My original inspiration for creating knitted jewelry was to showcase the beauty of hand-dyed fibers. When I started knitting, I fell in love with the gorgeous skeins of hand-dyed yarn and their rich variegated hues. Naturally, I became curious about the dyeing process and when I mentioned my interest to Anne-Marie of Pirtti Handwoven, she told me to check out Fibershed.

Fibershed is a non-profit dedicated to building communities to support local fiber and dye farmers and educating others about sustainable “soil to skin” processes. Poking around their website, I found a natural dyeing workshop in my area and signed myself up.

natural dye workshop book

The workshop, taught by Fibershed founder and Harvesting Color author Rebecca Burgess, opened with a well-informed talk by Rebecca about the textile industry and the adverse effects its current practices have on our health, environment and quality of life. I had never thought about all of the fossil fuels that go into creating colored fabric. And I was shocked to hear that two-thirds of the global textile workforce is comprised of indentured slaves. I had come to learn about the dyeing process out of personal interest and gained a better understanding of the impact our current choices have on a global level.

sagebrush in copper

coreopsis in stainless steel

toyon dye samples

The rest of the day was spent in a hands-on exploration of natural plant dyes that can all be found in the Bay Area. We made five vats of dye in stainless steel and copper pots, which draw out colors in different ways. We brewed deliciously fragrant concoctions of oak galls (slate grey), french broom (lime/pale yellow), toyon (peach), sagebrush (taupe), and coreopsis (orange/brown).  We dipped and dyed locally-sourced silk, cotton and wool samples to see how each one takes color. My favorites were toyon, because it smells like marzipan, and oak galls in rust water, which transforms into a gorgeous deep blueish-grey.

natural dye workshop blends

It was an inspiring day that got my creative juices flowing. I’m already thinking about ways to incorporate natural hand-dyeing into some new designs. Better start foraging!