Eco-Color Files

Surprise from the windbreaks of West Marin…

IMG_2891The morning light captured the fire-like quality of this hand-spun corriedale cross yarn.  I harvested Eucalyptus from a road cut near my home yesterday.  Branches and leaves were used to make the dye vat for this skein.   I am still looking at the USDA plant data base to identify the variety of Eucalyptus I harvested.  It had the most incredible little seed pods- like little fairy hats.  The fresher seed pods had pink hairs adorning their base, like the rosy hem of a Victorian era woman’s gown.

IMG_2895The yarn changes color depending on the light that it’s residing in.  The quality of this color most resembles that of fire.  It illuminates yellow, red, and orange tones and hues depending on the  angle one is viewing it from.  I have never dyed a yarn with this dynamic play of color.  I have also never used this species before.  There was some serious excitement when I pulled this skein out of the dye vat. I couldn’t help but jump around, and run upstairs to show my husband in total excitement.  He has seen enough of my work to understand the importance of this finding- he looked at it from every angle, trying to figure out exactly what color was being reflected to his eye.


Here the same skein, once again looking rather orange.   From red, to yellow-orange, to orange again, all depending on the light and shadow.  This will make an exquisite summer shawl… Until next time!  Thanks for checking in.


July 22, 2009

Eco-Color Files

The future of textiles, like all the world at this juncture, is in flux, in need of change, and on its way to revolutionizing itself.


Photo taken by Ecofriend

This is a picture of a stagnant pond outside of  a textile factory in Bangladesh, where dye runoff filled with a panoply of heavy metals and petroleum by-products sit, untreated.  This picture was taken by Ecofriend. This is a scene familiar to me, from my travels in South East Asia. This visual moves away from my regular tone in this blog, which is to report on the local, clean, organic, and healthy textile production that I both take part in, and teach to others.  However, the reality is that the world’s clothing is still predominantly made in this fashion.  What better way to appreciate the local, organic, slow clothes movement, but to see the stark contrast of its opposite.


photo taken by Ecofriend: Blue-jeans Synthetic Dye Worker

Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia- one of the most environmentally conscious clothing companies in the world, is now also consulting Walmart.  In an interview in fast magazine, Chouinard states ‘We have to stop the idea of consuming-discarding.’  He believes even if Walmart alone were to move to organic cotton, there would never be enough organic cotton in the world to support their consumption. For full article see- fast company. As a practitioner of the dyeing process, it is also clear, that a move to organic cotton alone, without a full scale re-design of the dye process, would leave the textile industry far from meeting the triple bottom line.  Dye houses, and dye workers pictured above would not see a change with simply a move to organic fiber production. The future of textiles is an emerging story we are all apart of- to move towards greater sustainability will require more than simply consuming a healthier product, but to slow down the consumption itself. Taking inspiration from these pictures and articles, I went on a reclamation mission with some garage sale finds from the neighbors yard.  It is time to make do with what we have, I believe. So how can we re-fashion, and re-enliven the cast-offs?


100% cotton shirt garage sale find re-fashioned

A fifty cent, 100% cotton children’s T-shirt was the starting point.  I filled a jar with rusty nails, and a bit of water, and some vinegar. I then let it sit in my sun-oven for a day.  I took scavenged  Japanese Maple leaves from the front yard and folded them into shirt and sleeves, very tightly.  I then wrapped it all up in rubber bands, and entered the shirt into the jar with the rusty objects.  It cooked in the solar oven in the yard for two days.  This was a carbon neutral re-fashioning- and no extra inputs were required, as I had plenty of rusty things, and my solar oven standing by.


Close-up of maple and rust imprints

The pattern that came from this process was stunning.  The dyes are semi-permanent, and if they fade a bit, I’ll just do it again, and maybe add some layers of other leaves as well. I highly recommend these techniques, and the work of India Flint. She has a book out, called Eco Colour, that outlines many techniques like this. In the process of reclaiming the cast-offs, and garage sale items, we have an opportunity to create in ways we haven’t been asked to, or thought of before. I made use of the abundant leaf litter in the street, the rusty items in the garage, and enjoyed waiting patiently as the shirt sat in the solar oven for several days. Slow Clothes give me time to garden, blog, clean, and work, and the longer I wait, the better they seem to look.

Re-fashioned children's dress in Indigo, and shirt in rust and maple

Re-fashioned children's dress in Indigo, and shirt in rust and maple

If you have a re-fashioning story, or technique, I’d love to hear about it.  If you’d like to learn some of these techniques and other dye processes that I’ve outlined in this blog, you’re invited on August 1st to the Sustainable Fairfax Benefit Dye Day.  Check the ‘Dye Workshops’ category for all the details.  Hope to see you there.

Indigo Harvest

July 15, 2009

Eco-color Files

Today was the season’s first Indigo harvest from my garden. Collection began early this morning, and the dye bath processes ended just before sunset this evening. I have never been more satisfied with a dye color.  There is no clearer reflection of sky and sea than the blues of Indigo.


I’ve been waiting for this day since last October, when I first ordered my seeds.  I planted my Japanese Indigo in December, indoors.  Today was the first day of harvest- July 14th.  So it has been some time coming, and it was well worth the patience required.  I’ve been building a deep and admiration filled relationship with Japanese Indigo over these many months- through tending, watering, appreciating, and gazing over these lovely plants.  It was only today that the relationship was taken to the next level- as I uncovered this most visually delectable natural dye color.

Extracting color included a variety of oxygenating, and de-oxygenating processes.  My handspun organic yarn looks yellow in the dye bowl, because it is.  Only when I pull the yarn from the vat, does the blue begin to emerge, as it hits the air.  I harvested one pound of leaves and stems today, and it was enough to dye 4 oz. of yarn.  My Indigo crop is so healthy, I likely have five or six more pounds to harvest before the season’s end.

If you are interested in this process I recommend Rita Buchanon’s book a Dyer’s Garden.  If you are interested in purchasing seed for Japanese Indigo, and growing instructions, drop me a comment.  If you have an Indigo story, or question I’d love to hear from you.  For the utmost beauty in Indigo processing, check out the

Natural Shibori

July 13, 2009

Eco-Color Files Creating Art from Local Natural Resources

Shibori is an incredible technique for creating patterns on fabric, through folding, wrapping, tying, and even stitching. Its origins began some time ago, in 8th century Japan. My class adopted this ancient tradition, and added their own modern variations. They began their shibori process with a silk scarf, marbles, rubber bands, and tongue depressors. The girls harvested their dyes from the surrounding area. Carefully pruning back toyon, sticky monkey, sage, and coyote brush for their dye pots. After an hour of immersion in the dye vat, the girls pulled out their silk, and hand-painted parts of the silk with ‘bug juice’ – cochineal extract, and logwood extract (from wood shavings).


Here is the immersion dyeing taking place. Into the Toyon vat, the silk goes with it’s tongue depressors firmly attached.


And the outcome? Wrinkled and Gorgeous.


And another proud artist.


And the marble queen unveils her hard work. At the end of the week, we had an eco-fashion show. I was so busy narrating, I have no pictures of the incredible event! The show illuminated nature’s aesthetic, while providing an incredible amount of joy for the students. The girls had harvested, designed, spun and woven so many fiber pieces throughout the week, they were jaw-dropping in their ecological colors, and proud smiles. One seven year old student came up to me at the end, and let me know, that she will carry this memory forever. Those are the moments that make all the teaching work so worth it. I am currently for the first time creating silk shibori dye kits, so the fun can continue beyond my classes. If you want to make a scarf with the help of an assistant, and ready to go dye vats, and you happen to live locally. Come to our benefit natural-dye shibori class on Aug. 1st at Sustainable Fairfax. (see more details on the ‘dye workshops’ page).  If you’re interested in either of these offers, just drop me a comment, and I’ll be in touch! Have a thought or story to share about you’re own process or natural dye passion, I’d love to hear from you.

Power of Sunlight

July 9, 2009

Solar Power for Eco-Color Dye Vat


These Ecological Arts students took part in a carbon neutral natural dye process today. The dye process generally requires a plug in of some sort of a high electricity utilizing electric burner, and for good color yields, this burner generally needs to run for over an hour. Today we did things differently, and our results were more positive than the ‘old’ way. This seems to be common in the new world of doing things green- its better for the planet, the process is more humane, and the whole aesthetic from start to finish is simply more intriguing and inviting.


We were able to use recycled glass jars, instead of stainless steel pots. The glass heats up faster than stainless steel, and the lid on the glass traps heat quite well. This was a dye bath of wild mustard and a horticultural variety of coreopsis, that the children harvested themselves. The yarn cooked for about 3 hours in a southern facing spot next to a building, where the sun was reflecting strongly.


As we pulled the yarns out the vat, there were gasps amongst the children, and myself. The colors were extraordinary. The coreopsis having been left in the vat, created orange slivers on the bright yellow yarn. I could have never predicted this outcome.


An incredible day, and a fantastic outcome to our experiment. If you have any experience with solar dye making, I’d love to hear how it’s been for you. If you haven’t tried it yet- the process is highly recommended.

Sticky Monkey Flower

July 3, 2009

Eco-Color Files

Yes, that is the common name of this California native, a funny designation given to a most purposeful perennial. It plays a crucial role holding up forebodingly steep hillsides. The blossoms are uniquely bell shaped with a soft wavelike edge, and are the most clear and vibrant shades of orange. Every little pollinator in our garden makes its way to this spring and early summer feast and attraction.


Sticky Monkey has a had an incredible bumper year- every hillside that hosts this plant, has been an ongoing display of orange for over a month now. The season is beginning to come to a close though, as the sticky blossoms dry, and prepare their seed. After a joyful and gentle harvest, I collected seed, and am now drying it, preparing to propagate. I put the branches, leaves, and flowers into the dye pot.


My water filling station is in the native garden, where I’ve planted sticky monkey, among many other natives, it grows vibrantly without the need for watering.


This color astounds me. It is the perfect rich and rustic mustard yellow. I can actually see saving these skeins for my fall designs, as it reminds me of the autumnal mass of falling leaves that streak our neighborhood each year. It looks lovely sitting in our own sticky monkey plant. I highly recommend this plant for the garden.


And as the sun set, I caught one last spectacular example of how this color glows. It shares the vibrancy of the living plant. This is one more reason to use natural dyes- they are another way of taking a snapshot of the incredible depth of nature’s colorful creativity. And these are not just colors for your canvas, these can be worn, and keep you warm.

I’d love to hear your ideas, inspirations, and thoughts on nature’s colors…
I’ll be in touch as this process evolves, thank you for reading.

The Horse’s Tail

July 2, 2009

Eco-Color Files

This primordial plant has always mystified me, as it’s origins predate every seeding plant on the planet. It has been around for 400 million years. If only it could tell the rich and incredible story of its time here on earth! This dye process was an attempt to unearth the secrets that lie within its hollow stock, and soft spines.


While harvesting horsetail, I noticed its rough ridges, and delicate spines, I could almost see in this small stalk the once tall tree-like ancestor it came from. For thousands of years, humans used horsetail as sand paper, and likely it was used medicinally. Its mineral content is high, and is most well known for healing urinary tract infections. When you find a stand of horsetail, it is generally quite large, it grows like a ground cover when it finds an area it likes, which is generally seasonally wet sandy soils. It can pop up like a forest, of light and airy stalks, leaving little room for anything else to grow.


Like its unique status among plants, it is no wonder it yields the most unique and unexpected color imaginable. A light rose, emerged from the steaming dye vat, after several days of preparation. The wool skeins pictured were both locally sourced. I handspun the chunky yarn from wool purchased at Windrush farm in the Chileno Valley. This color will look incredible with the other plant dyed colors I’ve been preparing for this season’s summer eco-couture designs.


Along the road where I went to photograph the yarns amongst the horsetail, I stopped by this organic roadside farm. I was quite happy to see those tending the small field had all ridden their bicycles to work that day. Beautiful to see the tended and farmed landscape set against the open coastal hillsides. Looking forward to sharing more eco-color with you as it emerges from the dye vats. In the meantime, drop me a comment about your experiences in the wild- do you tend it, observe it, receive inspiration from it?

Feast of Green Fennel

July 1, 2009


Fennel is a plant with a sordid reputation. Known for being high end real estate for several of the Lepidoptera species butterflies, ladybird beetles, white and golden crown sparrows, garter snakes and rodents.. It is also viewed as the godzilla, of invasive species, displacing native wildflowers, and homogenizing ecosystems. All of this appears to be true of the plant, and to add to its many functions- I recently discovered that with the use of an iron mordant, this plant makes the most excellent green dye!


In viewing many roadside stands today, I observed fennel growing in every nook of available turf, even pushing out some of the more hardy natives- commonly known as bee plant, and mugwort. The native flower- Perideridia kelloggii, that once hosted the Lepidoptera butterflies, was no where to be seen. There are so many factors contributing to the success of fennel, that I have no distaste for the plant itself, it is only responding to the conditions it has come to grow in.


California soils have dried, due to the loss of perennial grasses, that once blanketed the landscape, keeping in water, and holding back the effects of erosion. These perennials have been replaced by annual grasses that dry out only weeks after the last rainfall- hence, the golden hills of California. Our waterways have been re-routed, and drained to make way for roads, homes, and agriculture. The changes we have made, and the level of disruption caused to the ecosystem, it seems only natural that a plant as virulent as fennel would take root, a plant so hardy it can grow in almost any soil. While it can act as a band-aid, it can also function to take over diverse ecosystems, whose soils and water are still in tact.


I am still wondering a bit about the impact of harvesting fennel. While I would very much like to see less of it, and have it replaced with native wildflowers and bunchgrasses, I know that it’s existence plays a role in the life of many insects, and for this reason, I am unable to commit to wholesale destruction with my harvesting. Yet, I will never propagate this plant in my garden, like I do the native dye plants. I will remain a roadside harvester of fennel. My follow-up harvest will include clay balls filled with perennial native grass and wildflower seed- so where ever I remove fennel, I will leave a gift behind.. I’ll keep you posted on
this process!