World Connections Through Natural Dyeing – please become a part of this!

When we find something that truly engages our passion, we tend to broaden our community to include other people who share that same passion. This has happened for me repeatedly with natural dyeing. I have mentors from Europe and Asia and have met dyers all over the world who have taught me lessons and shared information about their practices. I have a global community of friends through natural dyeing.

Last fall, I was in Oaxaca, Mexico. While there, I was introduced to a long and deep tradition of dyeing  with plants and dye sources that I  never had access to. Rocio Mena Gutierrez, a young designer and natural dyer from Mexico, recently sent me some amazing photos of old indigo tanks and logwood trees from the Oaxaca region.

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200 year old indigo tanks, where they hope to process indigo this fall in Oaxaca, Mexico
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Rocco at the indigo tanks.
logwood tree mexico
Logwood tree, Oaxaca
Logowod heartwood, mexico
Heartwood of the logwood tree, where the dye is contained

Couleur Garance, the natural dye gardens in Lauris France, will be holding its biennale Symposium on Natural Colours in October, 2017. I attended this event in 2013. It is a remarkable meeting of dyers, scientists, growers, artists, and artisans. It is to be held in the setting of the natural dye gardens of Lauris. These are the gardens that Michel Garcia helped to found.

Conservatory Garden of Dye Plants, Lauris – Version 2
Dye Gardens of Lauris

Couleur Garance has invited artisans and teachers from Mexico to participate this year, bringing a global perspective to the event. Their challenge, now, is to raise funds to help the Mexican presenters travel to France.

In the spirit of international learning and community, I invite you to join me in helping to support this project. They have set up an online fundraiser to help make this possible.

I send this out, as I am about to embark on an adventure of my own. Tomorrow I will travel to Madagascar and the International Festival of Plants, Ecology, and Colours. I don’t know what I will learn, or whom I will meet, but I feel confident that I will return home with a deeper understanding of the world and its use of natural color. Most of all, my world community will again expand, as a result of this experience.

Growing Color: A Symposium and a Lifestyle

We are about to have our first killing frost here in western North Carolina and it’s time to collect seeds. This morning I watched a squirrel cross the road with an enormous black walnut in his mouth. There are plenty of black walnuts in the freezer. I’ve collected seeds from my French marigolds. I’m not sure of the tagetes variety but the seeds were brought back 8 years ago from Couleur Garance in Lauris, France and the plants grow taller (about 1 meter tall) than our garden shop variety. They produce plenty of flowers that are easy to harvest and dry.

My Japanese indigo (Polygonum tinctorium) is blooming so next year I’ll have my own seeds to plant. We had an unusually dry summer here and the seeds on the madder plants didn’t mature but usually I would be collecting those as well. I’ve been collecting and drying staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) leaves as a great source of tannin.

The tiny weld (Reseda luteola) seedlings in the garden will turn into a valuable crop of dye next summer. Each year I harvest about 5 pounds of dried weld from a 4’ x 8’ bed.

As I prepare my own garden for the winter, the North Carolina Arboretum is preparing the first Growing Color Symposium, November 5,  2016. The event was conceived with the idea of dyers and farmers collaborating to grow plants that produce color.

Anne de la Sayette , of France, is our keynote speaker. I met Anne when she and Dominique Cardon were co-chairs of the ISEND Natural Dye Symposium, La Rochelle, France in April 2011. Anne created and led the Regional Center for Innovation and Technology Transfer in Horticulture (CRITT) where she initiated and managed a 15-year innovative project on natural dyes. We are very excited to have her here.

Sara Bellows is another of our speakers. She founded Stony Creek Colors in Tennessee She is raising and processing indigo right here in the United States. We are all anxious to hear more about this project.

There will be other speakers and displays. Come and join us if you can. We hope this is only the beginning of a long conversation about growing color here in the mountains of North Carolina and beyond.