Summer 2016 Natural Dye Series: Provencal Summer

In 2015, I had two amazing things happen: first, I met an amazing woman via Instagram named Lauren Chang.  Second, I visited Provence for the first time.   In a shining example of synchronicity, I am able to combine these wonderful events to introduce my first seasonal dye series: Summer in Provence.  This project at its heart was a collaboration of skills - using my handspun yarn and Lauren's knowledge and talent as a natural dyer.

After connecting last Summer, Lauren and I realized we have a tremendous amount in common - including a strikingly similar set of values and life goals.  I feel extremely blessed (not a word I often use) to now call her a friend.  

Lauren is a fellow spinner, dyer, and weaver in Chicago, IL.  After fifteen years conserving costume and textiles in museums in the US and UK, she returned to the wheel, dye pot, and loom to immerse herself in the human elements of textiles.  She selects materials and processes as extensions of her personal relationships, ultimately seeking a connection to land, ancestry, and the collective textile community past, present and future.  As a dyer she focuses on natural substances to create a palette - in this series, madder played a key role in creating the soft coral tones of Southern France.  

The second aspect of this collaboration - stems from my visit to a village in Provence called Roussillon.  Roussillon is well known for its beautifully colored architecture.  The town rests in an area rich in ochre - which imbues the natural materials used to construct homes and businesses.  The result is rich corals, oranges and reds - walls baked in the sun create a washed, watercolor effect.  


The process of creating this yarn is entirely powered by human energy and natural materials.  I hand spun Finn wool from Tennessee in two weights: bulky & DK/Worsted.  It is worth mentioning right now that I am deep in the middle of love affair with the Finnish Landrace sheep.  The reason? Its soft AND strong.  Despite its status as a medium wool, Finn has the soft feel of merino (ok maybe a little less soft, but you get the idea). But, because the staple is a bit longer, it will wear better, pill less and give whatever it is made into long life.  

The fiber also blooms like crazy when soaked - so the resulting yarn has incredible squish and bounce.   It also, incidentally, is a dye sponge.  Its ability to take up color makes it an ideal candidate for creating beautiful soft tones and gradients.

Once all spun up, the fiber went off to Chicago for Lauren to begin working on the natural dye process.  She first did extensive sampling - using madder, cochineal, and quebracho.  Based on these samples, we decided to proceed with madder and cochineal due to the soft corals and pinks we could achieve.

Inspired by the painterly, uneven wash effect of the architecture in Roussillon, Lauren was able to produce some soft color transitions in a subset of the hanks using madder - this yarn transitions from soft ecru to a deep coral.

The results using cochineal yielded some surprising results - a soft, dusty rose - almost lavender.  Quite different from our test samples, Lauren astutely realized there was something up.   After some discussion, we realized my bronze/copper soaking buckets were the catalyst for this happy accident - sensitive cochineal was deeply affected by even a brief soak.  The result is a true Boston to Chicago collaboration - the beautiful results will be posted in store later this Summer.

Learn more about Lauren and her work via her Instagram @cavs46

Shop the Summer in Provence hand spun yarn series here.