Mad Scientist Takes on Eco Dyeing

by Mary Boalt
Twice a year I meet with a small group of sewing buddies. Two of the women had just completed a course with India Flint, the queen of Eco dyeing. Their enthusiasm for this technique proved to be contagious and I caught the bug while my husband was away on business. Having the day completely to myself, I decided this dyeing experiment just had to be done right then, that first morning, while still in my robe and pajamas.

After reading a few articles on Pinterest, I knew I only had a hazy idea of the process but was positive I could scrounge up enough materials to begin. One ivory silk shirt from a thrift store, washed, dried, and taken apart. Check. One 3″ deep frying pan that had blown some rivets. (I wouldn’t be using that for food ever again.) Check. Some rusty things because I had heard one must add rusty things. Check. A variety of leaves from my yard and the neighbors. Check. It was autumn and my neighbor had a beautiful red leafed tree ablaze. I had to have some of those. Pyracantha berries, some frozen blueberries, some cedar sprigs. Check. Check. Check. Then I read that avocado pits and camellia blossoms would turn the dye vat a pinkish color. I couldn’t believe I had an avocado pit in my compost bucket under the sink. Check. And my camellia tree was in full bloom. Check. What luck! I ventured into the front yard, struggling through the bushes in my bright pink bathrobe and slippers, ripping blossoms off my beautiful camellia tree, verifying to my neighbors that I am, indeed, a crazy woman. With my witches’ brew brewing, adding eye of newt and wing of bat, I started to get excited. I placed my vinegar-soaked leaves on the sleeves and front sections of the shirt, wrapped them around empty beer bottles, and tied them up with string.image

Into the pan they went for a few hours. Some for a day. Another for longer. I had no clue what I was doing but I was having fun with my newly adopted “what do I have to lose?” attitude. Had I turned into a mad scientist? When they were cool, I unwrapped them to see what glorious designs I had produced. Would they be as good as my friends who were dyeing onto cashmere? I wouldn’t have thought so, but I was pleasantly surprised and therefore wanted all this experimentation to count for something. I didn’t need another unfinished project shoved into a drawer.imageimage

So I cut and sewed the undyed back piece together with the dyed pieces to make a long rectangle. Then with a sashiko pattern of meandering oak leaves, I had just the hand-stitched look I wanted to complete my scarf.imageimage

Will I do this again? Probably. What did I learn? I learned that if I’m not attached to the outcome of an experiment, I just might be rewarded. Check!image

As promised in the Zephyr Retreat announcement, I am including some pictures of another application for the Steam-A-Seam technique. These darling purses were adapted from Diane Ericson’s Pacific Purse Collection.

In the meantime, try something brave this week. You might be on the verge  of a great piece of fiber art!


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