Plant Based Dyes with Whitney


     The online sewing community is such an incredible source of inspiration to me and it makes me so, so happy that it is also the source of incredible friendships!  

     Whitney from @whitneyknits has become an icon in this community with her beautiful sewing creations, her invention of the #sewmysize hashtag, always using her voice to speak up for what she believes in and her super cute daughter.  And her friendship makes my life better on a very regular basis.

     So, I was so excited when she agreed to work on this project with me and blog about it here!

     She took simple, classic, white Essex Linen, used two techniques I am scared to try, ended up with something completely different than she set out to make and learned a great lesson along the way that she is sharing with us here.  So enough from me! Let’s hear from her! 

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     Earlier this year, I started to dip my toe into the world of natural dyes. My first project -- a skirt dyed with turmeric, with avocado pink pockets -- turned out just like I imagined. I was riding high on that success when Grace contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a dye project with some of the Robert Kaufman Essex Linen she sells in her shop. I jumped at the chance to dig out my dye pots again! I was envisioning a dreamy pink, purple, and blue rainbow tiered dress, inspired by the rainbow tiered dresses Grace had made for her girls.



     After prewashing the linen, I mordanted it with diluted soymilk using the process outlined in Botanical Colour at Your Fingertips, by Rebecca Desnos. I dyed 2 yards of the pre-mordanted fabric with avocado pits, also using the process in Desnos’s book, and 1 yard each with blueberries and black beans, following the directions in The Natural Colors Cookbook, by Maggie Pate. Looking at the colors I was achieving in my dye pots, I had pretty high hopes for the dress I was planning to make!



     Unfortunately, after rinsing and washing my fabrics, nearly all of the color came out of the black bean and blueberry dyed linens. Also, the black bean dyed fabric seemed to have oxidized, leaving me with a murky gray instead of the silvery blue I was trying to achieve. There was too much contrast between the avocado pink and the other two fabrics for the tiered dress I had planned, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Then Grace suggested that maybe I could use the linen for pillows...


 

     I had been wanting to learn to make a sawtooth star for a while, and a pillow seemed like the perfect opportunity to try one out. I started with the free Reverse Sawtooth Star tutorial from Suzy Quilts. The tutorial only includes cutting dimensions to make up to a 16” block, and I wanted to make an 18” block to fit some pillow forms that I already had in my stash. I also wanted to use both the blueberry and the black bean dyed fabrics for the background, a la Suzy’s Stars Hollow quilt, so I made a couple of triangle squares for the corners.



      Since I had dyed 2 yards of the Essex linen with the avocado, I had much more of it to work with, and decided to do solid pink for the pillow backs. I wanted to be able to remove these pillow covers, but I also didn’t have any coordinating zippers on hand. I ended up using this DIY Envelope Pillow Cover tutorial from So Much Better With Age. It was so easy, and I didn’t have to change my presser foot -- that’s a win-win situation in my book!



     The result was better than I could have imagined. The Essex was a dream to sew, with the gorgeous texture of linen and the crispness of cotton. The slight unevenness of my dye job actually worked in my favor here, giving the fabric an almost suede-like appearance. The colors may not have been ideal for the dress I had originally planned, but they look fantastic in my craft room!



     In the end, I discovered that natural dyeing is a bit like raising a child. You can follow the experts’ advice to the letter, but there will always be variables you can’t control. Embrace the journey, seize the opportunity to learn something new, throw your whole heart and soul into it, and the end result will be nothing short of amazing.

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    Wasn’t that great, friends? Are you as excited as I am to go find some dye pots, read some of these fantastic links and get busy creating gorgeous colors and learning something new?  You can get your hands on a few yards of this incredible white Essex linen here and start playing! Be sure to share your experiments with me, I can not wait to see them!


1 comment


  • Jo Thomas

    You should speak with folks in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)—-there are people in that organization who have been working with natural plant dyes for decades and could be a LOT of help. Send me a note if you would like to know more.


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