Natural Dyeing Final Thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot about why there are so many variations within natural dyeing. I never found two sources that gave the same times for any part of the process. I found a little more similarities when it came to the properties of mordants but really, it was hard to get a consensus on pretty much anything.

That’s a pretty high barrier of entry to someone new to the process! I know some people are very into experimenting and don’t care how a project turns out but my time is valuable to me as are all of the components needed to dye.

This was not a particularly cheap project despite trying to keep it as low cost as possible. I bought 2 skeins of yarn ($20), a stainless steel steamer ($40), alum ($13). Since I used edible flowers and walnuts and alum is also used in pickling I felt okay using my own cooking thermometer, stainless measuring spoons, measuring cup, stainless tongs and basin. Even using all that, I spent almost $75 on this project! I can use the pot and alum again for other projects but you can see why I’d want some guidance.

Besides the obvious reason of natural dyes being one of those things that is handed down so “this is how I do it” and “this works for me” is common, I think the cost does keep people from doing more experimentation.

Coming from the cookbook publishing world as an author I know that publishing pays authors very little and gives no budget for recipe testing. I can only imagine that’s equally true in the even more niche craft arena. These books and blogs are a labor of love, not a money maker. It takes time and money to take a scientific approach to figuring out natural dyeing methods. Lots and lots of yarn, time, and money. Most people don’t have that. Even bloggers who are not beholden to publishers have the pressure to churn out new content and new projects all the time.

Ideally, a dyer could say “this is what the scarf looks like at 30 minutes, at 60, at 90” and either decide what is best or present the info and leave it to the reader to decide. I don’t think they have the luxury of during this. Very very few people are paid to experiment in natural dyeing! I think it would be a fun project to make and publish if you were a textile student at a college or university but I can’t imagine many other people being able to do that.

Baring actually replicating their techniques and documenting variations, I do think these authors should either include how they came to the conclusion this was the best or correct way to do the project (bizarrely virtually none did) or simply say, “I can’t test all the variations but this is what works for me” (which a few did).

I read a book that I believe was a PhD thesis, Weaving Rag Rugs: A Women’s Craft in Western Maryland by folklorist Geraldine Niva Johnson, that was published in 1985 and sue mentions that there is talk of funding craftspeople who have skills that were once common or even that are regional and obscure to continue doing them and perhaps teach others. I know Maryland has a folklife grant that does this but it’s not enough to live on. I’m not sure if other states have this program but I do think it’s needed. That’s the kind of funding that could really solidify and advance something like natural dyeing.

I am very motivated but having to piece together information that contradicted each other on a subject I knew little about was very daunting. For most of my life I would not have had the funds to to spend on a “fun” project like this or even take up something like weaving at all. For something like natural dyeing where you can literally forage for the dye or grow it yourself, there should be as few barriers in place as possible.

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