Focus on dirt? Yes, dirt! The garment you see below was dyed entirely with colors from the earth, including real gold.
I love this photo. Helen Petrulio came to visit my studio one day and on an impulse she modeled this garment for me as she stood under my studio skylight. Her hair, skin, and the gold leafing in the garment all seemed to capture the sunlight and hold it suspended for a brief moment. (The pigments below Helen were photoshopped in later.)
Helen has since passed away and this image serves as a wonderful reminder of her warmth and humor. She was very active in the Sacramento Center for Textile Arts and is greatly missed to this day.
For more views of the garment, click on either of the images.
One of the unique features of the small string of volcanic islands that make up Japan is the variety of naturally occurring colors of soils. The majority of these are varieties of iron oxide, featuring a full range of reds, greens, blacks, lavenders, and yellows. The variations occur because of the other minerals with which they combine to form alloys.
Below, in brown type, is an article I wrote for the Turkey Red Journal describing how to make your own soil-based pigments. Turkey Red Journal is a wonderful on-line magazine published and edited by Pamela Feldman. If you are interested in natural dyes you’ll want to pay Turkey Red Journal a visit.
MINERAL PIGMENTS AS NATURAL DYES
by John Marshall©
Can’t get that Georgia red clay out of your new white jeans? You’ve just discovered a wonderful natural colorant, right under your very own…knees.
Pigments are a great source of natural colors, boasting a long and illustrious association with textiles. Traditional bingata dyeing of Okinawa, to site just one example, stands out proudly.
Bingata utilizes a paste-resist process (katazome or tsutsugaki techniques) to define the pattern or images. Areas are often undercoated with vegetable dyes, applied cold, and then overlaid with pigments. Pigments do not make use of mordants. Instead, they are encouraged to make a lasting bond with the fiber through a protein based adhesive. While there are many sources for this protein, such as the milk in cassein paints, soy is the most versatile, forming a friendly relationship with natural fibers.
To make your pigments, any pretty colored dirt will do. Avoid those that glow in the dark, collected near restricted military areas.
Make a muddy slurry by adding water, allow it to stand for just a moment and pour off the top three quarters of the mixture. Most of the rocks and nails will have settled out into the bottom one-quarter.
Thin the mixture a little more, stirring thoroughly, allow to sit, and again, pour off the top three quarters. Continue in this manner until you have a rather thin mixture, free of pebbles, worms, and assorted vegetable matter.
Allow to sit over night, then decant as much liquid, which should be fairly clear, as possible without disturbing the sediment. Allow the sediment to dry. It can be stored away indefinitely for future use.
See how many different colors of dirt you can collect on your journeys!
Once you have a high quality pigment in hand, you’ll need to add the soy milk.
Take a handful of dry soy beans and soak them in water until fully swollen, then rinse. Fill your blender approximately one quarter full with the swollen beans, adding clean water to the fill line. Blend on high for around three minutes and then strain through a cloth to remove the crumbles. What you have left is unadulterated soy milk. Aim for a consistency similar to 2% milk.
Add a little soy milk to the pigment, thinning the mixture gradually with the soy until you have a solution of whole milk consistency. This is your dye.
You will achieve best results if you layer the pigment in thin coats to achieve the intensity of color you are after, rather than caking the colors on. What cakes on, cakes off.
The soy pigment mixture will need to be set, but not through steaming. Simply leave it alone to cure. The longer you allow it to rest before molesting it further, the better quality washable and dry-cleanable product you will have. If using a resist to create patterns, allow it to cure for around two months before washing.
Originally appeared in Turkey Red Journal
Note to Paula-
I’m adding the image below just to give you an idea of how the pigments work on paper. This is commercially made washi, the dyes were applied to the back (rough) side of the paper. Otherwise treatment and application are basically the same as for any fabric piece.