FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — The North Peace Spinners and Weavers Guild held a natural dye weekend this past July, using local plants to colour their fabrics, a long-running tradition for the group.
Stinging nettle, goldenrod, and more – there’s a wide variety of plants, found natively or grown in local gardens, that can be used to dye wool and other fabrics, noted long-time guild member Rene Giesbrecht, who’s been involved with the guild for over 40 years. She currently serves as their secretary.
“There’s just tons that give really good colour, or things that grow in our garden too. Like comfrey, chamomile, dahlia, amaranth, all kinds of things give off some colour,” said Giesbrecht.
The most common natural colours found in the Peace are yellow, gold, green, and brown, she noted, with some pink as well. These can all be mixed to create blends of different colours.
“You definitely can. It’s always a little bit of a crap shoot, you’re not sure exactly what you’re going to get until you do it,” Giesbrecht said.
Rainwater is collected and used for the dyeing process, ensuring there are no chemicals which could interfere. The water is then boiled, with plants being added to extract all of their colour. While it’s a very low-tech method, it’s also incredibly accessible for anyone to try, all you need is a cooking pot, some water, and plants of your choice.
“We try to use water that hasn’t got any chemical in it, and we would cook it gently, you know, simmer it for anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours. Then we would remove the plant stuff, add our wool to it, and simmer for a while,” said Giesbrecht.
Bark is another option for local dyes and also produces great colour, says Giesbrecht, using materials such as poplar, apple tree, cherry bark, or alder bark. Wool is primarily the fabric of choice, which holds colour very well.
“Those we would soak for a few days prior, and then we cook them, we would cook them for an extended period of time, like a couple of hours,” noted Giesbrecht of preparing bark dyes.
Giesbrecht has held various positions with the guild over the years and says spinning, weaving, and dyes are all part of a hobby which holds appeal across generations, young and old.
“There’s always still people interested. I think in the last few years, we’ve seen more younger people come on board. I started as a young person, and then it kind of waned for a while, and now there’s more younger people,” Giesbrecht said.
“They’re very interested in the whole idea of locally sourcing our fibres, using dyes that are better for the environment, we’re not using a whole bunch of chemicals,” she added.
If anyone is looking to learn more about natural dyes and to see how it’s done, Giesbrecht says the guild will be attending the North Peace Fall Fair, and encourages visitors to stop by and check out their displays.