Guest post by Bryony Phipps

Natural dyeing is an ancient technique; before synthetic dyes were developed in the mid 19th century, pigments from natural sources were the only option for dyeing textiles and provided a surprisingly rich and versatile spectrum of colour. They have now been replaced almost entirely by the reliability and convenience of synthetic dyes on a commercial level.

The practice is still kept alive by dedicated artisans around the world who are championing a return to slower, more hands-on methods of production. Modern natural dyers are eschewing uniformity in favour of the mysterious, more romantic notions of natural dyes, and in a sense are providing an antidote to an increasingly technologically driven world.

The jury is still out on how much more sustainable natural dyes are in comparison to synthetic dyes on the whole, and this is due to the amount of land and natural resources needed to produce natural dyestuffs. For example, as many as 13 acres of land are needed to grow enough dye for one acre of cotton. Natural dyeing offers an alternative to mass manufacturing, and it encompasses a broader ethical approach, fostering an appreciation for the making process and understanding of the natural world. One such studio that embodies this philosophy is Botanical Inks, based in Bristol.

Founded by artist and designer Babs Behan, Botanical Inks offer small-scale dyeing services for designers and businesses as well as a range of workshops and courses on natural dyeing and printing techniques for those intrigued to experience the process themselves. Inspired by ‘closed loop' design principles, Babs takes a holistic approach, re-engaging with the making process and fostering an awareness for the local environment through foraging for natural resources. The workshops provide an opportunity to tap into Babs’s expertise, and get creative with a variety of interesting techniques.

Babs will be hosting a workshop on Bundle Dyeing with Flowers and Plants on 18 May, 6.30-9pm at The Bristol Textile Quarter. To book your ticket, click here.

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