Native Plant Colors for Levi Strauss

July 30, 2010

The company that first brought naturally dyed indigo jeans to the scene in California– is returning to their roots. As apart of the We are Workers campaign, Levi’s is coming home to America in a fascinating and beautiful way.

In honor of this movement and campaign, my dye garden was full of potent, pigment rich dye vats, ready for use by five designers who came out from San Francisco to experiment with real native California colors.

In honor of the historical relationship that the company has with blue, the fermentation indigo pots were alive and well, and ready for a day of dye work.  I intended to illuminate that indigo can be grown in our homeland– and is well suited to create the shades necessary for quality denim designs.


JeWon Yu, Aylin, Karany, Alisa, and Alex, brought beautiful bags of white and blue denim samples and piles of vintage garments for the project.  We prepared everything in alum mordant baths and then spun them dry in my washing machine, preparing everything for same-day dye processes.

The group prepared sample books for all of their fabric swatches, the covers were made of mango leaf dyed hemp.

As a team, they covered a huge amount of natural dye territory.  The clothes line was packed with horsetail, coffeeberry, indigo, black walnut, sage, and bee plant colors.  After giving the group a presentation on the emerging reality and possibility of botanic based dyes- we were all brainstorming and feeling inspired to see the colors take a broader shape in our world.

Rollie the miniature doberman/terrier mix was a wonderful addition to our dye community.  He found interest in every nook of the garden, and especially loved the hay for resting upon.

The process of experimenting with true California color has illuminated a host of earth tones– greens, oranges, yellows, and pinks– all of which are essential representations of our native palate.  And due to the history of the Levi’s company, there will likely always be a love for indigo.

I have been cultivating a source that can grow easily in California, and has the potential to offset the need for synthetic sources.  As the group worked the dye vats, we remained surrounded by test plots of Polygonum tinctorium– the Japanese Indigo variety that I love, and I intend will have a future as the premier choice of blue.

We used our rinse wash to water the crop, a process that allowed everyone to see how pure the natural dye process truly is.  The plants are fed by remains of the dye baths.

Solar Dye vats created these beautiful hemp and cotton samples.

The horsetail was so pinkish orange that day.. the quality of the dye vats at this time of year are just miraculous.

Not sure how these coffeeberry shoes turned out– but the process was fun.  The group also dyed American currency.  They reminded me the money was cotton– and that it would take dye like any natural fiber.

The car was loaded up with bags of ready dyed materials, on their way back to the Levi’s offices– ready for presenting to a bigger audience.. with the intent that botanic dyes have a significant presence in Levi’s future design plans.

3 Responses to “Native Plant Colors for Levi Strauss”

  1. India flint Says:

    three cheers for bio-regional dyeing!

  2. Sue Says:

    I’m so proud of Levi Strauss. I will be purchasing from them just to show them my support. Excellent choice in teachers….Rebecca Burgess.

  3. Very cool. Do you have the botanical names for the plants you used?

    And, will you be running this workshop again?

    This is what the true California Lifestyle is all about – our heritage and our future. Purity and beauty. Thanks you for doing this!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: