The alchemy of plants


Each Autumn I crank out the cauldron and fill up my natural dye pot. Natural dyes do not impact the environment ( or us!) like chemical dyes do and every batch is completely unique. A few years ago I thought it might be nicer for myself and those attending classes to be surrounded by natural fibres and yoga props coloured in a holistic and sustainable way. I travelled briefly through Morocco years ago and the sight of the vast chemical dye factories has stayed with me ever since. Yes the colours were GLORIOUS but the workers looked sickly and the surrounding land rather toxic. If I could dye my own textiles I could prevent a way of contributing to that mess.

This year I made dye with rosemary and pressed oak and liquid amber leaves into the fabric.  I have a triffid rosemary that always needs hacking back and the oak leaves fall off the trees so foraging was easy. I rather fancied the idea of the healing properties of Rosemary ( clarity, memory, immune boosting) and Oak ( strength and fortitude) imbuing the fabric even though of course the cooking would pretty much eradicate any herbal benefits. Rusty nails in a jar provided the mordant, though you can buy iron powder ( which is poisonous to ingest – be careful!!!!)

Choose 100% cotton, linen or silk fabric and gently heat it a large dye pot with washing soda ( natural scouring agent). This removes any stains from up-cycled fabrics or starches from new fabric. Rinse and keep damp.

I normally pick about half a big dye pot full of rosemary and add water. Bring to a low boil and simmer for about 40 mins or longer if you want deep colours. While this is bubbling away you can get creative with your oak leaves. Unroll your damp fabric and scatter or arrange the leaves. The roll up the fabric and tie up with string or metal clamps. The imprint of the leaves and the string will all make patterns in the fabric. You can only experiment to see what happens!!! If you want a flat basic colour then don’t scrunch up or use leaves. Once you are happy with the fabric and the dye bath, then scoop out the rosemary and put it  in your compost.

If you are using iron powder as a mordant then add about 2 teaspoons ( wear a dust mask) or if you have prepped a rusty nail solution then pour that in. The water will change to a dark colour. Add the fabric to the dye bath and simmer on low for about 40 mins.

Turn off the heat and leave the fabric to cool. I sometimes leave it overnight. Wash the fabric with neutral soap or liquid and rinse thoroughly. I squeeze it our by hand rather than putting it in the washing machine. Dry on the line out of direct sun. Once dry it will need ironing for all the crinkles.

If you want more ideas on natural dyes then read Eco Colour by India Flint or Natural Colour by Sasha Duerr. Both are excellent and inspiring.

Over Winter I have been sewing these up into eyepillows and sandbags. The sandbags are particularly useful for reducing anxiety and encouraging deep belly breathing. They can also be used for draping over shoulders to ease pain. Sandbags are $25 each and eyepillows are $10. Sing out if you want some and I can bring them to class.