Cotton and linen dyed with madder, cutch, osage orange, black walnut and birch – some have shibori stitched designs and in the foreground cotton with eco-printed rhododendron leaves and madder root.
About three weeks ago I decided to give myself one day off a week, free from distractions like technology, the radio and even my regular production work in my studio. Freedom to explore new directions in my art. It led me to natural dyes, something which I had first experienced a number of years ago at one of the workshops I have taken over the years at Maiwa Handprints in Vancouver. I had the great pleasure of taking a natural dye and mudcloth workshop with Michele Wipplinger of EarthHues. At the time I came home with packages of natural dyes and earth pigments but never seemed to have the time to come back to them. I have been using the dyestuffs I purchased as well as some I’ve managed to forage for locally.
I have become utterly addicted to this amazing process of natural chemistry. For the last few weeks I have been reading and learning about the process of dyeing cloth with plant , and sometimes insect, dyes. I have been scouring, mordanting and dyeing fabrics and carefully tagging each piece of cloth with the types and quantities of mordants, dyes and processes. (mordants are needed to bond the dyestuff to the cloth and are also used to influence colour) I’ve been using mostly cotton and linen, but I have some wool fabric sitting in a madder dye bath right now turning the most glorious earthly red! My first piece of silk is being mordanted in alum today.
Each piece of cloth, no matter how small, is labeled with a record of mordants, dyes and processes.
An assortment of bits of cloth freshly scoured and bundled, ready to be mordanted.
I have also begun to experiment with eco-prints, a process of steam dyeing with leaves and plant material presented by Australian botanical alchemist India Flint in her book Eco Colour. Being winter, there is minimal foraging to be done until the blooming of summer, but there is still tree bark around as well as some still green rhododendron leaves. I also found a bag of local black walnuts which, when I removed the husks for dye colour, I noticed the amount of colour still remaining on the nutshells. They were promptly bound in linen and steamed:
Not quite as much colour as I had hoped for but can be worked over later. They have a kind of mushroomy colour and patterning left by the bindings.
In the foreground cotton muslin eco-printed with bits of left over madder root and rhododendron leaves. My first attempt at this technique sure charmed me.
Wool fabric turning a glorious earthly red in the left over madder dyed from last week’s dyebath.
So I’m hooked!
Next for me is to figure out how to screen print with these dyes and earth pigments because I do like working with images. Another goal is to grow a few plants this summer that can be used for extracting dye. I know I have some already – can’t wait to lay my hands on that St John’s Wort and Mullein!