NATURE'S VERY OWN CHANGING COLOR PALETTE
BEFORE SYNTHETIC DYES, THERE WERE NATURAL DYES
The palette of colors that we have discovered working with the artisans in Sakon Nakhon will not cease to amaze us, and over the years what is incredible is that we are finding new combinations, a remixing of traditional colors after understanding the process. Indigo on its own has a plethora of shades, blue, as a primary color can be mixed and matched with other colors to create secondary colors and beyond. One that we love, working with Pak Kham Phu village in Sakon Nakhon is our "Green indigo", or Moss, made from dye derived from mango that is over-dyed on indigo. Mango on its own makes a mustard yellow, from April to June when mango fruits are abundant the dye is extracted from the skin, after that it is from the leaves of the mango tree. We love the combination of Moss with Pradu and Dune, the warmth of the latter bringing out the vibrancy of the green from its yellow undertone. We have been working with Pradu (Rosewood tree) from the start of our journey, and the thing with tree bark is that each tree is different, and we must be careful not to shave too much of a single tree as to go too far would rob of the tree of its nutrients, Mae Sa-ard saves just the top layer and then rubs cooling soil onto the incisions and the tree is left to heal. Dune is more organic than this, it is from the red earth of Don Goy village that has a high mineral content, it is then mixed with water and strained to make a dye. To make sure the sediments are removed from the garments, they are washed in the stream so that the water pressure helps to take away the sediment. Another warm color is our newest, Oxblood. Oxblood is made from the combination of three different barks, Pradu, Fang and Lac, the latter is not a bark per se but the fossilised remains of a tree mite found in tree bark that gives a rich crimson color.
The thing with all natural dyes, indigo a good example, is that prior to the the discovery of the indigo pigment that mimics the molecules of the indigotin (by the chemist Adolf von Baeyer in 1865), natural indigo was the only option, the same applied to all the other color dyes. Yet today, natural dyes are the exception to the rule. To say that they are not so vibrant would ignore the ancient textiles that have stood the test of time whether they are from the ancient ruins of Peru of antique Ikat from India Thailand is no exception, natural dyes from mud to plants have formed the palette of our textiles for a long time, it was not until the 1950's when Jim Thompson with the Thai Silk Company brought vibrant synthetic dyes to the weavers and dyers to incorporate in their textiles, hence creating the color palette for Thai silk. Whilst we love bright colors and neon, our mission is to explore the potential of natural dyes and how they can become a bigger part of everyday. Saying that, we use neon colors too, they are from upcycled scraps from ECCO Leather's production or from deadstock fabric that won't see the light of day. There is a way from nature and man-made to exist and maybe combining colors is a start.
There are seven colors to the rainbow, as there are seven Chakras, in Thailand the seven days of the week are given a specific color. The color wheel is a sacred and universal thing, colors exist and this life would be so different without it. The colors drawn from nature is old knowledge and something that is still practiced in artisanal communities, their knowledge in harmony with nature, a rainbow made from the land and water and air, not much else. How color affect us and how we live, science and nature merging here and its impact on us explored for centuries and known by the sages for millennia. A rainbow made by nature need not be an exception, after all making colors from leaves and plants can be for everyone.
GOETHE'S THEORY OF COLOR
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colors, 1810
One of the earliest formal explorations of color theory came from the German poet, artist, and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (August 28, 1749–March 22, 1832), who in 1810 published Theory of Colors, his treatise on the nature, function, and psychology of colors. Though the work was dismissed by a large portion of the scientific community, it remained of intense interest to some prominent philosophers and physicists, and perhaps 200 years later continues to intrigue for its account of the philosophical and artistic experience of color, bridging the intuitive and the visceral.
One of Goethe’s most radical points was a refutation of Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light. In his theory he explores the different colors starting with Yellow, what he considers the first color as it is nearest the light, "In its highest purity it always carries with it the nature of brightness, and has a serene, gay, softly exciting character." He continues to explore the different colors in the spectrum from Red Yellow (a shade of orange) which he described as "The red-yellow gives an impression of warmth and gladness, since it represents the hue of the intenser glow of fire. Another shade of orange, Yellow Red, "In looking steadfastly at a perfectly yellow-red surface, the color seems actually to penetrate the organ. It produces an extreme excitement, and still acts thus when somewhat darkened. A yellow-red cloth disturbs and enrages animals. I have known men of education to whom its effect was intolerable if they chanced to see a person dressed in a scarlet cloak on a grey, cloudy day."
"The colors on the minus side are Blue, Red-blue, and Blue-red. They produce a restless, susceptible, anxious impression."
On Red, the theory espouses that, "Whoever is acquainted with the prismatic origin of red will not think it paradoxical if we assert that this color partly actu, partly potentia, includes all the other colors. . . .The effect of this color is as peculiar as its nature. It conveys an impression of gravity and dignity, and at the same time of grace and attractiveness. The first in its dark deep state, the latter in its light attenuated tint; and thus the dignity of age and the amiableness of youth may adorn itself with degrees of the same hue." And on Green, "If yellow and blue, which we consider as the most fundamental and simple colors, are united as they first appear, in the first state of their action, the color which we call green is the result. . . .The eye experiences a distinctly grateful impression from this color. If the two elementary colors are mixed in perfect equality so that neither predominates, the eye and the mind repose on the result of this junction as upon a simple color. The beholder has neither the wish nor the power to imagine a state beyond it. Hence for rooms to live in constantly, the green color is most generally selected."
Without realising, perhaps a part of our Visual Essay, Finding Oasis was an exploration of color for us and thus Goethe's Theory of Color continues to intrigue us as we explore the rainbow with natural dyes. Goethe's account of the color blue and orange is remarkable especially with the work that we do with indigo, mud and tree bark dyes. And perhaps in green, Moss is special because of the impact that he suggests. It is worth noting that in Goethe's days, pigments would have been derived from minerals and natural sources.
NEW OLD RECIPESEach natural dye color requires a recipe, it is like cooking, and some of the plants that become dye is also edible, not to mention that indigo dye itself needs to be fed. Although ancient, these recipes are also scientific, like cooking it is chemistry, a balance of pH levels, increasing acidity to create brightness, bringing down the pH to create a mordant. Natural dye recipes from around the world is an ever evolving communal recipe book.
You can check our some of the recipes we use at pH.lab. We're always searching for more colors so will share as we go along.