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Sthir: Still Life & Eco-Dyeing

eco-dyeing: a finished product
“Stillness is the Altar of Spirit” – Parmahansa Yogananda

Still life rests on the precipice of time; the blink of an eye, the edge of something about to happen – that pregnant pause just before the rain drop fractures on a surface. Everything as we know it traverses this juncture – over and over – endlessly – within a cosmos that can never be replicated exactly. Limitless variations and infinite probabilities of what might materialise. This is still life. A word that has been forming, an emergent truth waiting to be articulated. Still life overflows with speech – pregnant with motion. In still life the gaze can never be turned away – the truth becomes allied with the artist’s gaze – as long as the artist takes pleasure in looking, as long as the artist can stand to look.


As an artist, I am not technical. My work and experiments are guided by instinct. My journey with eco-dyeing began, quite by accident, when I was ruminating on stillness and still-life. My aim was to use materials from nature to capture the motion of stillness. Eco-dyeing, as it were, came to be the means through which I articulated this intention.


Eco-Dyeing, also referred to as eco-printing or eco-bundling, is a method of imprinting leaves, flowers, and other organic materials onto fabric. There are an infinite range of colours, shades and possibilities to be had when eco-dyeing. Hues vary by season and climate. The natural palette, limited only by imagination, lends itself to an ethereal expression of botanical alchemy.

Images from left to right: Laying leaves on silk (Eucalyptus & Rose); Steaming bundles; Unravelling

I began experimenting with techniques – using flowers, leaves, and vegetables to up-cycle and elevate natural textiles. Like a squirrel, I have been foraging – gathering local, seasonal fauna. There is no single recipe for eco-dyeing. The practice is personalised by each artist, with subtle changes and nuance incorporated each time. Below, I have highlighted the skeletal recipe that a novice dyer can experiment with:


Preparing to Dye:

  1. Choosing your fibre: Different fibres and fabrics react differently to the dyeing process. From my own experiments, I have noted that silk offers the most beautiful results. For beginners, I would recommend working with Habutai silk, as it yields the strongest impressions.

  2. Leaves and organic matter: Dyes from plants are a renewable resource. Every plant in the world has some colour to offer the dyer. Different leaves imprint differently, some with more intensity than others. For examples, leaves from the eucalyptus family tend to imprint very strongly. Collect leaves from your neighbourhood trees, experiment with what is seasonal and available to you.

  3. Mordants: Mordants, loosely defined, refer to the substances that act as a bond or bridge between the fibres being dyed and the matter being used to dye. Essentially, mordants ensure that the print “fastens”. Silk has a particular affinity for plant dyes, and therefore the mordant is optional, and need only be applied prior to the process for the resulting print to be sharper, deeper and brighter than it otherwise might have been. I use a bucket of old and rusty nails to create a solution of iron water. You could also use Alum, or aluminium potassium sulphate. Dip leaves in the mordant solution, for 10-15 minutes. Remove and dab dry.

  4. Treating the fibre: Dip silk in a water and white vinegar solution (1/4th vinegar, and 3/4th water) for approximately 30 minutes. Wring dry. This works with the mordant to ensure fastening.

Dye-ing:

  1. Create a pattern: Stretch the damp fabric out on your work station, and scatter your leaves onto the surface. 

  2. Bundle: Roll the fabric into a bundle or small parcel, and tie it tight with twine or string. Note: the tighter the bundle is tied, the stronger the impressions. 

  3. Steam: Once the bundles are prepared, steam for at least 2 hours in non-bubbling water. 

  4. Leave overnight: After steaming, remove and wrap the bundles in cloth or an old towel, so that they retain heat, and leave overnight (or as long as your patience will allow). 

Voilà!

If the print is too light the first time around, you can always re-dye the same fabric to add layers and depth. Eventually, the final product will be your own version of a still life: capturing a moment that contains endless variations and infinite probabilities, and can never be replicated exactly. This is the beauty of eco-dyeing.


For anyone who would be interested in learning more, please DM me on Instagram – I would love to connect with individuals on their own eco-dying journeys.


The Sthir Collection is up on our website. It includes scarves, totes and belts that have been created using eco-dyed textiles.


Reference:

Australian artist, India Flints foundational text, was a key source of knowledge and inspiration. Refer: Flint, I. (2010). Eco colour: Botanical dyes for beautiful textiles. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, LLC.

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