Whether in my art practice or for my accessory collections, fabrics are often dyed with great care using natural pigments that are transformed into ink or dye in my studio located in the beautiful region of Bas-Saint-Laurent in Quebec, Canada.

Working with foraged finds
Working with foraged finds

This is a process that takes several days or even weeks and involves a lot of patience and dedication. At the same time, there is nothing more satisfying than to discover each time the colors that nature can offer us and to see that each piece thus prepared becomes unique and therefore a little precious and magical.

Preparation of dye baths or ink

Coltsfoot harvested with the intention of creating ink or dyeing clothes - tussilage
Tussilage | Coltsfoot

The baths can be prepared with natural elements from our kitchen or from our gatherings, as well as with powdered or liquid pigments bought in specialized shops. 

To achieve a precise result, we will have to weigh the fibre and the amount of pigment put in our dyeing liquid, but to make a mixture to explore and discover a color, I go instinctively.

I let what I will use to extract the color soak, then I put it on the round with about double the amount of water, a little less if I want to make ink. I readjust the amount of water after a while if necessary. If some colors need more heat, when I explore I start by turning up the heat without reaching boiling point for an hour or two, then I close the ring and leave in the pot for 12 to 24 hours before straining.

Then I test with pieces of paper and fabric prepared for dyeing. I also play with pH modifiers to see what color changes are possible.

At this point, I can choose to save the dye bath for a future or immediate dyeing session if my fabric is ready or I can choose to turn some or all of it into ink. For the latter option, I let the filtered solution reduce, then add a texture thickener and a preservative of my choice.

To dye fabric, even if it's an old jumper that you want to recoat, you'll need to prepare your fibre.

Cleaning the fibre - Scouring

Whether it's salvaged or new fabric, it is necessary to proceed with a deep cleaning commonly called 'scouring'. This step will differ according to the nature of the fibre, but the objective is to obtain a fabric that will be better able to receive the dye. It is a mistake to do this step only once!

Mordanting - Mordanting

The next step is to mordant the fibre - in an aluminium solution or soy milk. This process will also change the way the color marks the fabric.

Why is this more expensive than regular dyeing?

Each step can take a few hours and a few weeks of waiting can be useful after mordanting to allow the fibre to absorb the product properly, especially for techniques using soy milk. Sometimes more than one dye bath may be required for the addition of colors. There are also subsequent baths to modify the colors.

In short, one can imagine why patience is needed and why hand-dyed products are more expensive than those dyed in factories with chemical dyes. We are talking about a process of love to create an object to be cherished. And often, loving more means paying attention to the object, caring for it and often prolonging its life, which ultimately makes our purchase more economical.

Even though naturally dyed objects have a cost that makes them luxury items, we would like for our planet that this is the only dyeing process used - perhaps this is where we should ask ourselves if it might be possible to consume less, but better.