Last September, I took a workshop at the Marshfield School of Weaving on dyeing with plants gathered from garden, field and forest. I headed up to Vermont right after quitting my job in publishing and could feel myself sliding into a different way of being. It seems significant that, through this workshop, I learned that an exquisite palette of colors has been sitting right under my nose for years. Plants that are often taken for weeds in cities can be sources of rich pigment, most of which were a staple part of existence in New England until chemical dyes were invented. How quickly knowledge is lost. It makes the Middle Ages after the glory of Rome a lot more understandable.
Natural color takes to wool beautifully, and generally with little more than a pot of boiling water and a good pair of clippers to chop up the harvested plant material. Some plants are more demanding than others- Indigo needs to be fermented in order to offer up its blue pigment, called indigotin, and the traditional way of doing this is with human urine. Other dyes take best to wool that has been mordanted with alum, a gentle chemical that can be purchased in the baking aisle of any market. But that’s about as dirty as it gets. After working with chemical dyes at RISD where I was assured that they were “only toxic if you breath them in” (um, great), pee sounds pretty refreshing. What’s more, in Vermont, preparing a urine vat is usually an occasion for celebration. No quicker way to fill a 5 gallon pail than by throwing a pee party!
It is inspiring and infectious for me to be around people who live with real intention, and spending a day with a group of women who were all mothers, farmers and/or homesteaders and healers was just incredible. The weekend in Marshfield was the kick off to my year of focusing on health, wellbeing and happiness, particularly by shadowing women who have found those things by living off the earth. Of course, my original ideas for the year morphed along the way – I didn’t end up as far away as I thought I would, but instead, found health in growing roots of my own, tending to the garden that has been outside my door this whole time…but that’s a story for another post.
You can see more of my photos of The Marshfield School of Weaving here, and for information on upcoming classes at the school, including Natural Wool Dyes from Vermont Gardens, Meadows & Hedgerows with Joann Darling (the class I took with the same wonderful teacher), head here.