While neons may be in for a season, or bright, bold candy shop shades, in the longer term, the most classic, soothing, coherent colours for decorating are always those derived or inspired by the natural world. As interest in where our food, clothes and furniture comes from blossoms, so too is a renewed curiosity about natural dyes. One pioneer of botanical colour, who is documenting and opening up the ancient art of dying with plants and other natural materials is Rebecca Desnos.
Rebecca describes herself as a storyteller, and she is keen to share her expertise, built up of years of working with plants as a natural dyer, offering courses and books on the subject, each featuring beautiful examples of her own work.
While many plants give a clear indication of what colour they will produce, the natural world still keeps some surprises. For example who knew that avocados produce a beautiful, soft, dare we say it, Millennial pink colour?
As Rebecca is a vegan, she uses only fabrics and dying materials and processes that do not use animal products. Unusually, instead of the more familiar alum as a mordant (the substance that binds the dye to the cloth), she uses soya milk. She often works with tannin-rich plants, in which the natural tannins work as a mordant themselves, and offer a surprisingly deep and rich range of shades. “Some of my favourite tannin-rich plants are avocado skins and stones (for pink and peach),” Rebecca says, “pomegranate skins (for yellow), tea (brown), alder cones (golden caramel shades) and nettles (greys and deep earthy greens).”
One of the most enjoyable facets of the life of a natural dyer is the closeness to the natural world that it fosters, and how the plants available to dye with change throughout the year. She shares her explorations – and often refers to her work as ‘play’ – on a blog, via Instagram, and in a book, Botanical Colour at Your Fingertips, and is a great advocate for a life lived with less waste and more in tune with nature and the seasons.
‘Botanical Colour at Your Fingertips’ by Rebecca Desnos is available here.