Some say that our herbalists and natural dyers were once our witches…The women who knew the power and healing qualities of the plants and minerals around us; how to derive and use these attributes for medicinal, nutritional or ritualistic value and seek their way through the forests and wildernesses to find a certain plant.
Some people believe that they also discovered the color potential in some plant varieties. When they brewed their potions and elixirs, perhaps they splashed their clothing and saw colors develop & last…Later, going back to those same plants for their color. I like the idea that these women would soak their undergarments in healing botanical brews, to wear and absorb their magik through the most sensitive parts of their skin- the nipples and vagina. Through this practice, perhaps their color was also discovered and used later for dyeing projects.
There is so much knowledge that has been lost, in our cultural history. Knowledge that our forebears took for granted. The common leaves that can be added to salads or cooked as vegetables. Garden weeds, such as nettles, chickweed and ground elder, all of which are delicious and highly nutritious. The plants which make us dream or relax, the ones to give us energy and fire and others for their hidden colors.
Recently, I’ve been fascinated by the herbal botanicals and healing flowers you can use to create mesmerising repeat patterns, with a simple tie and steam technique, requiring only a length of silk and some string.
Bundle dyeing is one of my favourite ways to capture the delicate brights of flower petals, such as roses, marigolds and hollyhocks.
Interestingly, these same sources also offer a multitude of healing properties.
Marigold enhances immunity and increases the body’s capacity to fight bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Taken in different ways it can aid digestion, inflammation and improve blood circulation.
Roses contain 10 times the quantity of vitamin c in their hips, than can be obtained from blackcurrant and 50 times more than from lemon. Bathing with rose petals is a perfect remedy against nervous diseases: it tones up, rejuvenates, relieves anxiety and purifies skin. Bacteria die within five minutes when contacted with fresh rose petals. Ancient doctors used rose water to treat upset nerves, fumed patients suffering from lung diseases with rose incense and gave extracts of rose petals to patients suffering from heart and kidney diseases.
Taken internally, Hollyhock is soothing to the gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tracts in the human body. It promotes urination, soothes ulcers and can help relieve a dry cough. Other magikal and metaphysical resources state that the flower can be used for healing from the past, healing land, reclaiming and realigning with heritage, reconnecting with old ways, remembering past lives, strengthening confidence and spiritual energy & strengthening memory.
We can work with the plants and flowers on both their energetic and physical levels in terms of natural dyeing, imbuing our cloth with symbolic healing qualities along with their visual impressions. And we are surrounded by plants and flowers which contain innumerable medicinal, spiritual and beauty remedies.
In your own front lawn alone you can find yarrow, dock, daisy & dandelion, and any hedgerow is likely to provide holly, ivy, blackberry, dog rose, apple and buddleia. They are all both healing plants, and contain colour for textiles.
It can be fun to look up certain ailments and their healing plant resources, or vice versa, look up specimens of local plants from your surroundings and find out what they are called and used for. You might find that you regularly notice a particular kind of plant or flower, which could be something that your body wants you to notice and take. We call this intuitive herbalism.
I’m keen to colour my clothes and create outfits in a way which feels both beautiful and healthy.
It’s lovely to wear healing botanicals close to my skin and to make my own clothing in way which allows me to immerse myself in natural spaces, be creative and enjoy the ritual of foraging, the art of dye-making, the joy of creating pattern and colour and the fun of dressing up.
Aside from this, I love knowing that what I am making and then wearing is totally non-toxic, will not off-set anything harmful to me or others and can be safely put back into the ground at the end of its useful life.
With this practice I am actively supporting a plant-based lifestyle and moving away from a reliance on petro-chemical + highly processed clothing, as with my diet and other lifestyle choices.
I am delighted to have a variety of colours, textures, patterns and prints in my wardrobe of naturally dyed, natural fibre clothing. Floral bundle-dyed silk vests, onion-skin dyed woolen blanket scarves, indigo dyed jeans, Itajime Shibori vintage linen dresses and hedgerow dye winter knits.
Another benefit of using the beauty of using local, seasonal plants to create colour for your clothing, is how this makes you immediately a part of your landscape. You belong right where you are. You are intrinsically connected to everything around you, everywhere you go. And wearing the colours that surround you, the soft gentle colours of the english countryside, for example, makes you feel and remember this.
The delicate greens, warm pinks, mellow oranges and mild browns we harness from our plants and minerals, are all found in our landscapes throughout the seasons and reflect the sweet, soft lushness of the fertile lands we live and breathe in and their safety. I like to wear these colours and be reminded than I fit into my surroundings. I am camouflaged and protected with their floral, leafy, earthy blankets and I belong.
Contributor, SERENE Social
As an Illustrator & trained surface-designer, I spent my 20’s learning the art of applying colour and pattern to cloth using both industrial and human-scale processes. I know only too well the toxicity of the textile industry. The second biggest polluter in the world after the food industry. Both due to their agro-chemical farming processes which destroy natural habitats and resources and disrupt the endocrine systems of humans and animals.
Having studied BA Surface Design at UAL, I was disillusioned by the toxicity of the textile and fashion industries. After graduating, I travelled and researched traditional textiles in indigenous communities in India, Laos, Peru and Bali. I launched my own ethical clothing line, designing and producing natural fibre garments. After 6 years of successful trading I stopped production, in search of a higher level of sustainable production, inspired by the latest “closed-loop production” models and “Fibershed” communities. I wanted to create a local, resilient textile and fashion production system which relied on renewable resources and low-impact manufacturing techniques, fascinated by the historical traditions of natural dyeing in the British Isles. I spent the S/S 2014 researching and developing a catalogue of hedgerow colours, without the use of metals or synthetically made chemicals.
I now teach this process, using the name Botanical Inks, to those wishing to transition their creative practises, to non-toxic, local, plant based and low-impact systems, and use locally grown and manufactured organic fibres to create pioneering sustainable textiles for local designers and businesses. The Bristol Cloth project is my latest offering to the UK fashion and textile industry, offering a locally sourced and manufactured tweed for the South West, of which one of the yarns has been dyed with local waste food dyes.
I’ve been transitioning my personal clothing now for the past 10 years…
Slowly but surely I have done away with all synthetic fibres, and now only wear second hand vintage and organic, naturally dyed garments.