Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Natural dyes have been a recent pre-occupation of mine. As an architect, colour is often a guilty pleasure. Grey is preferred if colour must be added to a design. The use of yellow is for road signs and kindergartens, not serious buildings. Red is too dangerous and pale blue is too pretty. Green is for hospitals. We wear black (unless you are a certain architect who wears all red!). I love colour, lots of it, preferably all at once. I love stripes and polka-dots and clashing colours. I love red shoes with orange trousers. But many of the colours I have taken for granted are not so kind on the environment. Blue smarties were axed then brought back three years later after a 'safe' blue was found. India Flint writes in her book on natural dyes that many of the colours of our clothes are not colourfast (ie: they leech colour slowly over time) and are toxic. The idea that my favourite clothes are slowly poisoning me is not a happy thought. So I started to consider natural dyes. Fascinating to me the mixture of exact science and happy alchemy of weather, water acidity/alkalinity and the ripe-ness of fruit or leaf. Working with natural dyes is unpredictable in a nice sort of way. You never quite know what the colour will be like.

These are my first experiments in natural dyes and my most sucessful. The things that make strong colours in water are not always the brightest of dyes or colour fast. So these are experiments. I've started to keep a journal of my experiments and record down details of the mixes, processing times, mordants and temperatures. The image shows cotton fabric scraps that have been dyed with variously: frozen blueberries (purple), aged red wine (brown red), spanish onion skins (gold) and coffee grounds (light brown). The depth of colour is so beautiful and so subtle. It seems to change with the light and fades so nicely over time. I have the urge now to surround myself with these beautiful shades, to soak in their goodness...

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