24.4.16

M U S E :: Rachel Blodgett of Serpent + Bow


In each MUSE interview we take time to explore the lives + creative processes of the folks who inspire us to live each day most wildly and authentically, close to the Earth and to our own Spirits.  To meet more of our MUSES, visit the Archives




R a c h e l    A n n e t t e    B l o d g e t t

O f

S e r p e n t   &   B o w


The first time I saw Rachel's work in 2013 I knew it was something special.  It all started with me admiring our mutual friend and acquaintance, Allyson's butt.  Allow me to explain.  Rachel is a maker of fine indigo undergarments.  Allyson was one of her early models and someone I am inspired by to this day.  I found Rachel's work through Allyson and contacted her to express my admiration -- of her work, not Allyson's butt, though this appreciation persists as well.  Through our correspondence and exploration of one another's creations, Rachel and I felt an immediate kinship and exchanged lovingly crafted packages  -- mine filled with flower essences and plant medicine, hers with hand-dyed panties depicting the phases of the Moon and the constellation of Pleiades, at my request.  Since that time, we've gone on to collaborate on a line of Talismans, shared some sweet visits at Rachel's home in Santa Rosa, CA, and she has even been kind enough to harvest Redwood for me with her brother Roy when I could not travel to gather it myself.  I've enjoyed our slow growing friendship these last few years and look forward to many more moments of unfolding our knowing of one another.

Rachel's work really speaks for itself, and I've noticed that she seems to like it that way. However, she is a gifted storyteller and prism-like being, full of paradox and insight, wild wisdom and intensity and beauty.  In the interview which follows, I hope you will enjoy as much as I have, the rare glimpse she offers us into her world.






Tell us about your home + studio.


I live in a house in Santa Rosa, with a small garage for the indigo vat and a yard big enough for some garden beds and chickens. I share the house with Catherine Sieck, and there is a large back room that we share as our studio. My favorite part about the house is the kitchen, because it has these deep burnt-orange tiles and its connected to a sunny dining area where we have a lot of plants and a small dinner table that was passed down to me by my grandmother. I like that the house tends to be in flux- there are always different projects happening in the studio and kitchen, and I really like rearranging my room and the art on the walls. The house is just a space that holds our lives, but I also really enjoy nesting and creating beauty around me. We just set up a bed in the backyard, for our second Spring/Summer in this house, (with haybales as the mattress), and that felt like a really special ritual part of the sunny season. Making new traditions is part of what makes me love my home and the familiarity that comes along with staying in one place for a while. 


What'd you eat for breakfast this morning?



I ate brown rice that I soaked overnight and cooked with ginger, with maple yogurt and sunflower seeds and banana and chia seeds and some dried cherries and a spoonful of peanut butter. This is what I usually eat, though sometimes with millet instead of rice, and with fewer fancy toppings. :)






What led you to working with natural dyes?


I started working with with Natural Dyes while I was in College. I was mainly interested in Indigo, but started experimenting because plant dyes were something I could be doing in my kitchen in a very non-toxic and playful way. As I started experimenting, I began to attach more and more meaning to the process. It became something that really connected me to place- I started to see dye plants all around and recognize colors as location-specific. It became a way for me to physically touch and be close to my environment- its colors, smells, and medicinal properties.



What are some of the unexpected things you've learned along the way through Serpent and Bow?

I would say everything I learn is unexpected, because Serpent & Bow itself was unexpected. I didn't set out to create a business or develop garments that would be produced in collections and sold in shops. I have learned a lot about what it looks like to transform a studio practice into a business, and I'm still learning about this every day. I think something that I have realized is that Serpent and Bow is its own entity. There's me, Rachel, and I am a living being with my own needs and my little brain and I am in flux because I'm growing and changing all the time. And then there is Serpent & Bow, which is very much its own being with its own mission and plan, and I am in service to it. Sometimes I have an idea and I'm like, "Hey, S&B, what do you think about this?" and Serpent & Bow is like "MMMM, I don't know Rachel... that's not really our thing. I think that's a side project or something." There are different sides to my personality, and I feel like Serpent & Bow expresses a part of me very deeply, but it is also expressing something that I am channelling, that is just meant to exist in the world. It was something that I needed during a certain time in my life, and it is something that is resonating with others in their own specific ways. I'm not in control of that, and I can't even completely understand it, I am just the person that gets to be in service to Indigo Moon Magic. 





How do magic + ritual play into your creative practice?


I am a spiritual person. My family became religious when I was ten, but I feel like I have always had my own version of spirituality- just a feeling that I am in conversation with something larger than myself. I believe in balance, that spirituality or magic or inspiration are maintained through offerings and sacrifice. I want to share and contribute good to the world, and I feel rewarded by that act of sharing. I actually feel like we all have a duty to share our gifts, because sometimes the need is something beyond our own understanding. 

We can't have control over the action our art is meant to do in the world, and often the meaning comes to fruition through the act of sharing.  I have definitely created specific actions and rituals in order to enact change in myself or my life, and I usually see these as a melding of art and spirituality. I am intentionally creating the act, but what makes it 'work' is beyond me. 

When I was in college, I was really in love with someone who didn't love me back in the same way, and I had one of his tee shirts, and some letters, which felt like very heavy items to have around. I felt like their charge in my space and in my life was really distracting, but I didn't really know what to do with them because they also felt really special. So I invented this practice called entropic mending, where I basically dissolved them into nothing. I un-knit the whole shirt and then made it into dust with a mortar and pestle and then just let it blow away. I liked that this ritual had a name and I wrote down the process, because it has since become something that I will share with friends, and I cherish the rituals that friends have taught me. And then there are other rituals in my life relating to the moon, my blood, Wonderment, my meals, cleaning my home, refreshing the studio, and expressing beauty. My friend Zohn has shown me a lot about how special it is just to do things for the sake of beauty alone, and she is someone who inspires me a lot lately. I also write every day, usually in the morning.


Who else and what else inspires you?


I tend to be easily inspired by the world around me. I'm inspired by my close friends, my brother, sun on my face, looking at plants, listening to birds. I live in an urban space- so often I will see things like water drops on grass and dandelions, california poppies that fell in the rain and have since been walked on, against the sound of the freeway, against the sound of my neighbor's dog, and my chickens. To me, this feels real- I can always feel life surrounding me, and this place and these sounds are the backdrop that I was born into. I'm inspired by the familiarity that comes from staying in one place for a while. I want to have long relationships with the particular trees and plants that surround me. Right now I am really in love with these white camellias that are growing next to the palm reader's house at the end of my street.

I'm inspired by the act of making. The action of creating feels really natural to me, and I am always seeing an opportunity to create with the plants around me, or through writing, or after having a great conversation.  I'm inspired by the fact that we are mortal and transient and everything around us is a wonder, and so we have this opportunity to see and smell and touch and feel all that we can while we're here. There are a million new ways to make meaning each day. I am inspired by joy, love for this place, and sometimes I'm inspired by anger that comes from a desire to protect it. I'm also really inspired by the fact that there are always things that we don't know, or can't know, and we just have to get older and let time pass and look for things and wait for wisdom to come to us.






Tell me about your Thirteen Moons project? I'd love to know more about what it meant for you and what you learned from the experience.


Thirteen Moons is a project that I did from May 2014-June 2016. I decided to be intentionally celibate for a year (I was also completely sober from drugs and alcohol), and I also did a lot of writing and made garments for myself each month. The different garments were meant to be anchors for the changes I perceived in myself, and what I wanted to manifest as well as a way of marking time. I definitely had very different feelings about the project as it unfolded and even now. Looking back, it was the most loving thing I had ever done for myself- I just committed to focusing on caring for myself for a year. I had been in a relationship that was on and off for eight years, and became really abusive, and I was also physically not well. I started the project one month before moving back to Santa Rosa from Rhode Island, mainly because the lining of my stomach got really damaged and it was difficult for me to eat and I was having a hard time physically and emotionally. My brother, Roy, came to Rhode Island and we drove together back to California.


I think I learned more about myself in that year than I had picked up in all of my previous adulthood. I had done a lot of damage to myself, in not recognizing how precious my life is, and just living in a way that was very reactionary. Life is so precious- each of us is so lucky to have our lives, and time is constantly passing and changing. Before Thirteen Moons, I lived in a way that wasn't very compassionate to myself or others, just because I had never taken the time to deeply care for and know myself. So it was a time of unraveling and creating new habits. And it was a time for mourning ways that I had hurt myself and others in the past, and gratitude my own resilience and fresh possibilities. And gratitude for my friends and family, for their support.



It seems to me that everyone and their mom (really though) is clamoring for a pair of your Indigo Mooncycle Panties – where did the inspiration for this design spring from and how do you keep the practice fresh as you continue to create them?


It is actually kind of hard for me to remember how I got the idea. It just arrived in my life at a time when I felt really disconnected from my body. Or rather, I realized that I had never learned how to connect with it in the first place. I had known about how menstruation was connected to the moon, but I had never fully grasped how magical and special that is, and then, when I did, I became sort of obsessed with this desire to manifest my own connection to the cosmic swirlings.  I had always had really intense painful periods, like I had passed out from the pain a few times, and finally I wondered whether I had any power in changing that relationship rather than just accepting my fate. So I started experimenting with herbs, eventually. But it started as just a recognition that there might be a deeper meaning to my blood. I had been working with Indigo for a few years at that time, and the Moon Cycle underwear were the first thing that I made when I started doing batik at home. I started doing batik because I couldn't get together all of the components to a screen-printing studio... so it all fell into place.




Are there any plants – edible, medicinal, or otherwise – with whom you feel a particular kinship? What are your favorite ways to work with them?


The first plant that really changed my life was Viburnum. I started using it for cramps instead of taking chemical pain killers and it taught me how powerful and effective plant medicine can be. I also loved that making the tea became its own ritual, and it was a custom ritual and I get better at it every month. Slippery elm did the same for my stomach- I had digestive issues for almost two years that made it really painful for me to eat.

Recently I did a lot of work with yarrow and felt like it helped me to forgive and release some really old wounds. And right now I'm working with the amazing Ocotillo Elixir from La Abeja, in conjunction with Mugwort tea/tincture/pillow. I feel like plant wisdom is infinite, so I am happy to slowly get to know plant allies one by one, and I am really happy to share what I learn from working with and making plant medicine. I love that there are so many of us who are learning, and so many wise older teachers, and together we are participating in maybe the oldest universal conversation- between people and plants. I am also very honored to be a part of Plant Club, which was started by Madalyn from the Community Medicine Cabinet. We trade plant medicine and work with one new herb each month. Hence the Mugwort- its Mugwort month. :)



You're a writer, performer, and activist in addition to a designer and visual artist. Can you tell us about some of the other projects you're excited to be working on?


My writing and activism and art projects are so interrelated, and are reflections of personal processing as well. Lately I have been more involved with inward work. I tend to operate within a spectrum that oscillates between introversion and extroversion. When I moved back to Santa Rosa, I started a lot of projects, like Wonderment and DIY Sex Ed (a platform for conversations related to sex/gender/relationships/bodies, and mostly Consent), and I was really excited to be publicly involved and feel like a part of this community. I felt really nourished and fed by these projects, but there is always more inner work as we get to know ourselves deeper and deeper. I had been sober for two and a half years and also took a year of intentional celibacy, just to experience my autonomy after leaving an abusive relationship and being sick for a long time. So now I am not sick and I am in a happy relationship and I am learning to experience life on a different level and it is requiring a step back from other projects. But I know this step back is usually an incubation time and I'm excited to meet the next stepping stone when it lands.




What is Wonderment?

Wonderment is a femme-positive gathering that happens every new moon at a revolving location. We meet to share snacks and talk and set intentions for the next moon. It started as a women's circle, but we have since shifted into a space that includes trans sisters and genderfluid/non-binary friends and just anyone who feels they would be at home in a femme space. We don't have an agenda- meeting is the only plan, just to hold space for whatever happens to be in the room.

Wonderment is something that I started with Catherine Sieck when we moved back to Santa Rosa. One thing that really inspires me is Kathleen Hanna's first Julie Ruin album, and thinking about all of the secrets that we often hold in our individual bedrooms. There are so many of us that only feel safe in our bedrooms, if we're lucky enough to have a room of our own, and when she made that album, it felt like an effort to offer connection toward all the other secret bedroom projects. To me, Wonderment is like that. It is a safe space where we can share whatever we have going on inside us.

There have been a few times when I have felt nervous about going to Wonderment, like I'm not in a space to share, but then whenever I enter the space, that dissolves and I feel at home. It is an amazing sense of being held by this secret ever-shifting community. Its never the same group of people, but it is always really rich. And the safe space has extended beyond the meetings- I can feel it whenever I'm out in Santa Rosa; there's this sense that there are other people that get me and will hold space for me, and a desire to protect and honor each other. There's also no exclusive "club" mentality- it is a space that's available for those who desire it. There are no members, and nobody is in charge.




Tell me something I might be surprised to know about you...


I'm really obsessed with Lana Del Rey.  Like... I have been Lana for Halloween for three years, and sometimes I am Lana on other days of the year. I have a dark femme side, that I tried to eliminate for a while, but now she is alive and well and I realized that she is a part of myself that I love. There are things about Lana that really resonate with that side of myself. She is unabashedly herself, even allowing herself to be vulnerable or to express femininity in ways that are "bad" or unpopular. She once said in an interview that she is totally bored by Feminism, and at first I found that to be absolutely appalling. And yet there is another side of me that is like, yeah, Feminism has been so relevant and necessary for so long, that the fact that it is still a conversation is absurd. And therefore, boring. But I'm not too bored to fight for it. There are other sides of myself that aren't an apathetic femme diva. But sometimes I need to just let myself feel like a bad girl and put on a leather jacket and my wig and stare around at everything and laugh at all of it and roll my eyes. Feels good to be bad ;) I am a whole wide world of a person and I have many facets. I haven't even seen some of them yet...






You strike me as someone who, quite admirably, prioritizes self care. Can you share with our readers one of your favorite ways to be good to yourself?


I love to have little kitchen projects going on. I love making medicine for myself, and I feel like food is my most important medicine, although sometimes I can be really resentful of the fact that I live in a body that has to be fed every few hours, because I want to do other things....  So one thing that helps a lot is to have foods in progress. I love making sprouts, and soaking beans and grains. It is a way to commit to meals and it makes me recognize my aliveness to be involved with other living things. Kombucha. Feeding chickens, caring for plants.



I also love baths and I love making fancy bath bombs and herbal oils for my baths. I make a lot of plant-infused oils and I try to pay attention to my body and put oil on my body in a way that is attentive and kind rather than just slapping it on and running out the door. I try to say, "Hello legs, thanks for walking me around all day. Here is some redwood or yarrow medicine." I love candles and quiet. And walking. And writing.






Are there any future visions for Serpent + Bow that you'd like to share with us?

I'm planning to take a break from Indigo, to work with new plant dyes and garment shapes. Batik is a very specific process, and the visual language that I use with Indigo has developed because of the type of line work that is possible through batik. I love drawing and there are different types of mark-making that I really miss, that just can't happen with Batik, so I will also be experimenting with different printmaking methods. My ultimate vision is to introduce different images and colors more frequently, which will give me more flexibility in the studio as well. I'm excited by the idea of having a relationship with Serpent & Bow, that grows and changes as I do.











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To Learn More About Rachel and Serpent & Bow

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Visit the Serpent & Bow website

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2 comments:

  1. I so enjoyed this post, especially about being content to get to know a herb slowly. It has always happened this way for me. For a while it was one a year, then even less but deeper. I'm trying to find a way of saying this without sounding patronising, but I'm 56 and so wide eyed at the wisdom of the younger women in these blogs. Digging deep into yourselves, which I and my contemporaries didn't start doing until our late thirties, forties, fifties. It is heart warming to hear the connection you have with yourselves and with your creativity

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  2. Really love this! Beautiful all around.

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