Monday, July 09, 2007


MAFA Workshop -- Natural Dye

I am back from a wonderful workshop put on by MAFA (Mid-Atlantic Fiber Arts) and held in northern Pennsylvania at Merrywood University. My teachers were Carol Wood and Debbie McCrea, and there could not have been two more talented and enthusiastic examples of dye artists.

We created 64 different colors, using 50 gram skeins. The dyestuffs were onion skins, cutch, brazilwood, osage orange, weld, logwood and indigo. Carol and Debbie had already done the mordant phase in preparation before the class began. Each of the dye pots had 3 skeins done in alum, chrome and tin, and from there the skeins went off to be overdyed in other pots, or to be dipped in either vinegar or ammonia. Without the skeins being marked with a code and matched to their chart, I can see that we seven students would have been confused easily.

Maybe that chart represented one of the valuable lessons of the workshop. Taking notes and keeping yourself organized is absolutely essential in a big experiment using so many different dye stuffs and mordants. We had each, at the instruction of our teachers, brought with us one gallon of our own tap water and did individual experiments to see the difference between our tap water vs. the use of distilled water. That was an opportunity to weigh out the tiny amounts of mordants, and I was glad to get that chance. I think that my fear of natural dyeing has always been about measuring some of the elements used in the process, but this experiment took the fear away entirely.

After all was dyed and dried, we tied samples to a tipcard so we can always see and fondle our results. The tip card, by the way, was coded to the chart used to direct the skeins to this pot or that dip in the actual dye process.

I bought copper, alum, cream of tartar and iron (as mordants). Also, sawdust from brazilwood and osage orange, cutch, cochineal to start my own experiments. Perhaps my new dyeing friend, Lara, and I will grow in our skills as Carol and Debbie did as they began to dye together. At least that's the plan!

On the last evening, our class participated in the fashion show. We all wore black and draped ourselves in the skeins and in three silk scarves which we had also dyed during the workshop. We walked up on stage and struck poses, with our backs to the audience, and on Debbie's count of three turned to face the audience and reveal the colorful splendor of our skeins and scarves. For some reason we all were working the mental image of The Supremes! What a roar of laughter and a sea of smiling faces met our performance. Lightbulbs flashed, applause spread across the room! We were a hit!

Well, Debbie and Carol were the hits. They are just terrific. I would take another class from either or both of them in a flash.

One of my classmates is sending digital pictures to all who participated, so when that arrives, I will post it with these paragraphs.

1 comment:

Dave Daniels said...

Sheila, sounds like a fun time. I've heard of their dyeing classes, and would love to take one. Looking forward to seeing some photos.