Silk & Willow: A Modern Day Alchemist Specializing in Hand Dyed Silk
New Paltz, NY
Shellie and Jay Pomeroy live just a few turns off of Main Street in New Paltz, a rich artist community best known for its local farms and well-worn trails for hikers and bicyclists. Their home is the setting for Shellie’s carefully cultivated silk-dyeing business, Silk & Willow. Shellie uses all natural plant materials to hand dye silk ribbons and cotton table linens that are habitually used for floral arrangements, photography shoots, fashion accents, and event styling. In just the last couple of years, her work has become synonymous with some of the most influential fashion and wedding blogs of today. She has mastered the art of turning the simplest bouquet or gift wrap into beautiful heirloom treasures.
A former VP of sales at SONY Music, Jay manages the business end and day-to-day operations for Silk & Willow, and often assists in scouring and prepping silk and cotton materials for Shellie to dye. “For me, cooking silk is much like brewing beer; proper measurements, consistent heat, and time,” he says. “The whole process is actually quite relaxing.”
Shellie’s process is painstaking, from cleaning the fabrics and sourcing the materials, to mixing the dyes and making the spools. On the kitchen stove, a large pot of elderberries sits boiling for a color she is experimenting with — and when she gets the color right, she will move to the garage for larger production. Finished silks, cottons, papers, and antiques, stacked floor to ceiling, get housed in various rooms waiting to be shipped globally by way of her online retail shop.
“Everything we do, we think ‘What is the life of this? What else can it be used for other than its main purpose?’” explains Shellie. “I love the fact that plants have so many uses. Take the elderberry for example — you can extract the juice and make an immune booster, and then you can use the leftover for dyeing.”
Silk & Willow ribbons and table linens come in a range of colors and textures, and their variety is what Shellie loves about them. “I want to have something unique that you can’t find other places,” she says. “We have techniques that I can’t imagine anyone else going to the same extent or putting in the same amount of work as we do to make our products different.”
After graduating from SUNY New Paltz, Shellie worked as a graphic designer in the publishing industry before launching Silk & Willow. She spent ten years helping small businesses form an identity and create marketing materials, so starting her own business was a natural next step. Originally inspired to pursue sustainable, natural materials and crafting from the Waldorf School her daughters attended, she found herself fully embracing its philosophy — learning gardening, homeopathy, hands-on artistry, and the dyeing of natural fibers. Years later, with her daughters in high school, she left her graphics career to finally merge and grow her passions. “I pulled together all the things I love and it turned into a business.”
One dye pot can produce an array of colors, such as a light blush to an earthy brown, depending on timing, intensity, water pH levels, and additional ingredients added. A recipe book is where she records every color she has made, and all the colors that can come from one pot. Although the colors vary every time, Shellie loves this unpredictability.
Dye materials are sustainably sourced from ethical companies such as Mountain Rose Herbs and Botanical Colors. Using a large variety of all-natural ingredients, Shellie’s homemade recipes might call for elderberry, indigo, lemon, cutch, madder root, marigolds, goldenrods, black-eyed susans, hydrangeas, walnuts, hibiscus powder, annatto seeds, or onion skins. Some ingredients she gets from India; others are foraged from her backyard, or given to her by neighbors. Often she will collect avocado pits from Main Course, a local restaurant. “In the Hudson Valley, there is a lot of dye material to be found just by pulling over to the side of the road,” she adds. “I always keep scissors in the glove compartment.”
Shellie was long drawn to natural dyes due to their distinctive color. “The colors created with natural materials are alive and changing,” she says. “They are easy on the eye because they adapt and reflect the light and colors surrounding them, unlike synthetic dyes that are flat, static, and look the same in all lighting.”
Silk and Willow table linens are made from 100% natural fibers. Each one is unique — some have frayed edges, some have different weaves, some take the dye elseway — but the irregularities are what make each piece so special.
By using all natural and sustainable materials, and researching every aspect of the operation before putting it into action, Silk & Willow is a leader of conscientiousness for small businesses. “It’s important to be trustworthy,” says Shellie, “so we’ve done the work to make sure we feel good about the products we are selling.”
The spools are hand carved in India from natural wood. Jay darkens them with a nontoxic, water-based stain and sanding them down until they are smooth. This gives the spools an antique aesthetic, setting them apart from other silk ribbon businesses that have recently popped up.
Shellie considers the source of her materials carefully, or looks to have them custom made for her shop. “I never look for someone who advertises what I want,” she says. “I look for someone who does something similar — where I see the skill that shows they might be able to do something for me because I want a product that no one else has.”
In addition to silk and linen, Shellie also sells paper and twine products that are handmade in India from 100% recycled cotton rags from t-shirt cuttings. Their twines are hand spun from silk cocoons sustainably gathered from a protected forest. Every part of the cocoon is used, leaving no waste and creating a variety of textures.
Nature has always been Shellie’s leading creative influence. “From the fall’s harvest, I’ll have enough materials for almost the whole year,” she says. “I grow my own marigolds. I might find goldenrod on the street. I have a big back hill of weeds that I get flowers from, like black-eyed susans, and right now there are a lot of walnuts in my yard that need harvesting.”