The finished pillows!
Holiday shopping this past Christmas ended up transforming into an incredible opportunity to test several at home art projects I have wanted to do for a very, very long time. My interest in natural dying has been steadily growing over the last year. I love the idea of getting back to basics when it comes to craftsmanship. Between my nostalgia for old world techniques and serious love of food, this project was right up my alley. As per usual, it ended up becoming quite technical with lots and lots of steps. But I loved every single moment of it. Not to mention my sister joined me on the adventure, which is always the best :)
Raw ingredients: red cabbage, blackberries, pomegranates, Chinese Maple leaves, beets, fennel, and artichokes.
To get going, I did a ton of research online for advice on dye materials, fabrics, wrapping techniques, and general how-to's. But the information is definitely tricky to decipher, especially because so much of natural dyeing is about trial and error. I struck gold however when I came upon Earthues. They have a wide array of materials for purchase. Not to mention Andro, one of the owners, was incredibly helpful and gave me tips over the phone. He was patient and answered literally every single one of my questions, of which there were a lot!
I got extremely lucky with my fabric too - Matteo had a massive online sale the week of Thanksgiving and I walked away with a serious victory. The 100% linen is crucial to getting a solid dye that will withstand wear and washing.
Here's a snapshot of making the red cabbage dye. This cheesecloth bag made filtering super easy!
Getting into each and every step would make for quite the novel, so I opted to capture the key moments in my little experiment instead. Above is a picture of making the dye itself out of red cabbage. We ended up cycling through several rounds of produce to get as rich and deep a color as possible. Red cabbage definitely produced the most pigmented color while fennel ended up being quite sheer and subdued.
Finished jars of the fruit and veggie dyes.
Sourced ingredients from Earthues
Andro's insights were pivotal when it came to preparing the fabric for dyeing. Treating the fabric with different minerals and solvents enables it to bond with the dye itself. The downside? Each round takes at least an hour. All in all Tara and I spent 8 hours preparing the fabric to be dyed. Then, we got to play!
From left: soaking fabric in water, next in soda ash and scour, and finally soaking the fabric in aluminum acetate.
Out of all of the techniques I found, I was very curious about the Japanese shibori style. I chopped the manzanita wood from trees at my Dad's house and then used simple twine to create a striped pattern. Much to my surprise, the wood itself did not end up creating a dye stain of its own.
Wrapped pillows on manzanita branches - shibori style!
Tara and I decided to dye the ends and the center of the rolled fabric. We were intrigued about the interplay between white and color, how they might fade in and out of one another.
In the pot! These are snaps of the red cabbage, logwood, and beet dyes.
After a long day, we finished up by pulling off the bound string. Lucky for us the string held tight and kept solid stripes of white in the mix of colors.
Out of the pot! The dark purple color is from logwood and red cabbage dye, the burnt yellow from chestnuts.
Last but not least, the final product! After a rinse in the laundry machine and a solid 45 minutes in the dryer, the linens were ready to be steamed, pressed, and gift wrapped. This was one of my absolute favorite projects at home - more to come for sure!
One of the decorative pillows with fun splatters of logwood purple.
On the left, the complete set in their new home at my parent's place. On the right, the decorative pillows for my lovely cousins (photo cred to Alexandra!).