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.
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.