With today’s post, one of MDK’s behind-the-scenes stalwarts steps onto the front page. While Cristina Shiffman’s role today is primarily (and most visibly) as MDK’s social media manager, she has been inspiring, edifying, and entertaining us since the early days of the blog. As a longtime natural dyer, Cristina was the exact right person to take a first look at this exciting new reference for the natural dyer.
—Ann and Kay
In the Spring, this middle-aged woman’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of natural dyeing.
And so it is with great delight that I have been poring over my hot-off-the-presses copy of The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments, and Results by Joy Boutrup and Catharine Ellis.
This helpfully wire-bound book, with its sturdy hard cover and glossy pages, will get splattered alongside pots of steaming madder and a blooming indigo vat this summer. For now, I’m studying it for the authors’ insight and generous instruction.
The authors are Joy Boutrup, who brings her background in textile engineering, chemistry, and history to the book’s recipes and techniques, and textile artist Catharine Ellis, whose experience using natural dyes for over ten years shines in the book’s clear explication of methods. The Art and Science of Natural Dyes will find a place in the libraries of textile art departments all over the world, but it’s not at all intimidating for the devoted amateur.
The book begins with an overview of animal and plant fibers and how to prepare them for the dye bath or vat. The next chapter takes a close look at the sources of “strong and reasonably permanent” dyes in the natural world. At this point, everyone who has been collecting avocado pits (including me) will want to get out a compost bucket, because “edible plants do not contain dyes suitable for textiles.” That (fugitive) pink!
Worry not, a full range of every color can be drawn out of the plants and mordants Joy and Catharine present. The book contains photos of a full spectrum of samples along with charts and step-by-step photos illustrating the effects dyers can expect to see as they work.
I have an ample collection of natural dyeing books. If I had to pick only one to keep, The Art and Science of Natural Dyes would be it.
Last June I was among the MDK Knitting Getaway participants who experimented along with Catharine Ellis and her assistant Amy Higgins Stambaugh during bite-sized workshops on natural dyes. This book contains the feast, including not only immersion dyeing of fabric and yarn, but recycling a dye bath, space-dyeing yarns, direct printing on fabric, and caring for naturally dyed textiles and yarns.
I know how I’ll be spending my summer vacation!