Mother of Pearl is to me one of the most beautiful materials on the planet. I grew up on the coast of South Africa and as a child I spent a lot of time wandering along the edges of the surf picking up shells. Also known as ‘nacre’, mother of pearl came to me in the form of the abalone, or, as we called them in South Africa, the ‘perlemoen’ or ‘venus ear’ shells. Imagine my surprise when a piece of silk I was working on with madder and local plant material produced the iridescent colours of mother of pearl.
I first dyed this piece of flat crepe silk in a light madder dyebath. Then I bundled it with maple and smokebush leaves and steeped it for an hour in a stronger more vibrant madder dye bath together with another piece of the silk which I later used for the back of this two sided scarf.
I was at first startled by the red fiery markings on the delicate background of pinks and greeny golds. I decided to fold and clamp the fabric and placed it in a post mordant of iron. That’s when the magic happened. The most amazing colours developed out of this process.
The ecoprinted maple and smoke bush leaves were not in themselves remarkable. They were’nt even as clear as I would have liked. Perhaps they were ovewhelmed by the strong colour of the madder. But how they mixed with the madder and iron astonished me. The range of blues, pinks, green, golds, greys and silver are so amazing. How the light plays over these colours on the silk makes it look iridescent and alive.
I actually did this piece last fall but have’nt until now been able to figure out how to capture the qualities of the colours. I recently noticed how true the colours of my silk scarves look under my white market tent and the way that the sun diffused under it. So I have been setting up under my white tent against a canvas backdrop and photographing silk seems to have improved for me. It still does’nt quite capture the way the light interacts with the colours but I think it’s as close as I’m going to get.
This is quite a large scarf, more of a shawl really. It measures 22″ wide by 60″ in length.