How does alchemy relates to natural dyeing? Well, I don’t know for sure, but it somehow seems to do. Using natural products and mixing them, boiling them, distilling them, searching for some wonderful result…. Anyway, Alchemy seemed a good theme for my quilt, fitting well with my ‘Magic and Science” theme.
Now I had to find the fabrics. As I didn’t want to dye them myself, I investigated whether I could buy them – but I found no sellers in the UK. A few friends do 'eco' dyeing, but their fabrics are all in the ‘beige’ range – totally not appealing to me.
Then I remembered The African Fabric Shop, run by quilter Magie Relph - http://www.africanfabric.co.uk. I explored the online shop, and talked to Magie. She couldn’t guarantee that all the fabrics were dyed with natural dyes, except for the ones done with Kola nuts. But she thought the indigo was mostly dyed naturally too. The website describes the complex processes the dyers carry out to obtain the different effects on the fabrics.- colours, shapes, etc - fascinating to read.
So I chose the Kola nut and indigo mix fabric – almost black - for the background. I then looked at other Kola nut-dyed fabrics, which are beautiful to look at, but still, Kola nuts give mostly a beige tone – not for me.
My eye was caught by another set of fabrics in the website, called Langa Lapu Sun Prints, made in South Africa:
“The name Langa Lapu comes from the Xhosa for 'sun cloth'. And that's just how these wonderful hand-dyed fabrics are created. Leaves, ferns and seed pods from plants indigenous to South Africa combine with the natural elements and eco-friendly dyes to produce these unique sun prints. Langa Lapu uses non-toxic dyes, composts old leaves and recycles when ever possible. For example, vegetation used in the dyeing process is sourced form garden centres and not cut fresh from the bush”.
They come in really strong colours, and the foliage shapes on them are beautiful. So I chose to use Langa Lapu fabrics to make the letters and the flasks, tubes, beakers shapes which I then fused to the background. I enjoyed playing with the colours, and the marks left by the leaves give a great texture to the fabrics. And I think it is important to support the hard-working South African dyers in their small businesses.
The quilt is 40” high by 31” wide. The indigo fabric leaves a slight stain on my fingers when I handle it, and it has a faint smell – but not unpleasant. In the first of the detail shots you can see (faintly) the straight line quilting I did on the background. I also quilted all around each letter and shape, but that is very close to the edges, so it's not visible in the photographs.