Natural Plant Dyeing: A Window to Heritage & Place

All cultures have dye traditions but, today, few people retain the knowledge or continue the practice of natural plant dyeing. Prior to the 1850s, all dyes, stains, inks, and paints were created with natural materials. While cultures have developed their own unique traditions based on regional materials and cultural propensities, certain universal dye principles apply throughout. Learning dye practices that draw from both our heritage(s) and local environment(s) can help enrich our ability to create beauty, explore identity, and live sustainably. This carries profound value that is at once personal, social, cultural and ecological.

Master Artist: Marja Eloheimo (Olympia)

Marja has been exploring people-plant relationships (ethnobotany) for over thirty years, learning from and working with Indigenous teachers and renowned plant dyers. Marja completed her doctoral studies in environmental anthropology at the University of Washington, where she focused on medicinal plant traditions and community-based herbalism. She has taught natural plant dyeing at both The Evergreen State College and through Arbutus Folk School. In regard to Marja’s heritage as a Finnish-American woman with Indigenous Sámi ancestry, she has traveled widely in Finland and Sápmi, discovering the dye and fiber traditions of her own family, meeting both Finnish and Sámi dye and fiber artists, and learning more about the iconic Finnish ryijy, her favorite fiber art form. Marja is currently starting a business called ‘I Found the Colors’.  

“I engage with plant dyers, both locally & globally. Some are motivated by the desire to cultivate sustainable practices & reduce toxic impacts of the clothing & textile industries. Others by their love of plants. Still others by the desire to create a livelihood that is deeply fulfilling. I share all these motivations.”

Apprentice: Gloria Gutlerrez (Tumwater)

Gloria has experience as a fiber artist spinning yarn with drop spindles and has gained a great deal of knowledge about the qualities and historical importance of multiple different fibers. She recently completed an Internship Learning Contract with Marja through The Evergreen State College, focusing on learning basic dye techniques and beginning to explore Mexican dye materials and methods. Originally from the Bay Area, Gloria has noticed that the presence of Mexican culture is lacking in the Pacific Northwest. Gloria hopes to reestablish a true connection with her heritage through this apprenticeship.

“I feel that having a connection to the culture(s) we or our ancestors were born into is important and, for me personally, it is an essential part of my identity.”

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