Sarah Winston, former Manager of Textiles for Mingei, took her first weaving class at Black Sheep in Encinitas, 20 years ago. After three classes, she realized she was just getting her feet wet and couldn’t stop. She proceeded to attend the graduate program in textile design at San Diego State and started selling her pieces at Mingei and Freehand. Today she continues to work as a textile artisan, teacher and preservation consultant.

When did you acquire this beautiful loom?

A professor in the program was very supportive. I was in the studio all the time, and she said, “Sarah, take a loom home.” So I brought it here with metal heddles—it was so noisy, like in a factory. (daughter nods) Later, as I started using finer and finer thread, I found I needed to use a lighter type of loom that would avoid causing too much abrasion. This loom is not good for rugs but works well for fragile threads. While a student with Joan Austin at San Diego State's Textile Design program, I became fascinated with using dry fine threads and simple patterns.

(points to a tapestry) I was a member of the California Fiber Artists Group. This piece and another were in the show. This one depicts the rise of the moon and is directly inspired by a kimono in Mingei's collection. See the moon? We need to twist thread to create that space. Usually, you want to watch the space disappear. You need to twist warped thread to keep that space. It was then dip-dyed in indigo.

"I’m an artisan not an artist. Technique and purpose drive me."

Sarah Winston describing her dyeing process as she pulls fibers from a vat of bright red cochineal dye.
Sarah Winston describing her dyeing process as she pulls fibers from a vat of bright red cochineal dye.

A lot of inspiration for other pieces is more African. My ancestors were Igbo. My father was Nigerian. I found out later that Igbo were great indigo dyers, well after developing this passion. Some of the patterns I chose are also a link to my European ancestry, like the weave in my room. It's a strip that shows my mixed heritage and the pattern of the bands in the middle are often used in Europe.

Which pigments do you use for your Mingei Masters classes on dyeing?

The wool will be prepared and ready to dye. We’ll use cochineal (pigment). It’s an ancient traditional South and Central American dye, and there are many cochineal dyed textiles in Mingei's collection. We’ll use pomegranate for the yellow; many of the Asian textiles use this dye. Also logwood and madder. Logwood with iron will get us into a black. Black is the hardest color to achieve using natural dyes.

You’re weaving colors of the world . . .

Being representative, yes. It’s easy to make that tie to Mingei’s collection.

This is the stuff. (pointing to yarn submerged in madder for heating) 80 different color tones can be achieved from madder going from a burgundy orange, red or brown, called turkey red. For workshops, we will talk a little about its history.

That’s cochineal, more orange. The ropes are for tying to make patterns. I can show you the pattern this roping does. We use those circles to keep from tangling. As you can see, the dyeing is very clean here, not too messy.

I took a class from a Japanese pupil of Serizawa and a friend of Mingei Founder Martha Longenecker: Professor Ohashi. These are resist wooden shapes used for itajime shibori. I studied with Professor Ohashi in Canada, a four-day class in stencil making (katazome) and itajime shibori. He was influenced by the everyday. Before Serizawa, the person who made the stencil and one applying the dyes were not the same person. He would do his own stencil and dyeing by himself like an artist. He had complete control of the creative process.

You do that, too.

I’m an artisan not an artist. Technique and purpose drive me. It’s not about exploring a concept. I really draw the art and craft line. Definitely Craft has a big ‘C.’ Enough about me. Unless I can talk about material. Textiles . . . that gets me going. If you ask me to talk about myself, the conversation is not long. I like to express myself through the textiles, though.

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