MAKERS: Cara Marie Piazza
I had heard rumours of a flower dyer long before I met her. We tried to schedule to meet to talk, but as with all natural phenomenas, sometimes they’re tricky to pin down. Eventually, by chance, a friend invited me to a studio where she was doing a class with a natural dyer and artist. It turned out to be the very Cara Marie Piazza I had been trying to meet! I took the chance to talk natural dyes and delve deep into her practice.
For anyone in New York, she’s hosting ‘FEAST OF FLORA,’ a multi-sensory dining experience on Monday 18th of September in New York; I won’t have a chance to be there, but anyone who can definitely should; the menu includes experiential performance, edible flowers a performance and exclusive screening of her film. I can’t think of anything better to do on a Monday in fall. Get in touch directly or with me for more information.
How did you get into natural dyes?
I was in my final year of college at the Chelsea School of Art & Design. I wanted to work within sustainability but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I saw a dyer who was hosting her workshop and it just clicked; it was like a light bulb went off; I realized that this is a medium.
What was your medium before that?
I’ve always been very tactile so initially I wanted to work with metal and jewelry. It just didn’t feel like it was clicking. It was just when I started dyeing I became obsessed with it… The fact that you can get a rainbow of colors from dyes… and that you can get dye from a plant is just magic. I just had to dye! I couldn’t stop.
Let’s talk about transmutation and impermanence and the inconsistencies of it.
I think that’s the beauty of it for me, I wholeheartedly believe that everything in life has more than one use, so the fact that I can take a plant and turn it into a color or give it a second life when it’s on its way out, is really beautiful to me. I don’t think of myself as the person who’s doing it; I consider myself more as a conduit. Like nature is doing the job and I’m just putting the pieces together in the right place, kind of like a cook. It’s a science, it is a chemistry and an exactness to it but there are so many variables to it that embracing the imperfections are more beautiful. I think allowing the own individuality to come through is more important to me. Being able to happily make this mess and channel it feels really good.
What is it about nature that’s important?
I grew up in Manhattan, so when you’re not exposed to the natural elements on a daily basis, you don’t realize you can embrace it; you almost feel like you have to fight it in a way. In the city, nature constantly finds it ways through all these cracks; it’s constantly breaking these cages that are imposed on it. When I started natural dyeing I was also interested in the healing arts and everything started happening at the same time. When I started to live a more holistic way, my life improved - so I just kept doing it.
Any specific healing arts?
I was experimenting with craniosacral therapy. I would eventually like to create a healing modality that involves natural dyes. I’ve noticed that through teaching, there’s something there that’s very therapeutic. People, especially New Yorkers, come in being so stressed, nervous and anxious, and I think there’s something about being able to experiment with plants that have their own healing properties and to interact with them in a way that feels more playful is really healing for people.
Have you experienced any of the healing properties of the plants?
Oh yes! Calendula, especially. I have eczema, and in herbalism one of the ways you can apply the herbs is through steeping fabrics in tea concoctions of it. I find that if I wrap my skin that has eczema around it it works. That was one of the main inspirations behind starting Calyx and the intimates label. Witches back in the day would make their potions and dye their underwear in it. That’s how they knew that magic was held in the most powerful place! Some of my clients even reach out and ask if I can put some spells on their garments. I’m not a full disclaimer witch, but I fully believe in the power of positive intention. There’s something special about having something made with an intention specifically for you.
So you have a few different expressions. Calyx Intimates is made to order lingerie, you teach, and consult.
And I dye for other artists and designers. and then I have Calyx Bridal. That’s where I’ll take your wedding flowers and transform it into a garment at the end of your wedding. It’s a way to eliminate the waste of the flowers. That’s been taking off, and it’s fun as each garment is custom and personal.
What’s you favorite flower?
I don’t have one! Everyone asks that. I like variety and there’s different seasons. I love dahlias, ranunculus, and scabiosa. But I have ADD….it changes!
I’ve heard you do some restaurant foraging sometimes.
Yes I’ve been known to be a garbage hunter! And I go into the wild. I have a place upstate that I go. But I’m more of an urban forager.
So with teaching - how does that feed into your own practice?
I also subscribe to the idea that if you give something away you get something back. Not everyone can afford my prices, so being able to offer the option for someone to do it themselves, I don’t see a reason to not share the knowledge. This knowledge is also not new. I taught myself based on India Flint’s books; she’s the eco-print master. Ultimately this is how we should be dyeing our clothes. So the more we share the more we grow a network of people who are asking questions about how their clothes are dyed, and taking craft back into their own hands. I think it’s important to source locally if you can for your projects. And it’s great whenever I teach, as I also get new ideas too.
How do you see the future of your practice?
Eventually I’m hoping to expand. I’d like to expand Calyx into homewares. I also keep teaching; I have to be doing a thousand things at once. I think some people call it a workaholic; I power nap in the day, that’s when I rest. I would love to eventually have a storefront. I also want to go back to school to be an art therapist. I just want to do everything!
And with that the conversation breaks off naturally; we become entranced by the smell of a garment, which smells like freshly baked cake and berries. We discuss steaming and washing methods, and I marvel at the witches coven Cara Marie has created in the heart of Brooklyn. It’s incredible, entrancing, and her energy is compelling and inspiring. Thanks for the visit! See more of her work on her website or instagram.