Summer 2017
TRY Studio Stories
Meet Helen

Name: Helen Krayenhoff
Location: Dimond District, Oakland
Art/Craft/Discipline: Natural Dyeing

A story of how life's threads weave together passion and purpose.

Intro by Jennifer Arzt
Meet Helen
Oakland, California

Helen’s house is nestled in Oakland behind a wood fence; entering the yard feels like stepping out of reality and into an dreamy lush oasis filled with life: a cat keeps watch, vegetables, trees, and flowers blanket the yard while a stream provides back-up vocals to the singing birds.

Her studio is positioned in the midst of it all. The blanketing plants and flowers provide a picturesque backdrop, but also provide a separate function - they can be used to create dyes and, inside the studio, a variety of flowers, leaves, and branches are waiting to participate in the alchemy of natural dyeing. 

Helen’s approach to natural dyeing is a scientific one, showcasing her deep curiosity, patience, and love of process. But instead of feeling like you’ve wandered into a lab, it feels more like you're watching a dance between the dyeing agent and the fabric.

For example, purple basil is tested on cotton, silk, and wool. Each fabric receives multiple treatments to understand how best to draw out color from the basil and how long the color will last.

It’s clear that Helen’s eye for design, pattern, and color is a seasoned one, trained and refined during her time as a graphic designer. This skill is now hard at work as she fastidiously documents these dyeing experiments in a swoon-worthy notebook. (She now has a book you can check out.)

Listening to Helen talk about what vegetation she’s dried, how it turned into a dye, and how that dye took to different textiles doesn’t just provide an education in the art and science of natural dyeing, but sparks an interest and curiosity about how else we can connect with this planet of ours.

See photos from a lesson with Helen here.

Read on
TRY This! Customize your experience >

· Dive in and TRY with Helen·

Knitters, naturally dye your wool yarn.

Dye a silk scarf for you or for a homemade gift.

Learn the basics.

· Photos from my lesson dyeing a silk scarf with Helen ·

See photos from a lesson with Helen here.

· How did you get started working in this area? ·

In the 1970s I dipped my toes into the alchemy of dyeing fiber with plant material. In the past few years I have reconnected with the art after years of graphic design and plant nursery work.

Work included in this work of art

· Where do you find inspiration for your work? ·

I find inspiration in the plants around me as well as in the world of historic fabric design

· What’s a project you’ve done that you’re proud of? ·

I am most pleased when a dye pot produces an unexpected color. That’s the mystery of plant color!

· What tools do you use? Have a favorite? ·

My favorite tools are my induction hot plate and my biggest stainless steel pot.

· What’s your workspace like? ·

My workspace is on my back deck, overlooking the creek. On cold or rainy days, I move into the back garage.

A friend drops by during our visit

· What kind of music to you work to? ·

The birds in the creek, Jazz or KALW when in my studio.

· Do you have a favorite inspiration quote? ·

We are all on a journey to discover who we are, what we’re here to express, and how we might enter the world with what we might create.
Sheila Wex

· Favorite local spots? ·

Walking to the top of Mountain View Cemetery and taking in the view of Oakland.

· Anything else? ·

The local fiber and dye movement is growing and expanding. I hope my class may whet your appetite to experience this meditative world that has such deep history and contemporary relevance.

· Dive in and TRY with Helen·

Knitters, naturally dye your wool yarn.

Dye a silk scarf for you or for a homemade gift.

· Photos from my lesson dyeing a silk scarf with Helen ·

See photos from a lesson with Helen here.

· What kind of projects can people try with you? ·
Helen's Studio
Get to know us
Meet more TRY Studio teachers
Nominate a TRY teacher for a story
TRY Studio at Maker Faire
TRY Studio //
The blog.
TRY Studio is a new project that hopes to change the world with a simple idea: Personalized lessons taught by someone local.

This isn't really a new idea though. It's mentor / mentee. It's master / apprentice. It's tutor / student. It's real time creative learning.

Learn things. Teach things. Value process and people and we all win create a better world.
Make time for creativity.