A couple of blocks away from Café Grumpy (made infamous on GIRLS) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Lily Piyathaisere cooks up her designs for the handcrafted line of statement jewelry and accessories called Gamma Folk. And we mean this literally. Scattered around her studio are various pots holding her natural dye concoctions, jars of minerals and bolts of hand-dyed yarn waiting for a turn on the loom. Originally a graphic designer by trade, Lily noticed a real lack of unique, fiber-based jewelry for the modern girl on the market. In 2012 she founded Gamma Folk. “Gamma” for the brainwave frequency where we learn, process information and associated with bursts of insight. “Folk” as a reference to folk art, which is a major inspiration for her work. Lily makes every piece by hand with natural dyes, making every single piece special and no two ever come out the exact same. We had the chance to visit her studio on our last trip to New York and she gave us the tour.
"I make everything myself so it's easy to experiment with new materials, shapes, techniques and be freeform about it."
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WORKING WITH ALL THESE NATURAL MATERIALS? When I started making jewelry in 2011 and contributing to a society of “stuff” I made a conscious effort to incorporate sustainability into my practice. That meant knowing where my materials and components came from and using natural processes. I learned natural dyeing from the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn and once I delved into its alchemy, my world opened and the lens for which I view sustainability in fashion, color and the environment has changed. Even after a few years of natural dyeing, I’m still a student and learn new things constantly.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROCESS FROM THE START OF A PIECE TO THE FINISH. Sleep, get inspired via nature, art, movies, vintage stores, spend a few weeks sketching ideas, distill down the ones I want to explore and create prototypes. I make everything myself so it’s easy to experiment with new materials, shapes, techniques and be freeform about it. Between ceramics, fibers and natural dyeing the possibilities are endless. The hardest thing is being focused! Test out prototypes and refine. This year I’ve decided to work on my own timeline because I feel that my jewelry is season-less so when I’m happy with a handful of pieces, that’s when I decide to do a look book and release them rather than having the traditional fashion calendar dictate it.
WHAT MATERIALS DO YOU LOVE WORKING WITH MOST AND WHY? It shifts, but some of my favorite materials to dye with are tannin, black walnut, iron and madder root. My new collection has a lot of neutrals in it, and tannin and black walnut can yield these beautiful cool and warm greys and taupes. Also you’re using less dye stuffs which is something we need to consider when using such precious materials. Madder root yields pinks to oranges to reds, but in addition to its color, I love the history behind it. It dates back ancient Egyptian times and has said to have been found in clothes in tombs. Neat! And iron I love because it can shift a color drastically. Also, I’m starting to make my own iron solution so I’m constantly scrounging for rusty objects around the city, which as you expect, is quite easy to find here in New York. Another material I love is silk! While I often use mercerized cotton yarns, I do love the sheen of a silk yarn and it’s always so soft.
THE BRAND: GAMMA FOLK
- Top 3 selling styles: No. 9 (blue tassel ombre), Tassel Earrings, No. 24 (ceramic circle, wrapped necklace).
- Something your brand is known for: Natural dyes and tassels.
- What’s playing on the speakers in your studio: The B-52’s Wild Planet album.
- Something you’re constantly re-stocking: Mordants for prepping dye materials and yarns.
- Your brand in 3 words: Labor of love.
THE DESIGNER: LILY PIYATHAISERE
- Your go-to outfit: Loose trousers and a Black Crane shirt.
- One thing you can’t live without: Sunshine.
- Favourite designer: Black Crane.
- Something you always carry with you: Crystals in my pocket. Today it’s a moonstone and black tourmaline.
- Style icon: Iris Apfel.