Fall dyeing in Northern Michigan

Fall dyeing in Northern Michigan

This the season for fall colors. As I spent two weeks recently in Northern Michigan with time on my hands I pondered what new activity to try. Every ditch was overflowing with purple and yellow flowers.

Photo to show Joe Pye weed

A flower from the abundant Joe Pye weed near my father’s house

There were fall leaves starting to turn and red sumac berries and purple wild grapes everywhere. Maybe this was the time to try dying with natural materials.There are many good websites to research this subject and I browsed them all.I knew I didn’t want to use any mordants (the material that binds color to fabric) that were harmful to the environment or me since that is exactly what I was experimenting to avoid. I discovered that alum and cream of tartar (sold at the grocery store and used as a food ingredient) would work for my experiment and it wouldn’t take much.
I found two large pans and filled them with enough water to cover the fabric in one and to cover smashed down plant material in the other.

Shows the plant being boiled to produce dye

Plant material is steaming away

Fabric in water with mordant

Fabric in mordant

I bought a couple yards of 100 percent cotton muslin and split it into three pieces. In one I put a teaspoon of alum, 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar and one of the fabric pieces.In the other pot I put my gathered plant material. My first experiment used Joe pye weed. I had read this lovely purple flower would actually make green dye but I went ahead anyway. I gently boiled the fabric and the plant material in their separate pots for about 90 minutes. Then I turned everything off and went to bed. In the morning I ran the water wit the plant material through a cheesecloth covered sieve (actually in tis case my sieve was an old curtain I found in a cupboard). I put the fabric in this water which was now green and boiled gently for another hour. I stirred occasionally and then let it sit for several more hours. I poured off the water and rinsed the fabric with more water until the water didn’t have color in it. I had a nice light green fabric color. I hung it to dry and then repeated the process with the goldenrod and was delighted with the pale yellow result.At that point I thought I was done but then discovered two quart jars of dried sour cherries that were way past the period of safe eating so I poured those in and started the same process again. The result was a subtle red brown.

Bucket of Natural Dye

Bucket of Natural Dye

Not what I was hoping for but the drying process and age may have removed some color.I will try it again because it was an interesting process. When you go through this exercise you can see how dyeing fabric has he potential to be a toxic and water intensive process.Some companies in the industry use dyes and mordants which are toxic. There is a history of leftover dye water being dumped straight back into the environment without treatment.Thoughtful companies today are making an effort to use less toxic chemicals and reuse water and dyes. The way our clothes and home goods get their color is yet another elephant in the room that needs to be considered and addressed for the textile industry to be sustainable.As consumers we can do our part by buying only what we need, seeking out responsible color production and keeping our clothes in good shape for as long as possible.

Color and Sustainability

Color and Sustainability

How can finding your color help you with a sustainable wardrobe?

  • It will be easier to avoid impulse shopping by not buying colors that are not good for you
  • It will help you edit your closet by only keeping those things you love in colors that look great
  • You will have more free time because your colors will mix and match. A sustainable life also means having time to enjoy life.

The history of the fashion industry and color has not always been pretty and it is still complicated. In Victorian times Paris green was created using arsenic. Paris green was a lovely color used in garments, paint and wallpaper. If you haven’t already figured this out, arsenic is toxic. Not only were wearers at risk but the workers and artists who needed to work closely with these materials were poisoned as well. Buzzfeed wrote a short article on Paris Green that you can read here .

That is not to say that there is not still trouble in the fashion industry with color. It is cheaper and easier for fashion companies to farm out production of textiles and dying to large dyehouses and unless you have an industry representative and chemical engineer there watching every step you can’t claim to be sustainable with color (or even no color – because bleaching is involved). To begin to be sustainable, dyes have to be non toxic to workers and the environment. Water used in the dying process should be recycled and it definitely needs to be purified before being discharged into the environment.

Clothing that is produced using environmental and worker friendly dye techniques will cost more. The cost is justified. Most of us (myself included) have enough in our closets to keep us clothed for many more years. As part of my quest to be a sustainable stylist I hope to learn more about companies that walk their talk and produce clothing made with sustainable technique that is designed to last for years.

Eileen Fisher has an eco certified line that is worth a look. This beautiful washable silk top is an example.

Think natural dyes are the answer? Maybe in some cases but the growing, harvesting and processing of plants uses water and arable land as well as mordants that are not scaleable for the current level of  fashion consumption.

If your budget is constrained don’t settle for fast fashion. Make carefully considered choices from consignment or thrift stores that will take items out of the waste chain. If you buy new, think carefully before picking up that $10 top made from polyester. We and the places we buy from should be considering our impact on people and places around the world. The easiest way to do that is reduce what you consume. Knowing your colors is a first step. 

Hues, Tints, Tones, Shades

Hues, Tints, Tones, Shades

This week I was asked if I use color as a consideration in helping you find your best style. The answer is a solid yes! I love color and am writing a booklet on using it in your wardrobe as well as presenting the idea on May 1 at a casual event here in West Seattle. In the meantime I will keep discussing color as a theme for this month.

Last week I discussed warm and cool. Today I am going to discuss hues, tints, tones and shades. 

Studying the contrast between your hair, lips, skin and eyes will help you determine if you look best in hues, tints, tones or shades. Your wardrobe will play very well together if you select mostly hues, tints, tones or shades when you are incorporating new items into your closet.  

 Using a gray scale and value finder that you have picked up from an art supply store. Determine the value that matches your:

  • Skin__________
  • Lips___________
  • Eyes__________
  • Hair_____________

Determine how much contrast there is between these values and check which one applies:

                High

                Medium

                Low

This tells you how much contrast you can wear between colors, how much contrast a print should have and how much contrast your make up colors should have for you to show up as your best self. This makes it easier for your natural and unique beauty to show through.

To determine whether you should wear mainly hues, tints, tones or shades of color (more on this later) add up the values. Divide by 4. This gives you your average value. If it equals 8-9 wear  tints. If it is 2-4 use a shade, 5-7 a tone. Average values of 1 and 10 use hues. (If you are a cool and have average values of 1 or 10 black could be your color). Wearing only hues, tints, tones or shades will allow the items in your wardrobe to play very well together.

A hue is the purest form of a color. There is no white, black or gray added. These colors can be found on the outer ring of the color wheel.

A tint is the next ring in on the wheel. It has white added.

A tone is next and has gray added.

A shade is the innermost ring and has black added. 

Play around in a store or your closet and see if you can identify which colors clothes are. Keep training your eye as you learn more. Have fun.  

 

Beginning wardrobe color

Beginning wardrobe color

I love color

but I didn’t know what to do with it in my wardrobe. I fretted over what were my best colors and it often seemed nothing I had matched anything else I had. I tried diagnosing myself using online quizzes that confused me more than anything else. This is why I want to help you gain color clarity.

Why should you care about color?

Wearing colors that don’t fight with your natural colors and repeating those colors found in your eyes, hair and skin will allow others to focus on you and not what you are wearing. If you want to create discord then wear colors that don’t match you. Nothing you choose is right or wrong if it feels right to you.

 

How do you find these colors?

Let’s start with the warm-cool-neutral test. Most people have undertones in their skin that are either warm or cool. The best way to find this is to go to the fabric store and get a square of silver fabric and a square of gold fabric. Wearing no makeup,placing yourself in natural light, and wearing white in a space with a white background will greatly improve the accuracy of your results. Now simply drape  those fabrics around the front of your neck? Which color looks better? Does one make your skin look clearer than the other? Does one make those wrinkles and under eye circles fade away better than the other? If so you have an answer to the first question. You are either warm or cool. If both look equally good you are probably neutral and can wear either tone.

Grab yourself a color wheel and use it a guide to begin finding colors in the right tone for you. Start in your own closet. If you are warm (gold looks best) then locate the colors in your closet that have some yellow in them. If you are cool (silver looks best) then locate the colors in your closet that have some blue in them. You can do this by holding the yellow and blue of the color wheel up to that item and seeing which color is more harmonious with the item you have selected. This can be an item of any color. Blue items can be cool or warm and yellow items can be cool or warm. It has to do with what dyes were mixed to produce the fabric your item of clothing is made out of.

This simple exercise will begin to help you select good colors for yourself. And remember wearing colors that are similar to you will enhance your chances of being noticed, being memorable and helping make the world a cheerier place! 

Up next week tints tones and shades! Go forth and have fun.

 

If you want help gaining color clarity drop me a line.

Be Happy and Share it

I am writing this today to help me get over the sick powerless feeling I sometimes have as yet more people’s lives and joy are taken by random senseless acts by people who must have lost all hope.

How will you react? How will I react? I could choose to stay home, lock my doors and arm myself but that would not bring anything to me or the world except more fear and hate. Instead I choose to open my heart more than I have been to promote as much good as I can while I can. How you feel effects how those around you feel.

I am going to take a moment today and every day to love myself and make myself happy so that I can share it with the world. And maybe cry for a little bit as well.