Until the very recent past, all dyes were natural, derived from vegetation, river-beds, the soil–the land. The world was arguably a far more harmonious place aesthetically, when paints and textiles reflected the regional colourings and resources, whereas nowadays there is often no longer any connection between the landscape and the unsuitable colours that appear at random anywhere–I remember a time when a bright yellow house appeared in our demure Somerset village, until the perpetrators of the crime realised they’d made a bit of a mistake! There is a reason we all love the South of France, Florence and Petra, the village cultures of Peru, Bolivia and Rajasthan- for the colouring of architecture and of textile: every colour is sympathetic to and in harmony with the surrounding environment and with the presiding spirit of the place: the pigments have literally come out of the ground.
Of course, there has always been some measure of global colour trading–it is really exciting to see something new and different, oriental dyes derived from lapis lazuli, turmeric or saffron dyes brought into Europe were highly prized. None of these colours are really new, of course, they just occur naturally and in enough quantity, somewhere else. Most colours are present across the globe, but the quantity and quality vary and some are more accessible than others; economic factors alone makes one area better known for it’s colour than another.
Textiles and floor rugs – especially kilims, dhurries, crewel works and hand block prints – from every tribe, culture and civilisation were all traditionally vegetable dyed; unsurprisingly it is these older pieces that remain collectors items, sought after for their beautiful, timeless and characterful colourings, the subtle ‘imperfections’ of tone and hue are, in fact, perfect.
The new chemically dyed products, which are neither desirable nor valued in the same way-however clever the shade charts are, the subtley and ability to age gracefully just can’t be matched, or manufactured.
It’s very easy to throw away an evenly coloured, sterile piece of fabric, but very difficult to dispose of anything with life, nuance and character, hand-made and hand-dyed–which is where recycling becomes the obvious thing to do, and why good carpets become rugs, trunk covers, cushions or even bags. This is something we are always keen to do.
“The best way to stop waste is to stop making ugly things.”