By Victoria Alba
|Ocelot cumberband skirt with Mazey top, 2002;
silk knit, itajime (clamp resist) shibori.
Photo: Oliver Raisner.
In a densely populated inner
city neighborhood sandwiched between freeways, abandoned railroad
tracks, and industrial scrapyards, Angelina DeAntonis produces
a line of one-of-a-kind clothing evocative of faraway deserts,
forests, and mountains. Within her vast studio and workshop,
the bold colors and patterns of nature reign, striking a brilliant
contrast to the towering concrete pillars and rambling steel
link fences visible from her front door.
Although the streets outside bustle
with activity - her studio is close to a busy transport hub
- DeAntonis radiates a genuine aura of calm. "I often think
about the natural world when I work," she says. "I'll imagine
myself walking through the woods, for example, think about
its colors, sounds, and smells, and I guess this feeling of
being in nature is unconsciously reflected in my work."
Moreover, the garments of her Ocelot line are distinctive
in that they are expertly hand dyed and handcrafted. Over the
last decade, DeAntonis has gained recognition for her use of
plant dyes and the ancient resist dyeing technique of shibori
- specifically itajime, in which cloth is folded into a bundle,
held together with shaped pieces of wood and clamps, and then
|Masters of Fear, 1996. Pants and skirt: stitch-textured
cotton. Hats: hemp, coir, and wool, itajime resist
dyed with natural dyes. Photo by the artist.
The resulting patterns are abstract
but might be viewed by some as representational of organic
forms, such as the sun, moon, plants, or flowers. "The dyeing
process produces shapes that can be interpreted in many ways.
They're abstract, but universal as well. What one person sees
as a seed or pod can be seen by someone else as a hill. For
instance, I know that pattern there," she says, gesturing
first to a garment drying nearby and then to a tall luxuriant
plant at the opposite end of the room, "resembles the leaves
of that banana tree. A person from Hawaii might also notice
this, but a person in Mongolia might see the same shape as
Part of her studio functions as a showroom.
Here, several racks hold coats, suits, tunics, tops, pants,
and wrap skirts (the latter are actually multipurpose pieces
that can also be worn as capes, shawls, or shifts), all masterfully
cut and sewn by Nancy Eastep, who has worked with Ocelot since
its founding four years ago. DeAntonis sells her clothes out
of her studio (by appointment only) and in a few art-to-wear
DeAntonis prefers natural fabrics such
as wool and silk, yet her youthful designs and lively color
combinations prevent her creations from looking overly formal.
For instance, her Kamchatka tunic, of orange wool jersey
and itajime-dyed silk chiffon (on the neck and cuffs),
would be equally at home at the opera or paired with jeans.
|This composite image announced a 1996 theater production
in which the choreography used DeAntonis's costumes as
a starting point. Shown large at the right is Mud
Girl. Photos by the artist, composite design by Nathaniel
The Kamchatka tunic was inspired
by the leather and fur coats of the traditional dancers of
the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia. DeAntonis is often inspired
by ethnic attire and credits two books in particular for firing
her imagination: The "Other" Visualized: Depictions of
the Mongoloid Peoples, featuring early photographs of
East Asia, Siberia, the Americas, and the Pacific; and Fashion,
a colorful National Geographic tome on global adornment. "Indigenous
people's clothing resonates of their natural environment,"
Her love for the natural world is deeply
rooted. A native of the Pacific Northwest, she moved with
her family to a farm outside Richfield, Washington, when she
was eight. She tended her own herd of goats, while her mother
- an architect by trade - had "a couple of hundred sheep";
sheared, spun, and dyed their wool; and wove. Ironically,
back then, DeAntonis wasn't yet interested in textiles.
In 1990, DeAntonis earned a bachelor's
degree in fine arts with an emphasis in photography from the
University of Oregon. (She still does most of the photography
for her promotional materials.) After graduation, she moved
to Boulder, Colorado, where she finally pursued a developing
interest in textiles. She joined the Weavers Guild, took textile
workshops, and embarked on a course of self-study that focused
on natural dyes and dyeing techniques. The pivotal moment
came when she discovered the seminal book Shibori: The
Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist-Dyeing by Yoshiko
Iwamoto Wada, Mary Kellogg Rice, and Jane Barton. (Coming
full circle, DeAntonis was written up by Wada in her newly
released book, Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now.)
|Chiming Spheres, a percussive dance costume that
can be reconfigured at the hemline with internal tent
poles, 1999. Silk, cotton, wood, nylon, wool; natural
and synthetic dyes. Photo: Nathaniel Taylor.
"Itching to be around a more
populated area," DeAntonis moved to the San Francisco Bay
Area in 1992. She studied textiles, performance, and sculpture
at the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and established
her first textile studio. She also collaborated with choreographer
Colleen Mulvihill, initially as a stage manager and eventually
as a costume designer. She was soon in demand by other choreographers
as well. Critical acclaim and awards followed, including a
Costume Design Fellowship from the Oakland Cultural Arts Commission,
which allowed her to create a group of costumes that served
as the inspiration for various dancers; their combined efforts
culminated with a public performance, Moving in Costume.
The playful and sculptural aspects of her work were exemplified
in costumes such as Mud Girl, with its nylon mesh headdress,
top of hand-dyed hemp linen with metal hoops, and shorts of
hand-dyed cotton knit and boning.
While working as a costume designer,
DeAntonis continued to expand her knowledge of natural dyes
and dyeing techniques. In 1997, she traveled to Bhuj, in Gujarat,
India, where she taught natural dyeing to master textile craftsman
Khatri Ali Muhamed Isha. Every day for a month she rode her
bicycle from her hotel to his studio - until he reached the
point where he could experiment with natural dyes on his own.
"I had heard that Indian textile artists were losing their
natural dye practices, so I wanted to teach, not because I
felt I was an expert, but because, in a sense, I wanted to
give back something that we'd originally gotten from them,"
|DeAntonis in her studio. Photos by Oliver
Raisner unless otherwise noted.
|Above: Overhead shot, with layout
table at center and sewing machines at right. Right: Fabric
clamped between wooden shapes for dyeing (itajime
shibori). This fabric will be made into a Kamchatka
||Above: The hot dye area. DeAntonis is
standing on the steel table that holds the industrial
burners. Left: After dyeing. The clamped shapes have been
removed. Photo: April Gertler.
||Left: Laying out a pattern for a top on
matte silk jersey that's been dyed with acid dyes. Right:
The showroom area.
By 1998, she had become dissatisfied
with the limitations of freelance costume design. Mainly,
it meant creating outfits that were born not so much from
her imagination but from the practical needs of her clients.
"I missed generating my own ideas, and I didn't really want
to compromise," she says.
She longed to execute her own clothing
designs constructed from high quality materials intended to
last, for people who'd relish wearing them time and again.
"People would see my costumes and say, 'I wish you'd make
clothes.' Also, I just couldn't find clothes that suited me,
especially in terms of color." So for these reasons and more,
DeAntonis founded Ocelot, which since inception has specialized
in itajime-dyed clothes.
DeAntonis favors intense, earthy colors.
And while she'd rather work exclusively with ecofriendly,
nontoxic natural dye extracts, to achieve the dynamic color
combinations she's after she must rely on both natural and
synthetic dyes. Her palette of natural hues draws from indigo
(blue), cochineal (deep red and fuchsias), catechu (brown),
osage (yellow-orange), madder root (red-orange), and myrobalan
(beige). She turns to synthetic dyes for the darker contrasting
colors, such as purplish black.
In general, the dyeing of an Ocelot
garment takes three days. On the first day, the cloth is soaked
in a mordant. On the second day, the fabric is ready to be
"cooked" in natural dye. The resulting solid color constitutes
the base color for the resist shapes and the portion of cloth
that later will be overdyed with synthetic dye. On the third
day, the fabric is cut up, folded up accordion-style, and
secured between wooden shapes (that DeAntonis makes herself
) held in place with hardware-store "quick-grip" clamps (a
particularly complex design can require up to a dozen clamps).
The folded and clamped piece of fabric finally gets soaked
in water and then immersed in synthetic dye.
DeAntonis controls the dyeing process
but nonetheless expects a certain degree of surprise. Sometimes,
the residual dyes retained by the wooden shapes - and even
the wood grain - can be passed on to the outermost folds of
the resist-shape pattern. The dyeing process also yields shapes
whose edges are not sharply defined, but fuzzy, and, when
juxtaposed against the darker contrasting colors, seem to
"There is something about the
way the dyes glow out of the darkness that's similar to the
way plants pop out at you when you're walking through the
forest," DeAntonis says. "Luminosity and contrast, the vibration
between positive and negative shapes, the unexpected juxtaposition
of colors - these all speak my voice."
Victoria Alba is a freelance arts
writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.
|DeAntonis uses layered natural and synthetic dyes
and an itajime shibori technique in which wooden
shapes are clamped onto the fabric to block dye from reaching
|Ocelot shrugs, Lupita tank tops,
Lola skirt, Nani pants,
2000. Shrugs, wool jersey. Tanks, silk knit and rayon/Lycra.
Pants, cotton/Lycra jersey with silk knit borders. Skirt,
cotton/Lycra jersey with silk knit border. Photo by the
Eastep in Kamchatka
tunic (with hood on) and Eye of Kamchatka pants,
Tunic, wool and silk chiffon. Pants, cotton/Lycra, silk
knit borders. Photo by the artist.
|Circle T and short skirt worn over long
2001. Top, silk. Skirts, rayon/Lycra with silk
knit borders. Photo: Oliver Raisner.
|Wrap skirt over Tunis top, 2002.
chiffon. Top, silk jersey. Photo: Oliver Raisner.
|Coat; discharged wool, 2001. Photo: Nancy Eastep.