Designer Spotlight: Upstate

Oct 23 2013 Filed in: Designer Spotlight

It’s tempting to thank American hippies, psychedelic rock, and Rit Dye, god bless it, for bringing us the magnificence of tie dye, but the Japanese were in on the act way before the Dead got a hold of it. The Japanese textile art of shibori dates back to the 8th century, when artists began dyeing cloth using several methods that included binding, twisting, folding, and compressing to create an array of patterns and textures. Making it modern, and wholly theirs, are Astrid Chastka and Kalen Kaminski of Upstate, who discovered shibori through a friend and immediately set out to learn everything they could about it, a process that included watching countless YouTube videos, outfitting their Brooklyn studio with a bunch of buckets, and endless experimentation that continues to this day. Through there are infinite ways to dye by shibori, Astrid and Kalen call primarily on arashi shibori, in which the cloth is wrapped around a pole, then scrunched and dyed, and itajime shibori, during which cloth is sandwiched between two pieces of wood or glass. What started with some scarves for friends has happily evolved into a full line of ready to wear, pillows, and bedding (including the very exciting Upstate for Covet + Lou Exclusive Throw available in November). Each item is made by hand and one of a kind. Just like you.

 

You’ve adapted shibori to make it your own. How so?

We use materials for “resists” that are different from those used by traditional shibori. A “resist” is the item that the fabric is pressed against to create pressure, and our patterns result from how this pressure allows or prevents dye from spreading. For itajime, we use paint shims, laser cut plexiglass, wooden spoons, and wooden shapes routed by a CNC mill. For arashi we use plastic tubing rather than a wood dowel. We’ve also tweaked the way we bind and fold the fabric so that the patterns are a little more otherworldly than geometric, though we do make more geometric patterns as well. 

It looks messy.

We make the most mess experimenting with different ways to make dye art on fabric. But pretty much anything you do with dye gets messy. One time the shelf holding all the dye in our studio fell down. Powder dye was spilled all over the floor and when you use water to clean it up, you activate the dye and color everything! We've learned to embrace our mess rather than to fight it, because mess leads to discovery.

Tell us about your inspiration for the Covet + Lou Exclusive Throw.

One of our favorite pieces is our sarong, and with the Covet + Lou Throw we wanted to make an expanded and more versatile version of that. The throw is the perfect home accessory for curling up on a couch, but then it can also be used at the beach, while traveling, or as a shawl. We love the idea of spreading out an Upstate blanket at the beach or park!

Personal favorites from the Covet + Lou collection?

Astrid: I love the solar sweatshirt! I love that it’s a sweatshirt shape but the material is a little more upscale.
Kalen: Mine is a toss up between the kimono and floor pillow. The kimono is so versatile and easy to wear during work, out at night, or at the beach! But the floor pillow is the perfect small home addition for my apartment.

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