Dye Days at Harvard

October 25, 2010

I travelled to Cambridge Massachusetts last week to teach natural dye labs for students in the Visual and Environmental Studies program.  My days were invigorating, from the architecture of the building where we convened.. the conversations with students and professors. Inspiration permeated the hours and days.

I shared my work on the intersection of art, chemistry and ecology through a narrative based presentation, as well as a series of hands-on application processes.  Above, the work of our immersion labs.  Students worked with plant species native to the northeast, as well as California. One of the cosmos species we used, was being cultivated in the Harvard school community garden.

The garden was started this year as a part of  a University wide project led by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.  The well-tended beds were laden with food, and unbeknownst the gardeners… dye plants too!

Here lies a beaker filled with cosmos dye- an easy to make concoction, with a readily available species.  The basis for a beautiful golden orange color.

Here is a pokeberry wash we made.. used on paper and on fabric.  The berry can be found throughout the region, and is native to the Cambridge area.

We also covered the use of both common and not so common tannic compounds for use in painting and printing.  Students explored variations in color provided by pH as well as mineral mordant applications.

The beauty of abstraction.. all the tannin pieces were created on unmordanted organic cotton canvas.  Students explored the possibility of non-toxic painting .. based in the use of highly renewable resources.

The use of homemade iron and alum acetates proved to work beautifully on organic cotton muslin.  This piece was a combination of stamping, immersion, and shibori work– a very unique blend of materials and processes.

Our last immersion lab proved to be an especially creative block of time.

We made a completely non-toxic instant indigo vat, that everyone was able to use within minutes of its creation.

Some of the immersion processes…

A combination of the printmaking and immersion lab samples where laid out together in this image.  A compilation of earth pigment paints, acetate printing, and immersion vat dips.  A colorful and diverse array of applications.

Before I say goodbye..I’d just like to thank those who made these labs possible– Helen Miller, Helen Mirra, Matt Saunders, Josh Hart, and Aurora Andrews– you are amazing….


Late Summer Oak and Cosmos

October 14, 2010

The fecundity of fall–a time of vibrant color from the living and the dead.  The cosmos flowers are giving their last hooray before the close of the warm weather.  Orange petals abound– the source of a beautiful range of yellow, orange, and gold dye colors.  These flowers can be dried or put into the dye pot right off the plant.

Oak galls can be harvested in plenty this time of year from the forest floor.  They are so extremely abundant– and rich with tannins.  The compounds they contain produce a range of dark silver grays, and almost-blacks, depending on how you process them.

Pouring hot water over the flowers and letting them soak for 20 minutes is enough time to create a dye color.

This cotton sample was washed– and left unmordanted before it was painted upon.  Oak gall and iron water was brushed upon it (the black), the cosmos flower dye was brushed on top.  After rinsing, this was the outcome.

This was the oak gall and iron water that was thickened and then screenprinted on a washed and unmordanted piece of cotton.  This simple form illuminates the beautiful and strong color that emerges from the gall.


Dyes and Medicine

September 25, 2010

A day at the California School of Herbal Studies proved to be the highlight of my late September.  It was an incredible day spent with 16  herbalists, all learning the art of natural dyes, (most of them for the first time.)

This workshop was accompanied by a powerful presentation given by Dr. Sara Gottfried.  Together, she and I collaborated to bridge the issues of health and the reality of our clothing.  Sara’s clinic, the Gottfried Center for Integrated Medicine specializes in supporting individuals to thrive and remain healthy in the face of mounting environmental challenges.  Her molecular understanding of endocrine disruptors, and the effects of heavy metals shed a new light on the reality of our well-loved clothes, particularly, our jeans.

The beauty of this workshop was that it encompassed these honest and intense global environmental truths, while simultaneously offering viable, hands-on, local, and healthy solutions.

For the students who are entering into the holistic health care profession, the class offered a new layer of understanding in regard to the health impacts of our current industrial textile system, both for the wearer of the garment, and for the planet as a whole.

For these students dye making is not a far stretch from the techniques they were already learning in their other classes.  The connection between medicine making and dye making is inextricable… the way plants are processed for color and medicine are processes that have been honed for millenia.

We made a fresh pokeberry vat, on site, during the workshop.  We harvested, and processed the berries for color and then dyed all manner of fiber samples.

Poke root is a lymphatic cleanser… the fresh spring greens were canned for food sources (they must be well cooked so as not to be toxic)…  and the color from the berries is almost too good to be true..

The Pokeberry took to the wool skeins the best…

Here is a beautiful silk sample done with coreopsis flower dye– (we made this dye during the workshop).

Another example of pokeberry and coreopsis, on wool– gorgeous!

This wool skein was dyed in coffeeberry and coreopsis.. half of the skein dyed at a time.

This rainbow effect was created with a light wash of pokeberry, sage, indigo, and coreopsis… some resist techniques were used.

Handwoven hemp samples–done in sage and madrone bark..

And here it is.. the most exciting new fall color– Madrone!!  The bark falls to the ground this time of year, and produces the most beautiful chestnut brown.

The students explored the expansive medicinal and food garden for their plant pounding processes, all these materials were sourced in the moment, in midst of our workshop.

I think this cotton shopping bag of Sara Gottfried’s sums up this workshop best. The beauty of these colors.. the smells of wafting dyes, the innovative atmosphere, the offerings of the plants.  Together these elements produced an experience like no other.  It is the reason that I keep hauling dye vats long distances to these far destinations– the reason I spend so many hours preparing materials.  It is a labor of love, a labor that gives as much as it takes.  For me it is a way of life.

Thank you Roots students!

May the colors of the plants and the medicine they offer be with you always.  The world needs what you are offering.

Our first Regenerative Design Institute textile class was held yesterday, and what a day it was!  Re-skilling is happening in our community one step at a time– practical DIY textile education is here! (Check out RDI’s classes)

The Pacific Coast was feeling pretty damp yesterday– so we went into the warm and lovely greenhouse to do our work, and keep from getting too wet.

We put the dry line outdoors– under some trees, it seemed to do the trick.  The scarf that Dustin holds is an incredible testament to the late summer horsetail.

More horsetail in the foreground here, on lambswool– the soft pink color it produced was jaw-dropping!

It also proved to work beautifully on silk shibori pieces as well..  Rose is holding her horsetail scarf– a piece that she created with folding and tongue depressors.

Erin made this incredible indigo and california sagebrush piece with a pole wrapping technique.. a lovely outcome to say the least.

A beautiful and creatively dyed wool skein dipped in toyon, sage, on its way to another layer of color in the black walnut bath…

A series of wool strands dyed in all of our native colors (with the addition of indigo)…

A beautiful bowl of samples ready to be rinsed..

It was an honor to collaborate with participants whose life’s work spanned from the home-design-and-build sector– to organic farming.. we had an extremely talented and inspiring group who brought a new and unique flair to the ancient processes. I am so grateful for each and everyone’s participation– what a joy to explore the native colors with you!

Our next Natural Dye Workshop will be held on Oct. 3rd at Lambtown

Click here for the link and scroll down to for the natural dye class

La Belle Couleurs

September 6, 2010

Tannins, seeds of annatto, N’peku bark, and madder proved to have an almost infinite range of colors than I could have ever imagined– these totally unique processes were uncovered during my sojourn studying with a green chemist in the 10th century village just outside of Avignon, France.

I walked each morning through winding medieval lanes to the home and studio of Monsieur Garcia.  A genius botanic chemist, committed to the innovation of natural dye processes for the industrial scale.

We worked long days in his lab– exploring what seemed to be a small fraction of the possible permutations that one could create with simple combinations of plant pigment, pH, and readily available minerals.

The options created with indigo applications were jaw-dropping… for me, who has been immersing in indigo, and creating indigo washes, for some time– it was incredible to learn how to make miniature vats of reduced indigo paint within minutes– without the use of any toxic materials or synthetically created reducing agents.

This is an example of the range and variation we created with the use of tannin.  These greens, yellows, reds, and violets were brought to life with only two plant species.

We silk-screened masses of color variations on a locally produced wool fabric.

I spent many moments running up and down the 12th century staircase, moving between the application lab, and the larger machinery on the ground floor.  All the while attempting to keep from knocking myself out on the very low beams that framed the house.  I think people were much smaller back in the day this home was built… But what a gorgeous home it was!

This particular silk-screen has permanently changed my perception of what is possible with ellagic tannins… incredible.

The little village has a very small number of permanent residents– and yet, even within this tiny ancient city, there is a botanic garden– growing a collection of 300 dye species!

The plant colors, the ripening figs, the masses of sweet dangling grapes at every corner… the limestone architecture, all together has created an unforgettable sensorial combination.

Summer Creation

August 27, 2010

I spent the early afternoon across the Bay in the backyard of Dr. Sara Gottfried, to give her a dye garden consult and provide her with some materials for eco-painting exploration.  She had some lovely organic cotton shopping bags ready for adornment.  Her woad crop was looking incredible– and her sticky monkey flower was in full orange bloom.  Since our last consult a year ago, she’s been busily cultivating her dye plants.  Our meeting, this time, was focused on playing with new applications– particularly the use of natural dye paint…

Dr. Sara’s work is focused on helping women and men to live holistic and healthy lives.

It’s pretty well known that our everyday exposure to synthetic compounds has been creating some serious health impacts.  Dr. Sara’s patients, which are everyday folks–show the signs, within their own bodies, of an environment that is pretty chalk full of things they cannot process healthfully.  And for this reason she is committed to learning and incorporating natural and non-toxic ways of living into her own life–and inspiring others to do the same.

Natural dyes are one element, of a multi-thronged approach to shifting our personal practices towards the promotion of vitality– and health– for us, and the planet.

It is elderberry season– I brought this harvest to Dr. Sara’s house, so that she and her daughters could make an elderberry dye bath together.  Elderberry on cotton creates lovely shades of lavender.  We discussed the possibility of naturally dyed nurses robes.

Creating a healthier environment for ourselves, means resourcing and revitalizing our use of natural substances that we humans have had relationships with for eons.

Even good old cow manure, has a use beyond natural garden fertilizer.  We mixed it with hot water, stirred, and made paint.  We were certainly not the first to do this.  The manure of herbivorous animals has been used as a mordant (binder), a paint, a dye, and fuel source for open fires, for as far back as records are available.

Community of Artisans

August 1, 2010

A group of artists and designers from the Fibershed project came together on a foggy Fairfax morning– that within hours became a gorgeous sun-filled afternoon.  Designers Mali Mrozinski and Dyan Ashby prepare wool for combing on Katherine Jolda’s bicycle powered drum carder…

The Fibershed project continues to evolve and nurture a variety of our goals and visions for a cleaner and more community centered way of life.  Most of us work rather independently within the world of textiles–  it is a great alchemy and fusion when we can come together to learn, create, and share new skills.

Our teacher, Katherine Jolda– the owner and operator of Felt the Sun, designed and built her own bicycle powered drum carder to comb the wool and prepare it for felting.  With a shortage of mills in the immediate area (minus the wonderful Yolo mill), many of us working with the material are in search of ways to process it in efficiently.  The human powered carder can make a 5oz. batt of wool in just minutes!

Katherine spent  6 years on the Navajo reservation, working in a farm-based diabetes prevention program– and during this time built an intricate relationship with the churro sheep and the families that cared for them.

This pre-felted piece was all laid out and ready to felt just before this picture was taken.  This piece makes use of both the churro and the by-product wool from Marin County.

Some finishing touches are being placed on what will become a kundalini mat in Amber Elandt’s Muir Beach home.  Amber is a designer, and raw food chef that just finished an amazing hooded sweater design for the Fibershed wardrobe.

Sue Warhaftig is seen her working her wool into felt.  Sue is a knitter, massage therapist, mother, gardener, canner, and picks up new skills very quickly.

As evidenced by this incredible fedora she completed in just one afternoon!

Molly de Vries the founder of the Fabric Society, and the designer of Furo Shiki fabric products completed a beautiful indigo dyed felted beret. It was just a bit too wet to put on the head.

Molly, her husband and three children have begun a project to live without the use of plastic packaging for a year, she has entitled it the non-disposable life. They are using the Furo Shiki fabric pieces to transport food from farmer’s markets to their Mill Valley home.

The bicycle powered drum carder in action.

Susan Hayes, the designer and owner of Point Reyes Station’s Susan Hayes Handwoven’s is seen here with the wooden mat, agitating the wool into it’s soon-to-be felted form.

These are the talented hands of Erin O’Reilly of the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, CA.  Erin made a beautiful coffeeberry washed felted pouch.

In the process of coming together as a community, we became inspired by one another’s talents and enduring commitment to keeping these skills alive.  Erin, like all of us, value these community experiences greatly; and yet, she has been taking her commitment a step further– by putting countless hours into organizing a series of re-skilling classes that will be offered by RDI this autumn (some of the textile classes will be offered as soon as this September).

Through the process of skill-sharing we are brought into a place of working, communicating, and enjoying one another’s company, in such a way  that we not only enhance our own personal internal experience– but simultaneously we build a network of friendship, knowledge, and practical skill that simplify and bring ease and bounty to our lives.