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Meet Jessica from blee as we chat all things naturally dyed

Sarah Cheetham

Posted on August 27 2020

Meet Jessica from blee as we chat all things naturally dyed
Super excited to introduce a new collaboration with Blee and the super talented Jessica Pinotti. We have been working behind the scenes to create an exclusive range of naturally dyed cotton pots, a real sustainable statement in peoples homes.
Each pot is made from the same 100% recycled cotton yarn and then hand dyed by Jessica using different vegetables and techniques to create a unique and varied range of exclusive pot colours and patterns. Below is a short Q and A with Jessica to get a insight into her journey and her process of natural dying.

Hello Sarah and lovers of Twig! I was born in Bologna, Italy and after graduating in Decoration at the Academy of Fine Arts I moved to London. My first job as an Interior Decorator pushed me to get a Masters in Interior Design in Barcelona, which is where I now live and where I discovered the wonderful world of natural dyes. I also design prints and patterns for wallpapers and textiles that I self-produce within my studio, All The Fruits. 

  • Where did the term ‘Blee’ come from and what was your inspiration?
Blee is an English archaic word for “colour” or “hue”. I have always been a huge lover of colour, especially in textiles. I love textiles that have a strong history, with a traditional technique tied to a specific culture or folk art. A couple of years ago I spent six months working in India. That’s where I got in contact with local producers and craftspeople and witnessed how much they were still connected to ancient techniques of printing and dyeing. It was fascinating and I immediately fell in love with those beautifully rich and earthy tones.

Natural dyes also have a sustainability appeal, knowing that the textile and dyeing industry is one of the most polluting in the world. I think it’s great that we can extract rich colours from waste material that we come across everyday in our kitchen or at our local park. 

  • How long is the process of hand-dying the cotton yarn?
There’s various approaches to dyeing by hand. The quickest method involves scouring the fabric (2-3 hours), treating it with a mordant to fix the colour onto the fibre (at least 24 hours), extracting colour from the chosen source (from 30 to 120 minutes), then finally dyeing the fabric which can take from 5 minutes for pastel hues to 24 hours for dark hues depending on the plant. So the quickest method might take a few days. 

There are longer methods that use soy milk as a fixative, which alone takes one to two days. Solar dyeing is the ultimate slow dyeing method used: instead of using gas to heat the water, some plant dyers will keep their fabrics in a jar, under the sunlight, for weeks at a time, until they’re happy with the colour achieved.

Dyeing with Indigo is a completely different method. The colour intensity doesn’t depend on the duration and temperature of the immersion but by the number of dips. To give you an idea: the lighter blue cord used to make the 'Sky' pot has been dipped two times. The darker blue parts of the speckled Indigo pot 'Waterfall' have been immersed at least six times. Consider also the time for oxidation between dips of at least 15 minutes. Natural dyes are all about slowness and patience as you can already imagine! A general rule in natural dyeing is: the slower, the better… quite a life lesson. 

  • What is your favourite plant or vegetable to dye with?
At the moment I’m in love with madder for its amazing coral pink colour. Madder is a perennial wild plant and the dye is extracted from its roots. Its colour can range from a light peachy pink to a rich watermelon red and even burgundy. Maybe it’s because we are in summer, but I’m loving it!

Honourable mention also to onion skins: amazing rich colour with a crazy wide range from champagne yellows to deep burnt oranges, super easy to find and to dye with, and they're free!  

  • Can you use any vegetable as a dye?  
No. We might be tricked into thinking that vegetables like Red Cabbage or Beetroot would make a good dye but their colour would quickly fade and wash away despite the use of a fixative.

Vegetables and plants that contain tannins are recommended for dyeing fabric. Tannins are natural compounds present in seeds, leaves, bark and fruits. They act as a natural mordant and help the dye to bond with the fibre. A few examples are Avocado skins and pits, Lavender leaves, Pomegranate skin, Pine cones, Eucalyptus leaves and so on. 

  • What has been the biggest challenge you have come up against so far?
The hardest process I've encountered is making the Indigo reaction work. It’s a chemical reaction so it’s not easy to nail at first. Many things can go wrong… maybe a wrong water ph, an incorrect water temperature, a wrong proportion of ingredient quantities …  so you have to wait for a good star alignment, pray you found the right method, pamper it a bit and give it a go with no expectations whatsoever, asking him nicely to please, please work. 

  • Where does indigo dye come from?
Indigo is the one and only natural blue. It’s a powder extracted from the leaves of the indigo plant (Indigofera Tinctoria). Another way to dye with Indigo is to harvest fresh leaves from the plant and blend them to obtain a dye bath. This method gives a stunning turquoise blue. I haven’t tried it yet, as it involves owning a few indigo plants, and that would mean planting the seeds myself and waiting for them to grow. Hopefully one day.  

  • What vegetables or techniques are you looking forward to experimenting with next?
I’m working on greens. Ironically, the hardest colour to obtain from plants. There are some ready-made extracts made with extracted chlorophyllyn but it’s not as natural a process as with other plants extracts. So the alternative is over-dyeing yellows and blues; I’m still trying to nail the perfect recipe. 

And of course, the next colour range for Twig!

Thank you so much for reading, I hope it was inspiring. Please let us know what colours you’d like to see in the next range of Twig pots! And if you’d like to ask anything to me or Sarah please feel free to do so.

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