Seniors at the Selfhelp Maspeth Senior Center unveiled their hand-dyed art banner Thursday afternoon after taking a two-month art course called “Textures in Textiles.” The students learned how to mix colors, dye fabric and ultimately create artwork with their hands.
Ridgewood artist Valerie Skakun, who conceptualized and taught the class, said the course was a success.
“I feel very lucky that I had the chance to work with them and see a totally different aspect of life,” Skakun said. “I’m inspired by them and how capable they are.”
Twice a week for more than two months, the half-dozen students sat in a classroom for three hours, learning how to dye fabric, first learned mixing colors with paint, then with fabric. Their first project was making tie-dye shirts.
Skakun then taught them different methods of dyeing fabric. They learned about solid dyeing, tying and stitching with Shibori, a Japanese dyeing technique, over-dyeing and bleach.
Then came the teamwork. The seniors chose which dyeing method they preferred, and collaboratively, they patched together their panels to make a large-scale banner, which now hangs from the ceiling of the senior center.
Katherine Fotopoulos said she enjoyed learning how to mix colors, and praised Skakun for being a good instructor.
“We’re going to miss it now,” she said. “I hope she comes back.”
Dolly Cheng said they washed and dyed fabric for hours. There was a lot of dipping and soaking, but in the meantime they also got to know each other. In their downtime, they told stories and even exercised together.
“We really had fun,” Cheng said. “I would join again.”
Skakun said working with and getting to know the students was her favorite part of the course. She said everyone comes from different backgrounds and had different stories to tell.
Marie Dixon, program director at Selfhelp Maspeth Senior Center, said they were very lucky to have Skakun teach a course. The Ridgewood artist received a grant from the Queens Council on the Arts, and also received funding from the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Department of Aging.
It was the first time that the senior center was matched up with an artist to host a program like this.
“We were very happy and fortunate to get it,” Dixon said. “I’m so happy because the seniors had a wonderful experience. They were so happy doing the work.
“She’s a very wonderful, warm person, and we’re sorry to see her go,” Dixon said of Skakun . “Today is a sad day.”
Lorraine Zaboklicki, an 81-year-old resident of Elmhurst, said she regularly comes to the senior center on Mondays and Thursdays because they have art and crafts activities. She also comes for the parties and special occasions.
She was a regular in Skakun’s course, and had nothing but good things to say about her instructor.
“We had a wonderful teacher, that’s what really helped all of us,” she said. “She was very great, the best. We hope she someday comes back and visits.”
Zaboklicki said the Textures in Textiles course was different and something she had never done before. She said it was a challenge, but she still enjoyed it.
“We made t-shirts while I was there. That was real interesting, how to wrap it and color it,” she said. “She went through all the different instructions. She explains everything as she’s going along, even if it’s just soaking something in water and swishing it around for half an hour.”
Most of all, Zaboklicki said she enjoyed it because it’s an opportunity for her to go out, socialize with friends and learn something new. She said she also goes to the knitting and crocheting and needlepoint classes.
For Skakun, the next step is starting graduate school for art at Hunter College in the fall. She will be a part-time student, so in her spare time she will continue her work, including teaching.
“I would like to still teach,” she said. “I enjoy teaching somebody a skillset that they can use.”