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On this week's episode, LaChaun speaks with Lea Thomas. Born in Hawaii and based in Brooklyn, Lea Thomas is a multimedia artist with a focus on music and weaving. Her woven work is centered around hand-looming natural fibers that she dyes with botanical pigments. Her frequent use of indigo is symbolic of her Japanese heritage, honoring a lineage of kimono makers and textile artisans in her immediate ancestry.
A lifelong musician, Lea Thomas is set to release her latest record, "Mirrors To The Sun" on Spirit House Records, July 22, 2021. Watch the music videos for her recent singles here.
Additionally, Lea channels her studies in traditional herbal medicine into a boutique line of seasonal, hand-harvested herbal products under the name All In All Apothecary.
Sarah Resnick: I’m Sarah Resnick.
LaChaun Moore: And I’m LaChaun Moore.
Sarah Resnick: And we are the hosts of the Weave Podcast, a project of the weaving yarn shop, Gist Yarn & Fiber.
LaChaun Moore: Hello. Hi, everyone. I know it’s been a while since you’ve last heard from me, but I am excited to be back. In this week’s episode, I’m speaking with Lea Thomas. Born in Hawaii and based in Brooklyn, Lea Thomas is a multimedia artist with a focus on music and weaving. Her woven work is centered around hand looming natural fibers that she dyes with botanical pigments. Her frequent use of indigo is symbolic of her Japanese heritage, honoring a lineage of kimono makers and textile artisans in her immediate ancestry. A lifelong musician, Lea Thomas is set to release her latest record, Mirrors to the Sun, on Spirit House Records, July 22nd, 2021.
Additionally, Lea channels her studies in traditional herbal medicine into a boutique line of seasonal hand-harvested herbal products under the name All in All Apothecary. Hello, Lea. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining us today.
Lea Thomas: Hi. Thanks for having me.
LaChaun Moore: Can you start out by introducing yourself and telling our listeners how you began working with fibers, and music, and how all of those parts of your creative practice really work together?
Lea Thomas: Sure. So, my name’s Lea Thomas. I’m a musician, and a textile artist, and an herbal enthusiast. I always say I love the plant people. I got started with music first. That was kind of the first love in my life. My parents are both really artistic people in their own ways. My dad played music and also actually had a textile design company where he worked with Balinese textile artisans when we were really young, before I was born, and into my early childhood. So, I was always kind of surrounded by creative people and just being… always being encouraged to kind of pursue any medium that I wanted, and to just explore, and play, and chase my ideas, and music really got ahold of me when I was four or five. I started playing piano. I kept that up and then switched to guitar and got into rock and roll when I was like in my teenage years, recording myself and writing songs and all that.
And that’s really been my main and kind of… I mean, other than some drawing and stuff, that’s really been my main practice creatively for most of my life until my early twenties, when I kind of spontaneously had an epiphany about textiles, that they weren’t just… Fabric isn’t just for making clothing. You can also make artwork out of it. And it was like this total like, “Oh my gosh,” like this aha moment for me, because I felt like a lot of my dad’s involvement in textiles, and my grandparents from my mother’s side, my great grandmother was a kimono maker, my grandparents and her maintained a kimono custom workshop in Tokyo, and I grew up visiting them, so I was always surrounded by this kind of world of textiles, but I never really made the connection that it could be sort of funneled into a more singular artistic practice in a way that felt more expressive of who I am and not just to make a piece of beautiful clothing or something like that. I thought it was really exciting that you could make paintings, in a way, out of what most people think of as like, “Ooh, a piece of art that I would hang on my wall.” It was like, “Oh, that can also be made out of fiber. Whoa, I want to do that.”
LaChaun Moore: That’s so beautiful to have all of those different aspects kind of communicating and showing up in your work in different ways. I’m really curious, and I ask this because I really enjoy learning about how artists really navigate all of the different talents that they have, and how they come together, so I’m curious if you feel that your music informs your textiles or if your textiles inform your music, and how does apothecary kind of play into all of these different themes that show up?
Lea Thomas: Yeah. That’s such an interesting question. I feel like there’s certain similarities in terms of the kind of like… that you’re using a tool, you know? When you’re weaving a piece of fabric or whatever it is that you’re creating on a loom, you’re using the loom and you’re working with this kind of machinery in the same way that when you’re working on a song, or you’re playing a song, or whatever… I play guitar. It’s my main instrument now. I guess some people would just sing, in which their tools would be their voice, but there is this kind of like element of working with an instrument or tool of some kind that I feel like there’s a similarity there.
But I kind of put weaving and music in very different spaces in my mind. They kind of bring out different things from my subconscious or my creative side in very different ways. I feel like with weaving, I love how finite and tangible the end product is, you know? You can cut it. That moment when you’re cutting a piece off of the loom and you’re just like, “Yes!” It’s so satisfying. Whereas with music, it’s much more abstract. It’s very subjective. You never really know if you’ve “finished” a song. It can be kind of a more ambiguous exploration and I love that with weaving I get to kind of turn off my mind in a way that I really just get into the visual aspect of it, and the rhythm, and the textures, and I don’t really make plans or designs most of the time when I weave, so I just… I love the… like there’s one direction. You go left to right with your weft. You can make some squigglies, but generally it’s kind of like this weft and warp, weft and warp, and I love that, the confines of that, and what you can do within that structure still feels like there’s so many options, but there is this kind of container for the energy, and I think that’s… It’s really a different kind of meditative practice than music and I find that really soothing.
I kind of go in really heavy phases between weaving a lot or working on a record or something like that. It kind of comes in long, rolling waves of months at a time sometimes where I won’t do much weaving, and then I’ll just be obsessed with it.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. I completely understand that because I feel like I work in the same way, where I compartmentalize the different things that I do. There are small moments where I’m like, “Oh, I can see how this is living through this, “ but I can imagine the satisfaction that you get from the different freedoms that you have, you know? Like feeling the feeling of having a finished piece, whereas music kind of has this very whimsical, ephemeral quality. So, yeah, I can definitely see that.
I’m really curious where you developed your fiber skills. Did you learn in school? I know you mentioned having a family with creative background, but how did you get specifically into using looms, and really developing and homing in on your practice?
Lea Thomas: Yeah. I’m super self-taught. I really just went down the YouTube rabbit hole for the first year that I was picking up weaving and I basically… I went to this weeklong camping women’s skill sharing gathering, and that was the first time that I really saw other weavers displaying their work, and like showcasing them as artworks, and I was like, “Oh, very cool.” And I came home from that experience not having done any actual weaving workshops there, but I came home, and I was like, “I kind of want to try that. That looked really cool.” And I literally just, like any good millennial will do, I just started Googling, “How do you weave?” I always tell people who… because I’ve had so many friends over the years ask me how can I get into it, it looks so peaceful, and relaxing, and I want to pick up a creative practice, and I always tell them just watch a bunch of YouTube videos, start with a picture frame loom, or just a picture frame and turn it into a loom. Just weave your warp around it and start with really simple tapestry needle on a little picture frame.
And that’s how I started for the first month and then I kind of like found a bigger frame, and then I was like, “Oh, I really want a loom-loom now.” So, I slowly graduated and got myself a rigid heddle loom because it was… It felt like the next kind of step mentally. I didn’t want to go to a floor loom after three months of practicing weaving, also living in a one-bedroom apartment.
LaChaun Moore: Which is definitely, definitely an issue with weaving.
Lea Thomas: Oh my gosh. Space is a real consideration.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah.
Lea Thomas: But yeah, I love my… I got a Kromski Harp Forte. I still have it. I love it. I have it in two different sizes. I love it because it folds up. And I mostly work with plain weave and then I kind of embellish it with different textures and stuff like that, and maybe some lace techniques and stuff, but generally for a lot of my work, a rigid heddle loom actually is totally sufficient. I know it’s kind of like a more simple structure, but I just… I love how portable it is. I like to travel, so I have a smaller size that I take with me, and I can just fold it up and get it in this little carrying bag, and I’ve taken it… I’m from Hawaii originally, and I’ll take it back to Hawaii when I go visit friends and family and stuff, and just fly with my little loom.
LaChaun Moore: That’s amazing.
Lea Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s wonderful for that, and I always highly recommend a little portable loom for those reasons. But after that, maybe I had my rigid heddle for a year or so, and then I started looking on Craigslist, got bit with the weaving bug, and started hounding Craigslist for… I live in New York, so I was just kind of looking in the entire Tri-state area and ended up finding a woman in Massachusetts, or New Hampshire… I honestly don’t even remember at this point, but she was just a wonderful elderly woman who had 10 different looms, floor looms, mind you, in her basement.
LaChaun Moore: Wow.
Lea Thomas: She had so many looms and it almost was like painful for her to part with this one, but I bought a Leclerc… Is that how you pronounce it? I always just like… You know, the French-Canadian brand.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah.
Lea Thomas: An Artisat. It’s a four-shaft loom. And the reason I love this loom, this floor loom, is because the back beam of it also bends inward. It collapses inward, so you can save another foot and a half of space in your apartment or wherever you live. You know, you can kind of push it back up against the wall when you’re not actively using it, and I just… I love how mobile it is and it’s treated me really well. I love it.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. That’s… I mean, it just sounds so amazing to hear you talk about all of the different looms that you’ve worked with and experimented with. Would you say that you are more drawn to a particular type of loom? Like you started with frame looms, and then you kind of graduated onto floor looms, and rigid heddle looms, would you say that there’s one that you’re particularly drawn to?
Lea Thomas: I love working on a floor loom. It does not always… What’s the word? Agree with my body.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah.
Lea Thomas: It’s just a very physical practice and I find when I’m… Sometimes when I’m a little more impatient about, “I just want to weave,” or whatever, I’ll definitely end up on my rigid heddle more often, because it’s… I can move it around my apartment, and be in different positions, and kind of enjoy different parts of different ambiance. And just like getting it dressed is a much easier process than the floor loom. But you know, being on the floor loom, if I was working on a larger piece, I love that the tension is really consistent on the floor loom. It’s just… It’s a much more sturdy being, and I do love that kind of relationship. But that’ll be kind of when I’m more deep in a weaving mode, maybe like a couple of months of just really working intensely. I’ll have the floor loom out and really get into it.
So, it kind of depends on the mood and what I’m going for, I think, and obviously if I was gonna explore some different weave structures, like some honeycomb and stuff like that, that’s just fun, or double weave, the floor loom is where all that magic happens. So, I kind of switch between them.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I like about floor looms are the pedals, but then also, eventually I don’t like using the pedals, because it does cause a lot of stress in the bending and the body movements.
Lea Thomas: Yes. Totally. I know. It’s so funny, but it really is such a factor when you’re gonna be spending hours, and hours, and hours working on something. Your shoulders and your back is just like, “Oh, no!”
LaChaun Moore: Yeah.
Lea Thomas: I love it.
LaChaun Moore: I also read that you use indigo pigment. It’s something that you use because it’s reflective of your Japanese heritage. Can you talk about your personal relationship to Japanese indigo?
Lea Thomas: Yeah. So, as I mentioned earlier, my maternal side had this kimono shop, and it’s the building that my mom grew up in, and it was in the heart of what’s now kind of a businessy, office man, like suit area now. It used to be historically where a lot of the craftsmen and textile artisans kind of lived and worked in this area. And there were a lot of indigo dyers there, as well, and my grandparents, they didn’t do their own dying, and a lot of it at that point I believe was kind of more about the hand painted silks and the emblems and things that got screen printed on or painted onto the silks, but there was a time in that area where it was many, many indigo dyers. It was a really common pigment that they used to color clothing because of all the… it strengthened fibers. It was mildly insect repellant, for a lot of farmers and stuff it was a very just common thing to wear out in the fields, because it protected you.
And it’s just beautiful, you know? But obviously as time has gone on, that isn’t… A lot of those places have closed, and the area has changed a lot, but I always wish that I could go back in time and see that area when it was really bustling, and happening, and people were weaving all the obis, those belts for the kimonos, and all the crafts were really alive. But yeah, so kind of… I don’t have a direct tie to indigo, per se, but when I work with indigo, I think a lot about my great grandmother especially, and when I’m weaving, as well. It’s not something that I really connected when I first started weaving, but as I kind of got more involved in the practice, I started to feel this like, “Oh, I feel this kind of like presence, like I’m thinking more about my great grandmother.”
I was just sort of thinking more about all the history of textiles on that side of my family and when I stumbled onto indigo, because I started getting… Along with my weaving practice, I started exploring natural dyes and stuff because I just never really loved… I’m always trying to reduce my environmental impact, you know? So, from the get-go I was like, “Okay, I want some color. How do I get it? I’m gonna look at some plants.” And when I came across indigo and really got excited about the multilayered process, and just how much is involved with it, and the historical significance in Japanese culture, it did feel like a very full circle moment for me, and so I really… I tried to embrace that and lean into it when I’m working with that color and working with textiles.
It’s not like a super, like I do this for my great grandmother, or anything like that, but I think it’s really… It makes me feel really good to just have some kind of a string of connection to my ancestry in that way. It feels nice to kind of carry on the spirit.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. That’s so beautiful. I like that you brought up spirit and spirituality, because I do feel that there is a presence in the work that you make, whether it’s the music you create, or your weavings, or even just how you have kind of talked about your connection to textiles and some of your thought process. Can you go a bit more into depth with the spirituality, or the aesthetics, or what kind of motivates you to create?
Lea Thomas: Yeah. I think generally I’m always… The root of my inspiration is always in nature. I love to explore the kind of human experience, as well, especially in my music, and how we relate to each other, and how we relate to our environments, but I think ultimately everything kind of comes back to relationship to nature, and symbolism found in nature, and teachings found in nature, and the metaphors, and the very abstract ways that plants and animals and everything that really exists around us are interconnected, and how they communicate, and the intelligence, and just everything that we don’t understand. I find that mystery between all of it just so fascinating and beautiful, and kind of this endless pool of inspiration, you know?
I feel like anytime I’m feeling kind of like, “Oh, I don’t know what to work on,” it’s just like, “Well, I mean, open your eyes and go for a walk,” you know?
LaChaun Moore: Yeah.
Lea Thomas: Like clear, get out of your head, you know? Just go witness a tree in even the park or whatever. There’s just so much to take in and just the beauty of life, and the resilience of plants, and the ephemeral nature of seasons, and all of the cycles and characters that live around us that don’t really have voices. They might not communicate in our tongue, but they have so much going on, and I feel like it’s really always a treat to kind of peek in and feel like a lot of my work explores what I see and what I feel. Little reflections of moments that I have with mostly plants. Mostly plants.
LaChaun Moore: That’s so beautiful. And can you talk about An Enchanted Loom?
Lea Thomas: So, An Enchanted Loom was a showcase that I did last year. It was a group show. I had a couple pieces in there. It was a really beautiful show that was curated by Doppelganger Projects, but yeah, I had some of my indigo works in there. I’m excited for the… I have another show coming up later in October this year at the Southern Utah University. That’s another group show. I’m really excited. The theme is all about artists who kind of explore relationship to nature, so it really expands on that theme. I’m excited to see how that goes.
LaChaun Moore: Beautiful. And kind of staying on the subject of nature and exploring nature, you have All in All Apothecary. Can you talk more about this business that you’re working on and what inspired you to start it?
Lea Thomas: Yeah. Thanks for asking about that. It’s my little baby project. I’ve had the Apothecary, very, very small batch. It’s a very small batch project but something that’s very dear to my heart and I’ve been doing this work for maybe seven or eight years now. It’s basically a line of seasonal herbal products that I make. It includes like perfumes, and oils, and salves, lip balms, and a few tinctures that really… The collection really started because I was learning about herbs myself and learning how to gather them in the wild, and prepare herbal medicines, and I just got so excited about another creative practice, and especially the blending of perfumes, and making balms and stuff. There is this kind of alchemy that happens when you’re stirring all the ingredients together and working with plants in that way was really exciting to me as I was getting to know more about herbalism in general.
And I would always just make too much for myself because I’m like, “Ooh, and I want to make an oil of this plant,” and, “Ooh, I want to make an oil with this plant.” And I just ended up gifting them a lot and then it kind of grew naturally into this very, very little business that… I sell, it kind of has become my merch at music shows and stuff like that. I’ll bring my Apothecary items and people are always just like, “What is this?”
LaChaun Moore: That’s such cool merch to present at a music show. That’s amazing!
Lea Thomas: It’s really fun because I feel like people get maybe a little overwhelmed and they’re like, “Oh yeah. Herbal medicine. I’ve always wanted to learn more,” but there seems like there’s so much information. And I feel like they’re just these little offerings and they can be maybe a little gateway to people seeing the plants that are around them in a different way. A lot of my products are made with… I mean, I don’t harvest them literally in New York, but I gather things mostly in Vermont, but you know, they’re very familiar. They’re very common plants. There’s like plantain, or lavender, or St. John’s wort, and things that you might see in many, many places around the world, and I think it’s really exciting to be able to kind of make the connection for some people that this is healing herb and it grows everywhere.
You know, one of my… Many of my teachers all kind of prescribe to this herbal, infamous herbalist quote, just… I feel like it just has existed forever, but people say that herbalism is the people’s medicine. And I really subscribe to that, and I get excited that these products can just be a little gateway for people being able to see the plants that are around them in a different relationship. Yeah.
LaChaun Moore: Amazing. I actually started… I’ll say I started to dabble in the making of tinctures. I have a million. And last year, I started to dabble with making them. I’m curious, you mentioned oils, that you make oils. What’s the process of making an oil extraction?
Lea Thomas: Yeah, so oils can be a little bit trickier. Tinctures are definitely a great place to start if you’re just dabbling and you’re just getting into it. Because there’s no chance of it spoiling, because the alcohol is gonna be like an instant bacteria killer and preservative. Oils can be a little… require a little bit more vigilance when you’re letting it steep, but essentially you just cover the plant matter with oil and then let it sit. And you know, obviously there’s a lot of nuance to that, like some plants have more moisture than others and you don’t want to let them sit in the oil before… What am I trying to say? I always let wet kind of flowers wilt a little bit.
So, I might leave them out on the table, like say red clover, I might leave them out on the table for a day or two and let them kind of dry out a little bit so that they don’t mold in the oil. There’s a lot of little tips and tricks when you really start to get into the oil, but I love oils because I just… I feel like it’s this instant nervous system relaxer when you get some juicy, herbal-infused oil that has its own benefits and minerals and stuff that your skin is going to absorb. And then you have to apply it by kind of self-massage, right? So, you’re getting this double action of healing, just juicy self-care moment.
So, I think oils are fabulous. I use oils everywhere. We have so many kinds.
LaChaun Moore: Thank you for sharing. I’ve worked with alcohol extraction, so I’m really excited that I know that it’s a similar process. It just requires more care.
Lea Thomas: Yes. Totally. And it kind of depends on the plant. Work with dry plant, like a dryer type of plants, before you start to work with really juicy blossoms and stuff.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. That makes sense because of mold and things like that. And do you have any new projects that you’re working on?
Lea Thomas: Yeah. The big news is that I have a new record coming out in the summer, so I’m really excited about that. We’re gonna be sharing some music videos in the months leading up to it. I believe right around the time this episode will come out the video for a song called Hummingbird will be out and people can check that out. I have the group exhibition that I mentioned earlier that will be going on at the Southern Utah University in October. I’m excited for that. And those are kind of the big things. The album release is what I’m most involved in right now, so I’m already eyeing my loom and just being like, “Hold on one more minute. I’ll get back to you soon.”
I’m really missing weaving. It’s been a very music heavy couple of months and I’m excited to get back to my loom.
LaChaun Moore: And where can people go on social media and the internet to learn more about your practice, support your Apothecary, listen to your music? What are some of your social media handles?
Lea Thomas: Yeah, so I’m not super active on Instagram as much as I used to be. I’m trying to set some boundaries for myself, but-
LaChaun Moore: I understand.
Lea Thomas: I am on Instagram. Yeah. I’m like… I have no self-control. I go in waves. But yeah, I’m on Instagram. My handle is @LeaLeaThomas with no H, and maybe you can put the links or something in the description, but my website is probably the best place to keep in touch, because I kind of have… It’s an accumulation of all of my art practices and my Apothecary shop is also on my site. And my site is lealealea.com.
LaChaun Moore: Amazing. It’s been really beautiful talking to you today and before you go, I have one question that we ask everyone that joins the podcast, and that is do you have any advice or words of wisdom to share with weavers and textile enthusiasts?
Lea Thomas: Such a good question. Well, I think something that’s important to me is the environmental kind of footprint of my work, and so maybe I would encourage people to just think about materials, and where they’re sourcing things. Could they find someone that’s using… If you don’t dye your yarns yourself, can you find yarns that are either recycled, or upcycled, or maybe dyed with inks that aren’t as damaging to the water supply of places where… industries where they’re being dyed. Could you get excited about working with natural fibers? Could you source natural fibers more locally? Could you source them on Gist, am I right?
LaChaun Moore: Wonderful. It’s a great idea.
Lea Thomas: But yeah, just generally I think when you’re working with artforms that are bringing actual physical objects into the world, I think it’s important to consider what you’re taking in terms of resources from nature and just kind of keep that in mind as you move forward with your work to see if there’s a way that you could improve upon it. No one’s perfect, but I think it’s nice to keep that in consideration.
LaChaun Moore: Beautiful. Thank you so much. It’s been amazing talking to you.
Lea Thomas: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the questions and the thoughtful conversation.
LaChaun Moore: Absolutely.
LaChaun Moore: That’s a wrap. If you’re interested in learning more about Lea’s work or to listen to some of her music, you can find links in the show notes at www.gistyarn.com/episode-139. Thank you for tuning into this week’s episode. Until next time, happy weaving!
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