Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Joy of Dyeing Silk. Part I: Natural Dyes

by Susanne Guirakhoo of enchantedhue

While I am experimenting with yet another new technique to coax color and pattern out of plant material onto silk, I am reminded how very versatile and fascinating this medium is. In this Part I, I will talk about natural dyes. Part II will be about commercial dyes and ways to manipulate them.

In the beginning, I decocted dyes from coffee, tea, onion skins, turmeric. Predictable and easy, yet with interesting results.

Next I discovered berries, which are bit more fickle. Then black beans. Then came plants, roots, bark, berries, flowers, nuts, and leaves found on walks or in our garden. Whatever I thought holds potential for yielding color made its way into the dye pot.

The patterns were achieved by different Shibori techniques: binding, stitching, folding, pressing according to ancient Japanese traditions.

My research brought me to Kimberly Baxter Packwood’s blog. She is a mixed media artist specializing in surface design using natural dyes, rust, and wax. From her, I learned how to dye with rust and compost (well, the compost one went a bit wrong in the beginning. Kimberly lives in the desert, she leaves her fabric bundles in the compost pile for months. Doing the same in New England humidity results in complete disintegration and decomposition of the fabric. Not a thread was left after 3 months!). These techniques leave unpredictable patterns and colors, a surprise every time a bundle is opened.

Another one of my favorite fiber artists is India Flint. She describes herself as 'maker of marks, forest wanderer & tumbleweed, stargazer & stitcher, botanical alchemist & string twiner, working traveller, dreamer, writer and the original discoverer of the eucalyptus ecoprint'. Her approaches to dyeing with natural materials and achieving stunning patterns are unique and very inspiring. Her work touches me as being very poetic, as fragile and grounded at the same time. I have tried a few of her techniques with more or less satisfying results. And this newest one I am experimenting with has also been inspired by her.

So what is the new technique? Canning! Yes, canning! Stuffing a piece of silk with plant material, rolling it up and tyeing it tightly, putting it in a glass jar filled with boiled water which may or may not have been infused with other dye material, closing the jar air tight and letting it steep for weeks.

Can’t wait for the outcome!

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