Alchemy

Last fall I tried dying fabric using plant products and was immediately hooked. I love the nuanced organic hues that you can get, but also standing over a steaming cauldron and stirring a bunch of weird things together to see what color they will produce. It’s like being a kid again and making potions from stuff you collected in your back yard.

Admittedly, I did a little research before starting. Even more than the Internet,  Sasha Duerr’s book on the subject has been the best resource I’ve found to date. It turns out there are several steps you have to take just to prepare a fabric for dying, and Duerr explains these very thoroughly. Unfortunately, she does not let you cut any corners. I was scouring and boiling and mordanting my little pile of fabrics for days before they were finally ready to go in the cauldron. There was a kitchen scale involved and I had to use math.

Normally I may not have gone to all the trouble but truth be told I really felt that I could not let Sasha Duerr down. Read the book and you’ll understand.

Anyway, so far I’ve dyed fabric using:

  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Oak hulls
  • Pokeberries
  • Blackberries
  • Turmeric
  • Black Beans
  • Madder Root

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For my latest project I ordered powdered dyestuff from Maiwa because I don’t know how to forage for madder root in the dead of a Cleveland winter.

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I dyed a small batch of vintage linens from Lithuania that had seen better days. And look how nicely they turned out:

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For one of the pieces, I added iron powder to my dye as an “after mordant.” A mordant is an agent like tannin or alum that helps bind plant dyes to the fiber. But you can change the color of a dye pretty significantly just by adding iron. In the case of my madder root, the iron powder turned the dye a plum purple color, which ended up lilac gray after it dried.

I made this bird with it.

lilac swallow front_edited-1

lilac swallow in flight_edited-1

I just love the idea of turning a tattered piece of vintage cloth into something like that. You know?

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3 thoughts on “Alchemy

  1. Tammie

    how fun that i would stumble on you after posting about linen.
    i love the colors your cloths turned out.
    such a charming little bird you made.
    lovely to meet you.

    Reply

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