Wednesday 18 April 2018

Natural Dyeing and thoughts on permanence...

Silk bundle with leaves and rusty nails being unwrapped

It's been a while since I last posted, I've had lots on as usual and haven't had much time for writing. I've not had a lot of time to experiment either recently which is quite frustrating as I have a head full of ideas. However, I have been doing a little bit of playing around with natural dyeing.

Making a dye bundle

Making a dye bundle

Natural dyeing has become an increasingly important part of my practice over the past 18 months or so and the more I do the more intrigued I become. There are many reasons I enjoy it; it's a slow process forcing you to take time and consider what you're doing, the resulting colours have a lustre and subtlety lacking in fabric dyed with synthetic dyes and I enjoy going out and collecting materials to dye with, I really appreciate the connection with the natural world. As we become increasingly aware of the damage our actions and the materials we produce cause to our planet I find I want more and more to work with natural resources in a sustainable way. 

Steaming bundles

Steamed bundle 'resting'

Heuchera and iron on silk

One of the other things I really like about natural dyeing is the unpredictability both of the results you are likely to achieve and also the unpredictability of how the colours will change. Whilst some colours are fast and the use of mordants can improve fastness there are so many other factors that can influence the results and their longevity. As a species we have permanently scarred our environment, everywhere there is the trace of our actions. I'm finding that I want my work to have the opposite effect, to fade gently back in to the landscape.

Cochineal on silk and cotton

Cochineal on wool, cotton and linen

This is, of course, somewhat problematic as making my work impermanent effectively makes it un-collectable and difficult to sell as when people buy art they want to buy something that will last (not unreasonably.) Textiles have always been difficult to conserve, being sensitive to light, temperature and moisture much more than other materials so curators of textiles and textile art are rightly concerned with how a fabric has been treated before it comes in to their care and how that will effect its future. As always there is a balance to be found, I want to be able to sell my work and I do want it to last, just not forever and when it does crumble and disintegrate (hopefully many many years from now, long after I've crumbled and disintegrated) I want it to leave no harmful traces. 

Cochineal on silk

Cochineal and iron on wool, linen, silk and cotton

The work I am making at the moment uses mostly naturally dyed fabrics. Over time these will fade and change slightly but I think this is part of their beauty, they will not lose their colour it will simply alter. I hope that this can be appreciated along with the recognition that the creation of the work had very little environmental impact.