A New York Times article discusses the new fashion trend of homegrown, botanical dyes. The California School of Professional Fabric Design finds merit in all methods of fabric design—computer-designed or hand-painted.
The New York Times recently featured an article about the use of botanical dyes in fabric design. Botanical dying was used until the first synthetic dyes were invented in 1856. Since then, the practice has died out. However, Michael Tortorello writes, botanical dying has experienced a recent renaissance.
A new generation of botanical dyers has cropped up among fabric designers. People like Sasha Duerr, a teacher of textile design at the California College of the Arts, grow their own dye gardens. Madder root, for example, makes red. Light green can be made from fava bean leaves. In fact, almost any plant can be a potential dye.
Most dyers learn their trade through workshops or apprenticeships. Growing the plants themselves can present a challenge. A dye’s hue depends on sunlight, climate, and the water’s pH level. Two separate samples from the same plant can vary in color from year to year.
Botanical dying fell out of fashion, in part, because of this inconsistency. Chemical dyes are cheaper to manufacture, and their colors can be precisely reproduced. However, they have their drawbacks.
Chemicals from synthetic dyes have been known to turn up in the waste stream. They can be hard on the environment. However, botanical dyes still require a fixing agent to intensify hues and render fabrics lightfast and washfast. These agents, known as mordants, include mineral salts such as chrome and tin.
There are milder options, such as alum and iron. Sasha Duerr recommends their use instead of harsher chemicals. She promotes the use of natural dyes because they’re safer and bring an element of authenticity to fabric design.
The fact remains, though, that anyone looking for a job in the textile industry will need experience with a range of techniques
The California School of Professional Fabric Design, for example, specializes in preparing its students for the professional world. Aurora Fox, a graduate of the program, was interviewed by a blog called True Up. Fox described her experience at the trade school, located in Berkeley, California.
“We learn to hand paint designs in several mediums — gouache, watercolors, dyes, crayons,” Fox said. “We learn the appropriate computer skills for working in the industry — and technology is viewed as a necessary and useful tool.”
The California School of Professional Fabric Design has stated that its goal is to create a full learning experience for all of its students.
Its website states, “Here you will find students working in state of the art facilities using the latest techniques to create both contemporary and traditional designs.” These techniques include computer design, but they put an emphasis on hands-on techniques, too.
Both botanical dyers and fabric design students learn a common lesson about their craft. Whatever the goal—authentic, hands-on craftsmanship or real-world professionalism—it’s important to feel passion for your work.
Though they exist on different ends of the dyeing spectrum, botanical purists and computer design specialists have this in common.
The California School of Professional Fabric Design in Berkeley, California, offers extensive vocational training in fabric and surface pattern design. Founder Zeida Rothman uses her signature Optimum Design Approach™ to prepare students for a career in designing mass-production fabrics.