All the way from Spannum in The Netherlands, textile designer and activist Claudy Jongstra got online for Interior Design Editor in Chief Cindy Allen’s daily Instagram Live conversation. She chats sitting in front of one of her wall hangings in wool-felt, the medium in which she has risen to art and design world prominence. As is usual with many of Cindy’s guests, Jongstra speaks about collaborating with clients while images of her work are displayed on the screen, but her highly distinctive portfolio gives the segment a strong individual flavor.
Jongstra says she is doing well during this strange time of quarantine. Living in the Dutch countryside, she is already a little bit isolated as she plugs along in her workshop. Fortunately, The Netherlands is flattening the viral curve, according to their Prime Minister. Fanned by the sea-wind and under a sky covered by “spectacular clouds,” Jongstra remains close to her original inspirations.
There is a compound near her home where Jongstra’s team—20 farmers, filmmakers, and botanical experts from around the world—does everything from raising sheep to tending a biodynamic dye garden. “Intertwining fibers is the oldest way to make a fabric,” she says about her occupation, but remarks that the company’s autonomy—all its needs are produced on its own land—gives complete independence because it doesn’t rely on outside suppliers. While that may involve more tedious work cultivating raw materials, the company’s commitment to sustainability is unwavering.
Read more: Claudy Jongstra Interweaves a Passion for the Environment in her Wool-Felt Artwork
The pigments in Jongstra’s work come from natural sources like fruits and flowers, meaning that the color changes depending on soil and location. Jongstra explains that to keep things consistent she started a community seed bank, which preserves rare and endangered species for future use. She shows Cindy some of the plants and their resulting textiles, while noting that a single 12-year-old plant can provide color for a multitude of pieces.
Jongstra’s large-scale art can be found in places that support her activism, such as the Wallace Foundation in New York, an organization that benefits disadvantaged children through literacy and art programs. Viewers get to see images of that commission among others, such as a 260-foot-long installation she and her team did for the University of Pennsylvania. Because she works with a natural material with a 40-year lifespan, there is some maintenance: Keep the surfaces dust free. Some benefits of having wool-felt in a space, she points out, include regulating humidity and enhancing acoustics.
“The wool dictates what you do,” Jongstra says about her medium, comparing it to “painting with fiber.” What’s more, every piece is entirely unique and special: “It’s so personal because it’s tailor-made,” and handmade at that!
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