It’s Hannah writing to you today. Mom (AKA, Sharon) called me the other day and asked me “Have we ever talked about how the process of botanical dyeing is sustainable?”. Why, no, mom, we haven’t. She has been botanical dyeing (eco printing, botanical imprinting, whatever you’d like to call it) for many years now, has a gorgeous portfolio to prove it, and is wanting more and more to share what she has been learning along the way.
She has five ways that she ensures her dyed pieces are good for the environment. These processes are pretty much built-in to the eco-dyeing process so they’re fairly simple to implement. Furthermore, it is fitting that a process that relies on plants for it’s success should be sustainable, natural, and gentle on the environment.
1. Only Take As Much As You Need
The first way mom makes her dyeing process as eco-friendly as possible is that she only collects small amounts of leaves to print. That is to say, she only takes as much as she needs, and she always takes care to prune the plants in a way that encourages their growth as she clips. You don’t want to kill the plant you collect from. You want to promote it’s growth in order to keep collecting it’s beautiful leaves time after time. In addition, she notes that she is careful not to collect or use roots for printing. This could potentially harm the plant.
2. Reuse the Print Leaves in the Dye Bath
To continue the cycle, Mom throws the leaves into water after they have been used for printing. While they may not be viable for clear, colorful prints anymore, they are viable for something else. As the leaves soak in this water their tannins leech into the water and this creates the dye bath. After they have made the dye bath, she composts them. Lastly, she spreads that compost around the very plants she collects from. A nearly perfect circle, right? Given these points, we think this ‘sustainability’ is a lovely facet of botanical dyeing and something that suits the whole process flawlessly.
3. No Harsh Chemicals
Whether it be the mordants that mom uses to prepare the piece for dyeing, the water she steams the pieces in, or the dye bath she uses, she never uses any harsh chemicals throughout the process. At this point, Mom paused in her description and admitted, “Well, I do use a few teaspoons of alum as a mordant from time to time, but you can eat that! It’s sold in the baking aisle for goodness sake!”. I had to chuckle. I’m not a chemist, but I’m pretty sure that cooking alum, used in moderation, is not considered a harsh chemical. Additionally, she uses soy milk to mordant the cellulose-based fibers like cotton and linen. The soy milk she uses is USDA certified organic, non GMO, grown in America and available at Costco (just in case you’re on the hunt for responsible bulk soy milk).
4. It’s Just Water
Another way that mom ensures the sustainability of her dyeing, she tells me, is that “I hardly even use any water, Han. And what doesn’t get used as a dye bath or steamed away, gets used to water the plants off the porch”. First, the dye bath is a simple combination of those eucalyptus leaves I mentioned earlier and water. Second, the water for the steam is just that, water. Third, there are no salts added, as you typically see in Procion or acid dyeing. Finally, the aluminum and copper pots and pipes she uses provide enough ions that she doesn’t have to add any powders or products.
Finally, when it comes to the botanical dyed clothing she sells in the shop, specifically, Mom is proud to say that she saves these pieces from heading to the land fill. “When your sister or I find beautiful cotton, silk, linen, wool, or some blend of those at a thrift shop, we pick them up! No point in buying brand new shirts when there are millions out there that are of exceptional quality. And if no one else can see their beauty, I’m happy to grab them up, breathe new life into them and create something new from them. Much better than just throwing them away. ”
In conclusion, what mom seemed especially proud to tell me was that “Nothing goes to waste. Everything either gets re-used or put right back into the natural cycle. I love it! I don’t have to feel bad about throwing anything away, or using anything that’s going to harm our customers, me, or the garden.”
Altogether, these are just more reasons to fall in love with botanical dyeing. Not only is it beautiful, fun, and always surprising but it’s good for you and the garden!
Interested in taking a Botanical Dyeing workshop?
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