indigofera tinctoria was domesticated in India and is one variety used for the dye; Vejar has one in the shop’s garden.

“Even though we don’t have quite the right climate for it here in California, we’ve managed to keep it going for seven years,” she says. Since indigo isn’t water-soluble, it must go through a chemical change, called reduction, in order to release the dye. This process removes oxygen from the dye bath and converts the indigo into “white indigo.” When the fabric is lifted from the dye bath, it combines with oxygen in the air and turns blue.

“Indigo is alive,” Vejar says. “Using it creates contemporary artifacts that represent so much history.”

Why her shop’s name? Because words like spinning, dyeing, knitting, felting, and weaving describe the ways people have tried to keep warm over the centuries, and Vejar wants to inspire a new generation of textile crafters. “We have to wear things to protect ourselves,” she says. “My hope is that I can help people see the beauty and meaning in handmade textiles—and naturally dyed yarn is a great place to start.”

A Verb for Keeping Warm, 6328 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, 510-595-8372, www.AVerbForKeepingWarm.com.

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