Why are botanical dyes to die for ?

It’s an historic moment!  Le Futiloscope has finally found the thing that will supersede ceramics!  In this autumn of 2019, we see many indications that lead us to believe that it is—vegetable dyeing that has what it takes to enrapture those tender little yuppie hearts.  Vegetable dyeing?  If you don’t already know, it’s that technique that allows us to use our friends the plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables—the field is enormous—to color bits of natural fibers—cotton, linen, wool.  We can then proudly transform them into beautiful blankets, dish towels, tablecloths or placemats.  We’re not going to offer you a masterclass in how to do it (others can do it better), but just know that there are two main techniques:  the dye bath that is prepared by simmering crushed plants (fresh or dried), and the “eco-bundle” which consists of directly imprinting stems, pistils or other fresh leaves by steaming.  In passing, note that the other key word of the dyeing tribe is Shibori.  It’s clearly the new term—Japanese—snob for Tie-dye, which gives rise to nifty Instagram posts of complicated dye bundles.  Actually, it was on IG that we came across it for the first time this summer, seeing the lovely Charlotte of @ateliersolveig make a huge hit with her sublime indigos, or Candice from @supernaturelles and her many workshops on the Cote Basque.  Since, we have found all sorts of initiation ateliers at Whole, eco-friendly French manufacturer located in the East of Paris (of course).  If you don’t feel like simmering onion skins on your AGA (they make a very pretty yellow) this weekend, the website of Atelier Solveig has a large selection to choose from.  Its wool pillows tinted with madder, walnut or cochineal are magnificent.

Obviously, on the other side of the Atlantic, “natural dyeing” is popular as well.   The cauldrons are boiling in the Hudson Valley or in the Catskill mountains, home to all sorts of “makers”.  Botanical dyes also bloom in the cool canyons of Los Angeles or even in Detroit, which overflows with industrial wastelands where you find forgotten dye worthy plants (dogwood, strawberry tree, annatto…).  And of course, did you ever doubt it, they’re big into dyeing in Brooklyn:  the NY Times has just consecrated a long article on the young textile designer Maria Elena Pombo, installed in East Williamsburg and specialist in vegetable dyes from…avocado pits.  After decoction, they give out a suave color, very like our dear “millennial pink”.  Ms Pombo makes very nifty pleated dresses in organdy, that sell for $2200 on her site Fragmentario.  During her 2017 “Avocado Tour” which brought her from Tokyo to Berlin, via Madrid and Italy, she initiated hundreds of fans of guacamole and avocado toast to the process of pit dyeing !  Like her Brooklyn colleague Liz Spencer, she organizes workshops in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (very official supporter of the movement), but also in community gardens transitioning to "dye gardens" .  At the famous Parsons School of Design “botanical dyes” is the popular class of the moment.

Besides the undeniable aesthetic success of the technique, why is vegetable dye, around since time immemorial, suddenly having a moment ?  Le Futiloscope is positive, rarely has a trend combined so many of the epoch’s tics.  Into this dye cooking pot, we throw in a big ladle of botanicals and herbalism (grow raw material in your own garden is the latest fashion).  Add a few tablespoons of No Waste (we recycle lots of peels and various stalks that we can’t transform into chips) and circular economy (we recycle a plethora of old sheets, towels and handkerchiefs).  We end with a sprinkling of homage to the feminist figure of the witch gleaning in the wild, watching over her steaming caldron and discovering her works of magical colored transmutations.  The drawback to this eco-warrior coolness?  Apparently, before being dyed, the fabrics should be soaked in water with alum salts and cream of tartar, and we’re not completely sure that they are not just a touch—polluting (it isn’t clear from our reading) …

So, are you ready to register for a virtuous workshop in “Shibori” or eco-bundle ? At Le Futiloscope, we might give it a try.   Because we have no intention of playing the chemist at home, it just might ruin our stock of vintage lab glassware that we keep for our dried flowers!