Natural dyeing at Casa Clementina

Clementine Thomas, Communication Design

Natural dyeing at Casa Clementina 16th – 26th August 2019

I spent 10 days in Piedmont, a region in northern Italy, to carry out a course in natural dyeing with Sissi Castellano.

There were two parts to the course. For the first 4 days I carried out a “transversal” natural dyeing course. Using methods learnt from various parts of the world, I learnt the different technicalities of natural dyeing onto wool, silk, cotton and linen using a variety of plants (Weld, madder, safflower, logwood and gardenia). I was taught both the European and Japanese way of natural dyeing – using different ‘mordants’ to fix the dye at different intervals changes the intensity of the colour.

After recording the results of these experiments in a logbook, using the skills I had learnt from the previous 4 days we began on a project to recreate the colours from Werner’s nomenclature of colours. This book was first published in 1814 and records colours from the natural world. It is categorised in colour tone and notes sightings on the colours from different animals, vegetables and minerals. This enabled me to observe the subtle nuances in colour, saturation and temperature and how to achieve these varying tones through natural means by altering the pH level, the mordant and through mixing natural dyeing baths.

As part of the course I watched two documentaries on natural dyeing by Maiwa documentaries. This heightened my awareness of the importance of natural dyes against synthetic dyes. It was made clear to me that natural dyeing is not only a study of colour, but an anthropological study of culture and history. Furthermore, the impact on the environment is far less through natural dyeing. Namely it uses a lot less water; in indigo dye production the water used to extract the dye is fed back to crops as the process means that it is full of nitrates which makes a perfect fertiliser for rice.

I feel very inspired by the course and I am keen to apply the knowledge that I have learnt to my own environment and surroundings, and learn about and experiment with the wide range of colours that I can extract from local natural materials.

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