It was through an accidental encounter with the Civic Garden Center—while looking for a composting facility—that Sew Valley, a nonprofit that offers local designers and entrepreneurs the education and resources to create soft goods, ended up renting two garden beds to grow indigo plants in the West End Community Garden. The nonprofit plans on using the indigo harvested for its new plant-based dye course this fall. “I was initially researching where we could take our compost and having a really hard time,” says Aubrey Krekeler, who leads Sew Valley’s low-impact and sustainability efforts. “Then we thought, Wait. A garden, that would be amazing.”
Sew Valley’s plant-based dye course will teach participants of all skill levels how to manipulate fabric and indigo plants to produce a rich blue color that is sustainable, unique, and free of toxic chemicals. Isabella Cowgill, a designer by trade and gardener by birth, will help lead the course. “I’ve always been interested in fabric; I also come from a family of gardeners and have gardened my whole life,” Cowgill says. “With fabric, it can be really hard to find something you love that’s also sustainable. As a person designing for themselves, I thought, Why not start gardening things that I could utilize to make dyes with?”
There are several different ways to extract dye from a plant. One of the easiest techniques, according to Cowgill, is similar to making sauerkraut. “You’re basically just whittling the plant with your hands and salt to extract the pigment and then incorporating the fabric in with that,” she explains. “It’s really hands on; you’re connecting with the harvesting process, and you get to utilize the plant material to make something that will eventually have another purpose.”
According to Sew Valley’s co-founders Shailah Maynard and Rosie Kovacs, classes like this plant-based dye course have always been integral to Sew Valley’s mission of helping community members—regardless of their background—break into the design industry. “The intention has always been to make sure we are catering to people who don’t necessarily have formal training,” Kovacs says. “A lot of our customers don’t have design backgrounds, and our curriculum was designed for someone who has an idea but maybe not the formal training to produce it.”
Kovacs, director of operations, teamed up with Maynard to launch Sew Valley in 2017, after noticing a lack of resources for startup clothing brands. “We’ve noticed [startups] on the coasts who want to do smaller runs of things, [but] are getting pushed to the back burner at their facilities, so they’re looking for alternatives,” she says. “That’s where we come in.” Instead of outsourcing every step of the production process, Cincinnati-based designers and entrepreneurs can learn the necessary steps to take a product from ideation to creation at Sew Valley. In addition to the plant-based dye course, Sew Valley also offers introductory industrial sewing courses and plans on introducing two pattern-making courses this fall.