Natural Dye Workshop

In August five members of the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild had the opportunity to take a three day workshop on blockprinting, stenciling and resists with natural dyes with talented local artist Janna Maria Vallee.  Janna Maria has degrees from Capilano College and Concordia and was home for the summer from New York where she’s living for five years while her husband works on his PhD.


We started by mordanting our silk scarves.  This helps fix the dye to the fabric and makes it more lightfast and washfast.  We weighed the alum and our scarves and then put the scarves to simmer in the pot of mordant.



Next we made our flour resist by measuring out a cup of flour and whisking it with a cup of cool water.



Sizing fabric with soy helps give better detail when painting with thickened natural dyes as it inhibits wicking.  We blended water and soybeans that Janna Maria had soaked overnight and strained the mixture through muslin, squeezing well to get all the liquid out.  We then painted our silk scarves with the liquid and hung them to dry.





We painted a square of silk with the flour resist for crackling.  Once the flour dries the square is bent and wrinkled so that cracks appear and then dye is applied in the cracks.  We used an assortment of objects to print our scarves with the resist and also rolled the resist over raised objects to make patterns.




The dyes we used were logwood, brazilwood, osage orange and walnut.  We made teabags out of pantyhose, added 2 tablespoons of dye material to each bag and put these in mason jars filled with water.  The jars were partly submerged in a pot of water to simmer for an hour.  The teabags were then removed and the contents of the jar were mixed with guar gum to thicken the dyes for printing and stenciling.



Then the fun began as we painted over the flour resist, stencilled and blockprinted.





We next made iron and cream of tartar mixtures to use as postmordants to alter the colour of the dyed fabric.


Janna Maria had dyed some small balls of yarn to show us the colours to expect.  The dyes from left to right are osage orange, brazilwood, walnut and logwood.  Each dye has 3 balls of yarn to show the effects (from left to right) of mordanting with alum only and postmordanting with iron and with cream of tartar.


We stenciled, printed and painted over our previously dyed scarves with the iron and cream of tartar mixtures to alter the colour of the treated areas.


Our scarves were then hung up to dry and be admired.


The final step was steaming our scarves to set the dyes.  Normal steamers aren’t suitable as they drip on the scarves which causes the dye to run.  Bullet steamers are used commercially but since these can cost thousands of dollars Janna Maria had ingeniously rigged up a homemade version.  We laid out our scarves on fabric which was then rolled around a broom handle.


The broom handle was attached to a towel covered lid and then carefully lowered into the homemade steamer.  Our scarves were steamed for an hour and then unwrapped.



It was a wonderful workshop spent with good friends and a talented artist and teacher.  We learned a number of interesting techniques that we can share with Guild members.  Thank you for a wonderful workshop Janna Maria.



Heather Apple
Photos by Heather Apple, Deanna Pilling, Roberta Symons

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