spring workshops

The long list of spring workshops is now posted and open for registration! In addition, the Sewing Seeds program at TAC is now accepting applications to its summer residency. The residency is a fantastic 6-week opportunity to access local natural dyes, use the studio, and engage the community by creating site-specific work in the natural dye garden in Bushwick. What could be better?

image courtesy of Sewing Seeds

fermentation dyeing

Yes, I know it's midsummer and I haven't written a thing about what I've been dyeing. My latest dyeing mania is a somewhat lengthier process than usual - but it's Amazing. Fermentation Dyeing.

There is not as much information as I'd wish about plant fermentation dyeing, but from what I gather the method was salvaged from history by Anne Rieger in the south of France. The process begins by fermenting plant matter in water for a week or more, releasing the gas and stirring the contents daily. After straining, the dye is separated into two vats. Lemon juice is used to lower the pH of one vat to 4, while wood ash water raises the pH of the other to 11. Protein fibers are steeped in the acidic bath, dried out of the sun, and then submerged in the basic bath. And just like that, you have lightfast color with no heat and no mordants. The colors are beautiful, and the wool  samples I've dyed have the most wonderfully soft hand. Cellulose fibers also seem to take the color when given a longer steeping period, but not as strongly. Some inspiration can be found at Riihivilla and Shades of Lynx, and check out the samples I've been working up below.

above, from left:  basic dahlia, acidic dahlia; basic cherry leaf, acidic cherry leaf

above, clockwise from upper left: acidic elderberry, acidic dahlia, basic dahlia, basic elderberry

cherry leaf and twig

natural dyeing part one: foraging dye plants

The first step in the natural dye process is gathering plant materials. If you have a garden, there are simply dozens of plants you can collect and dry or freeze  throughout the growing season. Some you may have already - coreopsis, marigold, dahlia, or sunflower to name a few. Other less showy plants can be cultivated specifically for dye, such as indigo, weld, madder, or lady's bedstraw. My little garden has a few dye plants in it, but the vast majority of my dye materials are foraged. Some beautiful dye plants are easily recognized by even an amateur naturalist like myself. The primary rule of foraging in the wild is to collect carefully and responsibly, which means gathering about one specimen out of ten. Literally to decimate in the Roman Legionnaire sense, taking one-tenth preserves the health of the wild population.

common yarrow

It being a beautiful day, I am venturing out to see what I can find.

foraged dye plants

Today's finds:

1. Birch leaf Birch leaves are easy to spot, but sometimes hard to reach. They give a sunny yellow or chartreuse.

2. Yarrow, Achillea Yarrow is common meadow wildflower which gives yellow and olive shades. Cut close to the base to encourage re-growth.

3. Cherry leaf I've had good success with black cherry leaves producing shades of orange on wool and a lovely golden color on silk.

4. Barberry Barberry, particularly the Japanese and European varieties, is an invasive shrub and thus an ample dye source. Gather all you can of the leaves, barbed shoots, and brightly colored roots for a strong yellow or chartreuse dye. It also makes a good turquoise when overdyed with indigo. Don't bother planting it, there are too many barberry plants in our woodlands already!

Each of these plants should be used with a mordant to form a chemical bond with the fiber being dyed. They can also be air dried and stored in paper bags for later use. I am currently amassing a collection of dried materials to keep me supplied during the cold months.

Now is the time to be foraging! Look for elderberry leaves, oak leaves, staghorn sumac, willow fronds, Queen Anne's lace, black-eyed Susan, and many others to keep the dye pot brimming through the winter.

Next up: Collecting Bark


solar dye

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. tomato leaves, concord grapes

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.

solar dye jars

solar dyed silk

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.

pleated wedding album

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.