Nothing beats the magic of the dye pot! Natural dyes are unmatched for the depth of colour and complexity they bring to a garment or textile. This almost lost tradition is making a comeback as more people rediscover the art and science of natural colour. For us, creating colour from plants combines our deep love for craft with our desire to connect with the land.
Natural dye colours are more complex than those that are created with synthetic dyes. They tend to take on a deeper, more nuanced colour that almost shimmers in the light. A naturally dyed scarf, for example, will reflect changing light patterns differently and appear to change over the course of a day with variable weather. They can also shift as they are washed, worn, and loved creating colours and garments that are alive, telling the story of their use.
Natural harmonies—dyers sometimes marvel at the way the natural colours all seem to “go together” on their own. Each dye plant can create a wonderful range of colours depending on how strong the dye is, what mordant was used to prepare the fabric, what type of material is being dyed, and whether any modifiers were applied to shift the colour. The use of organic fibres like cotton, wool, silk, or linen further adds to the beauty, texture, and harmony of the colours and materials.
The magic of the dye pot
We fell in love with the magic of the dye pot from the moment we started to create colours from plants. There is an astonishing range of colours that can be created from plants, and the creative opportunities are endless. Yarn, threads, and other fabrics for creative textile projects can all be prepared for a good soaking of colour in the pot. Existing clothing and linens can also be over-dyed to give them new life. The general rule is: if it’s made from an organic material, it can be dyed with natural colours.
Dyeing is both an art and a science. When you choose to work with natural colours, you become part of a growing community of passionate textile and fibre artists, designers, and crafters who, together, are reviving practices that have been largely forgotten or lost.
How can a new dyer get started? There are some great books to help you learn the basics—we recommend The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar and Wild Colour by Jenny Dean. It is also possible to make paints, inks, or pigments from plants for use in a wide range of artistic or creative work.
Growing & harvesting colour
We select and grow natural dye plants that produce the most lightfast and colourfast dyes and that offer the most versatile range of colours. A lightfast dye will retain its colour well after exposure to sunlight and a colourfast dye will retain its colour well after washing. Our dyes are carefully dried on site immediately after harvest to preserve quality and maximum strength of colour.
We are growing some traditional powerhouse colours like indigo (blue), madder (red), and weld (bright yellow), as well as other colours such as Hopi sunflower (blueish black), Mexican aster (bright orange), dyer’s coreopsis (burnt orange), marigold (golden yellow) and dyer’s chamomile (buttery yellow). There are also some plants that we forage, such as tansy (cool yellow) and goldenrod (warm golden yellow). Each individual colour can create a range of colours from pale to vibrant and there are further colour possibilities when individual colours are combined through over-dyeing, or when colours are shifted with modifiers during the dye process.
Pure Nova Scotia colour
The colour that comes from plants varies based on the soil and the land in which the plants are grown. The water that is used—whether ocean water, rain water, or well water—also produces variations in colour.
A key part of creating colour from plants is learning about the region in which they are harvested. This calls for going forth gently, observing the land and what is already growing there. For us, this means getting to know our little patch of land, the valley, and the sea. It also means learning the history of Nova Scotia—what was traditionally used for creating colour, what makes that place unique, and what tells its story.
Nova Scotia has a rich tradition of all things woolen—and wool absorbs dye exceptionally well resulting in lusciously rich and vibrant colours. We look forward to exploring this wonderful pairing!
“Life is a sea of vibrant colour. Jump in.”A.D. Posey
One of our favourite things about growing and harvesting plant-based colour is the beautiful cycle that’s created. Nature provides the materials and, once used, they all return to the garden soil where life begins again. The same can’t be said of chemical dyes.
Over the past decade, many regional fibre communities have organized into “fibresheds“ that function to support stronger and more ecological fibre economies at a local level. A fibreshed includes the growing/raising and processing of the fibre itself, the addition of colour, and the wonderful network of artisans who spin, weave, sew, knit, or otherwise turn the raw materials into beautiful and ecologically sustainable garments and textiles. Regionally grown natural dyes are part of this picture. Find your local fibreshed.