Truly creative endeavors are rife with human goodness and a touch of magic. From experience, we have learned that if the artisan has a depth of knowledge, innate goodwill, and real creative light within them, somehow a bit of that can be infused into the object created. As a customer or buyer, instead of simply partaking, we become patrons of the art. By purchasing and using the object in our homes, or giving it as a gift, we take part in sharing some of that knowledge, goodness, and creative light among those we love. We become an integral part in the creative process through monetarily sustaining the craft and creatively using the product for years to come. 

On a personal level, I find myself waffling between the roles of creator, educator, and consumer. The "work-life balance" is a challenge as a small business owner and too often I treat life as a balancing act; attempting to give equal time and effort to each role required of me, weighing them on the scales of importance. Instead of balance the goal should be harmony. Like an orchestra playing a symphony, with a measure dominated by one instrument or another, but ultimately it comes together to create a beautiful harmony. There are moments and measures for each role to take a dominant position, before retreating to the background.


Our Creator Series features the different makers behind the products at Heirloom Art Co. and is designed to help all of us recognize the seasons of life where we get to be all of the above as well as learn about the people who are doing beautiful things.  One of the things I love about the digital world is the access that it gives us to a wealth of beauty, resources, and extraordinary people. One of my favorite creators to follow from the last few years is The Dogwood Dyer . She so elegantly blends the roles of creator, educator, and mother with her craftsmanship. We are beyond excited to be collaborating with Liz to share more about her form of art, her eye for natural beauty, and a shared passion for educating more people in the craft of natural dyes. 

Liz, the incredible artist behind The Dogwood Dyer brand, graciously answered a few of our eager questions about natural dyeing, her inspiration, and shares a little insight into the beauty she finds in the process. We hope that you will get to know and admire her just like we do, and will be inspired to learn more. She is a master dyer, but also a teacher. She used the flowers from her garden to print a selection of our white cotton nightgowns available here. She only printed six nightgowns in a variety of sizes, so if you love one, don't hesitate. If you are interested in learning more about natural dyes subscribe to her course,  "A Year in Natural Dyes", and learn to print your own white cotton nightgown

Creator: Liz Spencer, The Dogwood Dyer

Where did you learn your craft? 

I first encountered natural dyeing while pursuing an MA at the London College of fashion 10 years ago. I was studying sustainable fashion and had the opportunity to collaborate with a group of community members in Hackney on building a dye garden. I learned quite a bit with Cordwainers Garden that first year and taught my first few small dye demonstration workshops.  From that experience of learning quite literally from seed all the way to color on cloth (which took about 15 months- conveniently the amount of time my course ran) I was addicted through and through to natural dyes and growing color. I also learned quite a bit about natural dyes from participating in an internship at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn upon moving back to the states called Sewing Seeds. The dye plant CSA created there by my mentor Isa Rodrigues was innovative and pioneering in providing accessible and accurate knowledge on natural dyes to the city residents or anyone interested in the provenance of natural dye color. Since then I’ve been tinkering and learning each year mostly through studio practice and the occasional collaboration as my practice continues.


Where do you find inspiration? 

Because I teach quite a bit I find so much inspiration in being with others around natural dyes. Never without fail is there some incredible new result or question that sparks an idea while I’m teaching from a student or participant in my workshops. And as long as I garden and grow my own color- I’ll have an ever flowing list of ideas and inspiration for application of my craft- the botanical world and potential color  interactions with textiles feels infinite. 


What materials do you use and why is the materiality important to you?

Because of the nature of my process- natural dyeing- I am limited to working only with natural materials- primarily organic cotton, linen, hemp, silk, wool, etc. And for making color there are countless plants that I grow and source responsibly for making color- everything from common flowers like cosmos and coreopsis, to more unique and historically and chromatically important plants like indigo, weld and madder, to natural metal salts like aluminum and iron as fixatives for color. 

Materiality makes this process very satisfying for me in contrast to using something like synthetic dyes- it’s a holistically sensory experience that engages the eyes, the nose, the hands, etc. The sights sounds and smells of the studio feed the soul when a garden is involved. 


What does your process look like?

Natural Dyeing is labor intensive but well worth the work! To boil it down to basics: first I start with a fabric or garment that must be washed and cleaned well (a step that many who start in natural dyes don’t realize the importance of until they skip it and end up with disappointing results), then I pre-treat the fabric or garment with a natural fixative called a ‘mordant’- this can be a combination of tannin rich plant extracts like oak or chestnut with common metal salts like alum and iron. Then the fabric or garment can finally then be dyed or printed with botanicals, then washed and loved. 


What has this art form done for you personally?

This work truly is meditative for me because of the length of the predictive process always though with a rewarding twist of surprise at the end. Much of the working rigor comes as second nature after having walked through the many preparation steps countless times, and I can know with confidence what will generally be effective because of certain truths of natural dye science- but there is always some element that comes as a surprise when I’m finally revealing the finished piece- whether its the way a flower printed on a particular substrate or cloth or in combination with a particular mordant or how a plant color has changed through the season with varying environmental factors (like goldenrod dye that is the zingiest yellow if harvested in the early summer, and can result in a warm golden mustard if harvested in the fall). It’s the balance of dedication to the rhythm of the process with the reward of the possible unknown result that will likely keep me in this art form for 10 more years to come. 


Do you train apprentices or have a way of helping your craft to extend its longevity?

I’ve taught many people in natural dyes and hope that my enthusiasm for plant color has proven at least a little bit infectious.

If you are interested in learning more about the beautiful process of natural dyeing, we invite you to subscribe to The Dogwood Dyer's digital course  "A Year in Natural Dyes". This course is beautifully designed to teach you several projects each month using different dye-rich natural plants. Honestly, it is one of the best purchases I have made this year, and costs less that going out for lunch. It is so worth it. 

Shop our Flower Printing collection to purchase a hand-printed nightgown or start creating your own flower printed nightgowns.

July 22, 2022 — Chelsey Newbould

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