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indigo dyed diploid pieces

An Afternoon at Dipwood Studio: In Conversation With Abi Nicholson

 

It’s a warm, muggy Friday morning in July. The air is damp and heavy and the clouds are hanging low, eager to burst with rain. I’m on my way to meet Abi Nicholson of Dipwood Studio, and – just like the clouds – I’m practically bursting myself, but with excitement rather than summer rain. Abi is a creative based in the North East of England, and she runs a small brand called Dipwood Studio from a striking glass workshop in her garden. After discovering Abi on Instagram, I felt we’d have a huge deal to talk about and was keen to interview her and check out her beautiful, ethereal workspace.

As a bona fide forest fairy herself, it’s clear to see why Abi was drawn to explore natural dying processes using plants, opting to move away from synthetic materials and ingredients.

Abi has been building her brand Dipwood Studio for several years now, designing and crafting earthy, intentional pieces of clothing and homeware using antique French linens dyed with natural materials. A true multi-faceted creative through and through, she’s also a keen painter and drawer and regularly sells prints and originals, as well as her beautiful fabric creations. I pull into a quiet, unassuming estate and Abi meets me at her gate, leading me behind the little bungalow she lives in to a charming, higgledy-piggledy garden which is set almost vertically against a slope of woodland tucked behind her home. We follow the steps up to Dipwood Studio through the gorgeous garden, which is peppered with blooming flowers. Straight away, I’m completely and utterly sold on the place.

 
Dipwood Studio was a labour of love built for Abi by her dad, pieced together from an unwanted conservatory he’d gotten ahold of. The space is nestled among towering oak trees atop the hill behind Abi’s home, with an incredible view spanning the dense forest and fields beyond. As we sit together on the steps underneath the studio door, incense burning and the murmur of wood pigeons spilling over from the trees above, a Red Kite circles amidst the clouds and Abi tells of how, as she works, she often watches deer dart across the field in the distance.
 

Abi originally studied Mens Fashion at Kingston University, an intensive degree which she says has aptly prepared her for any of the stresses and pressures that come with running her own business. Once she’d graduated, she took on a design job in London. She wasn’t there long before being made redundant. This, along with the many painstaking and unsuccesful interviews for other jobs which followed, left Abi with a real blow to her confidence. Working in a creative capacity in the high stress, corporate fashion industry had never sat quite right with her, as she tells of how it stifled her creative expression and took the joy out of designing. She tells of how this was, of course, an important and essential step on her path to creating Dipwood Studio, even though at the time it felt painfully disillusioning and truly disorientating.

 
abi in Dipwood jacket and hat
I look up at the light pouring through the leaves of the towering oaks and ponder on the idea of endings and beginnings as Abi prepares a tray of tea for us to enjoy. She’s a woman after my own heart and as we sip the lovely herbal brew, we talk confidence and taking a chance for what you love. Abi tells of how she spent years in hospitality jobs here and there and slowly lost touch with her own creative work as time went on. Eventually, Abi slowly began to pick up pens and pencils and began drawing again. Emerging from her creative paralysis, she pondered on what it was she might go on to make.
 

Abi tells of how it takes a good deal of intentional work and self reflection to undo a lot of the damaging ideas around work and creativity that we pick up along the way as we enter into the adult world and our working lives. “I’m trying to move things out of the way that are blocking me” Abi remarks, telling of how she feels a focus on working with, rather than against, your own personal psychology is so important if you are looking to follow your heart and achieve a dream .

With the dawn of the pandemic, Abi was furloughed from her job at local coffee company and veritable North East institution Pumphreys. It was at this point that she decided to take the plunge and go full time with Dipwood Studio. Both a scary and exciting prospect. Our conversation is evocative of many discussions I’ve had with other creative friends, as we chat about the difficulty of unlearning many of the outdated and limiting ideas regarding a concept of “work” as something that ought to be difficult, regimented and not necessarily enjoyable. Rather a means to an end rather than one big passion project.

 

However, as I visually pick my way through the paraphernalia of Dipwood Studio, admiring the sketches and notes peppered across the walls as well as the “Dipwood Dye Diary” which Abi drops into my lap, there’s little evidence to show that Abi is striving for anything other than a working life truly in line with her desires to work freely and with absolute expression. Soon, conversation turns to process, practice and inspiration, as Abi begins to enlighten me as to what her gorgeous creations are all about. As a bona fide forest fairy herself, it’s clear to see why Abi was drawn to explore natural dying processes using plants, opting to move away from synthetic materials and ingredients.

 

Abi works with second hand fabrics – mostly antique French linen – simply because she knows she cannot justify working with new, mass produced fabrics if she wants to create special pieces that are intentionally crafted. The combination of working with old, often marked or slightly discoloured fabrics, along with natural, plant dyes, makes for an interesting challenge for a perfectionist such as Abi.

The inherent nature of the process behind Dipwood Studio pieces means that the results can never be entirely predictable, as the dyes adhere to fabrics differently depending upon a whole host of variables. This is where a lot of the beauty is to be found, although Abi admits that it takes a lot of conscious surrender to lean into the nature of these processes. Part of the ingenuity behind Dipwood Studio comes in Abi’s commitment to work with, rather than against, these oftentimes unpredictable aspects of her process. Abi tells of how one of her greatest pleasures is working with remnants and discarded fabrics in order to produce unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that are borne out through a resourceful use of materials that may otherwise go to waste.

A great deal of the material for Abi’s dye processes – such as bracken, nettle and oak galls – are collected and gathered on a seasonal basis from the natural environments that Dipwood Studio is immersed within. Abi also works with a considerable amount of food waste, such as avocados and white onions. It’s clear in speaking with Abi how much she relishes the level of connection and presence that these aspects of her process affords.

 

Abi’s visual references are just as diverse and intriguing, too. I’m thrilled to have her share a small stack of her favourite books with me, among which stands out a beautiful hardcover book exploring Georgia O’Keeffe and her houses at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, as well as an incredibly fascinating book on ephemeral folk figures. Abi reveals that her “Georgia” dress was designed as an ode to O’Keeffe, and her “Avon” and “Parker” hats were created in dedication to the women who authored the beloved reference book on scarecrows, harvest figures and snowmen, which Abi has spent so many hours pouring over.

 

Chatting with Abi at Dipwood Studio was a real joy, and it was deeply inspiring to see a young, creative woman working so feverishly and so independently to achieve a dream of being self sustaining through her creativity. All in all, Abi says that her journey with Dipwood is akin to a “dance”, one wherein she experiments and learns through trial and error, mastering the art of trusting in the process rather than fixating on an outcome, per se. Abi’s passion and excitement for her work is clear to see, and it’s incredible to witness a small, sustainable brand in the early stages of its growth emerging from such an organic and heartfelt place.

Check out Dipwood Studio to read more about Abi and her process and to see what beautiful pieces she has available right now. You can also find Dipwood Studio this Sunday at the Made Up North market in Newcastle!

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