Monday, August 18, 2008

Colours Courtesy Of Mother Nature

I recently received my copy of the huge and heavy and extremely technical book Natural Dyes: Sources, Tradition, Technology and Science by Dr. Dominique Cardon, French specialist in historical textiles. This is the most up-to-date and exhaustive information on natural dyes and has recently been reissued in very good English translation by the author herself. This is definitely not something you can just browse through quickly. It needs to be absorbed slowly in small doses or your brain will explode. This makes a good case for owning your own copy instead of borrowing from a library, which is what I did at first and then quickly realized there was too much to read even with the two months my guild allows. There is fascinating historical information, the scientific analyses of dye constituents, world-wide plants and their common names in several languages and lots more. This book is an incredible resource for the curious botanical dyer or anyone interested in how folks coloured their textiles before the invention of synthetic dyes.

If you are going to purchase a copy ($170/£85.00 list price) I’d advise trying to track one down now before they are unavailable except for used. It’s going to become a classic! My source, Chapters/Indigo in Canada still lists it available today. I paid $122.27 with my membership card and free shipping. Amazon, both US and CDN versions, has it only from other sellers and there are some good deals but it’s already going up in price.

Another great place for natural dye information is the Turkey Red Journal. I used to subscribe to this years ago but publication got a bit spotty so I didn’t renew. Issues of the journal are now being published twice a year online and there are 3 available so far. I’d link to it for you, but apparently they want me to ask permission first and I don’t have time to futz around with the editor’s tight copyright restrictions. The URL is exactly what you think it should be (with the www and the .com parts included) or just google it. The current issue has a review of the Cardon’s book in which the reviewer noted that the genus of eucalyptus is missing from which many lovely colours can be obtained. Even when you think she’s covered everything...

I’m slowly trying to finish the Purple Passion Socks for La Violette (my dear French-Canadian sister-in-law). It doesn’t really matter now though because I probably won’t be seeing her until October after we get back from vacation. I’ve seen her 3 times in the last couple of weeks but it’s been too hot and I’ve been too busy to knit on them. She did see them in progress though and approves.

Nothing else fibery has happened apart from washing, drying and ironing a whole lotta linens: tablecloths, runners, a couple of doilies, a gajillion napkins, hankies, tea towels and other odds and ends, plus my handwoven blankets and the overshot coverlet which were hung outdoors and smell wonderful and fresh. I love feeling the old fabrics: heavy and light cottons, linen jacquard, delicate embroidered linen voile, pure cotton homespun. And I enjoy looking at the techniques used: cross-stitch, embroidery stitches, filet lace, Battenberg lace, crocheted motifs and combinations. My collection actually gets used and I try to cycle around through things so they get washed often enough so stains don’t set. Some pieces are already “antiqued” with some small holes or shredding hems (that I try to mend but don’t always get around to) and occasional small stains. Really badly stained items are destined for dyeing. If I make the colours wild and variable enough you won’t be able to see the stains! If I know where the piece comes from, I always think of the person when I use it. Otherwise I just enjoy the fruits of someone’s hard work and skill and appreciate them taking the time to create these fancy items whether for themselves to use or for others as gifts or for sale. Chances are they are long gone now while their textiles live on at my house.


Anonymous said...

I feel exactly the same way about old linens. My great granny had a basement like your Auntie90's (heavier on the 50 years worth of craft supplies and than the Elmo PJs maybe. Paper napkins, oh yes.) I was just starting to set up house when she passed away, so that among other things I was given some sheets from the 30's or 40's, barely if ever used. There is NOTHING like old Egyptian cotton sheets. The last of them finally wore out from the middle until they were tissue-thin and tore right across. Now they're my premium lintless rags. I've tried modern long-staple cotton sheets, but they feel completely different. I wonder if it's the plants or the processing or simply the way the fiber ages? I loved the way those sheets still smelled of granny-cupboard for the first several washings. She used scented drawer liners and old fashioned perfume. I also love hearing your stories!

Louisa said...

I really think cottons were a lot different 50 years ago. Breeding and pesticides and processing techniques have changed for sure. Also they aren't making linens like they used to either. Apparently the processes used in the past were not so nice for the environment so they stopped even growing it in many places. However I believe a big part of the reason for that is the US cotton growers lobbied long and hard for their products until they became ubiquitous. They certainly had an influence on the demonizing of hemp even though it's not a hallucinogen like "mary-joanna". Big Biz rules. Have to say I just saw an ad for organic cotton sheets that were reasonably priced, so things are changing. Though durability still likely isn't on the agenda like in the Olden Days.

Thanks for your comments, hon'! I love getting them.