I am a weaver of textiles and a dyer. In the past I have used all types of chemical dyes to obtain desired results with my woven shibori fabrics. I live and work in the mountains of North Carolina near a small creek that flows into a river full of native trout. Our water comes from a shallow well and we have a septic system. I have developed an an increased awareness of potential chemical pollution of these water sources and systems and have been inspired to begin a study of natural dyeing.
For the last 8 years I have been engaged in a learning adventure about natural colorants which I have found deeply satisfying. I have been exposed to great teachers: Michel Garcia of France and Joy Boutrup of Denmark. They are both scientists, and dyers, who have both helped me find a path which includes questioning and observing. Michel Garcia once stated in a class that it was more important to understand “why” than “how”. I have thought about this a great deal and always try to go beyond a recipe in order to understand the logic behind it.
I am an artist, not a scientist, but have developed the skills to observe carefully and trust my own experiments. If I don’t know whether “X” or “Y” process will work best, I do them both and record the results. My goal, as an artist, is to learn effective processes. I don’t always have a definitive scientific answer but I have learned to observe objectively and be willing to change the way I work.
Each experiment brings a new insight and the realization of just how complex the field of natural dye is. My understanding of the fibers and interactions with dyes themselves has deepened, and I have a new respect for botany and chemistry.
I regularly carry out lightfastness tests, using the blue wool scale, an international standard to measure the lightfastness of dyes. As a result of the tests, I have relegated some dyes to the back of my shelves some dyes from my shelf because they don’t perform well enough. When I go back and read old dye books, history usually confirms what I learned first hand.
My teaching and my work is now done entirely with natural dyes. Frequently students and colleagues contact me with questions, requesting further clarification of process, or needing encouragement. I try to answer those questions and at this point have decided to answer them in a more public format in the hope that the information might be of use to others. Hence the creation of this blog: Natural Dyes: Experiments and Results.
I don’t always have definitive answers. I know only what I have experienced and that knowledge is constantly evolving. I trust and depend on my teachers and colleagues who are using natural dyes and we have begun to study and question together. So I will share some of my own lessons from my own dye studio, my “kitchen of natural colors”, as we all learn together.
Your feedback is welcome and desired.