Today we’d like to introduce you to Erin Luna.
Erin, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I guess this current chapter of my story began in 2016 when I graduated college. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art from the University of Texas.
In pretty typical millennial fashion, I graduated and then had absolutely no idea what to do next. I felt under-experienced and overly indebted. I ended up moving back to St. Louis city, where I’m from (and could afford to live) and worked retail at an organic grocery store for a few years.
During that time, my artistic practice came to a halt. That time allowed me to get some foundation under my feet, start to build some community, and figure out where my interests were leading me. In the fall of 2019, I took a leap of faith and left my retail job to pursue work on a small farm. The changes in my life that followed have been absolutely astounding.
Getting to know the natural world around me (not a place that I grew up feeling connected to) calmed my overly anxious nervous system. Learning to identify plants, wildlife, and fungi felt like cracking a code – seeing everything around me with newly found clarity and curiosity. My inner child was coming back to life and she was so dang excited to explore the world around her.
Validating that desire to explore and giving her the space to do that has changed everything. My life’s work and passion now revolve around three things – growing, gathering, and creating. This year, I have the insane opportunity to grow on a rented acre in Hillsboro, MO with a good friend and business partner.
We are growing medicinal and culinary herbs, flowers, and dye plants and learning through the struggles all that takes to grow for a living. As much as I love growing, what brings me even more joy is gathering or foraging. I started mushroom hunting in 2020, learning from social media and books exclusively.
Foraging satisfies my crazy, rebellious, anti-capitalist inner child who wants to eat everything around her just because she can, and also because there is some delicious, gourmet stuff out there in the woods! Last year, I began to find avenues to sell the things I was foraging for, which was a game-changer.
Cooking is important to me, but I’d rather spend way more time seeking and gathering and then pass those goods along to someone else to alchemize. The last part of my work and passion is in the making, or more specifically dyeing textiles with plant-based materials (also known as natural dyeing). The dyeing brings together all three parts of this holy trinity. I grow and gather the majority of the dyestuff I utilize.
I started doing farmers’ markets in the spring of 2021 under my business, Black Rat Farms + Fiber, selling garden plant starts and some of my naturally dyed goods. I was terrified and felt super underqualified, but I did it anyway, mostly thanks to the relentless support and confidence of those closest to me.
Since then, the opportunities keep coming – opportunities to collaborate with other creatives, commissioned creative work, and upcoming, the opportunity to teach others about natural dyeing!
I do a lot of different things right now, as I dial in my work, but all of it comes back to this innate devotion to nature and creativity, this desire to learn, receive, and explore with curiosity.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Of course, it hasn’t always been a smooth road. Six months after I left my very stable, reliable retail job, we entered a global pandemic and I was suddenly in threat of being laid off (which I eventually was).
I actually went back to that stable retail job part-time during the height of the pandemic until other opportunities came my way and I felt confident that I did not need it any longer. COVID really created the current reality of my work life – leaving full-time employment behind in exchange for five to six different part-time gigs and side hustles.
It took me a while to accept this reality. There are times when I feel like I’m “doing it wrong” because I don’t have any full-time employment, but I thrive in the midst of all this dynamic movement. I work mostly for myself and get to make my own schedule. Flexibility is a mandatory part of my life – this keeps things interesting and exciting and prevents me from getting bored or feeling stuck.
It also enables me to take risks. I am able to invest significant time in endeavors that are not necessarily paying my bills right now, in the hope that they will someday down the line. Besides that, the struggle of seasonal depression for someone whose work and joy revolves around being outside is real. Imposter syndrome is another real obstacle. But I love this work, and I love working this way.
During the “season” (March-November), it’s non-stop, like a high-speed train that you can’t stop. Every week there are new projects to tackle, new tasks that need to be completed, and new wild foods that are begging to be gathered, and all of this really feeds my creativity and lust for life.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I would describe my practice as a combination of agriculture, art, and wild-crafting. I am a natural dyer, meaning I dye textiles (mostly yarn, silk, and other wearables) with plant-based materials that I grow and forage for.
It was after just a few months of working outside that my artistic practice was reignited, after a hiatus following art school graduation. I started experimenting with natural dyeing purely on an intuitive urge.
I was feeling overwhelmed by the environmental pressures of the fast fashion industry and wanted to learn how to knit and create my own natural colors. I truly had no understanding of the historical traditions or current resurgence of natural dyeing when I began this experimentation.
I do believe that creativity is a living entity that shares inspiration with those ready to listen and I truly feel like this intuition to begin dyeing was a divine gift that I received. Making rainbows of plant-dyed yarns is my favorite part of my practice. I enjoy every step of the process and find a lot of satisfaction in creating something that will inspire someone else to create.
I also want to make natural dyeing accessible to those who don’t knit, crochet, weave, or embroider so I also offer other wearables like branded punny t-shirts, silk scarves, shirts, and tote bags. I’ve recently started selling DIY dye kits to help share the magic of plant-based dyeing with everyone. Each kit comes with plant-based dye materials, a blank silk scarf, and detailed instructions.
Another recent derivative of my creative process, of which I’m very proud and excited about, is my work with bones. I started making tapestry needles out of deer leg bones last fall to sell with my plant-dyed embroidery floss. Then this spring, I made a series of bone rings out of cow femurs. The thread (no pun intended) that connects all of my work is tangibility.
Everything I seek to do is about creating with and experiencing the tangible. What’s more tangible than growing and creating your own color, making a tool out of very accessible material, or even gathering wild foods to satisfy your hunger? It’s all about connecting with the material, process, and place.
For me, it’s a process of grounding myself in the real physical moment of here and now and hopefully passing that along to others.
How do you define success?
Personally, success is found in showing up authentically and creatively.
It’s about being able to live out my passions and be more than just a cog in this capitalist machine. I think more than anything, I feel successful when the work I do (whether it’s a creative expression with natural dyeing, growing, or the gathering of wild foods) brings inspiration to others.
When my work inspires and enables someone else to create, I feel so fulfilled.
- Naturally Dyed Goods $20-$30
- DIY Dye Kits $25
- Handmade Bone Items $20
- Dye Classes $75
- Website: www.blackratfarms.com
- Instagram: @blackratfarms and @sad_hotdog
Katy Goodman, Victoria Sheldon, and Claire Luna