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The Art of Dyeing : Turning Food into Fashion

Where food and fashion intersect

These days we’re caring more about what goes into our food, looking for ‘whole’ ingredients, frothing over garden to table, farm to fork, activated everything. In questioning what is in food we’re educating ourselves in slower processes and alternatives to artificial products. Why not apply the same lens when looking at clothing?  Making use of plant fibres and food scraps taps into that slow food movement and brings food and fashion closer – a meal also becomes a colourant!

Finally, an excuse to eat avocados forever!

The colours can come from foods we are familiar with –  carrot tops, cabbage, onions, coffee, avocados, berries. Without mordents or ‘fixers’ like alum these colours might fade or change over time, but means these dyes are food safe and non toxic.
The whole process is a kind of beautiful chaos and means there’s a shift in the mindset that permanent or predictable colour is the norm.

While on assignment in Peru recently I spent a few days learning the art of dyeing with a Peruvian master dyer in the mountains. We scoured the landscape in search of plants, barks and berries to boil in large pots in his backyard and dye a rainbow of alpaca yarns. (Photos coming soon I promise!)
Since that experience I’ve been interested in learning more about the process and seeing how people are using techniques here in New York.

Amongst the hops vines on the TinyField roofhop farm last week I met a group of women who share the same passion for experimenting with natural dyeing techniques. Faye of Sustaining.Life led a workshop in dyeing with onion skins, avocado pits and coffee grounds on 100% cotton and silk.

Tied fabrics using a Shibori technique in the dye baths

Faye and Gaby hanging up fabrics to dry

Bringing the process home

I like the idea of using every part of something and having little or nothing to throw away. So much so I often do weird things like cut up clothes when I’m over them to give them a new life. Or use old vegetables and fruits to make wacky photo projects.  Recently I’ve been making caramelised onion and goats cheese tarts for a few potlucks and have been saving up the red onion skins in the freezer to experiment with.

I dyed this white silk t shirt using a mix of those skins and some cranberries I found gathering icicles way in the back of the freezer. It came out this dusty pink colour – kind of an unintentional light shade of Millennial Pink.  The dress is a patterned vintage dress I over-dyed with old coffee grinds and some turmeric.

Vintage cotton patterned dress over-dyed with coffee grounds and turmeric, Silk t shirt dyed with red onion skins and cranberries

Having photographed substantially in both food and fashion I’m really enjoying seeing the ways these can be tied together and what initiatives people are driving. Please get in touch if you also share a love of making guacamole and millennial pinks!

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