Dying with Flowers {and other Naturals} Part 1

1In August there was a lot of activity in the studio. Our intern Annaliese brought something magical with her and a large part of that was the fact that to teach, I had to stretch my mind and imagine what it was like to learn something completely new. The atmosphere was alive with ideas and many art mediums colliding. Her love of pottery mixed with my love of botanicals was an explosion of creativity that resulted in spending a week of obsessive study on the art of dying fabric with natural materials. Humans these days are really reaching back out to nature and I must admit that after the extremely satisfying results of a few test recipe batches, I was hooked. I spent every spare minute boiling and sun dying fabrics in jars, big pots, copper basins, and the porch pretty much looked like an alchemists paradise. I talked about it constantly, spent hours online reading natural blogs for recipes and my hands were purple and blue. One night after leaving a bowl of Turmeric outside next to a bowl of blackberry dye, a racoon came and dug through the yellow powder and then the blue water making green stripes on my fabric! After the mania of creating every color I could in less than a week, Annabella Charles brought her camera and the three of us had an incredible 2 day summer session. The results were so perfect in telling the story that it is split into three posts:

1) Dying with Flowers

2) The Colors of Nature

3) A Potter’s Journey

The recipes are not exact. The best way to learn to dye with naturals, flowers, spices, beans, vegetables, and fruits is really in the trial and journal of your methods. It’s a lot of chemistry but the variables are your water source composition, pot metals, nature of the materials, fabrics, and mordants; none of which are going to be exactly the same as what I used in the photos.  I was able to get multiple colors out of a single fruit like blackberry using different pots, heat sources, mordants, and fabrics. The best way to document your dying recipes is in a journal with samples put right into the page. I created a sample journal, but would recommend at least one page per color or dye method. This was incredibly fun! If I weren’t so consumed with flowers in my life I would enjoy the life of some of the premier natural ribbon and fabric dying companies of our time. The one that is on every bouquet these days being Silk and Willow because of their gorgeous natural colors and safe dying methods. Silk and Willow is known to collect Avocado pits from restaurants just to recycle a bit more and make some of the most earthly yet ethereal colors from them. They are worth every penny to wrap that bouquet that makes you want to weep over its beauty, the extra finishing touch with perfect imperfections no factory could manufacture.

The steps to dying are simple once you get the hand of the process.

  • Create the dye by boiling your dye product and water.
  • Strain out any large particles.
  • In a separate pan boil your fabric in water and add the mordant.
  • Boil mordant and fabric for at least and hour and allow to cool.
  • Remove the fabric from the mordant and wring it.
  • Some mordants may need an additional water rinse.
  • Add the fabric to the strained dye and boil for an hour or desired color saturation time.
  • Remove the fabric from the dye, rinse, and air dry.
  • NOTE: Colorfastness is not guaranteed so please don’t wash hand dyed fabrics with other clothing until certain it will not bleed. I typically hand dye items I wash alone such as table cloths or ribbons (for bouquets) that are hand washed only and ironed.
  • Here is a link to a more utilitarian tutorial

This concept and all of the lessons were a complete indulgence in creation. Please enjoy the work of our team and photographs by Annabella Charles Photography!

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{Click here to see Part 2 of this post}