Nat Dye: Island


July 26 - September 10, 2019

This summer I had the immense pleasure of working with the Frye Museum Store to create a piece for the store. I was asked to draw inspiration from the work of Ellen Lesperance and Diane Simpson who’s work is a part of an exhibition at the Frye opening September 21, 2019. The color palate, and use of the grid structure resonated deeply and immediately got my brain spinning.

The initial concept came from looking at American coverlets from the early 19th century. These utilitarian blankets were intended to be reversible, with a light pattern for the summer on one side and a darker overall pattern on the other for the winter. Instead of using 2 colors like the coverlets I opted for natural dyes, I wanted to use what was already available and explore what colors I could produce from local plants.

I drew a sketch and calculated the pattern, which was then approved and off I went. I spent a week on Whidbey Island with the purpose of dyeing the wool for the weft.

sun loom

I learned to dye in school using commercially available dyes, those dyes are quicker, the results more consistent and materials plentiful. Over the years I’ve had these notions that natural dyes weren’t as vibrant, harder to make and not as readily available. My exposure to natural dyes was mainly through indigo, madder, cochineal, and other materials that though natural, were still imported or detached from my own experience.

When I thought about my own practice I realized that replicating colors has never been something I’m interested in. My weavings are intended to capture a moment in time, and become reflections of the places they were made (be that a physical or mental space).

Whidbey is special to me because it’s where I grew up, and over the course of the week I found myself reflecting quite a bit. My art practice has developed and become more tangible to me, but I was consistently reminded how much of what I do I have done intuitively for most of my life.

Wandering around the property collecting plants, arranging them nicely in my bucket, slowing down and focusing on a small task – I’ve been doing that as long as I can remember, except now I have more purpose and knowledge.

I walked around with my buckets full of plants, alder cones, nettles, ferns, flowers, lichen thinking how I want to be a good steward and do no harm. All the plants I collected are plentiful, and often invasive. I know that next year there will be just as many nettles, blackberries, alder cones, if not more.

This space backs up to wetlands and I have spent 20+ years getting to know the nuances of the landscape, and sharing it with all the wildlife. The property sits right at, if not slightly below sea level and not only am I concerned about the BIG earthquake, but also a rising sea that could easy swallow this delicate piece of my world.

So, out of all that came a weaving. Dyed with 100% natural plants that I picked from my spot on Whidbey Island, woven on a loom powered by me, with ethically sourced yarn.

The piece is now available IRL at the Frye Museum Store


island view

Initial dyes included the following plants:

  • dandelion

  • alder cones

  • young nettle

  • old nettle

  • young fern

  • butterfly bush

  • rose petals

  • blackberries

  • yarrow

in progress

Not all tests were made into full dye bathes, based either on the weakness of color or similar color to another dye.

Plant matter was added to water and heated, and left to cool overnight to extract as much dye as possible.

In total I used 5 dye bathes and dyed approximately 14 skeins of yarn