The MA in Academic Practice prompts questions about the sustainability of screen printing onto both fabric and paper. As an experiment in mapping provenance and natural dye sources I designed and printed a booklet. Actually two; nitty-natty folding travel-happy ways of showing the colours.
Shapes inspired by the dye gardens, market stalls, and community spaces that plants were collected from; a stylised plan of dye provenance. Indigo from Wales, chalky-seams of madder from Hitchin, mulberries from Shepherds Bush, and bio-waste pomegranate skin from Peru, (thanks Brixton market).
Screen-printed cut-paper stencil designs made from recycled newsprint.
The distillation of colour is starch-thick with cornflour. Overlapping, casually haphazard, but oh so carefully manipulated print designs. Softest weld-yellow, creeping towards soda ash modifier, creating a blasting of gold. Several days of printing in the sunlit Ceres studio.
On cotton Khadi paper, textured watercolour Bockingford, and favourite Somerset satin.
Booklet 1. Sixteen segmented plant studies, folded into a finger-twirling library of colour acquaintances.
With an accompanying interlocking interpretation of the dyes drawn onto the trace paper.
Booklet 2. Pages of delight to be folded with attention to position and juxtaposition, and interspersed with dye notes on trace-paper.
Volunteering day at Roots and Shoots; a haven for people and biodiversity
I first visited Roots and Shoots in the Autumn, as the walnuts dropped from a tree planted thirty-nine years earlier. In the post-industrial wasteland of Lambeth a plant riot of a community garden was carefully nurtured, greenhouses built, and an ethos of the regenerative power of nature grown.
I am mesmerised by how much productive greenery is fitted into the space, and by the beauty of the working environment. There is a centre for young adults with complex needs, and indoors-outdoors spaces for these students and local families to actively participate and learn skills. Trails lead to enticing vegetables, raised beds, architectural flowers, beehives, and wild rampant corners.
Roots and Shoots, is the work-place of Sarah, who came on a Ceres natural dye-print course laden with dye-bounty of surplus carrot tops, marigolds, and oak-galls. We discussed R&S and the community it represents, and I asked to spend a UAL charity volunteering day there. This September I was invited to do some natural dyeing with the younger children as part of a morning of drop-in family activities, followed by an afternoon art with the young adults.
The night before, I brewed up natural dye-inks from bio-waste and local ingredients; red cabbage, blackberry, red and yellow onion skins, and turmeric ends. Sarah added to this stash with dye made from coffee, and R&S red grapes and green walnuts. Modifiers to change and enhance the colours were made from iron-water, and food grade citric acid and baking powder.
The family activity was under the oak tree in the wild garden, an idyllic location, we set up tables and watched the rain not quite falling. Sun out, brushes dipped, the children enjoyed abstract and representative painting with the plant based colours.
After lunch I gathered inspirational materials for the students; an armful of trailing flowers, patterned leaves, and long stalky plants. The afternoon class had time to make dye-liquor from red cabbage, explore the decorations found in nature by painting with the botanical inks, and use the modifiers to transform colours.
I finished the day happy to have been a tiny part of a bigger vision. A swapping of colour, painting and pattern, for learning about Roots and Shoots traditions, rhythms of nature, and ways of doing.
I usually print botanical colours by making a cornstarch thickener on paper, and an indulca thickener on fabric. Cornflour is a safer and a more readily available ingredient that indulca. I want to test how well cornflour botanical pastes will print onto fabric.
I simmered the outer leaves of red cabbage for 30 minutes, and left to cool in the dye liquor. Next I strained the mixture through muslin, and then thickened it with cornstarch; approximately 8 g for every 100 g liquid.
I used common kitchen ingredients as modifiers; lemon juice for an acid, and baking powder for an alkali.
I steamed the prints to fix them, using an adapted burco-boiler. Steaming at home can also be done using a large pan of water.
To allow for comparisons, I screen-printed the three different red-cabbage colours onto a range of pre-mordanted fabric, and onto paper. Cotton and silk with soya mordant (kitchen safe), silk and wool with alum mordant (use with care), and leather with iron-water (use with care).
When I contrast these prints with previous research, I can see that the colour yield of indulca based thickener onto fabrics is better than the colour yield of cornflour.
In conclusion I continue to prefer cornflour on paper, and indulca on fabric.
Gather materials that are in your locality. Try to use bio-waste and left over kitchen ingredients, or items that are foraged sustainably. Some of my favourite natural dye ingredients are; onion skins, red cabbage offcuts, turmeric peelings, carrot tops, buddleia, nettles, coffee grinds, and avocado pips.
Soak dried or tough materials overnight. Grind roots and berries. Chop plants into small pieces.
Simmer the prepared materials gently in a stainless steel container with a small amount of water for about half an hour. Leave dye material to cool down. Squeeze through a plastic sieve and/or using a clean tea towel or muslin.Collect the dye liquor. The used plant material can be put onto a compost heap.
The dye liquor can be thickened with common household starch. I like to use cornflour; 8g flour to 100ml dye liquor.
Easter 2017; a collection of dye-plant seeds introduced the wild into Chelsea printroom. The seeds were chosen for a diverse range of colours; Weld (yellow), Woad (blue), Coreopsis (orange), Chamomile (yellow) and Hollyhocks (purple-black). We already had a 2-year old Madder plant whose roots would soon be ready to yield red. The seeds germinated into a straggly array of plants, which rapidly needed more space and light. The fortunate plants were potted into recycled dye buckets, and taken outside. The remainder stayed on the printroom windowsill; reminding students of the provenance of natural dyestuffs.
Tiny quantities of Coreopsis and Chamomile flowers were ready to harvest in July. Majority of the silk was pre-mordanted with Alum.
Foraging, and concocting; with help of expert tutor Penny Walsh, I learnt to use mordants and natural dyes to produce an array of colours. I was astonished at the depth and vibrancy of the colours achieved.