Natural Dye Devotion: Flowers, Cabbage, and Color on Silk

Let's talk about Easter. I know, Easter was about 7 weeks ago but I'm talking Easter here for a crafty reason, I promise! Easter egg dyeing this year resulted in one of my favorite new passions: Shibori dyeing with natural dyes on silk. After I assembled the bowls of Easter egg dye from avocado skins, onion skins, red cabbage, and sour grass flowers I turned to my thrifted silk stash to try my colors on fabric.

My toddler was happy to dip the hard boiled eggs in small bowls of dye but he was, admittedly, much happier to peel the shells from the hard boiled eggs and put the eggs into his mouth. Fair enough. So after we dyed a dozen or so eggs I let him have his eggs and eat them too, so to speak, while I turned my attention to the silk blouse I found at the thrift store.

In maintaining my yearlong fast fashion fast I have acquired a handful of new skills. Mending, of course, has risen to the forefront as a need and then as a creative opportunity. Natural dye has become a new passion. And the opportunities to identify, create, and strengthen community has also been a huge benefit that I didn't predict when I started the project last August. Researching, sourcing, and identifying slow fashion books, websites, organizations, and advocates has also been a huge gift.

But another skill? I'm now much more adept at identifying fibers used in garments. This was merely a byproduct of examining content labels in thrift stores. When I decided I'd only buy used clothing made from natural fibers that meant I had to seriously slow down my shopping experience. I had to read each label before I even entered the dressing room. Now? I'm beginning to recognize silk by the touch, synthetics by the sheen, and the quality of denim by the texture.You can learn this too. It's amazing how quickly you'll become familiar with garment contents when you start reading labels. Crazy quick.

So, this is to say that I am collecting light colored and white silks at every thriftstore turn because I am getting better and better at identifying them. And you can too! It's hard to describe without actually touching the textures but 100% silk garments typically have a subtle, tacky, almost sticky texture atop the usual softness whereas synthetics are uniformly "slippery". That's right, uniformly slippery. You can quote me on that!

It's like water would bead up and roll right off of synthetics whereas silk is not so slick. You can almost feel the animal (silkworm) texture to the silk like you can feel the animal texture to wools. I know, this is hardly scientific, but they are amazing in the natural dye pots so I am refining my ability to find them used.

This tank top was my first foray in using more than one color per garment. I've dyed in my home studio with onion skins, coffee grounds, and eucalyptus leaves with fairly happy result. I've also used blackberries, blackberry leaves, plum leaves, loquat leaves, fennel, indigo, and a long list of other botanical dyes in workshops and at community gatherings. I love the use of shibori to create patterns through the dye--to use folds, tucks, ties, sticks, and dips to varying results. But I hadn't yet used various dye pots to color one singular garment. Not until Easter.

I've been inspired by Shabd Simon-Alexander's technique of direct dye application. She uses synthetic and natural dyes to stunning results. So I decided to try my hand at using three different dye pots to create three different colors on one silk blouse--the rust color is sour grass flowers w/ baking soda, the purple color is red cabbage leaves with vinegar, and the bright yellow was sour grass without baking soda or vinegar but when the other colors leaked onto the otherwise bright (nearly florescent) yellow it created that earthy olive green.

Side note: Green is actually one of the hardest colors to attain through natural dyes but yellow is one of the easiest. So this green was purely a happy accident. It confirms my love affair with natural dyes--they are endless inspiration because they change with the seasons, soils, fabrics, and even with the combination with other colors. So good.

In preparing photographs for the Make Thrift Mend website I realized that I never shared this Easter Shibori silk experiment here on my blog. So I wanted to remedy that ASAP. I think this dye process was the first time I realized that I can really combine different techniques and expertise with natural dyes. Meaning I can really pull information and advice from a variety of dye experts to create my own techniques. I think this might be the ah-ha moment in any artistic adventure--the moment when you say to yourself, "Oh! I can do it like this? Oh, okay then. I think I'm getting it".

I am really loving Shabd Simon-Alexander's dye techniques alongside the natural dye wisdom from Sasha Duerr of Permacouture Institute, India Flint of Prophet of Bloom, and Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed. (These links all point to their amazing books that I've been enjoying so much in my own dye adventures.) These ladies are magic. In my dream world, I might just dye, mend, and garden my way through the entire summer. Read poems. Drink lemonade. Build a tree fort with my son.


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