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.
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.