Sunday, November 8, 2020

Weekend Review: The Wild Dyer

NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2019, c2017.
159 p.

After recently reading about indigo farming and then the history of chemical dyes, I turned to this book from my local library to learn a bit about non-toxic plant dyes. 

It's a really good one for beginners; unlike some others I've flipped through in the past, this one is accessible and not at all intimidating. Also, it has gorgeous photographs of plants laid out four to a page with samples of cloth showing the various colours that plant can create, whether on its own or turned a darker brown/grey tone with a mordant (she mentions alum and iron mordants). She does note that some brighter colours can be found in the plant world but that she prefers the more common earthier tones herself. 

Another thing she says is that she likes to work by feel -- there are no precise recipes in the book for specific amounts of this or that, partly due to her process and partly due to the variability of plant matter. Personally I work this way in much of my creative life so this really appealed to me also; it felt like a natural way to approach this and not as terrifying as some more detailed books on the topic! 

The book has good illustrations of supplies and plant matter as well as clear explanations and lists of plants. It's written with an encouraging and low key tone -- the author suggests that an easy route to starting to dye naturally is to use kitchen waste like avocado skins & stones, onion skins or red cabbage. Then if you like it, you can try foraging or growing other plants specifically for dyeing. 

She does suggests working outside when possible, despite the natural sources, to alleviate any fumes (ie: rhubarb leaf gives a nice dye but also gives off toxic fumes -- the leaf is poisonous, so do not ingest) However, the difference between these dye batches and ones made with chemical powders is that these nontoxic dyes can just have their leftovers poured onto the garden when cooled off.

This book also include simple projects that readers can make with all their newly dyed fabrics. They are pretty basic and straightforward projects -- placemats, coasters, bags, apron, pillows -- all simple and using the muted earthy tones she prefers. It's really simple sewing for people who are more into the dyed fabric part than the sewing part. But again, a low threshold for beginners! 

I liked the feel of this book a lot, and it even made me think that dyeing doesn't seem so difficult, that maybe I'll actually try it someday. There is even a bonus recipe at the end for Oak Gall Ink -- made in much the same process as the dye batches in the rest of the book, but with a few additions to create a deep black ink, one that's been used for centuries. A nice addition to the rest of this thoughtful and calming book.  

I haven't really gotten into the dye side of fabric arts but this book might just be the thing that convinces me to give it a go. Really enjoyable and informative read!

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