Crafting in Co. Clare
We delve into natural dyeing and seed-to-garment with our columnist Jennifer Lienhard of Woolfinch Studios
While many chemists fight the dye’s tendency to fade over time, its dynamism is what I love most about botanical dyes. When you buy a brightly coloured yellow skirt, over time the colour will change into a soft butter yellow. Shocking red could fade into raspberry colours. Naturally dyes are always beautiful, always evolving – a reminder that things aren’t supposed to stay the same forever.
I was first attracted to using botanical dyes when I noticed the play of light in the natural dye. The second was the direct connection to my environment. It is so inspiring and rewarding, and also reminds me that colour was once just as natural and local as food.
When you use fresh plant material from your immediate surroundings, you quickly realise how fast nature changes. Many local dyes I use depend on the season. For example, horse parsley, an early spring unbellifer plant, growing along Irish roadsides, yields a strong and stunning yellow. With the addition of a little iron water it turns a deep green, unique to only this plant. By summer time the plant has gone to seed and the dye is not the same anymore.
Every time one plant disappears a new one takes its place – Lovage for example, is a nice follow on from horse parsley; also yielding yellow and green, yet slightly different. Each plant’s own footprint is left in its colour. Some colours stay, others fade away quickly – only time can tell. Every year our garden grows that little bit bigger, with yet a new dye colour in its repertoire. But not all colours come directly from our surrounding landscape.
Others come from the kitchen! I love dyeing with avocado stones – a beautiful blush pink. The soaking water of black beans reminds me of blue skies and stormy clouds, and mint tea produces a beautiful green when you add a bit of iron to it.
Turmeric yields yellow, just like your curry, while onion skins can vary from saturated oranges, golds, ochre and even dark green. Carrot tops, red cabbage, lemon peels, blackberries – they all yield colours from green to yellow to purple to blue. Yes, what to some people will be compost is a plant dyer’s treasure trove!
Nature’s colours are so appreciated in food, but I marvel when we eat avocados, red cabbage salad and black bean curry followed by mint tea, while using a black bean dyed table cloth, mint and red cabbage dyed napkins and perhaps wearing an avocado stone dyed blouse.
Progress on our Seed to Garment school project
This project has grown from a couple of ideas. I have always loved flax; I love the feel of it and I love to wear it. One day I wanted to know more about it and discovered that flax was once very popular in Ireland and that our neighbouring village, Mountshannon, was founded and built for flax growers.
After much research, we eventually met with the people from the ALFA project, who were delighted to take it on as part of their school program. Flax growing has become a much-loved community project in Europe over the last couple of years, but we hope to take the project that little bit further by involving local history, botanical dyes and drama. You can follow the flax project here: https://appleoakfiberworks.blogspot.ie/ , on Olanand.ie and on http://www.alfaproject.org
During the coming year students from the ALFA Project -http://www.alfaproject.org/ – will harvest the flax that was planted earlier this year by their parents. They will process the fibres using traditional methods and tools they make themselves, spin the fibre into linen and use plant dyes for dyeing. The end products will be used for a variety of artistic craft projects. The students will also study the history of the linen industry in Ireland – a prism through which to view the whole story of political and cultural conflict and transformation over the centuries. And they will use what they have experienced and learned as the material for an original drama to be performed in various venues around Easter 2018.
Jennifer Lienhard is the owner of Woolfinch Studio, which provides all the materials you need to get started with needle felting, including beginners’ needle felting kits in two sizes. The shop also provides a starter pack of mixed merino colours in different sizes to experiment with wet felting, as well as tester bags, which include a selection of plant fibres and interesting animal fibres. Jennifer has also just launched a new solid colour range for 21mic Merino wool called Finch & Sparrow.