Designer Spotlight: Eco-Conscious Textiles by Julia Masci
For Julia Masci, an eco-conscious textile artist from Southern Ontario, Canada, decorating ran in the family. Both of her parents emigrated to Canada (her father from Italy; her mother from Wales) and her mother continually loved to redecorate the apartment they lived in, including using different fabrics to create immaculate window coverings. “I remember she would repaint our furniture often, in new techniques she saw somewhere,” said Julia. “I get my home décor love from her.”
Hand-dyed and printed fabric turned into zippered pouches.
Now Julia works with materials herself, mostly hemp and organic cotton fabrics that she hand dyes using a variety of plants and leaves. “My focus is on creating textiles that tell a story of season and the land,” she said. She either grows the plants herself or forages for them. Then she uses the textiles to create a variety of housewares, accessories, yoga props, and fabric bundles.
A Design Career Starts in a Sewing Class
She fell in love with sewing during a 10th grade fashion design class. “I loved being able to make the clothes I pictured in my head and wanted to wear, but could never find,” she said. “My teacher in that class gave me free rein to make whatever I wanted. While the class worked on boxer patterns, I was making elaborate skirts with matching hats out of upholstery fabric and denims.” That class would shape the next steps in her life.
Freshly dyed and washed leaf print fabric hanging to dry. These pieces were turned into throw pillows.
A Love of Fabric Inspires More Creativity
When Julia was 18 she began working in a store that sold items from South East Asia. “I fell in love with the colors and handwork of the traditional garments from there,” she said. “It inspired me to pick up sewing clothing again, but this time I had become more interested in the fabric design. I could never find the 'right' fabrics for what I had pictured in my mind, so I taught myself to dye my own.”
She spent hours dying, block printing, and painting her own fabrics — for fun. She never thought this would become a career. She just loved the designing process and gave her work as gifts to friends and family.
Julia on her work bench, with a few bundle of hemp fabric ready for processing.
A Hobby Becomes a Career
When she became pregnant with her first son, she left her retail job. She began to make children’s clothing at night for extra money, selling her work at consignment shops and specialty boutiques. Another son and daughter came into her life, and she continued balancing these two worlds: mother and textile artist.
Set of custom throw pillows on a couch.
Design Work That Provides a Connection to Nature
She began working with plants as dyes in 2007. “My love of gardening and wild plants led me to trying out dyeing with plants,” she said. “I had always been interested in herbology, and often rented books from the library to learn more about the plants I was growing and using.”
One of Julia’s favorite things about her work is it always goes off in new directions. “Different times of the year result in different shades,” she said. “Sometimes the water I use is different, which changed the dye slightly.” The textiles she creates allow her to explore plants and people. “I love creating items people can use and keep in their homes that have a story with them,” she stated.
“Being able to relay the story of the plant that created the color or print, brings a connection and a curiosity. I find most people have their own connections to trees, plants and a part of their personal history. My work is constantly reminding me of the connection we all have to nature.”
Custom wall hanging, using leaves from a client's late father's property. Creating custom work with meaningful plants is one of Julia's favorite commissions.
An Eco-Friendly, Sustainable Product
She always uses eco-friendly, ethical and sustainable materials in her work. It shows that “we can live gently on the earth while still having the ability to joyfully decorate and fill our lives with functional art,” she said.
Much of Julia’s work is informed by the seasons. Although she collects leaves from spring to winter the hues of each differ. “In the spring and summer a lot of my prints are brighter yellows and greens,” she explained. “As the leaves mature, the prints become a bit darker.”
Julia does all the steps of the process herself, from gathering plant material, prepping it, designing and creating the fabric, to then sewing finished product.
Large custom rope basket. Hand dyed with Madder Root and lined with a plant tray to make a unique way to cover a plant pot.
Joyful Work and a Balanced Life
Her interest turned into a career 11 years ago when she became a single parent. “I had to make the decision to put full-time effort into turning my textile art into a career that could support the four of us,” she said.
The biggest challenge of the transition was finding balance, something that took years. It’s “very challenging to take something I love doing, something that brings me so much joy, and turning it into a career,” she explained. “...Everything I make, I make with joy. I always want to keep it like that.”
Julia removing spent leaves from freshly bundle dyed hemp.
Storage Is a Problem, But the Designs Provide Happiness
Storage is another struggle. She collects so much material: leaves get pressed in books and homemade presses; flowers and dye materials go into a large, chest freezer; even, the making of things requires space. For example, walnuts, bark and wood have to sit and soak for a few days before Julia boils them. “There are always pots of various liquids kicking around,” she said.
Julia likes to talk with her hands when she talks about something she’s passionate about, and she’s not afraid to try something new. “If I get an idea, I will run with it. I consider that trait a blessing and a curse,” she said. She also enjoys talking to people — a great trait for when she’s selling her work at trade and art shows. “...Everything I make, I make with joy,” she said. “I always want to keep it like that.”
Hand-dyed hemp fabric offered in bundles of different sizes.
All photos by Julia Masci.
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