Update on The Book – The Art and Science of Natural Dye

Yesterday I received a phone call from Schiffer Publications – the publisher of Joy’s and my upcoming natural dye book. 

I am sorry to report that the release date, originally projected for the end of October, has been delayed until late January.

Why the delay? 

Schiffer is taking great pains to be sure that all color reproduction is exact and precise. The book is illustrated with photos of actual samples from my dye tests. Our goal was to share some of the hundreds of samples that I have done, comparing the use of different mordants, tannins, dye treatments, times in the dyebath, etc. Many of the variations are subtle – but the differences are important.

Careful color adjustments have been made to the digital images in Art & Science of Natural Dye to ensure that the dye colors  reproduce as accurately as possible through  the print process. Color proofs are  reviewed and compared to the actual dye samples as part of this process.

Yes, it will be delayed, but the color will be the best possible printed reproduction and I’m very happy about that. It’s good to be working with a publisher that really cares about these “small” details – they are really not small at all. Below is just a small hint of what will be included. 

I know that many of you have pre-ordered the book and are anxiously awaiting it. Joy and I  appreciate the vote of confidence and are sorry for the delay.

I can suggest a great thing to do while you’re waiting: 

Yesterday, on a long drive back home from New England, I finally had the chance to listen to a lecture given by Michel Garcia and available as a Maiwa Podcast. It’s title is Field Notes in the Color Garden, parts 1 & 2. It’s a long, wonderful, rambling lecture that Michel gave in 2015 and Maiwa uploaded as a podcast this year.  It has given me much to think about in regards to dye plants, resource books, investigation, and the human scale of natural dye. 

And keep dyeing!

It’s still less than a year since Joy and I turned in the manuscript and images to the publisher. My learning has not stopped and once the book is released, I look forward to sharing some of the things I’ve continued to work on and learn about since we sent the manuscript away.  “Stay tuned”.

Catharine

What We Call Things

While in Oaxaca, Mexico, a friend gave me a small bag of dried dye material. She had obtained it from dyers in the Teotitlan Valley. It was identified locally as “Mexican chamomile”. It was very aromatic and easy to believe that it was a type of chamomile, possibly related to dyer’s chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria), also known as know as golden marguerite.

I wanted to compare this “Mexican chamomile” with the chamomile I had at home. I had dried chamomile flowers from Maiwa and some whole plants from the end of the season in my garden. Both of them were Anthemis tinctoria.

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Dry and fresh dye materials

I dyed mordanted wool fabric with all three of these “chamomiles” and achieved very different results. Both of the known chamomile dyes produced in a soft, predictable yellow color while the Mexican “chamomile” produced in a much deeper, richer tone. When I completed lightfast tests on the three samples, the Mexican chamomile actually deepened in hue, which led me to believe that it contained a tannin. I guessed that it might not actually be chamomile.

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Fresh chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria), Maiwa dried chamomile flowers (Anthemis tinctoria), Mexican chamomile (Tagetes lucida)
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Lightfastness tests. Right side was exposed to direct sun for 3+ weeks.

After reporting these results to the friend who had given me the dye, she told me the plant had another local name: “pericon”. Once I knew this, it was easy to identify the plant in both Tintes y tintoreros de América by Ana Roquero and Plantes Tintóreas de Guatemala by Olga Reiche. Both of these are excellent dye books, written in Spanish.

The dye plant in question was Tagetes lucida, a type of marigold. The entire plant is used for dyeing, which explains the presence of tannin in the dye. The whole plant is likely to contain tannins while the flowers alone would not.

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Tagetes lucida,  Wikipedia photo

I have located sources of seed for this plant. The seed companies also refer to it as “Mexican tarragon”, “sweet smelling marigold”, and “Mexican mint marigold”. The leaves are a savory herb and can be used as a substitute for tarragon.

I bring all this up to emphasize the importance of using Latin names for our dye plants. Local names are only useful to local people. I understand that there is a great deal of emphasis on the use of local plants for dyeing but as we travel and meet dyers from other places it becomes important to talk about our process in a common, international language.

While in Mexico I took a workshop on plant taxonomy with Alejandro de Ávila at the Botanical Gardens in Oaxaca. I marvel at the incredible system of plant names that can be understood around the world and encourage dyers to get into the habit of using the Latin names for plants.

I will grow Tagetes lucida (or “Mexican chamomile”, or “pericon” or Mexican tarragon” or “sweet smelling marigold” or “Mexican mint marigold”) in my garden this year and think about the Teotitlan dyers who gather it wild and use in their weavings.

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Jacobo and Maria Luisa Mendoza, Teotitlan weavers and natural dyers in their home studio, with Rocio Mena Gutierrez

 

Book is out! & Teaching at Penland

 

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On the shelf at the Penland Supply Store – photo by Debra Frasier

Woven Shibori has been printed and is on the shelves of your favorite bookseller (also available at Amazon).  I had some of the first copies delivered to me while teaching natural dye with Joy Boutrup at Penland School of Crafts. It was a fitting place to receive the first books. Joy has helped me over the years to understand the chemistry of natural dyes, various finishing processes, and textiles in general. I could not have completed even the first version of Woven Shibori without her input.

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Catharine and Joy at Penland  –  photo by Robin Dreyer

I love teaching at Penland! The studios are beautiful, thoughtfully cared for, and well supplied.  Our students were fabulous and ready for whatever we brought to class. We focused on experiments, observations, and clarifications. The class worked with all natural fibers, and processes included dyeing, printing, and discharge. We were focused on WHY things happen rather than simply how they are done.

Every time I teach with Joy, I  walk away feeling that I’ve taken a  a class as well. We learn from each other as we solve problems, observe results, and identify the best practices for the studio.

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So here is one of the things that FINALLY became clear to me.

I’ve heard/read for years that if animal hide glue was added to the indigo vat, then it would be better for wool or other protein fiber. But WHY? That had never been explained. Did the glue coat the fiber in some way?

The organic sugar vats, that I learned to make from Michel Garcia, use sugars from fruit or plants to create the reduction. Lime (calcium hydroxide) provides the alkalinity.

The vat begins with a quick reduction that eventually becomes a fermentation vat. These vats require a very high pH (about 13-14) in order to start the reduction. If the pH is too low the vat will not reduce. But it does not need a high pH to stay in reduction or for dyeing. A pH of 10 is more suitable for dyeing wool, while cellulose fibers do better with a higher pH of 11. The vat will eventually get to a pH 10 as the sugars create lactic acid in the fermentation but this could take a long time. I’ve had vats take weeks to reach pH 10.

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Indigo!  – photo by Robin Dreyer

The addition of dissolved animal hide glue (a protein) to the vat will gently lower the pH by absorbing some of the excess lime. The glue will precipitate to the bottom of the vat along with unreduced indigo and sugars. Joy also suggested using natural gelatin (another protein) as an alternative to the glue but we did not have a chance to try this.

It’s very important to insure that the vat is fully reduced before adding anything that will lower the pH. I would wait at least a few days after making the vat before doing this.

I’ve had dyers tell me that the addition of the glue does indeed improve the hand of wool fibers. How much glue? I’m not sure. We started by using a recommendation by Michelle Whipplinger  in her Natural Dye Instruction Booklet. She suggests using the equivalent of approximately 1%  fiber weight. The glue needs to be dissolved in water.  That seemed a reasonable place to start. The key is to watch the pH and observe with both the eye and the hand.

Woven Shibori and Teaching Natural Dyeing

The new edition of Woven Shibori, (Interweave Press) – with a focus on natural dyes – is at the printers right now and will be available by late June! It’s exciting to see the cover and the layout complete. I first wrote Woven Shibori in 2005 and it sold out several years ago. The book has introduced weavers to the concepts and specifics of weaving fabric with woven resist patterning. When the book was originally written I was using many different types of synthetic dyes and layering them in order to accomplish rich color surfaces.

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I have now been using natural dyes exclusively for 8 years. My challenge was to develop methods of resisting, mordanting, mordant discharging, and cross dyeing  to create unique fabrics that have all the elements I love: texture, color, woven structure, and always some surprises. The natural dye palette and processes not only rival, but I think surpass, the effects I was achieving with synthetic dyes.

Last week I taught a class on cotton printing with natural dyes at Cloth Fiber Workshop in Asheville. I was reminded once again why I teach and why I have written this book. It is gratifying to work with people who are curious, skilled (or not), and eager to learn more. The students in my classes keep pushing me to increase my own knowledge, to better understand what I do know, and to clarify my reasons for working with natural dye.

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Class photos from Cloth Fiber Workshop by Barbara Zaretsky

I would not be the dyer I am today without my own teachers and mentors. Michel Garcia of France and  Joy Boutrup of Denmark have been guiding influences. They are both curious and knowledgable and have inspired me to continue down this path. Michel and Joy are also generous teachers. None of us can do this by ourselves.

Although Woven Shibori includes lots of technical information about weaving fabrics for shibori, the dye information should be of interest to anyone who combines resist techniques with natural dye on their cloth.

 

Why I Switched from Synthetic to Natural Dyes

The Surface Design Association News Blog just published a piece I wrote on dyeing.  Here is the link. The transition from synthetic to natural dyes and ingredients took some time, a lot of thought, and some real determination. I have reached the point of no return…..

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Sodium hydrosulfite or thioruea dioxide was both the reduction agent for indigo/vat dyes and a discharge agent for fiber reactive dyes. Now I use plants and sugars to reduce the indigo vat and citric acid or lemon juice to discharge mordants.

More thoughts on Natural Dye and Cultural Exchange in China…

Yoshiko I. Wada wrote the follow comment in response to the latest blog post. She was a very important part of this experience and I thought her words, with  additional insight,  deserved their own spot and thus the following:

“This is a friend of Catharine’s, Yoshiko I. Wada from slowfiberstudios.com and naturaldyeworkshop.com, where we re-blog Catharine’s blog in our Dye Nerds’ Blog. Since the person in charge of our blog is on vacation until the end January and I was g Japanese to English translator for Dr. Yamazaki I am jumping in for some additional thoughts and information.

The Jinze Art Centre in Shanghai and Slow Fiber Studios in Berkely, CA organized the workshops with Japanese masters working with my colleague Edith Cheung who is in charge of the textile program there.

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Yoshiko Wada and Edith Cheung in Jinze Town.

RE: Camellia ash (椿灰汁) since the Asuka Period (538 to 710 ) and Nara Period (AD 710 to 794) documents recorded that the Japanese dyers used the liquid strained from the camellia ash as a vehicle to shift pH and at the same time to access its alum as a mordant. Camellia is a plant which is called bio-accumulator of aluminum similar to symplocos, lycopodium and miconia. Those plants have been used as mordants in Southeast Asia, northern Europe, and Mexico respectively. The anthology of poems Man’yōshū 万葉集 literally means “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves” contains many poems associating with purple colors (murasaki) and gromwell roots (shikon) and madder as well as camellia ash. The collection contains poems ranging from AD 347 (poems #85–89) through 759 (#4516), the bulk of them representing the period after AD 600.

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Gromwell on silk

Catharine: At the bottom is the love poem by Princess Nukata I told you about. And it starts with madder (akane) as a pillow word but scene is the gromewll field (known to belong to Tenchi Emperor). Murasaki is purple and the plant was a precious medicinal herbs. From the poem, the guarded field may have hosted wild gromwell plants like the Super Gromwell Roots that Edith found in Hong Kong where herbalist told her “only the very best is found in Hong Kong.”

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Purple Gromwell roots (Arnebiae radix)

The wild purple roots were so strange looking compared to the ones imported from China that Dr. Yamazaki uses in Japan that it gave him such worries during the class. He thought after making the students knead the soaked roots for 2 hours on their knees on the floor, only grey pale purple is achieved.

On the contrary, we achieved the most beautiful purple even with limited time we had to process it all. Did he mention that in his studio, he kneads the roots a few times in the morning and some more in the afternoon to get maximum colorants from the plants? And he repeats dyeing, middle mordanting, and dyeing, many times in a few days to get saturated deep purple? He did say the purple dye extracted in this way has much more complexity and depth than the easy extraction with alcohol.

Yoshiko I. Wada

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Gromwell on silk with extraction by kneading and camellia ash mordant

茜さす紫野行き標野(しめの)行き野守(のもり)は見ずや君が袖振る 額田王(ぬかたのおおきみ).

訳)茜色を帯びる紫草が生い茂る(天智天皇の御料地である)野を行き,貴方は袖を振る.野守りが見とがめはしないでしょうか?

Dyeing Naturally and Cultural Exchange in China

I just returned from several weeks in China, where I did an artist residency at the Jinze Art Center near Shanghai. The residency was  focused on weaving and the study of Chinese local “tubu” cloth from the 1950’s and 60’s.

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Cotton tubu fabrics

I also participated in a natural dye workshop with Japanese dye master, Dr. Kazuki  Yamazaki. Dr. Yamasaki is a 3rd generation natural dyer and his family has specialized in the traditional dye processes, which they have meticulously researched from the Japanese Heian Dynasty (about a thousand years ago). He is a well-respected practitioner, author and teacher.

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Dr. Tomoko Torimaru with silks dyed by Dr. Yamazaki

Each day we explored a different red dye on silk yarns and fabrics: Sappanwood (Caesalpinia sappan), Madder (Rubia Cordifolia), Lac (Laccifer lacca), Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), and Purple Root/Gromwell (Lithospermum purpurocaeruleum). These are all special colors that would have been used by nobility (the commoners used mostly indigo and a lot of mousy browns). All of the dyestuffs we used were locally sourced in China.

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Silk yarns dyed with Sappan wood and Madder

Although  our procedures every day were similar, each dye required special treatment. Dr. Yamazaki has a deep knowledge of botany and chemistry of the dye process so we learned “why” right along with the “how”. It’s rare to find this approach in the dye world.  For instance, the color is drawn out of each plant differently and by tweaking pH the hues can be made to shift dramatically. I very much appreciated his willingness to explain each step clearly.

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Dr. Yamazaki demonstrating one of the steps of safflower dyeing
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Camellia ash used as mordant and pH adjustor

Dyeing originated in China and spread to Japan many years ago but without the continued use of dye plants in Chinese medicine, there would be no dye industry to speak of in Japan. Most of the plants we used have medicinal properties in Chinese medicine. There was a young traditional Chinese doctor in the class who wanted to learn about the plants as a source of color, although she uses them regularly in her medical practice.

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Silk dyed with lac

Our class comprised of

  • 1 Japanese teacher
  • 5 assistants
  • 2 translators (Japanese to Chinese, Japanese to English)
  • 3 Americans
  • 20 Chinese

So, as you can imagine it was quite a noisy classroom! Everything was written in Chinese characters, Japanese characters, and English. The Chinese and Japanese characters are similar but not always interpreted the same way.

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The daily instruction board
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Japanese to English translation “huddle”. Sketch by workshop participant, Wang Dan

The 20 Chinese students were all young – in their 30’s or so. They were bright, inquisitive, and interested in their own traditions and history. It was a rich mixture of people and process.

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Perfecting the process of dyeing silk skeins

In the west we typically use a European pre-mordant approach to dyeing: mordant first, then dye. But the Japanese approach to dyeing silks is quite different. The mordant comes in the middle: dye first, then mordant, and back to dye. The mordant and dye steps can be repeated many times to build up a greater depth of color. I have known about this approach for a long time but it never quite made sense to my western sensibility. I now see some genuine advantages to dyeing silks in this way and I’m anxious to explore this approach in my own studio dyeing.

There is always more to learn about plants, dyeing, chemistry, and process. Life and learning continues…

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Dr. Yamazaki with lake made from lac dye bath

 

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Colors obtained from safflower petals
Safflower pink on cotton, ready to use for silk dyeing.
Safflower pink on cotton, ready to use for silk dyeing