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Chris and I recently took a road trip down the Oregon coast and into California. We pulled our vintage Airstream trailer along the winding highways that lead to Fort Bragg, where Cousin Lolli lives.
Lolli is a textile artist and, among other things, she silkscreens whimsical dishtowels. I am a bit of a textile junkie and I have always loved her dishtowels. They are beautiful and practical little works of art.
So I was thrilled when she offered not only to show me her fabric studio but to let me help her and observe the process of making the towels.
How Lolli Designs Her Towels
Lolli often works with other local artists when creating the designs for her towels. Many of her towels feature images, for example heads of lettuce, with whimsical calligraphy winding around them. The calligraphy quotes literature, song lyrics, and old sayings. Some of the quotes are thought-provoking, (one on the “Roses” towel reads, “Heaven help the roses when the bombs begin to fall – heaven help us all”) while other quotes are playful (as on the “Carrots” towel, “Cares melt when you kneel in the garden”). Local artist Emily Whittlesey finds the quotes and does all the calligraphy.
The Fun Begins!
On this day, Lolli was making her “Lettuce” towels.
With me to help her and Chris to observe, the whole process probably took her twice as long as usual. But she was a good sport.
Lolli starts with a quality product. The blank towels that she silkscreens are 100% cotton muslin, made in Bangladesh. They are very soft and absorbent and become even more so with each washing.
I was trusted with ironing each towel before it was silkscreened.
A different screen is needed for each color used, so the lettuce towels would be a two-screen process. The first screen was for the wording that would wind around the heads of lettuce, and the second screen was for the lettuce images.
How silkscreens are made: Though called silkscreens, the screens are actually either polyester or nylon. To create her screens, Lolli places her images on architects vellum, which is then placed onto a blank silkscreen using a light-sensitive emulsion. The screen and vellum go through an exposure process, creating something similar to a photo negative. Black images on the vellum are washed away, exposing the mesh of the screen where paint can pass through during production.
I had no idea how much work went into the actual production of these towels. Lolli uses a huge work table topped with industrial felt and covered with painter’s canvas coated in wax.
During production, Lolli sometimes blends two or more paint colors in her screens. Since those paints intermix differently every time she makes a screen pass, the first towel in a batch can be very different from the last towel. The result is that each towel is truly one of a kind.
To get a vintage look, she might use images from old books that are out of copyright, like she did for this sweet “Carrots” towel – one of my favorites.
In designing her “Lettuce” towel, she used images from vintage seed packets.
The beauty is in the details in this classic “Roses” towel.
Needless to stay, I went a bit crazy at the fabric studio and stocked up on Lolli’s dishtowels. I think they are the perfect hostess or housewarming gift – really a great gift for any occasion. After all, who doesn’t need a dishtowel?
I also enjoy using them as shop towels in my greenhouse.
If you are ever in Fort Bragg, you will find Lolli’s dishtowels in several of the shops in the main part of town. And now Lolli also has her towels on Etsy under Mendocino Textiles. She is adding more towels to her Etsy store as they are available.
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