Both of the above books, Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess and Nature’s Color: Dyes From Plants by Ida Grae, are proving to become staples in the studio. There seems to have been a renaissance of natural dyeing and fiber arts in the seventies– so many wonderful books were written then! The past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in natural dyes and sustainability, and Harvesting Color is a fabulous example of this.
If you look online, you can find much better views of the amazing photography by Paige Green in Harvesting Color– the above top left photo I see around Pinterest all the time. These photos I took myself with my iPhone, so they’re not the most awesome.
Although these books were written about forty or so years apart, the emphasis on working with local plants rings clear throughout both books. Both authors work with plants found around Northern California; Rebecca Burgess’s hometown is Shasta, and Ida Grae was writing from Mill Valley. As I live in the East Bay Area in California, the information contained within these books is continually relevant.
I especially love the above comments on fennel— it does indeed seem as though it could take over everything! Everywhere I look right now the feathery fronds of it are growing.
Ida Grae’s book is explorative and exhaustive– she has more than 200 recipes in her book! She also gives thorough information on mordanting (although, chrome again!) and various methods of dyeing: “Primitive Dyeing Methods: Steeping, Natural Mordants, and Vat Dyeing”
One recipe that I found most intriguing was the above indigo vat recipe, which bears an eerie resemblance to the Michel Garcia vats.
The recipes are divided up into various categories: Lichen Recipes, Wild Flower and Weed Recipes, Garden Flower Recipes, Wild Shrub Recipes, Garden Shrub Recipes, Tree Recipes, and Food and Food-Related Plant Recipes, often giving more than one recipe for a single dyestuff. It was the recipes from this book that led to me adding a pinch of tin to the salvia dye pot in my recent salvia blossom dyeing experiments. (Green is still going strong, large lavender skein hasn’t gone gray yet, although has faded a little)
Rebecca Burgess also gives an indigo vat recipe (two, actually, a one day one and a fermentation vat recipe). One of the fantastic things about Harvesting Color is that it talks about actually growing native plants (well, and indigo) besides foraging for them. The recipes are divided up into seasons, each section having recipes that use plants that are naturally available at that time. For example, recipes for zinnias, coyote brush, and ironweed (besides much more) are in the Summer section, while
spring has Monkeyflower (above left) and Cota (above right) as well as fennel— and much more as well! I have to admit the monkey flower photo makes me a little sad, as the plant I bought at the Tilden regional botanical garden plant sale died. It was doing so well before I planted it! I’ve sowed cota seeds, but am waiting for them to sprout– apparently they take a long time to germinate. Rebecca’s book has certainly made me see my surroundings with a different perspective.
While the tone of Ida Grae’s book is really sheer exploration, Harvesting Color has a much more didactic tone that can, to some people, be irritating. I actually love this book, and am able to get past the mildly didactic tone and see the value of the emphasis on sustainability and keeping in harmony with nature, but appreciate the more conversational tone and wider view (and wider range of mordants, with the exception of chrome) of Nature’s Colors. A valuable aspect of Harvesting Color, though, is how both mordanted and unmordanted dyed yarn is shown for almost every plant.
Harvesting Color is a beautiful book, and I’ve spent many an hour poring over it– the benefit of publishing today is all the marvellous color photography available! Ida Grae’s book, lacking such photos, since it was published much earlier, is fascinating, but I do see it as truly a reference book, while Rebecca Burgess’s book feels almost like a companion. I’m certainly not saying one is better than the other; they are both wonderful books of their time, and both are valuable — and well used– additions to my library. The emphasis on place makes them especially valuable additions to any dyer in Northern California, although dyers all over can benefit from the information contained in these books.
Those of you who have these books– what is your opinion about them? have you found them useful as well?