This fall I took two classes on natural dyeing at the Multnomah Arts Center. The first was a Saturday workshop on indigo and shibori, and the second was an evening class over the course of three weeks that covered other natural dyes.
The six hour indigo workshop was packed full of information. I have some experience working with indigo, but I still learned so much. We experimented with synthetic indigo to get the hang of some shibori techniques, and then we applied what we learned to a silk or rayon scarf. Because of the season, our instructor, Kate Loomis, had some fresh indigo leaves available. While the synthetic or pre-reduced natural indigo produces the deep blue that we're familiar with from blue jeans (below on the left), fresh indigo gives an ice-y turquoise color (below on the right).
The natural dye class was a great introduction to the vast world of plant (and some insect) based dyes. The most important thing I learned is that natural dyes are a constant experiment. Each fabric or yarn will produce different colors. You can combine mordants and modifiers to further manipulate your results. Plants vary from region to region and season to season, so even if you scientifically repeat your recipe from a previous year, you might get a slightly different color.
At the end of the three weeks, we walked away samples of our work - yarn dyed with madder or marigold a variety or mordants and modifiers, and swatches of silk and cotton fabric dyed with cochineal.
If your interested in learning more about natural dyes, I really recommend taking one of these classes. Keep your eyes open for the winter catalog for information about an advanced natural dyes class!