I started this blog to document my experiments in natural dyeing — mostly with plants I forage while walking Rowan or home from the bus stop — and the things I make from the results.
In October 2015 I took a natural dyeing class with Julia Billings at Glasgow Botanic Gardens. I had previously dabbled with ‘natural’ dyeing using mordants and commercial dye extracts, but having taken Julia’s class I was re-inspired by the possibilities of making colourful yarns using the weeds growing in my garden and through the cracks in the pavements I tread on my way to the shops, as well as the many trees and wild flowers that flourish in the parks and along the waterways I visit every day while walking my dog.
Ever since I learnt to knit it made me look anew at the world around me (see this article), and for many years whenever I am struck by something in nature I have a strange urge to knit or stitch it, to render it in woollen form. With my community yarnbombing project Knit Wild at The Children’s Wood I have made many knitted flowers, leaves, bugs, birds and beasties, and done lots of outdoor crafting, all of which has made me more connected to the wild world around me and to the cycle of the seasons. Dyeing with plants I have foraged or grown myself seems to be the culmination of this, and despite a terrible memory for all things vaguely scientific, through natural dyeing I have learnt to identify a number of native plant species, and find that I am noticing what is growing on a given day much more now.
I am trying to think of my natural dyeing and fibre arts practice as working with the wildlife and growth that inspires me, rather than making use of it. One of my (many!) academic interests is animism, in viewing the world as ‘full of persons, some of which are human’ (Graham Harvey), and how some contemporary westerners (especially Pagans) turn to ancient and/or indigenous accounts of the other-than-human relational world as a way of correcting the modern west’s dualistic and instrumentalist attitude to the earth, which has had such disastrous consequences. So, in some small way, my seeing, gathering and dyeing with the plants the grow in the place where I live is part of the project of uncivilisation, and of deepening my own connection with the other-than-human persons I share this place with.
That’s on a particularly earnest days. Most of the time, natural dyeing is just something that makes me look strange to fellow dogwalkers when they pass me entangled with my secateurs in the undergrowth, takes over the kitchen and makes my whole house smell funny.