Every summer since we’ve moved here, I’ve decided that *this* is the summer I am going to set up an seasonal dye studio under the eave of my sewing/weaving/home office space, and every summer I get way busy and it doesn’t happen. You would think that 2020 (when visitors were far fewer and travel non-existent) would have been the year but I had a bit of pandemic-depression and very little happened in my studio at all except a bit of sewing.
This year, however, I have a place to start and a focal point as Felicia Lo from The School of Sweet Georgia (and Sweet Georgia yarns) has announced a Natural Dye Study group which will commence in June. The study group will combine the classes of caitlin ffrench (available through the School) with some additional online workshops, and has an online forum for sharing and asking questions. Though I tend to be bad with following through on online instruction, a time-bound learning period and real-time virtual community are things I know will help me stay engaged. I do think this summer will be a tad busier than last, but still we will be sticking pretty close to home as we won’t be fully vaccinated until August or September.
The photo at the head of the post is the spot where I plan to set things up – it’s become a bit of a furniture repository lately and I plan to clean that up next weekend. The wood chest is going to my brother, the barstool into the shed for now. To the right, there is an old office hutch not included in the photo. It’s been sitting outside for five years and I’ve been meaning to move it, but good thing I didn’t because it will be perfect as shelving and storage for supplies. This whole area is covered by a broad overhang, so things stay really dry here and there is enough width to set up a work table.
Because I’ve been thinking about doing this for so long, I’ve got 90% of the supplies I need including mordanting agents, natural dyes, and basic equipment, plus a ton of books. I just bought a single electric burner for easy water heating, and am hoping our recycling centre and store will open again soon so I can try to source a couple of large stainless steel pots. I do have some fibre and fabric for dyeing, including a huge cone of merino and mohair that I had spun from some fibre given to me a few years ago.
My intention is to dye materials this summer for fall/winter weaving and sewing. I am particularly interested in setting up and learning how to hand-paint warps, but also plan to work on a colour gamp shawl in reds, as well as a shawl in shades of indigo. I have some bleached hemp fabric to dye for making a shirt and am considering purchasing enough linen for a hand-dyed dress. I would like to use what I have on hand as much as possible. If for some reason I don’t take to dyeing, it would be nice to use materials that are taking up space in my cupboards.
But if I do take to it, I’m interested to learn more about natural dye plants in my local ecosystem. I purchased the prepared natural dyes I’m getting started with, but lobster mushroom, dyer’s polypore, tansy, marigold, willow, and blackberry are just a few of the plants and fungi which grow here and can be used to dye protein and plant fibres. There are quite a few people on Gabriola who wildcraft and grow dye plants, including at least one person I know who grows indigo! I am really hopeful that in the future, I can source quite a bit of what I want right here and will start this summer by harvesting the tansy that grows in the ditch in front of my place. In the meantime, there is Maiwa and Sweet Georgia, which are both local-ish to me and selling natural dye supplies.
I am pretty excited to get started but I’ve got a couple of other projects to finish before I do. As soon as I can though I’ll be cleaning my studio deck and getting rid of the extra furniture, getting some kind of curtain closure going to make a cupboard out of my shelving, winding up some bouts of wool/mohair yarn to prep for dyeing, and ordering the rest of the yarn that I need for my projects on payday. Progress photos will be posted here and on Instagram!