Colours from nature

As well as natural fibres, I also use natural dyes to obtain the Bonny Claith colour palette. The natural palette has an underlying warmth and gentleness which is very easy to wear.

I use traditional dyestuffs, such as madder, cochineal and indigo, and up-to-date ecologically sound methods to achieve strong and vibrant shades. I’ve taken this route because I am deeply concerned about the pollution caused by synthetic dyes in the textile industry: I choose to do things differently.

Although I am primarily a weaver, I feel very fortunate to have had opportunities to learn from experts in the field of natural dyeing and to be practicing the craft at a time when knowledge about dyeing processes is being generously explored and shared.

I cannot claim to be much of a gardener, so I buy my dye materials from ethical suppliers who share my values and prioritise sustainability and fair trade. Since people first traded, they have traded in textiles and I relish the fact that cloth was such an important and valuable commodity to our ancestors.

There are deep connections across cultures which we can make through textiles. Around the world, for instance, people have found sources for blue in indigo-bearing plants, from Scotland’s traditional woad (Isatis tinctoria) to the tropical Indigofera tinctoria and many other varieties. And each culture has developed different methods for working with these plants: diverse processes which are nonetheless fundamentally the same, because the underlying plant chemistry is the same.

Sadly, it is part of our colonial history that Europeans have exploited the skills and resources of dyers from other parts of the world. This is one of my primary motivations for prioritising fair trade initiatives. I cannot fix the whole world, but I can still play a part in restoring economic justice where textiles are concerned.

One dye plant I do have close to hand is a walnut tree, just outside my bedroom window, whose harvest provides the most delicious shades of dark brown. And I may also have bought a few seeds, so never say never….