Last weekend, I took a class to learn about the natural dyeing process with the wonderful Ellie Beck. Natural dyes are essentially dyes derived from natural materials, such as plants and minerals, and the focus of Ellie’s class was dyeing fabrics with flowers and plants that you can find in your own back-garden, or pick up at your local florist.
As Ellie began to introduce the basic concepts of natural dyeing, I quickly realised that there is a whoooole lot to learn about, and that we were only just going to scratch the surface in the workshop. If like me you assumed natural dyeing probably mainly involved skipping through sunlit fields in pretty dresses, picking flowers and then somehow miraculously ending up with a whole lot of glorious, swishy fabrics in lovely muted hues, then, alas, you and I are both incorrect and should get our heads out of the clouds. (I am still up for skipping in a field though, if anyone wants to join me). It’s a shitload less whimsical than that. In fact, it’s actually quite scientific, and I quickly remembered why I didn’t do science beyond year 10 at school. My brains. It hurts. But stay with me here, because Ellie runs a wonderful, creative and informative workshop, and if flowers and fabrics are your thing, it’s definitely worth putting in the effort to learn about mordants and ph balances and the like. I won’t go in to all the details of dye process in this post, because as I said, I only just learnt a few myself! But I will link to a helpful article at the end.
We explored a few different techniques in the class, the first of which Ellie called a ‘bundle dye’. This involved placing petals and leaves on a piece of silk, wrapping them up in a tight bundle, and simmering them in water for a an hour or two. You can see the results of this below. We also created some dye pots using dahlias and eucalyptus, as well as trying out some shibori and indigo dye.
This yellow fabric and yarn below were created in a dye pot of deep pink/red dahlias, so things in the world of natural dye aren’t always what they seem!
And this yellow fellow was created using eucalyptus. There was quite a potent (but also lovely) smell in the classroom from the massive simmering pot of eucalyptus leaves, let me tell you.
And finally the results of my indigo dye piece. Ellie showed us a few different shibori techniques, and I rather fancied this one that gave a bit of a snakeskin effect.
As I said, there is so much to learn about natural dyeing, and at the start of the workshop, I though it might turn out to be all too scientific for my liking, but by the end, I was excited to start experimenting and learning more at home. It actually *is* pretty darn whimsical when you think about it. It’s incredible to imagine how people first discovered these processes, learnt about different colours and plants, and began creating beautiful patterns and fabrics. It’s makes me feel connected to the textile folk of old. If you’re at all curious about natural dyeing, I would definitely recommend jumping in. There’s a great article here that outlines some of basic concepts, as well as recommending some books that you might find helpful, and get yourself into a workshop if you can! I now have some ‘solar dye’ jars on the go at hime (which essentially means using jars and the power of the sun and time to dye, rather than a simmering pot), so depending on how they turn out, I’ll post the results here soon.
Have you ever tried natural dyeing? What plants or flowers would you love to work with?