Friday, November 5, 2010

Natural Dyes in Fashion: We Have Come A Long Way Baby

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. 
Jai's S/S 2011 plant and kitchen-based natural dye R-T-W designs (photo: Lou Rouse/via Treehugger)

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.


jessica said...

you certainly had an atypical experience with your mother's natural dying. but this is really a good thing to have had this abnormal experience!

i just recently have been learning about natural dyes and even wrote about woad on my blog a couple weeks ago. i am really excited about all the 'advances' in eco-fashion by turning to the OLD ways and using natural dyes.

iNdi@na said...

we might not be in Kansas anymore but at least the faithful Toto is still by our side...