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Oakland’s Most Inspiring Natural Dye Duo

Updated: Jul 14, 2022 10:21
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Sandwiched between a cafe and a cupcake shop on San Pablo is an unassuming shop called A Verb For Keeping Warm (“A Verb” or AVFKW for short). From the outside, it looks like your typical yarn and fabric shop but behind the doors resides two of the Bay Area’s most prolific natural dye experts: Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez.

Kristine Vejar (front) and Adrienne Rodriguez (back) work in their home garden which is filled with natural dye plants – photo by Sara Remington

The world of natural dye in The Bay Area is filled with talented folks but it’s a form of art that I don’t think gets talked about enough. Kristine and Adrienne are those types of artists you meet and instantly just are in awe of their talent. They are warm, inviting, funny and have a true passion for what they do. You become an instant fan of them – as artists and humans.

I’ve run into them multiple times since I started my own explorations with the art form, but I’ve never sat down with them to really get to know them. I was curious about how they got started, and what it was like for them during 2020 while their shop was shut down and I also had a hidden agenda to learn more about natural dye myself.

Kristine modeling a collab kit - avfkw x Andrea Mowry - Evenfall Sweater Bundle

Kristine modeling a collab kit – avfkw x Andrea Mowry – Evenfall Sweater Bundle

Although Kristine has been working under the name A Verb For Keeping Warm for much longer, the Oakland-based shop itself started in 2007. Kristine and Adrienne source California fiber and local dye materials to create a rainbow of naturally dyed fabrics and yarn. They are dynamic multi-tasking artists who inspire others to “Choose your own adventure!” within the art of natural dye and connecting with the environment around us here in The Bay.

If natural dye was a sport, Adrienne and Kristine would be the Bay Area’s gold medal Olympians. They live and breathe natural dye every day like a professional athlete trains for their sport.

This is the yarn wall at A Verb – can you believe that ll of these colors are naturally dyed?! – photo credit Elysa Weitala

Whether they are tending to their home dye garden, working in one of their two dye studios or hiking the hills of Oakland for mushrooms, there isn’t a day that goes by these two aren’t somehow connected to their natural dye process. Inside their small shop and dye studios, these experts produce 200-300 pounds of materials monthly, have written 2 books, lead retreats, workshops, and hosted events centered around the world of natural dye.

“The name of the business, A Verb for Keeping Warm conveys the active nature of making clothing and goods to keep warm. It is purposefully vague, to enact conversations (many people upon hearing the name as what it means and what kind of business we have) as well as to include the broad spectrum of verbs used to make clothing: knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning, dyeing, etc,” says Adrienne.

A Verb For Keeping Warm store in Oakland, CA – photo credit Elysa Weitala

Meeting the folks behind A Verb For Keeping Warm

It was 10 years ago that I bought my first natural dye book at Green Apple; a foraging meets yarn book by Rebecca Burgess called Harvesting Color
I remember the day I got this book, I called my Mom (who is a fiber artist) and told her that I wanted to learn how to naturally dye while we were on vacation that summer. We later foraged for both sage and goldenrod while hiking. It took us a total of 4 days to forage, extract dye,  prep our yarn, dye the yarn and wash/dry our final product. After all of that, we ended up being nearly the same two colors as the plants we foraged. It was a labor of love for just two shades of yellow.

The book and misadventure ignited my curiosity about natural dye but meeting Kristine and Adrienne solidified my love for it.

The AVFKW x Making Magazine Bandana Embroidery Kit – not yet available

The backyard of A Verb in Oakland is where I took my first class with Adrienne

The backyard of A Verb in Oakland is where I took my first class with Adrienne

After our first dip into natural dye, my Mom and I decided to start taking classes locally and met Kristine and Adrienne when they were hosting an intro to natural dye class at their shop in Oakland. Through the years, I’ve learned so much from Adrienne and Kristine. Even though I personally know that natural dye is a labor of love, they make the art form feel approachable. “It is very easy and most likely you already have plants you can dye within your yard – like marigolds, coreopsis, and yarrow. In addition, onion skins, black tea, and avocado pits make great dyes,” encourages Kristine.

Natural Dye: Paralleling the farm-to-table movement in the SF Bay Area

Kristine and Adrienne have now been in the Bay Area for around 25 years. While they were growing up they were both seeking inspiring a like-minded community which valued social justice, progressive values, and diversity. They found what they were looking for in Oakland, and eventually found even inspiration within their larger natural dye community, too.

“Kristine grew up in a Minneapolis suburb and yearned to be near the ocean. Adrienne escaped the heat of the Southern California desert and the politically conservative environment to be a part of the vibrant gay community that offered acceptance and support. Mills College was known to be a very progressive and innovative school with a feminist perspective. The classes taught looked critically at how the intersectionality of the many social variables played a part in upholding the tired patriarchy and white supremacy and strived to dismantle them. We both loved what Mills College offered and now cannot imagine living anywhere else. We love Oakland for its diversity, strong arts community, weather, flora, fauna, food, political engagement, and proximity to the ocean and redwood forests.”

A Verb does have a Fiber Club. The Pro-Verbial Yarn & Fiber Club is a way to connect with AVFKW’s larger natural dye community – photo credit: A Verb for Keeping Warm

Adrienne helped Kristine build the business from day one and learned the dynamic and rich history of fiber arts. They both enjoyed seeing local sheep’s wool turned into yarn and then knit into a sweater, paralleling the farm-to-table movement in the SF Bay Area. They went a step further and learned to use plant dyes to add color to all types of fibers. 

“Our business is supported by like-minded individuals who value quality, sustainability, heart and soul, art, and the practice of making. They love the obscure, lesser-known but highly artisanal finely crafted goods we offer. The Bay Area nurtures the alternative to the mainstream, especially for its holistic thoughtfulness for the environment and social justice.”

Re-imaging business with loyal customer support

I’m not the only mega fan girl of A Verb and it’s the community that motivated and kept the business alive during 2020’s madness. Verb’s strong customer base over the last 10 years they have been in business. This, combined with their established online presence felt were the key to their ability to ride out the year of 2020.

A Verb For Keeping Warm naturally dyed yarn – Horizon and Frond photo credit: Kristine Vejar

“Like everyone at that time(in 2020), we sadly had to close to the public for safety’s sake and downsize. It was an intense time. We were so scared – between being worried that people would stop placing orders due to economic instability or that we would get sick and not be able to work. We rely solely on Verb for our income. It is our lifeline. There were many times when it felt like we were in a small boat cruising down a river, with a hole in the boat, and we just kept trying to scoop water out of the boat and keep cruising along. We just hunkered down and worked nonstop. Taking every order possible, streamlining every aspect of running the business, so we could run the business with less people. It is only now that we are beginning to rest a little bit.

All of that said, prior to the pandemic, the typical retail model of having a large inventory, and locking up all of our money, was very hard on us. So the pandemic, in its requirement to change, allowed (forced?) us to reimagine Verb, and in doing so, we grew closer to our creative process and are making more products that are authentic to who we are. We’ve created and released exciting new, naturally-dyed colorways and materials. We also created a series of virtual classes which has allowed us to connect with people from areas outside of the Bay and with people who are here but perhaps cannot come to the studio as easily.”

Inside one of the dye studios – in this photo is Kristine Vejar(l) and Sarah Ollikkala Jones(r) – photo credit Elysa Weitala

Who and What inspires Kristine and Adrienne?

Before A Verb was created, Kristine studied textiles in India on a Fulbright as well as and worked as an archivist at the Textile Museum in Washington D.C. While she always loved to sew and knit, it is through this work she came to recognize fabric’s compelling nature to embody people’s lived experiences and as a form of storytelling. And she began to recognize more deeply both the positive and negative impacts of making cloth and clothing upon the ecosystem and humans.

Kristine Vejar in the Simpatico Wrap Bundle

Kristine Vejar in the Simpatico Wrap Bundle – Photo Credit: Adrienne Rodriguez

When you walk into A Verb, once you get past the awe of seeing a full rainbow wall of yarn hand-dyed by Kristine and Adrienne, you’ll find books, art, and artisanal goods from a variety of other artists that inspire Kristine and Adrienne. Having art history degrees, they have a love for all different forms of art. It felt like a natural question to ask them about which artists we should keep an eye out for and why.

“We are so rich with talented people in the Bay Area. We are continually inspired by Lena Wolff’s art and activism. Look out for: Meagan Donegan, Leigh Wells, Sonya Philip, Lisa Soloman, Rachel Kaye, Windy Chien, Jody Alexander, Maria Schoettler, Youngmin Lee the list can go on…”

As far as whom else they find inspiration from, there are some well-known Bay Area artists on that list. You’ll notice this list includes a variety of art forms which explains the eclectic variety of goods you’ll find at their shop.

“Just some off the top of our heads: Eva Hesse, Ruth Asawa, Yayoi Kusama, Doris Salcedo, Ann Hamilton, Rosie Lee Tompkins.“

New sashiko thread launched this week on the AVFKW website – photo Credit: Kristine Vejar

Connecting with A Verb For Keeping Warm

What you’ll love about Kristine and Adrienne is that they have a genuine passion for sharing their love for natural dye. A win for them is watching more people get as excited as they do. Adrienne told me that “Kristine has always wanted to help people access thoughtful, high-quality materials made with the health of the Earth and people in mind, teach people how to create clothing, and spread the word about how clothing is an incredibly powerful medium to communicate values and enact positive change environmentally and socially.” Through A Verb, both Kristine and Adrienne get to do just that.

Adrienne modeling avfkw x Jennifer Berg – the desert dweller cowl bundle – also shown the avfkw yarn for the kit – photo Credit for Adrienne’s portrait: Nicola Parisi
& yarn photo by Kristine Vejar

On Instagram, you’ll regularly go live in their home garden showing folks how easy and accessible it is to dye yourself. Sometimes you’ll find Adrienne showing you where to find mushrooms for dyeing. It’s one of my favorite little tidbits about them – their love for dyeing with mushrooms runs deep. But also, did you even know you could dye with mushrooms?! I learn so much from both of them each time I run across them either in person or virtually.

They’ve published 2 books at this point. Kristine’s first book The Modern Natural Dyer is a guide to natural dye for beginners or experts with in-depth recipes and endless inspiration. The second book that Kristine published was in collaboration with Adrienne, Journeys in Natural Dyeing: Techniques for Creating Color at Home. In this book, you will take a journey with the authors to Iceland, Mexico, Japan, and Indonesia, where they visited natural dyers creating rich textiles using locally-sourced dyes.

Indigo Dye Pot – photo credit Sara Remington

One thing I’ve always found interesting is that depending on where you are on the planet, you will be able to source many different colors. In addition to the travels and artist features, Adrienne and Kristine show you how to create over 400 natural-dye shades using locally-sourced materials at their home dye studio.

Their books will get you started with your own personal natural dye journey but these two artists always have lectures, classes, and knit nights that you can attend as you want to expand your knowledge. Having taken several of their classes myself I can tell you that classes are small enough that you can ask a trillion questions.

Sharing their love for natural dye, the duo at A Verb co-wrote Journeys in Natural Dyeing. Kristine’s first book was The Modern Natural Dyer\

You can follow along on A Verb’s natural dye journey here:

Instagram: @avfkw
Facebook: @avfkw
Twitter: @avfkw
Web – here you can get any of their hand-dyed fiber, fabric, DIY kits, natural dye materials… you name it!: https://www.averbforkeepingwarm.com/

all photos are owned by A Verb For Keeping Warm unless otherwise noted

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.

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