By Ruth Baldwin
Earth's Palette Natural Dye and Color Conference celebrated its second year honoring the historical aspects and current pursuits of natural dyeing during a two-day event in Taos, New Mexico this past September. The ongoing conference goals are to facilitate the sharing of experience, processes, knowledge and techniques, as well as to promote natural color work to current and future generations. We are well on our way to meeting these goals by the generous contributions of this year's presenters and participants.
The pre-conference activities began with Katy Blanchard conducting a "field trip" around the conference area in which an abundance of native natural dye plants were discovered. Katy discussed "wildcrafting" local plants, an approach in which only a portion of the plant is taken,so as to encourage preservation of the plant and the environment. Katy's knowledge of the dye and medicinal properties of the native plants was impressisve.
Pamela Feldman's presented her extensive research on Madder Root dyeing and the effects of amendments on color pigment. This rigorous study helps answer questions about the effects of amendments on color, and, if a small amount is good, is more, better? Pamela's description of her methods and display of her yarn samples provided evidence of her outcomes. Her contribution to the field of natural dyeing is very much appreciated.
The Poster Session, aka "Show and Tell," was an opportunity for participants to display and discuss their own independent study or workshop assignments. Presentations of yarn samples and finished items filled tables, the products of hours of work with colors that rival the rainbow—truly inspirational.
Donna Brown presented "Researching the Many Mordanting Myths." Donna reviewed the basic properties of mordants for both protein and cellulose fibers. Also included in her presentation was a summary of her research on the variety of mordant recipes in publication, and her recommendations for fiber artists that are easy, understandable, practical and economical.
Diane de Souza spoke on "Dyeing with Natural Extracts," offering step-by-step instructions for using extracts with both protein and cellulose fibers. Diane shared her experiences from her own dye studio work, encouraging us to experiment with extracts and share the results of our efforts next year.
Andrea Heckman, a Taos, New Mexico resident and anthropologist, presented her research on the current resurgence of natural dyeing in Cuzco, Peru. Through stories and pictures, as well as her passionate tribute to the Quechua leaders. conference attendees "accompanied" Andrea to Peru. Samples of the local Peruvian natural dyes textiles were discussed and displayed.
Ric Rao is truly "Mr. Green Thumb." As a spinner and weaver, his progression to "Growing Color" and using natural dyes was, for him the expectable next step. Ric discussed his dye garden methods, both successes and disappointments, and displayed dye plants and sample cards of natural dyed yarn.
Linda DeBlois and Denise Davis from Las Araņas Fiber Arts guild in Albuquerque, New Mexico discussed their experiences coordinating the 17-day natural dye demonstration at the Sheep to Shawl exhibit during the New Mexico State Fair, now in its 40th year. This important educational event produces 100 skeins of naturally dyed yarn for participants to view. Linda and Denise described their step-by-step planning for the natural dye demonstrations, and encouraged all to give it a try.
Dorothy Beebee, just back from the 2010 International Fungi Dye Symposium in Gysinge Sweden, introduced us to the world of mushroom dyeing, and spoke of her work with the late Miriam C. Rice. She shared stories from her years of experience identifying, gathering, drawing and dyeing with an wide range of fungi. In concluding her presentation, Dorothy passed around samples of the beautiful colors she has obtained from the use of fungi.
An important aspect of this conference is to allow time for presenters and participants to get to know one another. Although important work was done, fun was also a part of the agenda. Please consider joining us for the third annual Earth's Palette Conference on October 3-4, 2011 in Taos, New Mexico and sharing your natural dye passion and experience with the group. The conference is sponsored by The Mountain and Valley Wool Association (MAVWA)—the group that has produced the Wool Festival at Taos for 27 years and has pledged to support this aspect of fiber arts. Information about the 2011 events can be found at www.taoswoolfestival.org.