Tinctory's Fall Necklace / silk naturally dyed with fallen autumn leaves
It is ironic that during my childhood I used to turn a bit red in the face when my mother had huge vats of natural dyes brewing in the kitchen. What was I to say to friends who were visiting for a playdate while my mother practiced her alchemy and what appeared to be witchcraft on our country kitchen stove?
Canadian textile artist Mackenzie Frere's plant-dyed yarns for weaving
'Cochineal Plantation' illustration via Philosophy of Science Portal
My mother was also occasionally receiving little packets of cochineal bugs via rural post, and we often stopped the car on the way home from the grocery store to pick seemingly useless roadside weeds. Yes, the thought did cross my mind, “Why couldn’t my mother just be normal and bake layer cakes and shop at the mall.”
Bodkin's A/W09 cotton/jersey dress hand-dyed with the above cornucopia of plant-based dyes
Contemporary eco fashion is definitely celebrating an upswing of interest in natural dyes and plant-based (kitchen) alchemy. Little did I know that several decades ago, my crafty mother was on to something rather timeless and chic. The ancients, of course, utilized natural dyes as an expression of status and luxury, but modern life is indisputably linked to working outside of the home and commuting great distances, not steeping garments in one's own garden clippings and brews. Stop. Think again. We are on a fast-track to slow design goodness these days.
India Flint 'eco-dye' textiles (image via Sparrow Salvage)
There has been a lot of great press recently featuring natural dyes in fashion, interior design, and the delectable crossover with the slow food movement. Sasha Duerr Fossel of The Permacouture Institute has artfully led us down this weedy and seedy path, while India Flint has been an 'eco dye' advocate before it became tried in hue, so to speak.
It is no coincidence, perhaps, that at a time when we keep inching our design expectations for sustainable fashion forward, we are also genuinely hungry for those things that anchor us to the domestically familiar and the sensory-imbued.
'Harvest Dye Workshop' at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn
We have come a long way, Mom, 'Baby', as lovers of process and those memories that bring us gently home again, even if we are far, far away from the proverbial Kansas.