A Treasure Hunt For Color

I am writing this from my kitchen table, the house is quiet for now and mourning doves and sparrows are taking advantage of the empty and mostly silent yard to forage for bugs or seeds in our grass. I’m thinking about the big pot outside our back door, full of sumac leaves that have soaked for a few days and simmered for a few hours and the magic of color that I hope will appear when I strain out the leaves and add fabric to the pot.

Over the summer I was incredibly lucky to attend a Slow Fashion Retreat, put on by A Gathering of Stitches, just a few miles down the coast from my house. I got to meet and learn from some amazing women who are doing wonderful things with fabric and whose work I have long admired. Beyond the rare and valuable opportunity to spend a few days making things with other creative women and without my children, I also learned some exciting new skills. Each of the workshops (visible mending, natural dyeing, and pattern drafting/designing your own shirt) inspired me and enticed me to want to do more. It was quite sad to leave all of that creative inspiration and creative company, but I was glad to learn some new things to incorporate into my creative practices.

I have wanted to try natural dyeing for a long time and have done a bit of in the past. As with many new things, especially when they seem somewhat mysterious, I was reluctant to get started and wasn’t sure how I could take on a new creative interest especially with small children often quite literally under foot. It is so worthwhile to try something new, even just to remember why other people might feel intimidated by something that you can do with ease, like baking bread or cooking meals, and that just getting started is often the hardest part. It turns out that dyeing is easier to incorporate into my life than many of my other creative practices, since a lot of it is hands off and it is an exciting process to discover.

In Jessica’s workshop, I learned the basic dyeing process and discovered that I didn’t have to be overly technical or scientific to make it work. After finally dyeing something in my own kitchen that didn’t just turn brown, I couldn’t wait to try more. I’ve had the book, Wild Color, for a couple of years and now am finally using it to discover the many possibilities for making color from plants all around me. I am tempted to dye everything golden rod yellow since it produced such a vibrant shade. For now, though I am going to keep trying different plants that grow around where I live before they fade away with fall.

I am a bit obsessed with this treasure hunt for plants and colors that gives me the opportunity to learn more about the uses and beauty of some of the things that grow where I live. I am thinking differently about the plants around me as I look for leaves, flowers, stalks and nuts that can make dye. Collecting them and simmering them in the dye pot, I experience their textures and aromas as well.

It feels lovely to just try things and not worry about the outcome. I have little to lose, since the plants are foraged and the fabric comes from old sheets I already have on hand. This will be an ongoing process as I love nothing more than a bubbling pot on the stove and making things that expand my understanding of and connection to the things around me.

  1. Jessica

    September 21, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    This is all so great! I love the way you describe it as a treasure hunt – indeed it is! And such lovely shades you’ve made. Try those sumac leaves with some iron. I have gotten near black with this year’s sumac and it’s incredible!

    1. anna

      September 21, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      Thank you and thanks again for the inspiration and knowledge. I did an iron bath the other day and I wasn’t really sure what I was doing but maybe I’ll try the sumac in iron again. I love the green I got from goldenrod with iron!

  2. Diana

    September 23, 2017 at 1:49 am

    You are so creative, Anna! And with two small children around too! I see so much of your parents in you at times!!!

    1. anna

      October 6, 2017 at 11:54 pm

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Xan

    September 29, 2017 at 9:33 am

    These colours are so wonderful Anna! And I have recently shifted to have the same attitude as you… to just play around and see what results. It has given me such joy and freedom and although to date, I have only experimented with Eucalyptus (a’la the works of India Flint), for me to not get quite so hung up on the chemistry behind it all means that I might actually dust off the beautiful natural dyeing books that I have and shamefully have not used! I am an avocado addict too (morning smoothy!) and have been collecting skins and stones for ages with the intention of playing around in the dye pot. I think it’s time – I adore the dusty pinks given from avocado!! xo

    1. anna

      October 6, 2017 at 11:55 pm

      It is so much easier and more fun that I thought it would be so I hope you are able to get started soon!

  4. Kitty Wilkin

    October 12, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    This is so inspiring! And old bed sheets! Brilliant! I have yet to order mordant and have not put my new knowledge to the test yet, but I think about it almost daily. As you said, beginning is the most difficult step. With my plate already more than full, little ones always underfoot, messes I *should* be cleaning at every turn,… it just hasn’t happened yet. But as soon as Finn gets to sleep (I’m in bed nursing him now), I’m going to dig in the drawer of old sheets, pull some aside, and go order mordant. I’m beginning, mark my words, and I’m so excited to dive into the joy of experimenting. Thank you for the push!

    1. anna

      October 15, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      Yes! Let me know how it goes. It took me FOREVER to get started but it really is so easy once you get going.

  5. Amos’s Quilt – Anna Hewitt

    June 8, 2018 at 10:33 am

    […] soon as we started dyeing fabric last fall, Amos asked if we could use the fabric to make him a quilt. The last quilt I made him was […]

Comments are closed.