Kylee Barnard has taken a stress relieving hobby and elevated it into a rewarding business. Kylee does amazing silk dying for her business Silk Diaries when she winds down from her day job. Bonus for Kylee: she loves making art. Bonus for us: access to beautiful hand dyed silk scarves!
Tell us more about why you started Silk Diaries. How did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been an artist since I was about 12 (in different capacities of course). I got really into abstract painting on a large scale in college but struggled to sell my work as they were inevitably expensive. It didn’t bother me too much though, as creativity truly fuels me and keeps me sane.
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But once I graduated college with a degree in Graphic Design and began my first big corporate job at IBM, I had never felt so small. I started feeling major imposter syndrome and watched myself go into a downward spiral. But it wasn’t just me. I was reading endless stories online about the treatment of women in the workplace and the experience of going from college to a career. Looking back, I was lost, but I knew didn’t want to be. I started therapy and began to really study myself to understand why I was feeling the way I was and where my confidence disappeared to.
I sat at home for a couple weeks straight just whiteboarding what creative thing I could do to use my spare time more wisely and connect myself to a higher purpose. There are some things throughout my life that have really stuck out to me, sometimes really random, sometimes really profound.
But I had remembered one of my friends in college doing silk painting in a fashion class and I just remember being in awe with how the dye set in silk. It was so unpredictable and could be manipulated in so many ways. I also felt like this silk painting could be pushed leaps and bounds, as a lot of the silk work I was seeing was pretty dated looking.
Most importantly, I knew I didn’t just want to make another screen printed t-shirt or paper product, so I wrote ‘silk painting!’ on the whiteboard and literally left it there for a month and didn’t touch it. I brushed it off as a weird idea until my boyfriend asked to use the whiteboard and I went to pick it up and stuck my finger directly on the spot where I had written ‘Silk painting!’.
Silk is extremely soft and has incredible soothing properties. It’s kind of like petting a dog. When I was little, my baby blanket had a silk trim, and I had some rough anxiety to the point where I rubbed a giant hole in one of the corners. It was comforting and luxurious but it wasn’t until I had been scrolling through Madewell’s site and saw a silk bandana that I really connected the dots for myself and the business.
At first, I just was going to make a few to make myself feel more confident at work. But then people began commenting on them and enjoying them too, so I started an Etsy shop and named it Silk Diaries because each piece is a part of me, a burst of inspiration or emotion that I then channeled into the silk (Also, diaries… dye-er-y… get it?!). At this point keep in mind I had only been dyeing silk for a month or so–but I saw 12+ orders in the first month on Etsy, which I thought was pretty cool. So I started to take things a little more seriously and opened up a shop through Squarespace.
What is your most productive time and why?
I am by all means a night owl. I love working at night because creativity is my outlet. My full-time job makes me less available during the days. But there is nothing better than coming home, getting comfortable and getting creative to let go of my stress.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
‘Everyone is winging it.’ It kills self-doubt in an instant because it’s incredibly true.
Is Silk Diaries your side gig or your main gig?
Silk Diaries is my side gig, I work full-time at IBM as a visual designer for software production.
Where do you do your dyeing? Do you have a dyeing studio at your home? If so, what does it look like? How do you organize your supplies?
I design, dye, manage and ship in the office of my current house. It’s basically my mini studio. It’s got the brown industrial paper on the ground so I’m not concerned about ruining the floor. My dyeing materials are in jars and boxes mainly and are usually scattered across the floor until I get a random cleaning kick.
I’ve also got stacks of canvases and paint stacked around because sometimes there’s nothing better than painting on a canvas. I also use the backs of my canvas paintings to photograph the silk. The roughness of cotton really makes the silk stand out and I love the authenticity of the little speckles of paint. I truly love this space. It has 3 huge windows and natural light is my favorite thing.
To be completely honest, my creative endeavors are the least organized thing in my life. Although, I have gotten more organized as more orders have been coming in. I have a little ironing board set up and a wood frame where I hang the silks until they’re purchased. The shipping materials are underneath the ironing board as I usually iron the silk before I ship it.
Are there indispensable tools in your studio? How do they improve your work? Where are they available?
Honestly, my hands and silk are the most indispensable thing. I have found so many ways to create dye simply from items in my house or outside. I suppose the stove is pretty indispensable, as I steam the silk to set the natural dyes. There’s also usually Topo Chico mineral water in the studio. I thrive on it
Have you had a “never again” moment, then gone and did it again?
No, I don’t think I have, at least not with the silk thus far. Reflection is super important to me and I’m always looking for ways to bring myself, others and the business forward. I try to understand where I am so I know where I’m going. Failure is great because that’s when you learn the most, but I try really hard not to fail in the same area twice.
Where can people see your work?
Website: Silk Diaries
All photos by Anna Criswell
Interview posted October, 2017.
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