Eco-Dyeing with Judy Newland

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Recently, we celebrated the Lavender Festival at Chatfield Farms, a fun and fragrant event featuring garden tours, vendors, some good bands, a kind-of inexplicable Brahma bull, and many, many visitors to the Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden. We’ve gotten pretty good at chaBrahman_bulltting with people about what we’re up to, conveying the essentials, anticipating questions, and enjoying the back and forth from a very interested and engaged public. It can be an energizing experience! This time, we got to mix it up a bit thanks to Judy Newland and her class on eco-dyeing, which we undertook in the midst of lavender, crowds, and inexplicable Brahma bulls.

From the moment we saw her indigo-dyed locks, we knew we were in for a fun (and just possibly wild) ride, and so it proved to be. Judy brings with her an extensive background in natural dyes, anthropology, art, textiles, and museum studies, making her a knowledgeable and fascinating teacher. She has a terrific website where you can read more and view pictures of her creations.

Wendy Feldberg give a good definition of eco printing  on her blog, Threadborne:

Eco printing or eco dyeing is a contemporary application of the traditions of natural dyeing. In eco printing or dyeing, plants are enclosed in textiles or paper,  bundled by winding over rods or stacked in layers and then steamed or immersed in hot water to extract the pigments and produce a print made with plant dyes.  Direct and close contact between the plant and the substrate is essential. Leaves, stems, flowers, buds, seeds and roots may be used; also bark and wood.  At different seasons of the year, different pigments may concentrate in various plant parts so great colour variability is possible – and desirable!  Eco dyeing and printing does not focus on strict replication of results. Many plants that are not considered traditional dye plants will yield colourful prints, and sometimes, traditional dye plants produce different colours when processed as eco prints. Garden plants, kitchen plants and, where allowed, locally foraged plants may be used, fresh and/or dried. Prints with colours and forms both clearly defined and attractively diffused are produced by this process.

Judy offers four additional points in her class handout:
1) Bioregional gathering of plants – work in your own backyard and neighborhood.
2) Ecologically sustainable plant dyes.
3) Serendipity is at play – you must experiment to see if the plants will make an eco print.
4) The materials do make a difference – you will get different results on silk and wool. Cotton does not work unless you treat it with some type of tannin.

As noted, experimentation and unpredictability are part of the fun, and we were encouraged to bring a selection of leaves from home. Among those represented: rose, peony, sumac, and aspen. Judy brought some intriguing examples from southern Arizona, including eucalyptus, creosote, and mesquite. As our dye garden is in full bloom, it was inevitable that we would add some coreopsis, black hollyhock, and Japanese indigo to the mix.

Our substrates included three types of silk (habotai, noil, broadcloth) and wool and, following Judy’s demo on possible ways to fold, roll, and tie our leaf-filled bundles, we had at it. On the first go, most chose to roll their bundles around PVC or copper pipe for immersion in a coreopsis dye pot. Later, we added madder and cutch pots for greater variety. Judy favors a one-pot approach in which the alum mordant is added to the bath; thus eliminating the need for pre-mordanted fabric. Our group took turns eco-dyeing, giving tours of the garden, stirring dye pots, and chatting with visitors. Chatfield Farms estimates that about 5000 people attended the Lavender Festival, many of whom (it seems) peeked in our dye pots and couldn’t resist asking when the hot dogs would be ready … Keep smiling!

After about an hour in the baths, we gleefully untied knots and unrolled or unfolded our bundles to view the results. There were smiles, happy exclamations, and not a few “Oh”s … ah well, that’s the nature of experimentation and serendipity. We learned how to do it, and we will do it again!

Many thanks to Judy Newland for sharing her instruction, expertise, and sense of fun and adventure with us!





Author: Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden

The Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden is a joint project of the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild, established by a donation from the family of Janice Ford. Janice was an enthusiastic and energetic dyer, weaver, and seamstress who passed away too young in 2011. The garden has been flourishing since 2014, enriching and coloring the lives of visitors, artists in many media, and especially those whose privilege it is to tend it. The garden is located at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms. From June to September, we are there most Thursdays, 9-12, to weed, harvest and dye. Visitors are welcome to stop by to see what we're up to!. Admission is free to Denver Botanic Garden members, with a $5.00 fee/car for non-members.

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