The textiles used in ACS quilts are dyed by hand in the studio with natural dyes. The natural dye process is long, spanning hours to days to dye each piece of fabric. It requires both patience and an openness to experimentation and unexpected results.
We only work with natural textiles like linen, cotton and hemp because those are the quilting fibers that take natural dyes well. The textile first needs to be cleaned in a hot soapy wash, a process called scouring, to remove any debris, waxes or residue that might prevent the textile from taking the dye evenly.
The next steps is to mordant the textile. The mordant, which literally means 'to bite,' aids the dye in adhering to the textile. Our mordant process is two steps, treating the fabric with a tannin mordant first and an alum mordant second. Mordants are more successful at attaching to a protein fiber like wool or silk and require this two step process to successfully bond to the cellulose fibers we use.
Our natural dyes come from a few reputable suppliers. Dyes like indigo, madder root, cutch and osage orange are sourced from Maiwa or Botanical Colors. Some dyes come from the kitchen like avocado stones or onion skins and other dyes, like marigold, are grown in our garden. Extracting color from the dye material usually involves simmering it in water for a few hours and then allowing the dye to steep and develop overnight or even for a day or two.
Once the dye is ready, the scoured and mordanted textile is added to the dye pot. It is submerged, absorbing the dye for anywhere from 30 minutes to a full day or more, depending on the saturation and depth of color trying to be achieved.
Most natural dyes baths still have color after the first round of dyeing. These exhaust baths can be used to create lighter and lighter shades on cloth until the dye from the initial bath is used up. We often use a single dye bath to create a range of shades spanning from dark to very light by utilizing exhaust baths. It gives the quilts a beautiful ombre quality.
Why natural dyes?
The choice to use natural dyes is ultimately a sustainable one but it is an aesthetic decision as well. The incredible colors and earthy quality that can be achieved with natural materials can never be replicated by chemical dyes. The colors in the natural dye color palette compliment each other in a harmonious way.
Many natural dyes are sensitive to pH changes, sunlight and other elements. These factors can cause shifts in color over time, a beautiful and natural aging process like all living things experience.