Plant-based dyes at DDW 2019

Harmful dyes

The rivers around Tirupur are often red or purple with runoff from nearby factories – Image source: Getty Images

By now it is a known fact that the textile industry is one of the most pollutants releasing industries in the world. Especially as it the second greatest polluter of local freshwater in the world, of which most of our textiles are coloured using fossil-fuel based dyes.

Traditionally our clothes were dyed with plants and minerals, but cheap petrochemical colours have become the norm. One can imagine the effect of these colours, causing toxic waste in our landscapes and contaminating water and soil.

During the Dutch Design Week few designers and artists have been addressing this issue in various ways. Below the work of Julia Kaleta, Nicole Stjernswärd, Nienke Hoogvliet and Daniel Costa. 

A colour atlas

Julia Kaleta is a sustainable colour researcher and has developed the ‘Atlas of Sustainable Colour’. Through artistic research she explores non-toxic dyes. Not only is she exploring the use of herbs and plants in her research, but she is also looking at how naturally pigmented bacteria can be used for colouring textiles. The Atlas, a European database, is a compilation of shades and tones made of plants, herbs, food-leftovers and bacteria. These colour samples have been made by a number of natural dyers. Julia’s aim is to capture their knowledge in the Atlas and create a platform for (alternative) colour researchers, designers, dyeing companies. Further she is striving to raise awareness and inspire the fashion industry, so that they reconsider a different approach towards colouring textiles. She facilitates people from her network and brings the textile industry together for collaborations.

Colour samples created by various natural dyeing experts from across Europe, which are included in the ‘Atlas of Sustainable Colour’ – Image Source: Małgorzata Rej/Bananen Museum


Mini colouring lab

KAIKU, developed by Nicole Stjernswärd, is a beautiful home colouring lab for dyeing textiles with vegetable waste. The main problem in all these systems is scalability. KAIKU proposes to use waste from plants as a viable source for colouring in the future. Many fruits and vegetables we eat have valuable colours in their skins and peels, such as pomegranate, onion and avocados. She is now investigating together with food suppliers to source the food waste, prior to being delivered to supermarkets in order to make the system more effective.

The science of health and clothing

Nienke Hoogvliet who conducts material research and designs experiments and concepts, developed for the DDW 2019 H.E.R.B.S. For this project she extensively conducted research in Ayurvastra, a 5000-year ancient branch of Ayurveda, which is the science of health and clothing. According to this science dyes extracted from herbs and plants can be beneficial for skin and health. Nienke grew her own herbs and dyed fabric from chamomile, sage and rosemary. During the DDW visitors could dye a discarded white t-shirts in a madder, indigo or turmeric bathtub, creating awareness on plant-based dyes and the possible benefits for health.

H.E.R.B.S installation at DDW by Nienke Hoogvliet

Why dye?

LUM series of rugs created by Daniel Costa, conducted extensive research in order to develop his very first collection. His search brought him to the highest mountain range, the Himalayas in Nepal. The wool, hair and nettles are sourced from yaks, goats, sheep living and growing at the highest altitudes, bringing you the softest textures. Daniel chose to work with yak fibre, because of the quality of the material, which is durable, strong and long-lasting. Nomads used to make clothes, rugs and tents with these materials. What makes his collection interesting is that he did not dye any of his rugs, but used the raw colours and textures of the wool, hair and nettles. The whole making process has beautifully been documented by Juliette Chrétien, who created an audio-visual experience of their mystic trips in the Nepali Himalayas.  

Daniel’s LUM rug collection handspun and handwoven in Nepali Himalayas – Image Source: Daniel Costa


Natural dye masters

The Textiel Factorij has been exploring natural dyes extensively in various pockets of India, with each crafts(wo)man applying it in their specific craft technique. We can help you connect with skilled crafts(wo)men who can teach you to apply ancient recipes for your own practice through masterclasses and residencies. You can also develop your own small-scale naturally dyed collection of fabrics. If you would like to know more, get in touch!

Washing naturally dyed textiles in river – Image Source: Irma de Bruijne