Atlanta seems to be an increasingly sheltering fold for artists, makers, and creatives. Looking across the spectrum of City Church attendees, there are hobbyists, professionals, dabblers, newbies, and experimenters.
One such maker is Laura ten Pas. Laura graduated from the University of Georgia with a BFA in Photography and in Textile Design. A resource director for Gensler, a design & architecture firm, by day, Laura also finds great satisfaction and enjoyment in the process of naturally dyeing silk garments and baubles in her spare time. As the resource director for Gensler in Midtown, Laura is responsible for managing an extensive materials library available to the interior designers and architects as well as scheduling and organizing vendor events. With her background in photography, Laura also takes portraits for the Atlanta Gensler office and is hoping to start photographing local projects as they are completed for the firm.
Having studied photography and textile design, it comes as no surprise that in addition to the more structured environment of Gensler, Laura also commits her free time to exploring the art and subtleties of common plant elements that most people overlook. “Onion skins have a special place in my heart. Not very romantic, but I like that it is accessible to anyone. It produces lots of colors- you can rage from musty yellows to bright oranges. In natural form it’s a great dye,” she says. “It is very true to itself.” Currently Laura sources her dyes by foraging different areas of Atlanta, from friends’ yards to the side of the road. Her dream is to eventually have the space to grow a dye garden so that she has access to locally grown plants and have a hand in the dye process from the very beginning to the end. Locally, she has been able to harvest onion skin, pomegranate, goldenrod, and acorns with the help of friends and family who grow these themselves, by foraging, or buying at local stores. She also wants to expand her experimentation to regionally sourced plants and elements, such as Georgia red clay and kudzu.
Laura first became interested in this project while living in San Francisco five years ago. She already had a background in textile design and had always liked working with color and fabrics. A co-worker at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising told her about a book tour event by author Rebecca Burgess, who demonstrated her technique with dried flowers and discussed seasonal dyeing and regional sourcing. Her book, Harvesting Color, inspired Laura to start studying and experimenting with different techniques and plants to learn how to best extract the color. She quickly learned that the color seen on the exterior of the plant could be the opposite of what comes out naturally. For example, eucalyptus leaves produce a coral color, and most plants give a simple beige or no real color. There is even variation in color much like you expect in the taste of produce throughout the year. Some years are more dry, some wet, some hotter, some produce more iron in the soil, etc. Just as taste is affected by those factors, so is color, giving each product, each dye bath, each batch a unique quality. It may be subtle, but the difference creates a beautiful spectrum of color and character. Laura also treats the process like cooking-using a recipe as a general framework but changing things up each time to see what works, what doesn’t, and what can be improved upon.
In addition to her day job and dyeing scarves, Laura is also working towards a master’s degree in Library Sciences. With two classes left, Laura will finish in December and hopes to then dedicate more time to her dyeing project. After taking the Discover Your Design class with Gregg Burch and Ed Burdette, Laura discovered she is an INFP on the Myers Briggs personality test. Being more aware of her personality, Laura jokes about her typical tendency to have a lot of projects going on at once, but hopes with time to be able to focus more on what gives her the most satisfaction and streamline the way she works toward goals in those areas. Once she has more time to focus on natural dyes, she hopes to increase her stock, get her products into more local stores, and be a part of more festivals. Until then, she continues to pursue different creative, academic, and professional endeavours.
Laura says she works more in spurts, one thing at a time, which is made easier by the nine-to-five nature of her job that allows her to plan and leave her work at work. Because the dyeing process is so intricate and time-consuming, Laura tends to devote long weekends to her business in order to accomplish her goal more efficiently. She also has a support system in her husband Michael who, as an artist and creative himself, has a great understanding of the creative process and the dedication it requires. She also finds support and inspiration from her family, who have a long line of makers and doers and small business owners. Her great grandmother built a business during World War II rooting honeysuckle for the army to use for camouflage. She then encouraged her daughter and son-in-law (Laura’s grandparents) to open a plant nursery. He handled the care of the plants while she worked on the administrative and accounting side. Laura’s mother also built her own business with flowers, putting together the packages of flowers that are tossed on a bride and groom as they leave their reception. She had a passion for the symbolism of each flower and how to combine them with deeper meaning for that special moment between newlyweds and their loved ones. Laura comes from a long line of entrepreneurs with a passion for flowers and plants.
You can currently find Laura’s scarves for sale in Midtown at Eco Denizen or at craft fairs, such as Indie Craft Experience. Laura and Michael are part of the Midtown community group, have been attending CIty Church for just over two years, and have lived in Atlanta for almost three years.
City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek.