Iviva Olenick

Natural Dye workshops with indigo, pokeberry, rudbeckia, 2018–2019

Indigo dyeing workshops, NYC, 2019

In 2017, I began growing indigo from seed in my Brooklyn apartment after reading the legend of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, credited with having made indigo a North Carolina cash crop from 1745–75. Understanding the role enslaved laborers played in indigo’s success, including applying cultural knowledge of how to grow indigo and extract pigment, I decided to try producing indigo from seed to dye as a performance of labor and empathy. In the process, I began learning cultural, technical and social global indigo traditions, which I share in free, public workshops at several NYC sites, including Old Stone House and Wyckoff House, Brooklyn, and GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden, all three of which provide free space and plant care in exchange for my public workshops and knowledge. While I grow seeds at home, I plant seeds with friends around NYC, and the Education Greenhouse of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden also sows seeds.

Below is some imagery from workshops this summer.

Japanese indigo grown from seed at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden.
Participant in free indigo dyeing workshop at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden separating indigo leaves from stems. Only the leaves contain blue pigment. 9-14-2019
Participants continue preparing to dye fabrics blue by separating indigo leaves from stems and collecting leaves in a bowl. Free workshop at GrowNYC’s Teaching Garden, 9-14-2019.
After separating leaves from stems, dyers pour salt onto the leaves, and massage the leaves and salt onto silk fabrics, releasing the pigment onto the fabric. Free indigo dyeing workshop at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden, 9-14-2019. Photograph by Sina Basila.
Participant massaging salt and indigo leaves onto silk fabric to extract and transfer the dye to the fabric. Free indigo dyeing workshop at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden, 8-24-2019. Participants included children and adults, ages 22–68. Photograph by Sina Basila.
Dyeing with indigo leaves requires time and patience. Senior participant in free, public workshop checks the progress of the dyeing process, seeing the color begin to oxidize from green to teal. GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden, 8-24-2019. Photo by Sina Basila.
Silk fabrics dyed with fresh indigo leaves turn from green to turquoise to blue through the chemical process of oxidation. Participants in free indigo dyeing workshop at GrowNYC’s Governors Island Teaching Garden wait for fabrics to oxidize and dry while learning to weave or harvesting additional indigo. 9-14-2019

Natural dye workshops, NYC, 2018

In addition to growing and dyeing with indigo, I forage for and collect other plant matter found around NYC. At a natural dyeing and embroidery workshop at Wyckoff Farm in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, summer 2018, we used Rudbeckia flowers and pokeberry found on the farm to create natural dyes. We simmered these in separate dye pots and added alum, a pickling salt, as a mordant. After an hour of simmering, we added silk handkerchiefs.

Rudbeckia flowers simmering to make dye, summer 2018, Wyckoff Farm, Brooklyn, NY.
Even our dye stirrer came from the farm at Wyckoff House, summer 2018.
Pokeberries grow wild throughout NYC. We collected some from Wyckoff Farm to put in a dye pot. With so few berries, our resulting color wasn’t very saturated. Summer 2018.
Pokeberry stains hands.
Pokeberry dye on silk gives a pink-salmon hue. With more berries and a longer time in the dye pot, we could have achieved a richer color. Summer 2018 at Wyckoff Farm.