Earth Tones

Rust, Brown and Gray

Neutrals, unsaturated colors – these have never been my favorite positions on the color wheel, but I am finding them more intriguing as I get older and I want to explore this palette which is completely new to me. They are the colors of stone, sand, clay and mud, very earthy. But I feel that blue is an earth tone also. After all, our blue marble of a planet is mostly blue with hints of desert brown when viewed from a distance of 18,000 miles.

Last fall and winter I took another online class from Maiwa, this time on Tannins, Oxides and Indigo. It is all about creating those very browns and grays on cloth with tannin and iron, as well as an oxide. Since I do my dyeing outdoors in summer, I have been waiting the better part of a year to practice what I learned in the videos and how-to procedural texts. Now is the time!

It seems like we went from winter damp and cold to summer heat in a matter of minutes. Or perhaps it’s just that perception of time speeding up as we age. In any case, I finally set up my outdoor dye studio, revived one indigo vat and am working on reviving a second. Then I got out the iron sulfate, a variety of tannins, and calcium hydroxide (pickling lime, aka calx) and set to work on the neutral palette. I dyed skeins of cotton yarn, pieces of cotton fabric and cotton socks. And indigo blue goes so nicely with the earthy browns!

Cotton fabrics dipped in various sequences of tannin, iron sulfate, calcium hydroxide and black tea. Indigo should need no explanation.
Cotton yarns in (L to R) indigo, iron + calx, tannin + iron, tannin + iron + calx, tannin + cochineal + iron + calx
Cotton socks in indigo, tannin + iron + calx + black tea

The online class had several modules on using rusted or rusting metal to make prints on fabric. I gathered many interesting metal pieces that would create great texture and imprints, but decided against using the metal for the time being. It is very destructive to the cloth and while I know that is part of the iron oxide aesthetic, I wanted to preserve the integrity of the fabric as much as possible, so I used solutions of tannin, iron sulfate and lime to dip the fabric and get the rust, gray and brown colors. I hope this will be less damaging to the cloth than contact with rusty metal would be.

We still have a month or two of decent dyeing weather ahead; I can’t wait to see what else I can do in this range of earthy colors.