I’m really excited to share the next instalment of the ‘Inspired By Nature’ series with you today. I first came across this lady on Instagram and just loved the creativity and colours in her feed. She is a natural dyer, who loves to forage for plants. Last year she wrote and self published her first print book. When she’s not dying scarves, fabric and wooden beads, she is experimenting with plants and kitchen waste such as avocado skins, pomegranate skins and tea bags to make dye. She also has an E-book available, which I can throughly recommend. It’s a brilliant guide if you want to try your hand at natural dyeing but don’t know where to start.
Please welcome Rebecca Desnos…
What is it about nature that inspires you?
For me, I’m inspired by the colours of nature: the colours that we can see and also the hidden colours that are inside the plants waiting to be released. With plant dyeing, often you can’t predict the colour of the dye by looking at the colour of the plant. There are a lot of surprises! For example, many green leaves produce other colours ranging from pinks and peaches to browns. So there’s always the excitement of trying a new plant to see what colour it will give in the dye pot.
I actually only do my dyeing in my spare time as my main job is being a full time mum to a three year old. If my son is going through a phase of sleeping in late in the mornings, then I use this time to get some work done. If I’m working on a book, then I will type up some words on my phone as soon as they come to me when I wake up. Then I email them to myself so I can transfer them onto the computer later. I also try to catch up on Instagram first thing in the morning before he is awake, and will reply to comments and even post a photo if I have one ready.
From then, my days vary considerably and some days I don’t have time to work on anything and other days I do. If I want to do some dyeing, then I just put some plants in a pot of water and leave them to heat slowly. It’s just like cooking, so it’s easy to have a few things on the go in the background whilst doing other things. I always put the timer on in the kitchen to remind me there’s something heating as it’s so easy to forget!
Then we just get on with our day and either go out for a walk or do whatever else we need to. I will get back to dyeing or writing later in the day, if and when I have time. When my son becomes engrossed in playing with something, I use this as an opportunity to do some work. I should probably be cleaning, but instead I will work on my book for a short while, or take a photo to post on Instagram.
If I’m doing something like oiling beads and threading necklaces, then we do it together. He’s good at oiling the beads, then I give him a bowl of beads to make his own necklaces and quickly get on and string my own.
It’s a juggling act and no two weekdays are the same. At the weekend, things are a bit different as my husband is at home and this gives me more opportunity to do things that I need to. Natural dyeing started as a hobby and now is my (part time) work too, but it’s such a passion of mine that nothing ever feels like work. I could happily spend all day “working” and it would never get boring!
Do you have a favourite season, and what particularly inspires you about that season?
Spring and summer are when there are the most plants available to use. Plants are popping up everywhere throughout spring and there’s the anticipation of waiting for favourite plants to be ready. Then there’s just so much choice through the summer, perhaps too much choice in fact! My list of plants kept growing last summer and I didn’t manage to try everything in the end. But there’s always next year – that’s the beauty of the seasons.
One option is to freeze or dry plants, but I don’t have much space for either, and I know that once I started, it would quickly get out of hand as I would keep collecting more and more. I like to use the plants that are in season at that particular time, as there’s always something new to try the next month.
In the autumn, there’s a carpet of leaves to collect and take home. The leaves will give a different colour in different seasons, so it’s exciting to try them at different points in the year.
How does nature impact the way you choose to live with your family?
In all honestly, I feel like we go out a lot more when it’s warmer in the spring and summer, and hibernate more in the autumn and winter. That’s probably why I managed to get my book written last winter, as we had more time at home. We don’t have a garden, but we visit local parks and in general we spend much longer outside in the warmer months.
During autumn our pockets are always full of treasures when we come back from walks. Recently, my son and I pressed lots of leaves together in my ancient flower press. We also draw the collections of things that we bring home with us and inevitably end up with little piles everywhere!
How does nature influence your work and business?
The local plant colours that I can make will vary throughout the year. In the spring and summer, I can make a beautiful yellow from gorse and also many other local flowers. Then, when these flowers aren’t in season anymore, I turn to pomegranate skins to make yellow, but I don’t feel as connected to the colours from bought ingredients, especially since they’re not grown in this country. It’s much more satisfying collecting my own plants. The same happens with pink: in the summer I have access to endless leaves that produce pink, such as willow and copper beech. Then I go back to my ever-faithful avocado skins when the leaves are no longer on the trees.
I’m inspired by what I see in nature, and use this as an inspiration for designs too. Anything can trigger an idea: the marbled colouration on a leaf I see may give an idea for dyeing a scarf in a particular pattern. The way colours sit together in nature also give ideas for putting colours together.
I believe that nature knows best… Do you have any examples of when you feel that nature has taught you something about yourself.
Oh yes, this is so true! I think the main way I’ve experienced this is how nature will determine the colour that a plant will produce. Even if I’ve read in a book that a plant will make a certain colour and that’s the colour I’m really hoping for, ultimately the results cannot be controlled. I’ve tried to shift colours in the past by adding acid (vinegar) and alkali (bicarbonate of soda) but this only works with certain plants, and often it’s just not worth the fuss. Sometimes colours just can’t be replicated, as the plants produce different shades throughout the year and I may need to wait until the following year to get the same colour again. This can be frustrating, but when you are working with nature, this just has to be accepted and actually embraced. It’s taught me to let go of preconceptions and just let things evolve.
Now I use the same philosophy with my work and just don’t try to force things too much. If something isn’t going “right”, then I just move onto something else and try again in the future. I try to accept that some things just aren’t meant to be.
What advice would you give to others wanting to live more in tune with nature. Where can they begin?
Natural dyeing is the perfect way to be more connected with nature, as you become more aware of the plants during each season. It gives you more of a reason to go out for walks and explore new places, constantly searching for new plants.
I’m interested in whether nature helps us slow down and supports a slow living lifestyle. What are your thoughts on whether working with nature helps you live in a more mindful and wholehearted way, do you agree?
Yes, I definitely think so. I’ve found that working with plants has made me slow down a lot. When I began natural dyeing several years ago, I was more concerned about the final result than the process, so I bought powdered dyes and used much quicker methods. But I realised that I got more enjoyment from gathering the plants myself, and using much slower processes for extracting the colour. Sometimes it takes a few days for a plant to give its colour in the dye pot, but since the process is such a pleasure, the results are worth waiting for. It feels much more rewarding than any other method of dyeing.
Now I do everything slowly and some projects will take many months to complete; I just do a little bit at a time and it will eventually be finished. That’s how I wrote and self-published my first book. I think that embracing the slow nature of plant dyeing has made me slow down with everything I do.
There is more information about Rebecca and what she does here, plus there are also links to buy her book.
If you want to catch up with the rest of the ‘Inspired By Nature’ series so far you can do so here.
All photos courtesy of Rebecca Desnos