There has been much talk around the fiber world and beyond, about natural dyes. Lately some of that talk even extends into the world of modern fashion. As the interest in knowing where your food comes from increases, curiosity has spilled over into the world of fashion and clothing. At AGOS I like to encourage that curiosity. As I have said before, I think that the tactile and creative experience of making garments that you will wear is incredibly rewarding, and good for you, your family, your community and the environment. The ability to slow down and pay attention to the things that move through your hands and onto your body is a good thing in this modern age. While it would be a little like trying to close Pandora's box to eschew the amazing man made dyes available to the modern crafter, using less of them is certainly good for all. And when you can get such beautiful colors and shades and hues from plant matter available in a sustainable and ethical manner, why not go natural? Marcia MacDonald is a force in Maine for paying attention to this food chain, if you will. She has launched the first East Coast chapter of a FiberShed, an idea dedicated to preserving and celebrating local sources of materials for clothing. A Fibershed is a geographical landscape that defines and gives boundaries to a natural textile resource base. Awareness of this bioregional designation engenders appreciation, connectivity, and sensitivity for the life-giving resources within our homelands. This organization has it's roots in Northern California (natch) and you can read more about what they're all about and what they do by going to their website HERE.
We are very excited to be hosting the first meeting of the newly formed Maine Fibershed here at AGOS next month, so come out on the 27th to hear more about what can be done and get involved. Details are on the calendar HERE.
Now on to Marcia....
Marcia MacDonald has been raising alpacas on her farm in Buxton for nearly 13 years and has been dying her wool exclusively with natural dyes for about ten years. An avid gardener with a background in horticulture, the natural dye process harmoniously unites her passion for plants and natural fibers.
AGOS: What made you first take up knitting & dyeing?
MM: Moving from Portland to our farm in Buxton and filling our barn full of alpacas meant I had to learn what to do with all that wool. It was intimidating at first, then intriguing. There are so many aspects- from breeding decisions to create future generations of fine fibered alpacas to where to have all the wool processed. Over time I learned a lot about wool and it subjective and objective characteristics and discovered I loved making beautiful colors with the yarn. I have a horticulture degree and it only made sense for me to use plant material for color. I am now obsessed! Natural dyes makes beautiful shades, from soft to bold, and are safer than synthetic dyes which are derived from coal tar, a petroleum product. So along with the alpacas I grow lots of dye plants on my farm. I also harvest responsibly from nature, as there are many plants that make great color.
AGOS: Do you have a favorite project/design/collection, something that you are particularly proud of?
MM: I have most of my wool mill spun but I do save some out for hand processing. The yarns that are most special to me are the ones that I have carded and spun and dyed with plant material that was also grown on the farm. I think wearing local needs to be more important to people and I hope I can inspire people to start thinking about where their clothing comes from.
AGOS: Why do you knit & dye?
MM: I can't stop myself!
AGOS: Who are your design influences?
MM: Not so much a design influence but an influence in the belief of preserving the important art and science of natural dyes is Ethel Mariet, a British natural dyer and weaver who wrote a book- A Book Of Vegetable Dyes in 1916.
A sample below:
William Morris says that " all degradation of art veils itself in the semblance of an intellectual advance." and nothing is truer than this with regard to the art of dyeing. As a tradition it is practically dead in Britain, and is threatened with gradual extinction all over the world. It will not recover itself as an art till individual artists set themselves to make beautiful colours again,and ignore the colour made for them by commerce and the chemists.
AGOS: Do you have a favorite material or fiber to work with?
MM: Obviously, I have an abundance of alpaca but I love other natural fibers too. There are lots of small fiber farms in Maine doing great things, and I like to support them.
AGOS: Tea or coffee?