Komposition aus Pflanzen Farbtönen in Grün

The secret of many plants!

How do I dye unique shades with materials from nature?

In recent years, dyeing with plants has once again become a trendy topic. This is not a surprise to Dorothea Flaskamp. Even after more than 40 years of dyeing with plants, she talks enthusiastically about her dyeing workshops. The next one is in June. As always, the workshop takes place in her large natural garden in Linnich, Germany.

In her work­shops on 'Dyeing nat­ur­ally with plants', she explains which leaves, flowers, roots, and barks dye nat­ur­al fibres like wool and silk into beau­ti­ful colors. 'Learn­ing by doing' is her motto and so the par­ti­cipants exper­i­ence how import­ant the pre­par­a­tion of the dyeing mater­i­al is - the pick­ling of the fibers, the ratio of dyeing mater­i­al to the dyeing pulp, the appro­pri­ate tem­per­at­ure of the dye decoc­tion and that the air only devel­ops the blue dye with indigo. These are only one of many tips and tricks that Dorothea likes to pass on to the par­ti­cipants.

Dyeing naturally with plants: the nettle

What color shade do you dye with nettle? This ques­tion puts a big smile on Dorothea’s face:

“One Color? If I could give you an easy answer on this. The picked nettle leaves can be freshly cooked into a decoc­tion – or used in dried form. Are they picked in spring or autumn? Is the earth nutri­ent-rich or has it rained a lot? These are all factors that influ­ence the yellow-green hues. But it is always a won­der­ful nat­ur­al color. The dye pro­cess with nettle can create about 20 dif­fer­ent tones.”

At the begin­ning of her work with nat­ur­al colors, Dorothea doc­u­ments and researches a great deal. Since quite some time she has stopped doing this. Now she just enjoys the dying pro­cess. And of course, she likes to share her know­ledge and expert­ise with others.

How to dye a shade of blue with natural materials?

Before the syn­thet­ic­ally pro­duced indigo is used as a blue dye, the woad (Isatis tinc­tor­ia) is the plant that gives the fab­rics a blue color tone in Europe. Not the bright yellow flowers of the woad are used for the dye but the leaves con­tain the dying mater­i­al. Entire regions in France, Eng­land and Ger­many have benefited from the cul­tiv­a­tion and pro­cessing of this spe­cial plant. The unique blue tone cannot only be found in tex­tiles but is used for wood col­or­ing and plaster paints. The plant and the blue hues add a unique colored look to these local regions. Some vil­lage com­munit­ies in Thuringia in the east­ern part of Ger­many are again cul­tiv­at­ing the woad as a dyeing plant. Recent stud­ies show also that the woad extract is a per­fect nat­ur­al wood pre­ser­vat­ive. Yet anoth­er secret of this plant.

"Even a 100 years ago many plants grew in kit­chen gar­dens, in the forest and on green strips around the fields. Unfor­tu­nately, they have dis­ap­peared in the course of con­ven­tion­al agri­cul­tur­al cul­tiv­a­tion and syn­thet­ic pig­ment pro­duc­tion. They may also not be col­lec­ted for nature con­ser­va­tion reas­ons. In one's own garden, for example, dyer's bugloss (Reseda luteo­la) and madder (Rubia tinc­tori­um) can be grown. Carrot greens, walnut leaves, onion peels and rhu­barb roots can also be used for dyeing."

Fast Fashion vs. Slow Fashion

Like Dorothea, major ‘green’ cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers also source some of their nat­ur­al dyes from India. She imports nat­ur­al indigo and madder from India, and coch­ineal louse from the Canary Islands. Many other nat­ur­al dying mater­i­als still come from Europe. The nat­ur­al dyes are much more expens­ive than chem­ic­al dyes. They are also not avail­able in suf­fi­cient quant­it­ies for the global Fast Fash­ion tex­tile pro­duc­tion. Many devel­op­ing coun­tries still have lower envir­on­ment­al stand­ards. So the chem­ic­ally pro­duced dyes with toxic con­tents and metal­lic addit­ives cause health prob­lems for the work­ers on site.  There­fore also the end con­sumer may not fully enjoy these syn­thet­ic dyed tex­tiles and gar­ments. Dorothea knows these facets of the tex­tile industry. She works as a tex­tile engin­eer in German insti­tutes after her uni­ver­sity degree. Part of her work is to test indus­tri­ally dyed tex­tiles.

En vogue!  Natural dyes for apparel

In the 1980s, organ­ic farms and food shops estab­lish them­selves in Ger­many. The first eco­lo­gic­al tex­tiles create an aware­ness of lim­ited nat­ur­al resources. Dorothea is also enthu­si­ast­ic about this new trend. She starts her first dyeing exper­i­ments with nat­ur­al col­ours and mater­i­als. She researches and doc­u­ments her work and imparts her newly gained know­ledge in vari­ous courses.  She estab­lishes her small man­u­fact­ory for tex­tile products made from 100% wool felt.

Dorothea dis­covered today's approach 'away from buying fast fash­ion' a long time ago. Of course, she keeps the treas­ure of her first self-dyed and sewn favor­ite jacket care­fully wrapped up.

"Dyeing wool with my hands, weav­ing a fabric out of it and sewing a jacket out of this mater­i­al, I always found this very appeal­ing. This pro­cess has a spe­cial charm and still excites me!"

What wishes do you have for the next few years?

"I like to con­tin­ue with my work. To advise my cus­tom­ers on the choice of dyes and other products. To organ­ize and con­duct my pop­u­lar work­shops. I simply like to share my enthu­si­asm for nature's dyeing treas­ures. As long as pos­sible I want to con­tin­ue pro­cessing mater­i­als with my own hands. And I still want to share this with many people. I just bought two new looms and I am in the pro­cess of trying them out. There is also a semi-mech­an­ic­al / elec­tron­ic one. Now I don't have to tie the shafts bent over on the floor. What a relief."      She adds with a smile.

Dyeing wool into beau­ti­ful shades of blue with her indigo dyeing recipe and weav­ing a piece of fabric on her loom still inspires Dorothea. The result is a sus­tain­able favour­ite piece like this scarf, which pro­tects and keeps her warm on a cold winter's day.

Her approach to work­ing 'in and with' nature is evid­ent in many ways. Her garden is a green oasis used to facil­it­ate her dye work­shops.  The green­house, the fruit- and veget­able garden and the chick­en house provide all organ­ic pro­duce. Of course, a vari­ety of spe­cial colors can be dis­covered all around her nat­ur­al garden.

Name: Dorothea Flaskamp

She is:

Tex­tile engin­eer, Nat­ur­al Color expert and offers many dif­fer­ent tex­tile work­shops

Her studio is loc­ated in:

Lin­nich, near the cities of Aachen, Cologne und Dus­sel­dorf, Ger­many

She likes:

work­ing in her veget­able and per­en­ni­al garden, city trips in Ger­many, exhib­i­tions of 'Clas­sic­al Mod­ern­ism', the tour at the art academy in Düs­sel­dorf, when the stu­dents have their annual exhib­i­tion, pho­to­graphy and taking pic­tures

She admires:

all doc­tors who work for 'Doc­tors without Bor­ders' and in crisis areas

Her WIASOLA tip:

"Be curi­ous! Always look for and take on new chal­lenges "

Her favor­ite Museums and Archi­tec­ture:

Museen Langen Fond­a­tion auf der Raketen­station Hom­broi­ch, Neuss,  near Dus­sel­dorf, Ger­many, designed by Tadao Ando

Museum FONDATION BEYELER  CH-4125 Riehen/Basel, Switzer­land, designed by Renzo Piano

This small but very spe­cial Museum  about German stained glass art:  ‚Deutsches Glas­malerei-Museum‘ in Lin­nich where Dorothea lives!

To be found under:

Her work­shops:

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