the dye process -
the silk comes rolled on a bolt, many, many yards of luxurious white silk. to start, the silk is cut to the desired length and washed. once the silk is washed, it is taken through an hours long process, called mordanting, after which, the colors from the plant dye will form permanent bonds with the fabric.
as the silk is being prepared to dye, the dye materials must be harvested. the majority of the plants are grown in my garden or foraged for locally. this year, I started quite a few plants from seed - including marigold, pansy, indigo & scabiosa. growing my own dye materials allows me to be even more conscious of the earth in my process. I also collect dye materials along trails and in the woods near my home. I am very aware of how much of any plant I collect & take care to not over harvest.
some dye materials are sourced from sustainable suppliers (dyes like madder root, logwood or cochineal). these traditional extracts have been used by natural dyers for hundreds of years. I also source flowers from local farms.
I hand pick, collect and dry the plants or use them fresh from the garden.
some silks are dyed using a direct contact method, meaning the materials are placed directly on the silk, rolled & steamed for several hours, imprinting the petals & leaves onto the silk, creating abstract landscapes of flora. others are dyed in pots of extracted color. to extract color from flowers & the plants, they must be simmered for hours or days at at time. some dye plants require longer simmering times than others. each plant is unique & creates unique marks and color variations. many times, multiple dye baths are needed to create a specific color. either layering with the same dye plant or a few different plants creates the desired shade. the dye recipes are recorded carefully so that colors can be recreated (as much as nature will allow for a recreation). time of year, where the dye plant was grown, pH of the dirt and water, and amount of dye materials added to the pot in relation to the amount of silk all affect the end result. it is a glorious, experimental and labor intensive process. a true testament to slow craft.
after the silks are dyed, they are either cut into scarves & sewn by hand, cut into garments & sewn by hand or admired and loved just as they are. each pattern piece is traced & cut, each thread color is carefully chosen, hems are ironed, bias tape is made, French seams are lovingly pressed, cut and sewn. the finished garment has gone through many stages to become a wearable work of art.
the printing process -
many scarves are donned with floral motifs. each motif is carved by hand from an original drawing using sheets of linoleum. I use flowers from the garden as inspiration, my many books on flowers (my favorite is the ‘Concise British Flora in Colour’ by W. Keble Martin) or trips to the local botanical garden. recently, I’ve been inspired by the instagram accounts of Max Gill and hartfloral, who compose magnificent floral arrangements.
I transfer the drawing onto a sheet on linoleum. the time it takes for me to carve a flower depends on its size and complexity. once the flower or bouquet is carved, the block (a printmaking term for the carved linoleum sheet) is test printed. from there, it’s tweaked, re-carved and test printed again. once the final test print is pulled, I begin mixing ink to print the scarf. the beauty of natural dyes is they shift in color depending on their surroundings. if I want to accentuate a green tone in the silk, I will mix my ink slightly greener. the block is repeatedly inked and printed by hand, making each scarf one of a kind.
final finishes, washes & ironings and viola! a botanically dyed, handmade piece of art.