I studied Textiles in college, which gave me the spark to capture the season’s colors as natural fabric dyes. I’m wild about nature and creating from natural objects. I work at turtle speed with some ideas. Some of you will likely identify. An idea strikes, you fervently collect all the tools to to begin, but life gets in the way. It might take 20 years to recognize those tools are collecting dust, having never met their purpose. There are really so many things to make and experiment, but also so many excuses we can create to hold us back. You can get caught up in the investment excitement, then lose the steam or opportunity to investigate further. Time is of the essence; no time like the present– that gift we are given each fleeting moment.
Sourcing excellent reference materials (BOOKS!!) to gain the knowledge has been key to unlocking the uncertainty of the process. Luckily, our hero STARCat offers a selection of books to borrow from any of the members libraries of the Southern Tier Library Sytsem. There are also wonderful sources on the webs. I’ve linked to several throughout this post, but some of us just need a little down time from the screen, you know what I mean?! Finding the bounty of free dye sources within my own neighborhood made this project even more enticing.
Grabbing color at the height of the season is imperative to a gathering of goodness. Each week provides a new source to test. Late summer into late fall offers revolving resources to keep a dyer inspired. The trick is to ensure you have enough time to do the full process of gathering the dye stuff, preparing the dye stuff for processing, extracting the color from the resulting mash of expired plant materials, having your fibers ready to dye, then choosing a final mordant. The whole endeavor can be a little more to chew than most makers are willing to practice, but I choose the slow, and sometimes complicated, road almost always.
Did I say chew? Fibers need to be prepped so they can chew on the dye colors. Mordant is to bite, so a mordant is required for the fibers to take bite of the natural dye. Aluminum potassium sulfate is suggested for animal and protein fibers, such as silk or wool. Aluminum acetate is suggested mordant for cellulose fibers, or those coming from a plant, such as cotton or linen. I highly recommend referencing Botanical Colors for precise information on this process. They’ve put their knowledge together in a very clear format for anyone to follow. My preferred source book is from my personal library. Wild Color by Jenny Dean can be a secret weapon to this magical process. It’s a easy to follow for any beginner or advanced dyer. The author clearly sets up the reader to prepare the right tools and provides color swatches to know what to expect with each plant they use for dyeing. I’ll be certain to get that book added to the Southeast Steuben County Library collection.
Cottons need extra attention. A recommended prerequisite for dying cellulose fibers is prepping them in a tannic bath. This acidic bath helps the alum better adhere to the fibers. Some leather workers might be familiar with this technique, as leather needs to be tanned. Tannins can give a color to your fibers, so be aware of the options. Suzanne Dekel gives you extensive information in her blog. Extracting natural tannins can be done with oak galls or tree leaves. Jenny Dean suggests using sumac leaves to create a tannic bath. You can also use sumac berries to create a dye bath, among other edible creations, but I couldn’t reach the fruits on my trees!
I processed my fiber collection in 2 major phases. The stack above from the top are results of cotton organza in wild grapes, cotton muslin in goldenrod, and silk in blackberries. The wild grapes give a blue-gray hue after the complete wash and dry. Colors are brighter in the pot, but certainly fade or oxidize after the dye process. You can an iron mordant to gain more somber colors. I experimented with using the post as the mordant.
Pot as Mordant is a technique I favor. Copper, aluminum, and iron pots will all provide a mordant effect. Since the mordant is not measured to precise percentages to account for the weight of the fabric, this is not a precise method. Weights and percentages play important factors in creating enough dye for the quantity of fabric you wish to color. I love irregular dye batches, so the experimentation was worthwhile. The horse chestnuts dye bath on the left in the photo above oxidized to provide a lavender hue! I did not anticipate that result when I took that shot.
I used rubber bands to create some dye resist techniques, many know this as tie-dye. The stripes above are created by accordion folding the fabric, then biding just the ends and middle with rubber bands. The lighter areas were the hose chestnut dye results in a steel pot, then I bound the fibers and worked a resist dye in an iron pot. The results meet my personal palette, so now I just have to decide what to sew with these special stacks.
Some folks flip for stacks of cash. I flip for nature and simplicity. This subdued rainbow of flavor in my basket warms my heart. I finally tested that idea I considered over decades ago and have really just scratched the surface. I look forward to a time when we can all meet in person for a program to share this method of preserving the season in fiber–then paper—or basket reeds –there are so many options to go from here. I might try to dye pines cones with a leftover grape dye bath just to see the effect. I promise to share the results.
If this post sparked an interest, here are some experts to follow and get inspired. Joan Morris will get you going. Kathy Hattori will give you the skills. The Dye Kween will color your word FANCY! Feel free to check out the social media of Spider Stitchery ❤ You might recognize some of her samples….
That’s a wrap for this stationary moment. I’ll check you on the flip side!