Natural Dyes

 

As a textile artist and cloth producer, I am keenly aware and troubled by the fact that the global textile industry is the second most pollutive industry on the planet, right behind big agriculture. While there are lots of things I can't do about this as an individual, there are things I can. The things I can do, I find joy, beauty and hope in. What I can do is employ colour from plants that I grow in my garden, forage in the boreal or purchase from a small scale dyehouse - Earthues. I can use rainwater in my dyework. I can use natural and organic yarns.

I find the colour that comes from a plant palette to be rich and satisfying. A natural dyebath is composed of hundreds of various pigments found in the plant. These pigments please the eye, pair well with a plethora of other colours, natural or synthetic, bring balance and even when the colour has been washed many times and is decades old, is still gratifying and opulent.

When I am dyeing yarns for use in cloth, I employ stored rainwater or, in the winter, melted snow, a form of water abundant where I dwell. Many natural dyes are senstive to minerals, pH and temperature and so, since rainwater is usually pH neutral and soft, it is an excellent base in which to brew the purest colour from dyestuff. Minerals, acids and bases can always be added later to pull further hues from a dye plant. Not only this, water is a sacred thing, I believe in respecting fully the water resources on the planet. Rain falls out of the sky quite regularly where I live, all I have to do is catch it.

Since plant dyes are indeed senstive to pH, minerals and temperatures, it can happen that the colour in a textile can shift over time through exposure to, for example, acidic or iron rich water. A living thing.

Before applying colour to natural fibres, I scour and usually mordant the yarns. Some dyes are substantive and don't require a mordant, but in order to make light and wash fast colour in my hand worked textiles, a mordant is required. I use food grade aluminum suflate for protein fibre and aluminum acetate for cellulose.

 

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