Creating Your Own Dye Garden
September 8, 2009
During a natural dye workshop in Point Reyes Station, I met Dr. Sara Gottfried and her daughter Maya- it was a busy day, and there was a lot of information passed along, much of it focussing on how to work with already functioning dye vats. To extend the learning experience and bring the process into the home in a lasting way- Sara asked if I would do a dye garden consult for her home garden.
We spoke a bit about the amount of sun in the garden, and the kind of plants she was interested in working with. I brought with me, a combination of Bay Area native species, and several horticultural varieties, including, sticky monkey flower, mugwort, tickseed coreopsis, and violas. These plants encompass a range of function for the natural dyer. Some are good for pounding, some better for immersion dyeing, and others for solar dyeing.
Mugwort makes a wonderful immersion dye vat- with colors of sage green, and gold. There was already a healthy stand of it growing in the yard. The family’s garden and home are a model for green living. Sara and her husband dreamed of re-modeling their craftsman home in an ecologically thoughtful manner- and they manifested this dream fully- it now includes rainwater catchment tanks, a grey water system, and an interior whose materials- from floor to ceiling, are all as low-impact as one could imagine.
Here is the immersion dye vat, I brought for Maya to enjoy. This dye came from Toyon- another California native. The dye took to her scarf well- it turned a strong shade of earthy orange. It was nice to be working in the garden, and have the dye activities occurring simultaneously. It facilitated a deep, and playful connection to the landscape, one that lasted many hours.
Here is a solar-dye jar example- this is the lowest carbon footprint way of creating color for one’s clothing, and fiber arts activities. The dye garden as a whole, marks a big step towards greater ecological consciousness. For one, many of the dye species are native, requiring little water, and extending habitat into the backyard- for a myriad of insects, and all those species who prey upon them. Using natural dyes displaces the need for use of synthetic dyes, and in turn keeps a host of synthetic and carcinogenic chemicals out of our water supply.
One of the most interesting intersections between the use of natural dyes, and the work that Sara focuses on with her patients at the Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine- has to do to with hormones. At the Center, Sara works with her patients to help them find balance and vitality, through a medical understanding of hormone levels, and their fluctuation. These fluctuations occur naturally as we age, yet they can, and are often exacerbated by environmental factors. One of these factors include genotoxic chemicals, which are chemicals that can mimic, and thus disrupt our natural hormone balance. In researching synthetic dyes, it came to my attention that they have within them, a chemical that mimics estrogen. So, it seems there is one more reason to make and use your own natural dyes, beyond the beauty, fun, and alchemical magic that they bring to life- they also support greater health for us all.
The best way to bring natural color into your life, is through building a relationship with the plants that yield the beautiful dyes.
If you are interested in creating your own natural dye garden, or would like to understand more about the process, leave a comment here. I’d be happy to talk with you about your garden ideas and desire for color.