I began working for the E.T.C. (the Eugene Textile Center) about a month ago. The owner was kind enough to let me start a work-study program. So I help out with the store and in return the studio is my sweet lil baby oyster. Aside from browsing the extensive book supply in their textile library, I hadn’t really directed myself towards my own work until this weekend. It’s easy to be intimidated by the many processes I have yet to practice. While I learn a lot from assisting them in store needs, I need to get focused and begin pushing through unexplored areas of crafts that I am interested in.
Since my wonderful friend, Leah knit me a white cotton scarf (for dying – because she is so thoughtful and creative) and I purchased some cotton yardage for making clothing patterns, I began by studying up on the natural dyeing process for cotton, in J.N. Liles book, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing. I took the initial steps to scour (wash) my material so it is ready to be mordanted (chemically enhanced for dyeing) tomorrow. These might not be terms you’re familiar with if you’ve yet to do any natural dyeing. If it's something you’re interested in but don’t know where to start I suggest his book. In my weekend of speed-reading, I learned that the additional rinsing, washing, and mordanting steps necessary for retaining color from natural dyes requires more water, materials, and time. Not only is natural dyeing more expensive than most synthetic dyeing processes, it also can be completely unpredictable. Which is both exciting and sometimes disappointing.
Perhaps weaving requires even more time and labor for set up alone, but it’s the closest comparison I can make to the many steps required in preparation to natural dyeing from my own experience. In college I took an extensive weaving course in preparation for a trip to Florence, Italy where we focused on jacquard weaving. Altogether I spent roughly three months weaving anywhere between 20-40 hrs. a week. We had an excellent professor who has been weaving her entire life. She made each part of the whole that much more enjoyable and understandable. But there are times when I think the textile craft is a tedious chore that’s been left to women for centuries. When I messed up I just wanted to blast Grimes and cut the warp up! At other times, it's therapeutic and relaxing. Take away is #weavingisnotforthefeeble and neither is natural dyeing.
Edit: Just a quick follow up from this morning. I went ahead and mordanted my 3 yards of fabric, scarf, and two shirts using tannic acid (made from tannin). In 6 gallons of hot water I added 2 ounces of tannic acid and stirred, afterwards placing my fabrics in the pot for 24 hours of exposure to the tannic acid. So far it has turned my fabric a little off white/orange. It's nice and bright which isn't what I had expected. Remember this step is not the dye itself, but the chemical bath that will help my fabric retain the colors I chose. Aluminum acetate was an alternative choice but is more expensive and not on hand in the store. I look forward to posting more as I choose the dye material!