Folk Fibers Blog

  • The Story Behind The Delaware Baby Quilt

    The Delaware Baby Quilt is almost entirely made with natural dyed fabric, almost. The bright peach fabric is actually a vintage cotton Liz Claiborne skirt.  The bright turquoise fabric was in my fabric collection and I'm not exactly sure where I acquired it but I do know it is a sandwashed cotton, meaning it has been gently buffed into a smooth and soft texture, resembling a suede but having the practical qualities of a cotton. For this quilt I dyed the sashiko cotton thread used for the quilting in a red onion skin dyebath, the result is a pale pink thread. This quilt is entirely hand quilted.  I prefer to hand quilt over machine quilt because the subtle inconsistant results of a handmade stitch are more beautiful than a regular machine stitch. A hand stitched quilt has the ability to increase in value through the years and is a highly coveted object that is passed down through generations.  All the dyed fabric has been prewashed and is entirely colorfast, meaning permanent. So you don't have to worry about the color fading or washing out. What you see is what you get! 

    On the quilt top there are shear fabric accents of little bright peach polka-dot strips.  This fabric is scraps from my mothers 1964 prom dress! She handmade her own prom dress and wedding dress, but now she feels a little rusty and chooses not to construct garments anymore. I recently became friends with a couple of women around the age of 50-60 years old who grew up making their own cloths, but for individual reason have entirely stopped crafting. They have recently regained the interest to sew, and they approach this by seeking to relearn the skills.  I find that there are a few techniques that they need brushing up on, but what they are actually learning is how to gain their confidence back. It feels amazing to play a part in building up someones confidence.  I always feel so excited for them but also a little strange because here I am half their age "teaching" them how to sew again, but really they have so much to teach me. I had that same feeling when I taught my mom how to make a quilt two years ago. She flipped out that she was capable and  the entire time I couldn't stop thinking about her making her own wedding dress. 

    There are basically two types of natural dyes Substantive (direct dyes) and Adjective (reactive dyes), classified by their chemical composition.  I favor substantive dyes because the dye molecules are attracted by physical forces at the molecular level to the textile, meaning they don't need a mordant or chemical added to achieve permanent color. The amount of this attraction is known as "substantivity": the higher the substantivity the greater the attraction of the dye for the fiber. The common substantive dyes that I focus on are Indigo, walnut hulls, onion skins, cochineal bugs, and oak gulls. Substantive dyes work best on textiles with high contents of fibrous cellulose, also know as plant based fibers like cotton, linen, bamboo, and hemp. I work mostly with celulose fibers because I love their durability and practicality.  Adjective Dyes require a mordant or fixative, generally a metal or salt, to form a chemical bond with the fiber.  Natural mordants are in the form of salt, vinegar from fermenting fruit, natural alum, and stale urine.  Each mordant can help to fix and enhance the colors. 

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  • Comments on this post (7 comments)

    • Jugal says...

      Happy to know the types of natural dye . Few examples of Adjective dyes would make me more happy .

      On August 13, 2018

    • Stephanie says...

      Do you think it would be possible to use tree barks to color the rind of a cheese in a brine mixture?

      On August 06, 2015

    • jeruscha says...

      thanks for sharing your wonderful work!
      the naturlal colors are gorgeous how do you keep the colors in the quilt so they can`t get washed out?
      greetings from berlin

      On May 02, 2014

    • marietta warkentin says...

      This is so neat! thank you for sharing with us! Back in the 70’s i lived in a wonderful organic farm and spiritual community in CA named Sunburst Farm. We sisters made our own clothing on treadle machines by lamp light (no electricity), dyed our own fabric and wool with natural dyes, and spun and wove. I remember experimenting with the walnut hulls, and onion skins. Such a lot of work, but the results were so earthy and organic. It is so wonderful to hear of the creative efforts of the younger generation.

      On January 08, 2014

    • Erin says...

      Hi Maura,
      I live in Healdsburg, CA and there is a walnut tree starting to drop it’s green covered black hulls. I have never dyed fabric before, and would love to try dying some fabric from home scavenged walnut hulls!
      Do you have any tips on how to approach it for a beginner?
      Thank you so much. And thank you for such a beautiful blog and craft. I am absolutely inspired!

      On September 16, 2012

    • Claire says...

      Inspiring stuff. Beautiful quilt.

      On June 11, 2012

    • Nancy McDonnell says...

      Maura…you are amazing! So much talent, knowledge and stamina. WOW!
      Love you,

      On March 24, 2012

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