Book Reports

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes

Joy Boutrup and Catharine Ellis

 I have eagerly awaited the publication of this book.  The authors are well known in their fields. Joy Boutrup is a European textile chemist who has taught in the US at the Surface Design Conferences. She combines her knowledge with that of Catharine Ellis, natural dyer, author, teacher, and weaver of Woven Shibori textiles. They have collaborated here to bring us a detailed text about the principles of dyeing with natural dyes, and answers to why, how, and when does it all work. Following their instructions will give generally predictable results. 

      The book also contains information regarding the chemistry and classification of dyes, written so that a non-scientist can understand it. That is what I really wanted to learn. I have studied with Michel Garcia, a brilliant botanist, dyer, and chemist, to whom Ellis refers as her mentor, but he is somewhat difficult to interpret. Ellis and Boutrup have managed to express many of his ideas, and theirs, in a clear and concise manner.  

Different techniques are used to dye different fibers, e.g., wool and cotton. They provide detailed instructions for both vegetable and animal fibers. Those include preparing the cloth and yarn, and the use of tannins and mordants which set and modify the colors of the dyes. The discussion of various natural dyes is well illustrated, with multiple examples of the colors that can be achieved using diverse methods. I know Ellis to be a master of sample preparation. Her blog and this book include so many examples from which we can learn; and maybe we don’t need to do a particular sample because she has already done it. The book looks at techniques of immersion dyeing (placing fibers in a pot of dye), and printing with dye. I was very interested to learn more about printing. I expected a lot from The Art and Science of Natural Dyes, and I was not disappointed.

The book has extensive coverage of dyeing with indigo dye, the magical blue dye that fascinates, bringing current understanding together in one place. Ellis continues to explore dyeing with indigo, now working with fermented vats. Another book perhaps?

The last third of the book consists of detailed Recipes for just about everything covered in the book.

Last September, four of our Guild members traveled to Berkeley, CA for a Natural Dye workshop with Catharine Ellis. This was a wonderful experience for all of us. It would be a privilege for any participant when she comes to Eugene. In the meantime, you can find this book in the Guild library.

Marilyn Robert

© 2016 Eugene Weavers' Guild

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