Dym  |  california textiles

Dym | california textiles

Dym | california textiles [D|ct], an on-going project, is a handcraft, artisan studio or workshop. A small business that produces block printed textiles for home decor and, more recently, apparel. Run by an artist who finds it juicy to mix an ancient technique with modern, playfulness. Disruptively insists, for the creativity it fosters, on the value of slow manufacturing in Northern California where cost of living and wages are high, far from the traditional homes of this craft.

Dym | california textiles official website.

Conceived of and launched with sincerity, to be what it says it is, as in the paragraph above, it took time for me—in the weeds of design, development, marketing, sales, and business operations—to notice what was actually happening.

From inception though sometimes subconsciously, behind the scenes, Dym | california textiles has also conducted non-stop research in different disciplines: economic models; observation, decision-making + embodiment; materials (+ "sustainability"); and, most excitingly to me, algorithmic patterns. As the block printing is practiced here, these apparently distinct subjects overlap and intertwine. For one thing, the complex, evolving, changeable patterns require an embodied human with a capacity to make decisions on the fly and strategically.

Many years ago, I heard a talk by David Cope at UC Santa Cruz. [1] His computer programs and algorithms generated new Mozart sonatas, sonatas which music experts claimed sounded like Mozart pieces. So, here in Berkeley, near the epicenter of artificial intelligence research [2], I can imagine a robot block printer, or a digital version of this technique, both run by algorithms. Even messy, cascading algorithms like the ones we use, where the "programmer" (mostly me) often interrupts and changes the algorithm's direction or intent. A big difference is that "what" runs the program here are "who". These humans have agency and latitude, they make decisions about what happens on the cloth while they print, usually within some kind of parameter.

(I've tried to market this as a selling point, although it appears that only people who watch the printing in action, coupled with verbal or written explanation, understand what I'm talking about. This confusion around communicating has, happily, led me to create a live, durational performance. PDF describing the performance to come as soon as I'm ready to share.) 

 What is the difference between the block printed textiles at Dym | california textiles and the so-called paintings, block-prints on cloth, by Miriam Dym (and Hannah and River)?

What is the difference between the block printed textiles at Dym | california textiles and the so-called paintings, block-prints on cloth, by Miriam Dym (and Hannah and River)?

I had engineered a system of wildly flexible patterns and, in the workshop, I kept insisting on anti-capitalist protocols.

An example of an anti-capitalist protocol, and the one which really made me notice, was when I paid my printers to create a layout of various patterns meant to be cut up for swatches we send to potential clients, or to showrooms to help with sales. The adjacent patterns were too interesting to cut up—they made a unique object and would become devalued if separated.

The economics of artisan work correspond to the larger economic system. There are no economies of scale in block printing, or hardly enough to make a difference. Though faster than hand weaving patterns into cloth, block printing is one of the slowest ways to print pattern onto cloth. (I suspect that printing was first used to allow more patterns to happen more quickly.) This slowness becomes useful when translated into enabling the "laborers" to have agency and creative interaction with their work; with creating endless variation with limited means [3]; to living like what we make and how we make it matters not only to us but to our customers. 

One reason I started Dym | california textiles was because I wanted to produce designs while maintaining control over production, I had to have my own workshop. Originally just me, now I've trained four people to print, two still work with me. It became far less about controlling designs, which turns out not to interest me especially. It's really all about amplifying what's possible with a modular, interactive design system, which happens through teaching and learning from the printers, an on-going, generative feedback loop. As we practice block printing itself, though physically tiring and repetitive labor, it also offers deep satisfactions: in watching designs emerge from capable hands, gazing at and wielding color, in the integration of play and camaraderie in the work process

And, the way the dye soaks into and through the cloth, the fact that we can easily print on both sides of the cloth, that all the patterns are open-ended and evolve across yards of cloth, that all our cloth is all natural fiber and has an amazing hand which the dye doesn't change, appears to means that this amazing cloth requires this means of production. Production which is expensive, including its demand for thoughtful "laborers", high local wages and cost of living, and slowness. How do other designers respond? Licensing to big manufacturers, mechanical reproduction, or digital printing. All of which would make the patterns' repeats quite finite, eliminate the cloth's sensuousness, invite banality. We could also collaborate with a workshop in India, with skilled craftspeople. I don't know, yet, how much of my complexity they want to take on: watching Indian printers at work, they move with the sureness and precision of robots, no hesitancy or delay, as we have too much of here, for decision-making.

Still, it amuses me to remember William Morris, who wanted his workers to be satisfied and proud of their work, to be well compensated. He wanted humans to have beautiful things, that they'd care for and honor. He wanted craft to replace mass production. His battle, like mine, was lost long before he was born. The Luddites rebelled when machines replaced their handcraft spinning labor. They fought not only for paid work, but for work with its own rewards—whether meditative or from pride at skill or more. Capitalisms insistence on economies of scale that benefit the few isn't news, but it is still exhausting. 


[1] For more about David Cope, see this vintage Guardian article. David Cope, Computer Composer. Google also works.

[2] My father, Clive Dym, technically a civil engineer, leapt into AI back in the late 1980s. 

[3] The limited means are the quite small number of printing blocks that have led to "infinite stripes".


 Tools of the trade.

Tools of the trade.

Paintings and painting objects

Paintings and painting objects

Drawings 2012 and 2016

Drawings 2012 and 2016