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Book Reviews

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   August 2020


NUNO:  Visionary Japanese Textiles

Edited by Naomi Pollock

Published in Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University

Marilyn Robert   May 2023


Weave A Weave

Malin Selander

Some of you will recognize the name, Malin Selander. She was a Swedish handweaver and the author of several books on the weaving of Swedish textiles. Many of her books were translated into English. Some also went from metric to international measuring systems, for example, meters to yards. The Weaving Guild has a few of her books in the library, and today I will review one of them, Weave a Weave, published in 1986. 


This is a book that a beginning weaver can learn so much from. There are multiple weave structures from 4 shafts to 10 shafts, mostly 4 shafts. A variety of fibers are used in the samples presented here, and the purposeful weaving includes clothing fabrics and accessories, and a wealth of domestic articles, such as tablecloths, rag rugs, towels, upholstery, curtain fabrics, blankets, and more. In addition, colors vary from rich combinations of hues to a restrained bleached and half-bleached linen. A feature of many pieces, notably rag rugs, is the use of multiple harmoniously colored weft picks, which grouping may or may not change over the course of the weaving. These combinations create depth and movement. 


This book will appeal to those in the Scandinavian Weaving Study Group, but I suggest that the appeal is broader. The student of different weave structures and materials will benefit from this book. The text is inclusive of so much. In many contemporary weaving books, the content is limited – to one weave structure, or a limited set of weave structures. If a weaver moves through Selander’s book, (s)he would learn or practice any number of weave techniques.


There are 2 or 3 other books by this author in our library that may be enjoyed, but this one offers the most to the weaver who wants to learn.

Marilyn Robert   September 2020


Plantation Slave Weavers Remember

Mary Madison (compiled by)

In keeping with the events of the day, I want to talk about a significant book published in 2020, Plantation Slave Weavers Remember. This book is an oral history compiled by Mary Madison, a fiber artist and prior corporate consultant. The Library of Congress houses a collection of slave narratives, begun in the 1930’s by the Florida State unit of the Federal Writers’ Project, and resulting in a collection of more than 10,000 pages of interviews and photographs.


Most of these descriptions of daily life on the plantations featured work of weaving, spinning, dyeing, and knitting by the enslaved African Americans. 


    Anthony Dawson, Oklahoma

Down in the quarters we had the spinning house, where the old women card the wool and run the loom. They made double weave for the winter time, and all the white folks and slaves had good clothes and good food.  


Following the slave narratives and photographs, there are detailed notes and appendices. I recommend that the EWG library purchase this historical book.


Marilyn Robert   September 2020


The Art of Tapestry Weaving

Rebecca Mezoff

The EWG library is purchasing the book, The Art of Tapestry Weaving, this year. It is a wonderful book, the best I’ve seen about tapestry weaving. My experience with earlier books on the subject was that they were mostly limited to describing how to make certain shapes, with minimal overall instruction.
Mezoff’s book gives ample and specific information about, dare I say, all aspects of weaving tapestry. She discusses large and small looms, evaluates yarns and color, and gives extensive instruction in using tools to create sheds, bobbins and butterflies to carry the yarn, and beaters to pack in the weft. She discusses techniques such as making a header, bubbling the weft, and fixing the tension, as well as sewing slits, hatching, and interlocking weft yarns.

Her explanations are written to be understood by the reader. She goes into a lot of detail with her descriptions, answering questions that would come up for new as well as experienced tapestry weavers. Her book is instructive and inspirational, and replete with illustrations.

Because of Rebecca Mezoff’s book, I have taken up tapestry weaving once again.

Marilyn Robert   March 2021

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