When working on bookbinding commissions, I do sometimes have requests for fabric colors which are not present in my textile stash. In the past I have offered to custom dye the fabric for the book cloth or binding, but it is difficult to safely carry out this somewhat toxic undertaking in my intermingled studio/living space. And the colors can sadly tend towards the artificial when it's all over with. I am hereby venturing into a new dyeing procedure, possibly the simplest of all.
Solar dying is a simple and non-toxic way to give color that is directly related to the plant matter involved and the season it was gleaned. On my fifth trial, I am finding solar dyeing beautifully in tune with my creative process. Muddled plants, alum, distilled water, and a week in the sun are giving my lengths of silk and cotton delicate hues and ethereal patterning.
From left to right: tomato and mint leaves, concord grapes, and black walnut hulls on day seven. I've used 1/4 teaspoon alum as a mordant for each pint of water. I've also left the plant matter in the dye bath, which gives a range of tones and delicate pattern of creases to the cloth. For flat color, you can allow the pant matter in the dye to steep for several days, then pass it through a strainer before adding the fabric and returning the concoction to the sun.
The album above is bound in homemade book cloth made from black walnut dyed silk. Overlaying the silk is a pleated length of antique crinoline fabric from the same dye bath, slit at the peaks to reveal the darker silk beneath. I'm going to keep on with this solar dyeing, I like it.