Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes Paperback – 5 Jul 2011
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About the Author
Rebecca Burgess is a teacher and natural dye artisan who has worked for more than ten years creating recipes from local flora. She teaches natural dye workshops throughout the country, to crafters, ecologists, and art students, as well as to apparel giants like Levi Strauss. Rebecca is also the founder of EcologicalArts, an organization dedicated to creating, revitalizing, and teaching functional art forms that utilize natural raw materials. She lives in San Geronimo, California.
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Top Customer Reviews
Could be very exiting if you approach dyeing for the first time.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book is divided into two parts: Part One includes a brief historical discussion of gatherers and dyers, describes necessary materials and tools for natural dyeing, and sets out a "master dye bath" and other general recipes for dyeing. In this part, the author cautions that national and state parks have strict no-harvest rules. However, she notes that national forests allow harvesting for personal use, that water and open-space districts will often grant harvesting permits, and that other sources for harvesting plants exist. The author also explains that she has included no recipes for tin, chrome, or copper-powder mordants (mordants bind the dye and fabric tightly), because widespread discarding of the metallic leftover dye water could quickly lead to unhealthy concentrations of these toxic metals in local soil. Clearly, the author is highly dedicated to the cause of environmental preservation, but her informative text is gentle in tone, and neither preaches nor communicates any "eco-politically correct" sense of superiority.
Part Two, which makes up the bulk of the book, describes the individual dye plants, and is organized by the four harvesting seasons. Each plant has its own mini-section, which includes (1) a U.S. map colored in to show where the plant grows, (2) the Latin name, (3) a brief general description of the plant's history and characteristics, (4) specific instructions on finding the plant, (5) instructions on harvesting it, (6) a dye recipe tailored to the plant, (7) a clear photograph of the living plant, and (8) a photograph of a skein of yarn dyed with the plant. The beautiful full-color photographs should enable most people to recognize the plants in the wild, and to be reasonably sure of what colors to expect in the dyed yarn.
The complete list of plants is: Summer (hollyhock, ironweed, Mexican cliffrose, big basin sagebrush, zinnia, desert rhubarb, rabbitbrush, rosea, coyote brush, Japanese indigo, elderberry, goldenrod, tickseed sunflower); Fall (pokeweed, black walnut, trembling aspen, staghorn sumac, mountain mahogany, white sage, curly dock, sorrel); Winter (toyon, coffee berry, madder root, prickly pear cactus, cochineal insects, tansy); Spring (cota, sticky monkey flower, horsetail, fennel, California sagebrush, French broom).
Although I have only a casual interest in actually dyeing my own yarn, this is a book that I'm delighted to own, and to have on my knitting reference shelf. I rate it at 5 stars.
Each featured plant is discussed and accompanied by a photo of the entire plant, often within its native habitat. Information about time to gather, how to cultivate, and parts of the plant to use for dyeing fibers are included, along with generous photos of yarns dyed in the colors obtained from each plant, and a map of the United States highlighting where the particular plant can be found growing in the wild.
Burgess brings her high standard of environmental consciousness into the book, stressing the importance of the choices we make in what we use as both consumers and artists. She discusses mordants (substances used to 'fix', or keep the dye in the fiber or fabric for the long term), and only advocates using materials that are non-toxic, both while in use in the dye process and when the wastes are disposed. She also addresses the benefits of working to source your raw materials close to home, and how involvement with natural dyes can help you help grow a strong local economy.
All technical material is easy to access by the DIYer, the home craftsperson or the professional artist. The book is organized around what is available each of the four seasons, and includes an appropriate project to use your hand-dyed yarns as well.
Paige Green's photography lifts this book into the realm of fine art, with massive amounts of beautiful pictures that highlight the plants, capture the colors dyed with them, and also portray the sense of harmony that Burgess advocates will come from being more connected to local production of our clothing. This book will appeal to many who are already working with fiber arts, and will also attract those who garden, and seek to live in a greener manner.
I can still use some of the recipes in this book with the plants in my area and it gives a pretty good explanation about various baths and whatnot. I will use this book as a jumping off point, but I wish that I could use more of the recipes.
I have to say the pictures are wonderful, the layout is simple, it's well written and everything is explained very well. There are even a few craft projects in here to give you some inspiration on what to do with all that yarn and cotton and everything else you're going to be dyeing.
My only complaint is that it mostly focuses on plants found in the South-west, in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Plants like sagebrush, tumbleweeds, and prickly pear cactus. As I live in the Mid-west, in Ohio, most of the plants in the book don't grow in my area unless you cultivate them, which is not a big deal for some of them, but others really won't do well without a greenhouse. On the other hand, there are plants that you can find everywhere you look up here, like Poke berries, Ironweed, and Goldenrod.
I would still recommend it to anyone interested in getting into herbal dyes, though, since most of the plants can still be planted and grown here.