Previously on Eco-Printing: Part 1: The Gathering & Part 2: The Dyeing
Finally, it is time to share the results of my Eco-printing session! Unwrapping the parcels of silk, cotton and watercolour paper was so exciting, and I’m still amazed at the range of colours and patterns that were achieved. Yay for nature, right?
Today features a special interview with my mentor throughout this whole experience, Louise Molesworth. She’s a talented artist, and I’m super chuffed to have her as my first interviewee on HKD!
Could you tell me a bit about what drew you to Eco-printing/natural-dyeing?
I heard about an Australian textile artist called India Flint, who uses natural dye sources from plant material with organic and biodegradable fabrics in a way that is far more environmentally sustainable than the standard industry practices. In these last few years I’ve been developing a keen anxiety and guilt about the impact my buying power has on the environment. For instance, the amount of plastic packaging that a packet of chocolate biscuits has around it not only takes thousands of years to degrade, but also takes a ridiculous amount of water to make – and is only used once! This really freaks me out when I’m at the supermarket and want a chocolate high.
It is the same deal with synthetic fabrics, and even cotton takes large amounts of water to make. A good alternative is op-shopping, and supporting local Australian businesses such as Beautiful Silks in Fitzroy, who make silk and wool products which are lovely to dye!
So back to the question! The combination of a guilt free activity, and a strange new art form that mixes science with art into a magical alchemical experiment is very appealing! The results are often hard to predict and very beautiful. I love to make work using ‘mistakes’ and the excitement of discovering hidden colours in plants is like opening a birthday present. That is what drew me to Eco-dyeing I suppose – a childish excitement mixed with anxiety haahha!
Who/what are your influences?
India Flint! I am learning the whole process from her books – really, I am just learning and having fun in the process. When I get better (and after I have made myself and my mother a whole wardrobe of things to wear I will find a way to integrate this art form with my other work.
My other work is very sculptural and installation based, but soft and slap-dash. I really just acquire skills very quickly and in a blase fashion to use in various projects – I’m not necessarily highly skilled at these things afterwards! I usually focus on themes of social anxiety, human interactions and intimacy.
Louise Bourgeois is a big influence thematically, and her beautiful use of textiles and installation as a medium is definitely an inspiration. Cloth is a very intimate thing I suppose, it sits close to our skin and transmits fibers and chemicals through our pores – we use it to dry our selves, our objects, to wrap babies in and sleep on and walk on. We are always in contact with it. Textiles are also another way of decorating our bodies in the sense that we use it to communicate to others our identity: we can either be proud of that identity and love what we wear, because we love who we are – or we can be ashamed and try to hide ourselves in ill-fitting clothes or fashions.
What fun all these connections between concepts are!
Tell me a bit about the Eco-dyeing process – it seems to be very experimental with varied results.
Sosososo, I can just tell you the basics because there are so many variables that influence the final result that we may get a bit lost. If I’m being honest though – I’ll probably tell you many small confusing details. Before I start, I’d like to remind you that I am an amateur and to do as much research into natural dyeing as possible before you try anything, especially about safety!
The basic method is to gather leaves, roll them in a tight bundle with some silk and put them in the top of a stainless steel steamer for an hour. Watch the magic happen! Try putting some vinegar or salt or a scourer or aluminium in the water too. With this method you should be able to create a print of the leaf on the fabric. Make sure you check the water hasn’t reduced and burnt the pan and don’t ever dye things in a pot you cook with or in an area you cook food in.
Now for the notes!
Starting with materials, natural dyeing occurs because of a chemical reaction between the chemicals in the plant you are using, the fabric (best results with organic – synthetics produce almost nothing), the water, the dye pot (if used) and any additives you put in the mix. Then there are other variables such as the method and subsequent temperature that your work is heated to or not heated to; the length of time you leave it to cure; the time of year you gathered the leaves etc.; the time of year the fabric was made and where it came from – the list goes on forever!
Safety notes – On additives to the dye pot: I don’t use pre-made powders of chemicals because they are quite harmful to your health and the environment as a dyer and a wearer. Even if I had an excellent knowledge about them, I would hesitate to use them as even trace amounts can build up in your body and make you ill. The chemicals I use in my dye pot are household items that I find in the kitchen, such as salt, vinegar, a scouring pad, aluminium foil, paper clips, soy milk, cow’s milk along with the leaves of course! Even these elements will travel into your body via cloth but at very small levels – the smaller the better.
When gathering plant materials make sure you know what they are, and whether or not they are poisonous. Never use poisonous plants because that has horrible consequences! In a way everything is poisonous, but common sense is enough to figure out what would hurt a person.
There are so many more variables and methods to find and so many traditional ways of dyeing from different cultures that Eco-dyeing is an endless world of discovery.
What are your favourite plants and materials to use? Why?
So far I have just been using things from my garden. I love to combine Australian and European plant material because of the connection it has to my historical roots. Australian Eucalypts provide an amazing dye source too – blue gums create a range of orange to cherry reds. The idea of an Australian dye source is appealing – I love Australia and the landscape. Often you can see the landscape in the patterns of the printed material – it’s almost a spiritual connection, like the print has captured the essence of the landscape. I am also interested in using waste materials from florists – I hope to do this soon for a project with a local festival in Brunswick, sort of like a collaboration with the florist.
What do you enjoy the most about Eco-printing/natural-dyeing?
Well aside from everything that I have said above – it forces me to go out into nature and to look. I have developed a great ability to not look. I think it is a coping mechanism for when I am in large crowds, or in an environment where there is just too much visual information (such as shopping centres). This is a useful skill, but also detrimental because it leaks into other environmental experiences such as when I am in the bush – the bush has such a soothing effect that it is very important to me to experience it fully.
Also, I feel that it is important to realise where we came from as human animals. The effect it has on me is that I feel smaller, but in a good way. I feel less important and therefore less stressed, and more complete because I am just an organic part of the environment being sustained and nurtured by this dirt, water and sky – like every other living thing. Haha I’ve gone hippy on you!
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for taking an interest in my part of this awesome art form!
A super-massive-big thank you to Lou Molesworth for sharing this eco-dyeing experience with me (and with all of you HKD readers!), and for being so generous with her answers in this interview. Please do check out her blog here: http://louio.wordpress.com
I find all my Eco-prints on silk and watercolour papers to be beautiful, with the images in this post just a hint of their true glory! Anyhoo, that’s it for the Eco-printing trilogy – thank you for following along. I hope it has inspired you as much as it inspired me, and perhaps kindled a new interest in this fantastic, sustainable medium!