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6 Natural Dyeing Resources and One Very Colorful Tour

I’ve had natural dyes on my mind for two reasons. First, because of one of the most enjoyable parts of my job, daydreaming up worthy new tours. And I’ve been conjuring up a couple of colorful (quite literally) adventures all about natural dyes and the textiles they love. One in Oaxaca, the other in Peru. You’re gonna have to wait to find out what the Peru tour is all about, but the Oaxaca tour is called Cochineal, Indigo and Purpura, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about it, because if those three legendary dyes aren’t enough to get your mouth watering or your curiosity popping, then tour probably isn’t the right color for you. 


That’s reason number one. Reason number two is equally as colorful! My friend Keith Recker, co-founder of the exemplary and gorgeous Hand/Eye has partnered with Thrums Books (this is the amazing publisher that focuses entirely on traditional textiles and their makers and if that’s not very cool I don’t know what is. They also published one of the joyous creations of my life, Oaxaca Stories in Cloth !)  and together they have created something quite beautiful, the book True Colors. This wonderful book tells the tales of artists who create color from natural materials and about the historical importance and environmental sustainability of this practice. True Colors features in depth conversations with twenty-eight artisans from all corners of the globe, sharing their wisdom, traditions, and know-how.  And do please bee-line to chapter 9 to see my photos and contribution on shell dyeing, aka purpura, on the Oaxacan coast, as well as the chapter about our friend, Juana Gutierrez, a superb dyer from Teotitlan del Valle, in Oaxaca. It might be worth noting…indeed I’m certain it is…that both shell dyeing on the Oaxaca coast and a day-long, hands-on, good-fun workshop with Juana are key chapters in our ‘Cochineal, Indigo and Purpura’. So if you want to leap from the pages of this book, into the real world, we can make that possible for you.  And let me know what other chapters in this book we should build a tour around? We’ve got our eyes on the whole, entire colorful world these days. 

Here are 5 more resources we love around here that are all about natural dyes and wonderful textiles. Check them out and have some messy, colorful fun while your at it!

Enjoy!   Eric Mindling 

  1. “The Wild Dyery” is the studio of textile designer and teacher, Justine Aldersey-Williams. Justine specialises in natural fabric dyeing. She colours, prints and patterns textiles using plant dyes instead of petrochemicals, with the goal of preserving this heritage craft for future generations. The Wild Dyery patterns ethically sourced cloth by hand at their studio, using traditional resist techniques including shibori, block printing and screen printing. The textiles are then dyed using flowers, bark, roots and leaves, imbuing the fabric with resonant colour and an ethical provenance. They create a range of home textiles, ‘dye it yourself’ kits and accessories which sell online, at craft events and through retailers. Justine also runs online training in natural fabric dyeing and live workshops from her studio on the Wirral peninsula, near Liverpool, England.
  2. “Selvedge Magazine”  Much more than a magazine Selvedge is a valuable source of inspiration  for both designers and devotees, the Selvedge brand has bloomed not only into a launch pad for makers and artisans but a strong community of textile lovers. Selvedge hold workshops, fairs and also has its own store which sells artisan goods. The Selvedge blog is a great place to find articles on natural dyeing, and the magazine is brimming with fascinating stories regarding all thing textiles. If nothing else, you must check out edition edition 89 because your’s truly has a masterful piece of writing contained therein and where it is rumored that I wrote lines like these, “Imagine speaking the knowledge of your ancestors with your hands, what you create is a new chapter in the lineage of an ancient story that you keep alive by repeating it one more time. However, this telling of the story is not scribed on pages of paper, it is written with clay or cotton or maize”
  3. “A Perfect Red Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire”Written by my friend Amy Butler Greenfield  this truly fascinating book details the colorful history of cochineal, a legendary red dye that was once one of the world’s most precious commodities. Treasured by the ancient Mexicans, cochineal was sold in the great Aztec marketplaces, where it attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519. Shipped to Europe, the dye created a sensation, producing the brightest, strongest red the world had ever seen. Soon Spain’s cochineal monopoly was worth a fortune. Desperate to find their own sources of the elusive dye, the English, French, Dutch, and other Europeans tried to crack the enigma of cochineal. Did it come from a worm, a berry, a seed?  A Perfect Red tells true-life tales of mystery, empire, and adventure, in pursuit of the most desirable color on earth. And if you love mystery and adventure, see if you can track down Amy’s shout-out to me in the introduction of this book, and then send me an email to show me you found it. You’d make my day! 
  4. Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo by Mary Lance is an independent, feature-length documentary about the history, culture, and revival of the blue dye. It’s also about remarkable people around the globe who are using indigo in projects intended to improve life in their communities, preserve cultural integrity, and bring beauty to the world.
  5. Carol Leigh’s Hill Creek Fiber Studio. Carol Leigh initially set up shop  in 1982, as a custom weaving, and natural dyeing business, later expanding  to provide workshops, tools, books, and supplies for a growing number of weavers, spinners and natural dyers. Hill Creek Fiber Studio continues to be a great place to get all of your weaving and natural dyeing supplies including yarn dyed by Carol herself. They also offer private lessons for up to 4 students at a time, along with bed and breakfast at the studio, pop over to their website for more info. P.S…Carol is not only an expert dyer, she is also one of our frequent travelers.

That colorful tour I mentioned…if its colors align with yours and you feel inclined to travel with us on this adventure to experience what are arguably three of the most iconic natural dyes on earth, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret that will save you a bundle! SIGN UP BEFORE OCTOBER 10TH for some very JUICY SAVINGS with our early bird discount. MORE DETAILS…