CUT & DYED

The age-old craft of nat­u­ral plant dye­ing and its rich botan­i­cal hues fas­ci­nate a new gen­er­a­tion of ex­plor­ers.

Do It Yourself - - Contents - PROJECTS CHELSEA HEFFNER PHO­TO­GRAPHS JAY WILDE STYLING + WORDS LUANN BRANDSEN

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.”

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