Stella Ranae Von Schmid’s ultimate calling

BI-WEEKLY ART COLUMN

Eco print by Stella Von Schmid
provided by the artist
Von Schmid sporting one of her scarves

Stella Ranae Von Schmid is just as interesting and unique as her name may suggest…a slim, attractive woman with a vintage 50’s clothing and hair vibe who always sports THE best frames (thanks to Dr. Morrow of Foresight Eye Care). 

She meets me at the jam-packed antique and furniture consignment store Merchants on Bee that is also home to many artists and makers. Her booth is filled with silk velvet scarves and wraps, framed leather pieces and purses, kimonos, wool and leather brooches, pillowcases, and napkins—all sewn in the most beautiful array of colorful eco-dyed fabrics, many botanically printed.

A native of the coal mining region of Pennsylvania, Von Schmid grew up in Mount Carmel and studied Communications at Bloomsburg University. A self-described “textile whore” she tells me how she was drawn to fabrics from an early age. 

“I always had an affinity for clothing and sewing. I was a Catholic school girl who had to wear the uniform, but I have a great auntie who would send me this horrendous mess of vintage clothing that I would cut up, restyle and wear. I loved playing dress-up and thinking I was cool.” 

Her passion for vintage continued from junior high to today, and for a time, she made her living buying and selling vintage clothing online and at shows.

Five years ago, Von Schmid moved to Savannah to be closer to her son. She loves the small-town feel, saying it reminds her of “sections of Philly where there’s a lot of artisans and artists. It’s very easy to connect with people.”  

When I ask her if she considered continuing selling vintage clothing after relocating, she says she still has vendors from up north who call her to source particular vintage pieces, but that she is slowly selling off clothing online to collectors. 

“I was doing the vintage to feed this current work. I was selling it to be able to afford more research and development into my natural dyes. Vintage is still very close to my heart. I use a lot of older fabrics and textiles, but this is the ultimate calling.”  

I tell her that she and her husband always look very fabulous, and she laughs and says, “I still have a very extensive wardrobe. I have a coat for every year I’ve been on this earth. That’s 48 coats. Completely unnecessary!” 

It was her need to restore the vintage clothing that eventually drew Von Schmid into her current art form—making wearable fashion from naturally dyed fabrics. 

“I did a lot of hand sewing, a lot of taking things apart and seeing how things were constructed. But the challenge in the restoration work was to find original color matches. I was using Rit dyes and just not getting the color right, so I started doing research, figuring out my dyes through lots of trial and error.” 

Part of the Slow Art Movement derived from centuries’ old folk traditions, Von Schmid is self-taught and spent years perfecting her unique dying processes. She did, however, sign up for an indigo and eco-print workshop on Ossabaw Island after moving to Savannah. Now she grows her own Sea Island Indigo from the generational seeds garnered from that visit. 

“I grow it every season and I dye a select few pieces from it each year.” 

In addition to the rich blue of indigo, Von Schmid’s fabrics are naturally dyed in a rainbow of other colors... I buy a bandana for my granddog in a beautiful pink derived from the female Cochineal bugs of Peru and the Canary Islands and admire a scarf in orange and yellow hues derived from Osage Orange tree shavings. She sources fair-trade and self-sustaining dyes worldwide from such places as Guam and Mexico, though says she is making more of an effort to find them within the U.S. whenever possible and, of course, creates many herself. 

Von Schmid, husband Peter, chi/pit mix Machete Von Trejo, and Australian shepherd Doc Holiday Browne reside in the Live Oak neighborhood, a short walk from Merchants on Bee. 

Her home has two art spaces she describes as “an outdoor, messy, sloppy space for all of the dyes, steamers, pans, and boiling pots” and a bedroom that she’s converted into a “clean space for all the fabrics.” 

Von Schmid explains that botanical printing is contact printing in its simplest form: “It’s basically a sandwich to make the botanical matter come in contact with the fibers.” 

She forages locally, often by bicycle, for the leaves, blossoms, and other seasonal botanicals. “

I lay out the leaves and flowers in a very organic way on the fabric and then cover them in a blanket saturated with dye. Then the bundle is rolled up into a cigar and wrapped even tighter by applying pressure so that the contact is complete. Finally, I boil or steam the bundle, usually for about 90 minutes, to ‘lift’ the colors off the blanket and off the botanical matter.” 

Before unbundling the piece, Von Schmid has a general idea of how the fabric will appear, but sometimes there are magical surprises “because I am working with completely organic material.” 

After the fabrics are scoured to release all gums and resins, they are conditioned and washed and are finally ready to be pressed, stitched, and made into fabulous one-of-a-kind creations.

“I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and fibromyalgia that were diagnosed during the pandemic. I can only do so much. This work excites me, but it’s also therapy for me. It’s therapy for my body, my hands, and my mind. Selling it is the bonus. It’s a gift when someone compliments and buys your work.” 

Inherited from the maternal side of her family, she calls her R.A. a blessing. 

“It slows me down and makes me more mindful. Now I’m thankful for recognizing my limitations.” 

Not knowing what the future holds for her health, Von Schmid is transitioning into teaching more classes to show others how to color fibers, marble fabric and make botanical prints. 

“Maybe one of my students can bring this to a whole new level. I love to see the discoveries in this field. It’s fascinating to connect to the worldwide botanical printing community; I love to see what someone is doing in Bali or in Singapore or Japan and learn about their techniques.”

Sign up for classes or see Von Schmid’s work at Merchants on Bee, GDC Home Furnishings & Decor on East York, at StellaRanae.com, and at Instragram.com/StellaRanae, where you can also find videos of her process.

About The Author

Beth Logan

I am originally from Portrush, Northern Ireland, and emigrated to San Francisco after attending the University of Belfast. My photographer - and ex - husband brought us to Savannah, and it has been my passion to get to know and to be involved in the local art community ever since. I look forward to profiling artists,...
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