GREG KING | West Marin
Behind an unmarked gate and a Bolinas garden ablaze in color, Greg King lives and weaves wool blankets, shawls, and tapestries. Greg has been fine-tuning his process for more than 30 years. He discovered his passion for weaving at a young age, first learning when he was seven years old. “Then when I was 16 or 17, living with my grandmother in Tiburon, I became curious about old fabrics, especially Bolivian textiles,” Greg says. “I started studying with Ida Grae, of the Baulines Craft Guild, who was one of my grandmother’s weaving teachers in Mill Valley.” Disillusioned with all of the synthetic factory-made dyes he encountered, he decided to teach himself plant-based yarn dyeing.
“I take the approach of a watercolor painter with a limited palette,” he says. He uses his natural fermented indigo for blues, purples, and greens. Black walnut leaves and nuts make the browns; madder root and cochineal the reds. And grape leaves and weld provide the yellows. He mixes and blends these to create a broad, vibrant rainbow.”
At 19, he learned how to spin wool in order to create the kinds of yarn he was interested in using. He got his first loom when he was 21, and the following year, he worked for six months on a large, richly colored jungle-scene tapestry with a prominent tiger. The tapestry was accepted into an exhibition, and soon after, Greg left to explore Europe and study tapestry in Aubusson, France. Since returning from Europe, Greg has lived all over Marin County, moving to Bolinas from Point Reyes seven years ago.
Greg has two floor looms in his studio—one for blankets and shawls, the other for tapestry. Committed to upholding ancient traditions and preserving artisan practices that are in danger of being lost, he uses thousand-year-old tools and techniques. His indigo recipe is at least four thousand years old. It utilizes the decomposition of urea to produce the needed ammonia. He stores his urine in a tub in his studio for this purpose. Ammonia, wood ash, and lime all make the vat alkaline, which allows the indigo to dissolve.
Greg also dyes all of his own wool and uses mostly his own hand-spun yarns. In his studio, large bins packed with skeins of his plant-based and hand-dyed wool burst with color. He starts with white yarn, which he dyes with a combination of plants to develop a remarkable array of hues. “I take the approach of a watercolor painter with a limited palette,” he says. He uses his natural fermented indigo for blues, purples, and greens. Black walnut leaves and nuts make the browns; madder root and cochineal the reds. And grape leaves and weld provide the yellows. He mixes and blends these to create a broad, vibrant rainbow. Depending on the desired depth of color, dyeing a pound of yarn takes about one to two weeks, alternating between dipping and airing.
Beyond a few Cyprus trees, just over the top of the flowering vine-covered fence that marks the edge of his garden, foggy blue Bolinas Bay stretches out into the fog. Greg pulls his well-tended three-year-old indigo vat out onto the deck, stirring its thick, deep blue liquid. “My indigo blue vat is like a mule: sometimes you just have to feed it sugar, or let it rest," he says. "And you can revive it with warmth, or stirring—communing with the vat.”