Botanical Dye

Lake Pigments

By Art, Botanical Dye, Botanical Ink, Experiments, Play, Process

I recently did an online lake pigment workshop with Natalie Stopka (I’d recommend) which was super informative and fun and has opened up a whole other dimension of exploring plant colour. Being able to transform exhausted dye baths into pigment powder colours is very useful since storing them can be difficult and often leads to mold and in my case rows of jars of murky liquids whose labels have fallen off.

The process is so alchemical and beautiful. There is frothing and fizzing and pools of deep colours as the pigments are filtered. Nothing is fixed and there are are so many changes, colours that start bright purple can end up pale pink.

m a g i c


By Botanical Dye, Ecology, Experiments, Process

The creation of the geodome for Sueños Botánicos meant quite a lot of leftover material from the off cuts as I formed triangles. I dreamed up the dome as a place to sleep, to contemplate our relationship with plants, to the world around us whilst cocooned inside plant colours. A patchwork quilt was then in some ways the obvious solution to make use of the waste.

I did not know how to thread the sewing machine without help before I started. * So thank you to my budding seamstress daughter and partner for their help. I also had no idea about how to make a quilt. I am amazed at what you can do with some YouTube tutorials. I wish I had the link to share but can’t retrace my internet steps. Darleen from America set me on an easy make triangles with two squares technique in a couple of minutes, for which I am eternally grateful.

I really enjoyed the process, the adventure. Finding solutions for problems of how to do various stages as I came across them. And also for the learning process and acceptance of imperfection. I like to be tidy and do things well. I have a bit of a perfectionist problem which leads to procrastination and paralysis. I embraced imperfection with this quilt. The points of the shapes do not meet. The thread is sometimes (often) tangled. I used different coloured threads because I was too impatient to wait until I could source the same coloured thread again. The material puckers in places. But I love it. I love that I created this beautiful tactile object. I love to wrap myself into it. I love that the imperfections are woven into it as part of a visible learning process.

Small bottles of ink made from plants and samples of the colours on strips of paper

Mapeo botánico

By Art, Botanical Dye, Workshop

Covid changed all of our plans.

I had been preparing my plant based ink experiments for an exhibition that suddenly disappeared. Adapting to new circumstances I take the ideas of the exhibition into the classroom. After a covid test. And after making individual bottles of ink for each student so that they can maintain social distance.

The preparation is laborious but I am happy that the children get the chance to play a little with the inks and modifiers. One of the classes takes place via Zoom, the materials having been sent a week earlier to quarantine in the school. This is a lot of work for the teachers who are present. I remain an entity on a screen attempting to guide the activity.

You can see photos and a write up (in Spanish) of one of the workshops here on the web page of the project BARBA-T:


By Botanical Dye, Process

Azofeifo process. Root to botanical dye, dyed fabric. Reduction ink painted on cotton paper. Thorns gathered form azofeifo tree piercing root ink paper.

Dye Process #3

By Botanical Dye, Process

Digging in the garden to make space to plant the guava tree we dug a bright orange red root, probably from the spikey azofeifa tree, known in English as Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba). I was curious to see if it would produce colour for dye as it was such a striking flame bright orange red. I chopped up the root and boiled it up. It did indeed produce a reddish orange colour, which faded to a muted red brown on material but stayed as a strong colour on paper.

Dye Process #2

By Botanical Dye, Process

I take my botanical ink and dye experiments to another level by getting systematic and methodical. More scientific in my exploration, which is very fruitful. It is chemistry and I like it.

I took an online course with Flora Arbuthnott which I would recommend. Something clicked and I was able to understand something more complete about using modifiers. I have read books on natural dyeing; India Flint, Botanical Inks and Jason Logan all were very interesting but it was seeing the experience, albeit virtually that helped me to understand the way the different reactions occur and the potential that exists for exploration.

A practical course can take place virtually, which is a very good thing for me, living rurally and having responsibilities that do not allow me to travel to do interesting courses, much as I’d like to.

sophie twiss art ecology

Dye Process #1

By Botanical Dye, Process

I throw myself chaotically into botanical dye. Once I start I want to try everything. I begin with the easiest things I have around me that I have already read make good dye colour. My neighbour has huge avacado trees so I have a supply of stones and skins, it makes a lovely pink.

I am a bit late for pomegranate though I manage to find old skins on the floor under the pomegranate trees that have been half eaten by rats and birds. I soak the skins and get a beautiful russet orange. I am also a bit late for walnut hulls but again am able to gather enough to experiment a little and get a darkish sepia brown.

I am unsuccessful with Eucalyptus, I see the blue and red that seeps from the dried leaves that have sat too long on our outdoor ceramic sink but I am unable to get anything other than a dull brown.

Tumeric root makes a good yellow orange and acebuche wild olives a deep blue / purple. I try just about every leaf or flower in my garden with varying results. Once I have started I am curious about everything.