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Conversations with Sarah Johnston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Johnston. 

Hi Sarah, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a pressing desire to create. It’s pretty abnormal to have nothing on my plate for the day and honestly, I love to keep it that way. Following a year of wedding planning in 2017, I found myself bored and need to fill my free time outside of work. After exploring a variety of new mediums, I began working with dyes for the first time and I was hooked. I fought dabbling into the world of natural dyes for so long thinking I could never achieve the colors I desired and gee was I wrong. The first natural dye I ever tried was avocados and I was blown away by the beautiful mauve! 

Together, my husband, Luke, and I have a deep love for nature and gardening. What really started to blossom during the pandemic shutdown is now approaching year three of a garden that grows larger each year in size and variety. Consisting of veggies, Luke’s never-ending number of peppers, dye flowers, and a few plants sprinkled in that simply make us happy to look at, our inner-city, 6,000 square foot lot is something we’ve really grown to love. 

There’s something so rewarding to taking a seed from a flower you grew the year before, planting it, watering it, watching it grow than using it to dye your favorite linen shirt that has a few too many stains or extract a pigment to mix with local bee’s wax a create a set of crayons for your kiddos. 

The opportunities with natural dyeing are endless and sustainable which both get me so stoked to create and be proud of. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
This one makes me smile a bit because yes and no. Natural dyeing has taught me so much but my biggest takeaway is slowing down and taking my time. I can be an impatient person who would rather skip over the guides, tutorials, instructions and just try it out myself and see where it goes which is a field of using elements and mordants that chemically alter the color of your eye, it’s meant a lot of time, trial and error and money to do what I could have just taken time to learn beforehand. But! All that said, that is the kind of person that I am, and getting the color or effect I was hoping for even once out of 25 fails is so rewarding to me and keeps me hooked. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I contested using natural dyes for the longest time thinking I wouldn’t be able to achieve the colors I was looking and hoping for but I was quickly proved wrong. The natural world has so much to offer when it comes to color and I love testing those boundaries, creating color you don’t often see with natural dye. With the use of modifiers like aluminum or iron, you can tweak so many colors ever so slightly like taking a rich walnut brown to deep charcoal or a bright Osage Orange-yellow to olive-green on silk. There’s something about using two plants that normally grow on opposite sides of the world and creating a color that stops you in your tracks, especially when some learn it comes from plants. 

We love surprises, fun facts, and unexpected stories. Is there something you can share that might surprise us?
I’ve heard a few comments over the years about how much fun it must be devoting all my time to dyeing and working with such pretty things all the time and people are often surprised when they find out that I actually have a full-time job I work during the day on top of tending to our 9-month-old so really Soil Studio gets squeezed in where it can. Quite literally as well, right now Soil Studio and my family are living under one roof where space is getting tight really quick. Currently, my studio space shares a 10’x22′ room with our baby and we are busting at the seams! That’s why oftentimes you’ll see photos of me working outside, not only because who wouldn’t want to do their work in nature but all it opens my studio space up tenfold! 

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