Volume 17 Issue 2 A Journal Dedicated to Natural Dyes Spring 2012

An antipodean dyer at ISEND 2011, La Rochelle, France
By Di McPherson

Last April, I attended ISEND 2011 (International Symposium and Exhibition on Natural Dyes) in La Rochelle, France and gave a dye demonstration there. The title of my dye demonstration was "The extraction of dyes from Australian native plants and the use of shibori techniques to decorate cotton, silk and wool textiles." It took place in the large dyeing demonstrations area in the modern Espaces Congrès Encan, where ISEND 2011 was held. There were 8-10 flexible cubicles in this area, thus allowing for simultaneous dye workshops.

Participants at the dye demonstration
Participants at the dye
Photograph Copyright by Christopher Cowles

Before leaving Australia I had dried and weighed the foliage from Excocarpos cupressiformis (native cherry), Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) and and Eucalyptus Cordata (silver gum) to use in my demonstration. I put the Eucalyptus Cordata leaves to soak in water the day before my demonstration to ensure the color would be released and ready for use the next day.

As part of the symposium, four morning excursions were offered to attendees. This took place on the same day as my demonstration. My selected sea-shore visit was informative and well organized, thus allowing enough time to set up my dyeing area in the afternoon. I collected the previously requested equipment from the special store and arranged the dye pots and gas burners on two individual tables. Two other tables were pushed together to form a large work surface, with a few chairs placed around it. A display of my work on the cubicle walls included pieces with the same dye colors to be extracted from the leaves—Eucalyptus cordata, (a brick red color), Eucalyptus globulus (light brown) and Excocarpos cupressiformis (yellow). There were samples illustrating my use of organic and man-made objects to create patterns: rubber bands, rusty nails, gum nuts, soya beans, clamps, string, clothes pegs, wire, chop sticks, and so on. These, and information sheets I had brought with me were on the table, along with silk, cotton and mordanted wool for participants to use.

The very strong aroma of the eucalyptus leaves simmering in my pots permeated the building, and so, before the official "starting time", people were flocking to my demonstration area. They clustered around the pots, curious to see how the dyes were extracted from the leaves, and asked many questions about the preparation, time taken, use of mordants and so forth.

Preparing shibori samples
Preparing shibori
Photograph Copyright by Christopher Cowles

The time waiting for the dyes to be released provided an opportunity to demonstrate some simple shibori techniques. These included using gum nuts tied with rubber bands in a piece of silk, and inserting and tying rusty objects into folded cotton fabric.

Ready for dyeing
Ready for dyeing
Photograph Copyright by Christopher Cowles

Many of the observers stayed and created their own designs. Taking a piece of fabric and the organic and metallic materials provided, they then dyed it in the color of their choice. More people came to look, some of them staying and others moving on. At one point there were so many people seeking my attention that I was grateful my husband, Chris Cowles (who presented a poster to the Symposium), was there to help me with the dye pots. When the fabric samples began to run out, those remaining were torn in half, and based on this, I estimate that there were more than eighty participants at my workshop demonstration.

Di McPherson with dyers she met in Okinawa in 2005
Di McPherson with dyers
            she met in Okinawa in 2005
Photograph Copyright by Christopher Cowles

Annette de la Fayette and Dominique Cardon are to be congratulated on their ability to bring so many people together from around the world so that we could all experience this highly successful symposium. My attendance at ISEND 2011 was made possible with the assistance of the Australian Government's Regional Arts Fund.

Dr. Jenny Balfour Paul, Dr. Dominique Cardon, Anne de la Sayette,
Di McPherson and Trudi Pollard
Dr. Jenny Balfour Paul,
            Dr. Dominique Cardon, Anne de la Sayette, Di McPherson and
            Trudi Pollard
Photograph Copyright by Christopher Cowles