Winter Wardrobe Reclamation

February 8, 2011

A cold and rainy winter morning blossomed like a meadow of wild color as we dipped and stirred our clothes into botanical brews.  Dr. Sara Gottfried hosted a fabulous wardrobe reclamation at her Oakland home.  The vats of steaming plant matter wafted like tea, and the hot water warmed our chilly fingers and hands.

The coffeeberry yielded a magical greenish yellow.  The branches and leaves came from a local ranch where a big pruning had just taken place.

We also made use of the Valley Oak’s renewable gifts.. the galls create an incredibly steely gray color.  At this time of year they can still be found dangling from the barren branches.  Known as ‘an apartment building’ for insect life, the galls host a plethora of tiny species in the larval stages during the autumn.

Toyon branches were collected from another pruning job.  Leaving the berries for bird food is normally best… but if they are trimmed from the tree for the reasons of a landowner, they can be used in a dye pot to add a little added orange hue to the color.

A lucky find of coreopsis was at the local farmer’s market, and was purchased just before the workshop began.  The flowers create a beautiful and very strong orange dye almost instantaneously.

Dr. Sara Gottfried dyes a pole-wrapped garment

Dr. Gottfried’s dye work is a small step in support of  her overall efforts to wear and eat organic this year.  Her organic experiment, as it is known, began January 1st of 2011.  I’ve loved reading her blog: http://drgottfried.blogspot.com/.  It is a journal that weaves together her life as a wearer and eater of organic, as well as a doctor, a hormone expert, a mother, and an astute barometer for inspiring and eye opening books.

Her evolving journey rings so true and resonant to experiences I’ve had in the Fibershed project.  I also completely adore her entries on female hormones, burnout, and thyroid malfunction and its causes…. all very pertinent for those of us who tend to burn the candle at both ends.  The entry that grabbed me recently was her description of receiving a garment in the depths of the winter temperatures.  The organic experiment took time to evolve, and winter was already here.  After a week or more of coldness…

All changed yesterday when my organic, fair-trade sweater showed up in the mail. The world brightened. Slipped it on at the UPS store. Fit gloriously and within seconds.” –Dr. Gottfried

Left: Rebecca Burgess wears Sally Fox cotton pants, fennel vest, toyon neck cowl, and an oak gall shirt. Right: Sara Gottfried wears a fully organic outfit, jacket was locally designed and sewn

Self-imposed limitation creates this kind of gratitude and joy.  I know this feeling so well.  It is a pleasure and a gift to be able to share this feeling with Sara.  I feel a sense of respect and total admiration for her efforts and journey.  It’s good work, not always easy but incredibly worthwhile.

This experiment means supporting the movement away from that which has the potential to disrupt our most sacred balance, and personal energy resources.  To remove the synthetic compounds from our diet and clothing is a process of giving ourselves those things we are intrinsically designed for–natural fibers, and clean food.  Good for the inside, good for the outside.

Thank you Sara for inspiring, illuminating, and teaching through what you know, and most importantly, what you do.

Thank you Madeleine Tilin for you amazing photography!

Toyon & Chromatography

January 9, 2011

 

Have you ever wanted to assess the plant species in your region for natural dye capability?  I certainly have! I also have had the interest to see if there are colors that I have not achieved in the dye vat that are secretly hiding out somewhere… waiting for the right protocol.  For these reasons I started collaborating with a local biology professor and doing some very basic chromatography experiments.

Through the harvest of just a handful of plant material you can conduct a simple experiment to see what colors lay beneath the surface.

Here lay three handspun toyon dyed skeins, and s sprig of the plant, along with a chromatography strip.    The definition of chromatography… ‘a process used for separating mixtures by virtue of differences in absorbency’…

The chromatography strips created with toyon leaves were representative of many of the colors that I have already discovered.  The bulk of the color on the strip is a rusty orange– which is a common color achieved with toyon dye.  Towards the end of the strip, there is a small area of pink— a very new and curious color!

I began to play with the water of cooked berries (which are edible if roasted or boiled), and achieved these colors (as seen below)..

These pinks were abundantly available from the berry water, and showed up on linen, silk, and cotton samples.  My question was if it was possible to achieve the pink tones without the use of berries, (I prefer not to use berries for dye– because they are such a nice food source for birds and people).

This experiment is being continued… and was further explored at the seaside day of dyes.  I brought toyon leaves and stems that had soaked on slow heat for days..and within a copper pot.  Something about the copper, ocean water, and leaves, all combined– yielded some exquisite results, far beyond a simple orange or pink.. the color lived somewhere between the two.  If I had not experimented with the chromatography I’d have had no sense that these colors were possible… the beauty of the scientific process, is that it shows you what might be available to you in the dye pot.  You are, of course, then left with how to achieve those results, and that is often where the fun begins.

The experimenting continues.. and if you’d like to try your own chromatography experiment:

Grind 5 or 6 leaves in mortar and pestle

Cover the leaves in alcohol (medical grade)

Let sit for 24 hours or longer

Pour liquid into a test tube

Place chromatography paper into the test tube, cover, and wait

I recommend several days, even a week of absorption before removing the paper

Its a bit cold, and as you can see from this picture.. it’s dark too!  The winter has moved many dye processes inside.  As it started to rain a few moments ago, I pulled everything off the dry line and moved into the studio/garage.  The wool has just come from a dye bath of vinegar and my frozen pokeberry harvest.  (My gorgeous 7 ft. tall plant, was dripping with berries this last autumn), I froze them and was waiting for the perfect wool to dye them in.  These skeins are from Reba, a lovely merino sheep who lives in Mendocino County, CA.

The letter K is a screen print that my brother and I created for my mother (Kerry), for Christmas.  I made a glorious ink with galls from a very manganese rich soil.  This ink has become a silk screen dream. I am very happy with the outcome.  It can undergo all kinds of washing and still hold a solid slate gray tone.

As you can see here the pokeberry wasn’t the only dye color I used.  As I began to exhaust the bath, the pink turned lighter and lighter, so I quickly dipped a few of these into my indigo vat– giving a modeled and violet hue to the wool.  I can’t wait to see this wool turn into the designer dress that its being created for!  More on that later..

 

Indigo in the Rain

December 18, 2010

It’s a rainy Saturday, the gray and blue of my surroundings have inspired me to the indigo vat.  This is a French linen for the designer Heidi Iverson.  We are collaborating on Fibershed projects, and this dye work is apart of our trading process.  I have dipped her dress a couple of times so far, and was moderately happy with the results.  I dip the garment 1/3 at a time, due to the size of the vat, and the quantity of linen.  As I keep re-dipping, the blues are deepening, and the variegation lines are becoming more pronounced.  It’s a beautiful process to say the least.

The dress hangs above the forest floor– which is graced with a native sedge that I have yet to identify, but am so in love with.  The creek was running full this morning, I awoke to the sound of water pouring over rocks– when I went outside the air temperature was surprisingly warm.  It is such a blessing to be in the forest, and watch the water absorb into the soil, grass, and creeks.

The little creek that runs through the land, making an abrupt turn just before the house.  I am settling into my new home, becoming familiar with the new climate, the plant life, the fauna.. it is an inspirational environment; from which I intend to create many beautiful colors to share with you as the season progresses…

First Indigo Workshop

November 5, 2010

 

Our indigo crop at Mt. Barnabe

Indigo is being harvested for both seed, and there is some very nice fresh leaf in the field— still perfect for the making of sukomo (indigo balls).  In honor of the harvest, we had our first indigo workshop at the Regenerative Design Institute.  It was well attended, by a very talented group of artists, professional designers, permaculturalists, and teachers.

Everyone had the opportunity to clean their own seeds, and take home some of the fresh Polygonum tinctorium for their own home gardens.  Growing our own blue is a step toward a regenerative color base, that is not reliant on unhealthy concentrations of heavy metals– or petroleum by-products.

Along with immersion processes, we also made an indigo paint for use as a surface design feature.

Here, indigo is painted onto a hemp cotton.. the oxidation occurs after the brushwork is complete.  Turning your work from a yellowish green, to a deep blue, right before your eyes.

Indigo Paint was used here over an immersion dip in a fermentation vat.

This creative piece was constructed with both shibori techniques and beeswax batik processes.

A shibori heart- made by a true resist dyeing professional!

Gorgeous batik… dipped in fermentation indigo.

Another example of a batik process dipped in fermentation indigo.

As we left the Regenerative Design Institute a fresh harvest of apples, greens, and goat’s milk whey had been lovingly displayed, for us all to enjoy, and take home.

On the way home, through the Bolinas Mesa.. enjoying the sunset through the bank of fog.

Thank you Erin, Penny, and all of you wonderful participants!

A Season of Botanic Color

November 2, 2010

 

photo taken by Dr. Sara Gottfried at her model platinum leed Oakland home

There’s been five fabulous workshops in the last three weeks– and I haven’t been able to document them all.  However– what pictures were taken I now have the privilege of sharing with you.  This autumn has been a complete inspiration for me as a lover of natural color.  The students created so many new samples, and finished goods to awe over…

photo taken by Dr. Sara Gottfried

Sara’s pants were soaked in iron and then dipped in fair trade logwood from the Dominican Republic.  A one-of-a-kind gorgeous creation.

A cotton sample freely printed by a student with found-object iron acetates, and an immersion dip…

photo taken by Dr. Sara Gottfried

Sara dipped her silk in native coffeeberry and logwood after she and her daughters wrapped it and secured it with little stones.

photo taken by Dr. Sara Gottfried

The preparing of the black walnut bath.  After some soaking and boiling these husks turned our fabrics into a range of deep and lighter shades of chestnut brown.

Rows of Native Color + Indigo:  Jeannie and Marie created a very organized row of samples– the bottom row was dyed in black walnut, the next row up was dyed in coffeeberry, the pinks were dyed in horsetail, the blues—in indigo, and the top row was dyed in madrone bark.  The samples were done on handwoven hemp, cotton weaves and knits, silks, – and cotton hemp blends.

A simple coreopsis flower bath turned Geraldine’s pole wrapped silk into a lovely golden sample–reminiscent of the falling leaves dusting our sidewalks.

photo taken by Dr. Sara Gottfried

Sara’s horsetail shibori shirt– this is my absolute favorite dye this season.  Normally I harvest it in the late spring.. and realized this year, that it is still producing amazing color well into the fall.  I wonder where the pink is hiding within this 380 million year old species.. it has so many stories to tell, if only its DNA could talk in a language I could understand!

Thank you Dharma Trading Company, Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine, Harvard University, Lambtown, and the Regenerative Design Institute for sponsoring, supporting, and giving such an incredible foundation for natural color experimentation this season!

 

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