A Look Inside Cousin Lolli’s Studio

UPDATE:  April 26, 2017:  I am sad to announce to that the old building housing Cousin Lolli’s studio caught fire today.  No one was hurt, but Lolli and her studio mates are still regrouping from this loss – and will be for some time.  Her community has been very supportive, and there is a GoFundMe page for Lolli and her studio mates.

Chris and I feel so fortunate that we were able to visit the studio before this tragedy.  Lolli took us through the steps she takes to make her beautiful silkscreen creations.  I hope you enjoy our “ride along,” below.

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.

Chickens towel closeup - silkscreened dish towels
A closeup from Lolli’s “Chickens” towel

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.

Fort Bragg Fabric Studio
This is where it all happens! The sign was created by Lolli’s studio mate, Jacob.

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.

Silk Screened Dish 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.

Ironing towels
That’s me ironing the towels. Lolli is setting up her work table.

The Screens

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.

screen lettuce lettering
This is the screen for the lettering

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.

The Process

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.

The Results

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.

Chicken towels - silk screened dish towels
Notice the subtle color differences between these two “Chickens” towels.
Roses towel - silk screened dish towels
And the color variations on these two “Roses” towels

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.

bunny closeup - silk screened dish towels

In designing her “Lettuce” towel, she used images from vintage seed packets.

The beauty is in the details in this classic “Roses” towel.

Roses towel closeup
Closeup of a border design on the “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?

Silk screened dish towels are a perfect hostess gift

I also enjoy using them as shop towels in my greenhouse.

Crows towel - silk screened dish towels
The “Crows” towel.


Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used below.

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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