education, textiles, sustainability and wellness

July 14, 2020

Dye Garden

I've been managing the Textiles West Dye Garden at Flying Pig Farm this year. It's a joy to be there. As I write this, blessed rains are shattering any need for me to go to the garden today, and I'm filled with both the pleasure of a little extra writing time, and regret at not being in the presence of nature today. Flying Pig Farm is located on a little turn off road just blocks from the main road in Manitou Springs, Colorado, but it's another world. The Midwesterner in me is always amazed that I now live here, community garden bursting with sunflowers nestled in the pines, digging into the sand and red earth, listening to the rooster and the goats in the back ground. It's the kind of grounding experience I need but forget that I need until the moment I'm there. I turn on my favorite podcast or audiobook and pull weeds until my back aches, careful to leave the local plants that pose no threat to the dye plants but are so beneficial to the bees (especially those in the Flying Pig Farm apiary) and the root structure of the area, holding precious water in the ground in the desert climate.

Planting Day, May 23

This year is my first growing plants for natural dye as opposed to a vegetable garden. We had a wonderful day planting the seedlings in late May (the growing season begins later and ends sooner in a high-altitude desert climate). We planted cosmos, scabiosa (pincushion flowers), zinnias, Japanese indigo, tithonias, African marigolds, Chianti sunflowers and woad (a traditional European natural dye plant).

Already coming back from last year were the black hollyhock, weld (another European dye plant), dyers chamomile, coreopsis and our monster of a madder plant. Becoming intimately aware of the cycles of these plants just by the process of watering and watching, watching, watching has reminded me of all sorts of life lessons I'd forgotten in the years between gardening.

Patience and Care

In the intervening weeks I've anxiously and gratefully watched everything grow and blooms begin to form. It's gratifying to watch plants grow. Especially in this year of COVID, of social upheaval and all the work that is to be done, of wondering if I can pay my bills and fretting over friends, family, and community health and safety; it's been a life-saver, a mind-saver if you will, to watch new life and new possibilities arise out of gentle care, patience, and nurturing. This is one of the few places where my anxiety has both a purpose and a remedy.

Indigo, May 30

Indigo on June 6

Indigo on June 30

Scabiosa, June 6

Scabiosa on June 16

Scabiosa on June 30

Sunflowers, May 26 (with coreopsis and marigolds)

Sunflowers on June 16

Sunflowers, June 30

What Now?

You might be wondering how all these flowers and foliage turn into natural dyes. There are a few processes I'm playing around with this summer: liquid dye, hapa zome, and bundle dyeing. I'm going to be testing out each in the coming weeks, as I prep for workshops in the garden and think about how I'd like to apply these to renewing some of my existing garments.

Final Thoughts and Actions

There are folks out there with the vision for a local, sustainable, clean, regenerative and socially just ecology for clothing that values people, land, animals and water. If you want to find out more, check out Green Dreamer podcast and listen to ep209 and ep210 with Rebecca Burgess of FiberShed. You can also check out Dominique Drakeford's fashion blog and follow @dominiquedrakeford on social media to learn about intersectional sustainability.