My Path to Natural Dyeing

I don’t remember the exact moment when I became interested in natural dyes and textiles. It’s quite a forgotten craft and there are not that many dyers left from whom you can learn it, so it’s hard to try and find the exact moment when I discovered it and decided it was something that I would love to follow. But every year I learn some more and now I am on the path to becoming a natural dyer in its true sense and I am enjoying each step of the way.

An Early Start

Writing this is also a path down the memory lane for myself, to try and discover what were all the things that led me into becoming interested in natural dyeing and textiles. So, let’s see: 

I have always been fascinated by colours. I spent all my school years painting and mixing pigments, and my university years studying shapes and researching the stories behind them and the context that created them.

I have always been amazed by nature. I spent my childhood in the countryside and all my holidays until I was a teenager, working fields alongside my grandparents or spending time in their gardens.

I have always been addicted to travelling and got most of my inspiration from new places and new people. I made a deal with myself a few years ago that every time I get stuck and feel I can’t move forward I will take a break and go away for a few weeks or months. It works wonders every single time.

I come from a family of hard working farmers and craftspeople, that lived all their lives in the countryside, working the lands, growing animals, making cheese, weaving and processing wool. My paternal grandmother was extremely talented at weaving and sewing national costumes that she would proudly wear at church every Sunday. The one on my mother's side was weaving carpets and spinning wool in the winter evenings and then dyeing it in the spring. My paternal grandfather was a tailor - unfortunately I didn’t get to properly meet him as he died when I was two - but my parents think that I definitely inherited the love for sewing from him. My mother's father on the other hand was one of the best cheese makers in the village. I would look at him early in the morning, collecting the milk and doing his magic with his hands and transforming it in the best cheese I ever ate - and no, it’s not just a beautiful childhood memory, I have an entire village to confirm his cheese making talent.

Learning the Craft

A few years back I did a couple of plant dyeing workshops on a trip to Asia (my post graduation, self discovery, “what I am supposed to do with my life now” trip to Asia). I'd started being interested in this subject a while ago but only through reading and by dyeing small samples - essentially a hobby I would seldom practice, never thinking it was going to get serious. The workshops were held in small social businesses in little villages where indigenous people were still keeping millennial crafts alive - like making silk, weaving, plant dyeing or batik painting. The experiences were not holistic - the setup was quite touristy - but they were an incredible introduction to this world of infinite possibilities, techniques and all the knowledge that came through the hands of these people. For a reasonable amount of money you could spend a day with a craftsman and see how they were working. It was a fair price that would help them keep going. 

I came back home early spring, full of ideas and positive energy. I’ve decided I would be spending most of my weekends in the countryside, the same place I spent most of my early years and the same place I started ignoring once I grew up. I started dyeing large amounts of textiles with plants I gathered from the garden or found in the market, with no plan on what I was going to do with them afterwards. It was a slow process of playing, meditating, re-connecting with nature, experimenting, researching and the most important of them all: enjoying it. It was like meeting someone for the first time and feeling like you’ve known each other for ages. It was crazy and amazing at the same time, like those rare moments when you do something for the first time and it works perfectly.

My entire world changed completely: I became a witch. 

Natural dyeing is about much more than the final result or the beauty of the colours, it’s about paying attention to nature, to the seasons changing, to the plants around you, to their properties and the chemistry behind them. 

It’s about a long process that involves washing, fixing, gathering plants, extracting pigments, failing or succeeding, testing your patience, becoming more organised, telling stories, being environmentally responsible and thinking sustainably. It’s also about meeting amazing dyers and plant lovers, joining a community and sharing your knowledge. 

And this is how after many hours of consistent dyeing and experimenting with different types of fabrics I felt the need of becoming more professional, so I ended up spending two amazing weeks in Cantabria, Spain, learning from the amazing Romi & Ato, aka The Dyer’s House.

The entire experience was, on different and some unexpected levels, very revealing but the most important thing that happened in these 10 days was that I got the courage and the strength to admit I am becoming a natural dyer, and I am good at it.

All these moments and all the tiny things that added up to me becoming a natural dyer. It’s weird to look back at small things you’ve been through, or have been part of that you would never think will ever help you in any way or make a difference in your life whatsoever. And then they do, after years of waiting for things to add up, after years of not missing any learning opportunities or any opportunity in general, after meeting hundreds of people that probably each had a tiny influence, you wake up one day and you realise: this is what I want to do. And it doesn’t have to be permanent, it doesn’t have to be forever, it doesn’t even mean that you’re not allowed to change your mind. It means that it could be your calling or it can be another small piece that will someday add up to your next becoming.