Autumn Equinox: Colors of Nature

My walnut ink

At Autumn Equinox, we savor the bittersweet delights of a late garden: plaintive call of migrating geese overhead; the hint of fragrance released when brushing against lemon balm and basil; the unparalleled sweetness of the last tomatoes; and, as the seasonal slant of light slows down their production of chlorophyll – which harnesses daylight’s energy to transform carbon dioxide into the plant’s food the scent and blaze of fall’s first leaves. 

Indigo leaves before cooking in dye bath

Toyon leaves in dye bath

This year, I celebrated by indulging a longtime obsession: dyeing fibers with natural ingredients. As my own experience is limited to using beets and walnuts for inks and dyes, I took a class put on by Daily Acts and Fibershed – both local organizations promoting sustainable practices that build community. The class was held at Red Twig Farm – where this nearby farmer has turned her garden into a classroom, teaching how to sustainably feed communities and using her knowledge of chemistry to create beautiful natural fabrics.

Another resource we have is the innovator with natural dyes, regional treasure Dorothy Beebee. The longtime scientific artist and mushroom expert illustrated the seminal guide Mushrooms for Color, and for years has taught classes, emphasizing the use of less toxic mordants (which bind dyes to fibers) in the dyeing process.

Local artist Ane Carla Rovetta performs alchemy, making her art materials from natural ingredients such as carbon soot, iron, redwood cones, oak galls, walnuts, sumac, bay wood, soils and stone. To bind ingredients to surfaces, she mixes in milk, buttermilk, egg yolk or whites, soap, tree saps or soy. Rovetta even makes her own paper. A biologist by education, she began her career by creating botanical illustrations for local field guides.

During this time of late harvests and the turning of the year into the darkness of winter, I especially appreciate these wonderful local resources, which emphasize working together creatively to lighten our footprints on the planet. I love the idea of growing or foraging for these ingredients on a nearby hike or camping trip, and making them into useful products that forgo mass-produced equivalents and carry on our connection to the natural world.

Plants and their dyed fibers (clockwise from top left): indigo, marigold, toyon, coreopsis, oak galls, black walnuts, Hopi black sunflower





About thislittleplot

Writer, hiker, loafer
This entry was posted in Conservation, Garden, Nature, Seasons, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Autumn Equinox: Colors of Nature

  1. utherben says:

    Happy October, friend! This was such an inspiring post to wake up to, with its mix of crafty endeavor and ecological networking between creative people. :)

  2. Shonna says:

    I absolutely loved reading this post. What delightful pictures, so glad you have made your own walnut ink… dreamy! I feel so alive at this time of year, Samhain is coming, and to see what you’ve been up to is inspiring. You make me think about creative things I might do in the new year. Thank you!

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