Two amazing women and their books have brought me on a joyful creative journey lately. I already gushed over India Flint, and her inspiring book Eco Colour, but have now followed lightly in her footsteps by experimenting with dyeing my linen fabrics using nothing but plants and natural materials. So far I am thrilled, mainly because many of the hues I have achieved are ones that I have unsuccessfully tried to produce for a long time using synthetic dyes. It is very hard to get pale shades of color from procion mx dyes. The soft greens here, created from boiling carrot tops in an iron pot are just perfect.
So is the grayish lavender color from the black bean water left over from our latest chili batch, and the rusty warm tones achieved from seeped onion skins, and the pale acid yellow made from chamomile tea bags...
I even tried India's famous eco printing technique, where you bundle your plants in tight fabric layers and put them in a steam bath to coax out the colors. I used geranium leaves, and although the result is nowhere near perfect, the impressions and imprints are intriguing.
I also recently purchased Natalie Chanin's book Alabama Studio Style. Her beautiful designs, technical skills, and innovative business methods, have inspired me for years. I love the new soft stencils she use, and decided to try the diluted ink spray bottle method included in her book. Well the result was quite disastrous – the ink bled everywhere, soaking through the felt stencil, making big blobs and splattering the fabric beyond the stencil. But once dried, I realized there was something appealing about this distressed mess. I added flower clusters, printed using rhododendron leaves, that echoes the blotches, but prettier. For some reason I just love the result. Next I will layer it, and add stitching, still using the same shapes.
The most wonderful side effect of these experiments, is that they taught me to cherish imperfection. I am by nature a perfectionist, wanting everything to be uniform, smooth, unblemished, aligned, and beautiful. These natural dyes come out mottled, uneven, and the stenciling is obviously quite ugly on its own. But somehow I have come to terms with how it all happens. The beauty is in the process, not necessarily in the end result.
I will take some time off for travels this week, but will return soon, with new reports, impressions, and imagery.