Monday, October 1, 2012

Quarts of Color

Quarts of Color by Judith Towers

Plants that we love to paint can yield colors used to dye fibers, stain paper and fabric, and make ink. Celeste Johnston and Hazel Buys chose Painting Plants that Paint as the title for their August 2012 botanical art class at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Finding ways to make plants lend us their colors led to brewing a potful of dried marigolds, leaf pounding, painting with plant dyes, collecting promising petals, and watching colors develop on natural fibers in solar dye jars. We used a process similar to making sun tea. During the four-week class, students drew many of the plants that filled their solar jars and celebrated nature's harmonious hues.
We had homework!
Here’s our assignment. Try it! Dye it!

Take a glass quart jar nearly full of flowers.
Add water ¾ full.
Microwave 2 minutes. Wait a minute or two.      
Microwave another 2 minutes.
Add clean wet wool yarn or fiber.**
Put on the lid.
Place in a sunny spot.
Stir occasionally.
Be astonished and rewarded.
**Experiments work better if wool has been treated with potassium alum or ammonium alum (pickling alum available at your grocery store).
**Acrylic yarn and most man-made fibers will not work.

 Solar Dye with Marigolds

Solar Dye Samples
When Judy Thomas’ friends from India, Swati and her mother Tarla, visited our class and brought with them cloth from India we were treated to a festival of colors. Many pieces were examples of khadi cloth, (usually cotton, but can be silk or wool) handspun, handwoven, and hand dyed. Tarla is a follower of Gandhi and believes in using only hand spun fabrics,  dyed from local sources, as an expression of the philosophy of Indian Independence. Some dye plants used in India include blue from indigo, yellow from turmeric, green from a mix of the two, red from onion skins, as well as bark and leaves from eucalyptus (yellows to reds) and bark, leaves and fruit from the mulberry.

 Fabrics from India

So go! Capture colors from plants.
Shred flowers and leaves.
Mash berries or juicy fruits.                                         
Grind or chop roots or bark.
Soak nut hulls.

Dye happy!

 Fig Leaves

Read more:
Wild Color by Jenny Dean, Watson Guptill, 1999
A Weaver’s Garden, Rita Buchanan, Interweave Press, 1987
Harvesting Color, Rebecca Burgess, Artisan, division of Workman Press, 2011
Eco Colour, India Flint, Interweave Press, 2010
Color, a Natural History of the Palette, Victoria Finlay, Random House, 2004

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