On a late-summer Saturday, I went to a natural dye party at my friend Jessica’s house.
Maybe at this point you’re asking, “What is a natural dye party?”
As luck would have it, that’s exactly what I’m about to tell you.
A dye party is mostly what you might guess it is, given the word dye sitting there front and center: a bunch of people putting things into dye, and doing it together while eating food and drinking cocktails and having, in general, a lovely time.
But a natural dye party is so much more.
For years, our hostess Jessica had dreamed of getting her creative friends together, but the idea finally became irresistible after a conversation with Kristine Vejar (of Oakland’s famed shop A Verb for Keeping Warm) at the Squam Art Fair last spring. Together, they resolved to make it happen, to squash any fear or inhibitions, and to organize good friends and creative impulses for a celebration of color derived from nature. Using Kristine’s book The Modern Natural Dyer as a guide, Jessica ordered mordants and scavenged buckets. She invited people to bring flowers and foraged plants of their own, and something—to share, of course—for lunch.
A Good Day to Dye
When the day came, eight of us showed up with supplies and projects in mind. Thea also showed up with a pitcher of the “official” dye day cocktail that she invented for the occasion, made with tea-infused bourbon and other herbs that double as dye stuffs.
Thea’s potion is not only ingenious, it is also delicious. (The recipe and more of the story is on the Verb blog.)
There was an eco-printing station featuring marigolds, madder twigs, garden-grown weld, and cochineal bugs for sprinkling.
Jessica had soaked silk handkerchiefs in mordant for anyone who wanted to give it a try.
Bundled and bound around twigs, then steamed for a bit in one of the available pots, everyone had a quick project to take home as a souvenir.
Adrian, Christine, Ana, Erika.
The star of the show was–naturally–the indigo pot. Carefully tended and refreshed during the day, everyone thought of different ways to use the blue dye.
Thea brought tired items from her wardrobe for a makeover.
Erika bound and clamped fabric yardage for future sewing.
Ana added an ombre effect to a macramé project.
And there was yarn to dye too, of course.
In addition to indigo, there were pots going of so many other colors, my head spun trying to keep track of all the beautiful things going in and coming out of their simmering promises. Madder was just one:
There was also logwood (purples), weld (yellow), avocado pits (pink), and a new one to me, quebacho red. With so many experienced fiber artists among us, there was plenty of tending talent to go around.
Christine went home with a stack of beautiful fabrics for a quilt she feels inspired to make soon.
By mid-afternoon, the yard was festooned with color.
No one was surprised that Adrian, a professional dyer, would be the master of pinks and purples.
At one point in the afternoon, we even sat down to knit, and to eat Adrian’s “World’s Best Cake.”
On the Other Coast
Meanwhile, in California, Kristine held a little dye party of her own complete with official cocktails, and we all had fun checking Instagram for her updates at #avfkwdyeday and adding some of our own. There was a charming simultaneity to it, and Jessica admitted that she hoped additional parties would be inspired from her posts.
I felt buoyed by the day, not just for the beauty of things made and jokes shared, but by the comfort of coming together with so many creative people I generally only keep up with over Instagram.
Like Jessica, I hope dye day becomes contagious. Admittedly, we had a lot of things going on at once, and any one of the colors or projects we undertook would be enough to form the nucleus of your own dye party. It’s not difficult or complicated. A Verb for Keeping Warm even has a two-part guide on how to host a natural dyeing party.
I also have a deepened appreciation for the work that natural dyers do: the water, the prep, and the time involved. There is a magic to watching yarn change from green to blue as it is raised out of the indigo vat. You should see it for yourself. And when you do, tag me on Instagram.
I love a good dye party.