Those of you who follow us on Instagram are well aware of our recent foray into natural dyeing. You've seen the results of different tests, but you might be wondering what sparked this interest in the first place and what we plan on doing with these dyed fabrics.
The idea for making natural dyes started nearly a year ago, after we saw a photograph from Folk Fibers' Instagram feed of green pecans being fermented in a big pot for later use as a dye. Pecans and fermentation resulting in an easy-to-use and non-toxic fabric dye? We were all over it.
We gathered some green pecans from trees that we crossed on our daily walks around the neighborhood. We had been taking these walks together as a way to spend time outside, get some exercise, talk through our worries and fears, discuss projects, and—perhaps most relevant to this topic—to directly interact with our immediate environment. Those daily walks brought on an awareness of and deeper connection to all the plant life that was right outside our door and how that life shifted and changed day-by-day and season-to-season.
We took the pecans (hulls, leaves, stems and all), put them into a big orange bucket, covered them with water, and waited for them to ferment. They fermented for... weeks?... months? We didn't keep track of the time, but eventually strained the pecans out and let the dye sit in a bucket on our back porch, where it rested for the better part of a year.
During that period we spent a lot of time researching the process of natural dyeing, but never had the motivation to get started. The process seemed too complicated for casual experimentation (wash and scour and pre-mordant and then mordant all before you get to the dye pot) and required materials that weren't readily available in our studio (alum, tannin, dedicated cooking vessels, et cetera). The information was either highly specialized, or vague and presumptuous. We felt overwhelmed, a bit confused, and, at the end of the day, always seemed to be neck-deep in other projects. So we set the fermented pecan dye aside.
When we hit the road a few weeks back, we packed the dye up with the intention to experiment—and experiment we did. Not only was it far more straightforward than we had been led to believe, but we soon learned that the potential for (successful) experimentation was vast.
About that pecan dye: because pecans have plenty of tannin in them, they don't require the addition of an alum mordant in order for the color to stay wash-fast and light-fast. With this knowledge, our first experiment was simply sticking some test pieces of cotton fabric into our bucket of pecan dye, forgetting about them for a few days, and pulling them out. The result: a light shade of brown!