wild dyes and maypole mayhem
Sunday 22nd April was Earth Day. It was also the day before Fashion Revolution Week. The perfect day to protest fast fashion by making a beautiful statement about sustainable living.
My plan was to invite local environmental organisations and businesses to donate some of their waste plant products along with an old T shirt. I would re-wild or up-cycle them using their own botanical waste, so extending the life of a garment, saving them from buying new and raising awareness of natural dyes. These were the results...
Why re-wild Wirral? Because it takes 2720 litres of water to produce one T shirt and if one million women* up-cycled an old or second hand T shirt it would save 6,000,000KG of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere.
Natural dyeing of course uses some water but nowhere near the amount it takes to grow, process and manufacture a new garment. I'm advocating home dyeing as an #HAULTERNATIVE to buying cheap, fast fashion because the latter has such huge costs to humanity and the environment. I think it's time we all slowed down and stopped financing the destruction of the planet.
- statistic from one million women
I remember as a child, my mother and grandmother would dye Easter egg shells with my brother and I using onion skins. This was a fun tradition that never failed to fill us with awe when we saw the resulting colours and patterns created by something saved from the bin. My mum in particular enjoyed re-dyeing clothes but would also hand make and then mend garments to lengthen their use. When money was tight for so many, crafts were an everyday necessity. How times have changed. We are now bombarded by so much advertising, fashion conditioning and instant buying choices, it's easy to forget that we have other options but the buzz of 'retail therapy' fades quickly when you find out the real cost of cheap clothing. Please read part 1 for more information about why it's crucial we #buylessdyemore.
Yet even though (or perhaps because) clothing can be so inexpensive these days, there's still nothing quite as rewarding as making, fixing or dyeing something yourself. These old 'make do and mend' crafts bind families together due to the story, effort and love that goes in to them. What story does clothing made in Rana Plaza tell?
"Slowing down, being thankful for what we already have and re-loving our clothes by mending and infusing them with herbal colours is a powerful remedy. It's a way to heal the stress on both ourselves and the environment. The process of natural dyeing helps you to adopt the pace of nature, a win win for us and the Earth."*
Plant dyes offer a remedy and It's easy to get started when you focus on simply re-viving your home textiles with kitchen and garden waste as you'll discover below.
foraged plant dyes +
shibori patterns =
up cycled T shirts
wild, free, local colour
As mentioned in my previous post, the dyes donated were,
- Onion skins from Claremont Farm
- Apple bark from from Wirral Tree Wardens at Brimstage Orchard
- Rhubarb roots from the Health and Horticulture and Wirral Environmental Network allotment in Wallasey
- Avocado skins and stones from The Nook Cafe, West Kirby
- Tea bags and madder roots from The Wild Dyery
These six plants created the beautiful colours below. The 'rusty' variations were dipped in iron water after being dyed which creates darker shades.
I created patterns by folding, binding, clamping and tying the T shirts in various designs before immersing them in the dye baths. Wherever the fabric was bound, the fabric remained white. You may know this technique as 'tie-dye' but it originally came from Japan where it's called 'shibori'. I'll be sharing a really simple tutorial later this week that will get you started with natural dyeing and shibori patterns so make sure you're following our social media pages for a notification when this goes live.
I was really excited to see everyone wearing their T shirts because I loved how they looked on my washing line but I was a little anxious about 19 people being available on the same day, at the same time. I needn't have worried because these incredible friends and family all gave up half their Sunday, arrived on time, modelled beautifully and enjoyed finding out about everyone else's colours.
Some of these people hadn't known there was an orchard at Brimstage Hall, let alone that it's heritage apples were at risk of being bulldozed to make way for a car park! Luckily, this planning application has since been declined and the lovely orchard has gained some new fans.
Unbeknownst to the 're-wilders', Dave the Tree Warden from the orchard (who was modelling his own apple bark T shirt and shirt) had maypole dancing plans for us too! Our attempt to perform this Beltane ritual was accompanied by some accordion and flute playing. The things that happen when you re-wild your wardrobe!
bring + dye
After Earth Day, I taught a workshop at Make Liverpool so people could try natural fabric dyeing for themselves. Everyone brought an old T shirt, learnt some simple patterning techniques, then re-wilded their tops with the same donated plant dyes.
I am encouraging people to up-cycle their old clothes with locally foraged plant dyes because I know from talking to my students, that so many of us feel passionate about restoring our planet. We don't want our clothing to finance the suffering of people or the environment. This is why I teach natural fabric dyeing and why I donate a percentage of proceeds from my workshops to TreeSisters: Women Seeding Change. We don't need to solve these huge issues on our own, but collectively, by taking these small steps with good intentions, we can make a big difference while enjoying the process! We can be creative activists.
Here's a video summary of my contribution to Fashion Revolution Week.
In my final instalment later this week, I'll share a free starter guide for anyone who'd like to have a go at up cycling a T shirt with natural dyes themselves but if you already know you're drawn to this ancient craft and want to learn more now, please check out my online training courses and live workshops. There are two events that have early booking discounts ending this Sunday.
Disclaimer: Natural does not mean safe and just as you wouldn't forage and eat a plant you hadn't thoroughly researched and identified, it's not advisable to pick or dye with any plant without proper training. In addition to this, some of the dyes and techniques I've used in this project were specifically chosen for their ease of use for hobby dyers when beginning, this does not mean they are appropriate for those wishing to sell their work. There is a big difference between what you do in your own home to lengthen the life of your textiles and the standards you should uphold when selling naturally dyed products. If you love what you've seen here and want to become a professional dyer, please ensure you respect this heritage craft by taking a certificated training course with a qualified teacher.