A Sag Harbor Artisan Inspires With Beautiful Handmade Accessories

Once a contestant on Survivor, Nicole Delma finds a new career with nature.
Handmade Botanical Dye Scarf

Delma unravels a botanical-dye scarf after steaming it “sushi roll”–style. Photography by Doug Young.

Nicole Delma knows a thing or two about foraging. As a cast member of Survivor during the 2003 season, she was tasked with living off the land on Panama’s remote Pearl Islands. Nearly 20 years later, she’s still on the hunt, this time for flowers, acorns, and hulls, which she uses to create vegetal dyes. “I went from looking for food to eat on a tropical island to foraging for stuff to dye,” she recalls. “Either way, it’s a beautiful experience!”

Now a Sag Harbor resident, Delma relied on her powers of survival during the COVID-19 lockdown and launched Mind Offline, a company that focuses on artisanal activities and craft kits designed to get families away from their electronic gadgets and indulge their creative side. “I wanted to find a way to help people engage,” she says. “During this time, I discovered that making things with my hands led to wonderful added benefits. I slept better and was more joyful.”

Among her favorite endeavors is making raw-silk pillowcases, scarves, and bandannas bearing the imprint and colors of local plant matter. She applies the petals, stems, and leaves of fresh and dried flowers directly to the silk, laying out the botanicals in an impressionistic pattern and then gently rolling the fabric into “a sushi roll, keeping the flowers evenly distributed so that they don’t lump into the creases.” She then ties the rolls with cotton twine and steams them for about an hour. Unraveling the results can lead to magical, unexpected surprises. “I love when the petals stain in place and you can see the imprint of the plant.”

Nicole Delma Hanging Wilk Pillowcases To Dry

At her Sag Harbor home, Nicole Delma hangs silk pillowcases to dry after steaming them with floral matter from madders, marigolds, anemones, and roses. Photography by Doug Young.

An avid knitter, Delma also uses natural dyes to tint wool at her Sag Harbor studio. “I couldn’t find colors that I loved,” she recalls, and since she didn’t want to work with synthetics, she began experimenting with produce from home, such as avocados, pomegranates, and mint, along with natural ground pigments including indigo and Osage orange. She preps locally sourced wool by soaking it in warm water to remove oxygen, essentially opening up the fibers to receive the dye.

“Dyers take rigorous notes when they find a color they like, noting the wool source, the day’s temperature, and the soaking time,” Delma says. “One of the most difficult things to do is reproduce the exact same color again. But chance and experimentation are part of the art. I’m always amazed when I get a color I’ve never seen before.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Petal Pusher.
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