CUT & DYED
The age-old craft of natural plant dyeing and its rich botanical hues fascinate a new generation of explorers.
Learn some tricks to natural fabric dyeing from West Coast craft “school” WildCraft Studio, along with plant recommendations on what to look for.
PLANT POWER Six linen napkins show color variances among three plant dyes using two different mordants, opposite.
A mordant preps the fibers to bond with natural dyes. WildCraft Studio School founder Chelsea Heffner, right, stresses ethical foraging when collecting plants for dyeing, telling students to never harvest in protected wilderness areas or national parks. Jars of dried plants, below, line the studio’s shelves. DYE JOB Delicate blooms like vetch and lupine tend to fade quickly in hot dye baths. Instead of following the how-to on page 91, steep delicate blooms in glass jars similar to sun tea, right.
RUBBING HER THUMBNAIL ACROSS A BIT OF ROOT ON THE FOREST FLOOR, CHELSEA HEFFNER REVEALS ITS SAFFRON YELLOW INNER BARK. “THIS IS OREGON GRAPE—A NORTHWEST NATIVE AND OUR STATE FLOWER,”
she says, as eight baskettoting students from WildCraft Studio School’s natural dye plant workshop lean in. “The roots are used for medicinal purposes, but they also create a yellow dye. In fall the plant’s berries are harvested for a purplish dye color.”
As the group carefully scavenges in the stunning Columbia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington, Heffner explains she started WildCraft for moments like this—to connect people, craft, and land.
“Today, people can get materials from all over the world,” she says. “But if you gather materials from a specific place to make something, you get to learn more about that environment and culture.”
Back in the studio, students shred harvested plants to simmer in pots on propane burners outdoors. Behind them, a swatch wall from past classes (including dye workshops focused on farm-raised flowers) showcases yellows, greens, browns, and a few rosy hues.
“Part of the charm of natural dyes is not knowing exactly what color you will achieve,” Heffner says. “A blue flower doesn’t necessarily mean blue dye. If you had an apple tree in your yard, and in spring you clip some branches, you’ll get a different color than if you clip it in summer due to changes like climate or rainfall. That’s why it’s tricky to get the same color twice.”
But no one is complaining. “I don’t need consistency to feel successful,” says student Sarah Morton-Erasmus.
“The process is what fascinates me.”