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Cultivating A Natural Dye Garden, By Janette Knowles

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Cultivating A Natural Dye Garden, By Janette Knowles



Life in the time of COVID-19 has given everyone ample time to think about their place in the wider world and this is the perfect time to think about our relationship with nature and the environment-- with having a relationship with our own soil and  instilling a sense of the importance of cultivating that soil in the next generation. When many of us had to start making sour dough bread because we couldn’t find loaves, we talked about the potential for other shortages, and we eventually got to WWII Victory Gardens.  Every bit of land, garden, balcony was to be turned to food production. My thoughts turned to my dye garden and its expansion. I could use my dye garden not just to create my own textiles but to teach the community that we can push back against the environmental horrors (and I do not use that term lightly) of the fast fashion industry that pollutes air, water, and land. And by teaching people about the cultivation of their own dye gardens, I can connect people to their own geography, there own ecosystem, and their own communities. This is connected, in a way to the ancient concept of the “genius loci,” the spirit of the place. Isn’t that a wonderful idea?

I can also connect people with their own shared history, or I’d like to think our shared humanity. When someone pops home grown marigolds into the vat, they are doing the exact same thing that women, traditionally, did in history. In English texts we read of the “pot marigold” so-called because it was put in the cooking pots as a substitute for saffron, to color cakes, butter, and puddings, it was also used for broths and dye. The 16th century herbalist, William Turner sternly explained: “Some use to make their heyre yellow with the floure of this herb, not being content with the naturall colour which God hath given them.” (That, by the way, is a COVID-19 beauty tip for you- marigold for your roots!)

When I harvest my own madder root I think of the fact that I am doing exactly what women did in Israel and Egypt and China and Peru and Turkey between 3,000-5,000 years ago where some of our earliest archaeological evidence of textile dyeing comes from. I’d also like to see the act of this cultivation, harvest, and use as a sign of my commitment to my “place,” my soil, my world—my commitment to regenerative practices that use, celebrate and renew the earth. And do my small bit to undo the corporate destruction of the environment.

In 1916, a renowned weaver and dyer named Ethel Mairet published A Book on Vegetable Dyes. (available digitally for free via Project Gutenberg In it she wrote: “DYEING has almost ceased to exist as a traditional art. In this 20th century the importance of colour in our lives seems to be realized less and less. It has been forgotten that strong and beautiful colour, such as used to abound in all every day things, is an essential to the full joy of life.”

So join me on Tuesday, May 19th at 7:00pm for a Zoom discussion on the cultivation of your own dye garden. You’ll learn about planting plants like these Hopi Black Dye Sunflowers

And madder

And many other plants so you can dye your own textiles and nurture your own environment.



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