Daphne Woo | Natural Dyer, Owner of Amacata
Natural Fabric Dyeing - an insight into Daphne's world
What inspired you to start working with natural dyes?
After high school, in the autumn of 1991, I went to Capilano University (then Capilano College… the “college in the forest”) to take a variety of art courses with the intention to build my portfolio and learn new skills. One of the courses I took was Textile Art (2 semesters) with then instructor, Yvonne Wakabayashi. This opened a whole new world for me as every class
we learnt a new technique or a new medium to apply to textiles. Once we got into shibori, indigo, and an intro to natural dyes, I was taken away. I was entranced in the Japanese methods that Yvonne introduced and was delighted to experiment. I remember being mesmerized with her explanation of respecting the indigo vat, stirring it in such a way, and placing the lid in such a way. I think the ceremonial aspect of it got me, although this only occurs to me now. It was also fascinating to see how others interpreted techniques to apply to their own work. It wasn’t until 3 years later, that I followed up on my interest in natural dyes + shibori, and applied them to my graduating collection in the Fashion Design & Technology program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (then Kwantlen College). I shared an award for Most Innovative Use of Materials.
What is your favourite part of the dying process?
It is definitely the first dip into the dye pot. Watching how the material takes the dye, hovering over the pot in the sunlight… it is purely magic. An act of harnessing colour from nature.
Do you source local materials? If so, why is this important to you?
Yes, I do! I recently joined the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed Guild upon our move to Gibsons last year. The intention is to use local fibres and dyes, with the mission to decrease our environmental footprint, and encourage community awareness whilst supporting local. Currently however, I have a large inventory of materials and dyes that are not locally produced nor grown. I use a lot of silk, which comes from Asia, and I have acquired materials from my travels and collected over the years. I also obtain materials from local initiatives like Our Social Fabric and Fabcycle, whereby the materials would otherwise get transported to landfill. There are a variety of ways to support sustainable systems – Sourcing local is one, but so is
using what one already has, supporting local community businesses, and finding value in things that would otherwise go to landfill or get incinerated.
Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?
Patterns in nature. This could be in the form of rhythmic waves, crackled textures in the ocean-swept beach, complex veins in leaves, the way sunlight bless trees on the mountain edge, clear and starry nights, the curtain of colour from Northern Lights. Often it is not just these obvious visuals but more the sensation I get from connecting with nature... soft wind whispering past my ears, sunlight on my skin, the scent of douglas fir, chirping of the birds, whirring of hummingbirds, and merely paying attention to the signs.
Do you work methodically or do you tend to experiment more with the dyeing process?
I am slightly embarrassed to say that I tend to work methodically, but trying to put more fun into it with experimentation. This for some reason does not come that easy for me. Last year while vending at a market, a random customer asked me if I was a perfectionist. It was simply an observation on her part. I attribute this to 20 years in the garment industry as a developer
where accuracy and attention to detail & timelines are crucial! I envy a carefree approach to this craft however. It is something I believe to be important as I recall mentors reminding me to “have fun”. It is work fun in progress.
Being constantly surrounded by the colours of nature, have you noticed their effect on your well-being? What are your thoughts on colour therapy?
Thus far, I’ve not so much been aware of the therapeutic qualities of the harnessed colours as I’ve been aware of the therapeutic qualities of nature. Ecopsychology is the modern term used to describe the movement that strives to understand and harmonize people’s relationship with
the Earth. Indigenous people all around the world have known this forever. Somehow through the Industrial Revolution, we seem to have become lost. The benefits of reconnecting to nature is gaining popularity though, as our modern societies straddle such mindful awareness whilst feeding on a digital era for stories and news. I think colour therapy would be another
layer of consciousness. Definitely I am happiest and my mind is the clearest when I am outside. I gravitate towards light, and without light, there is no colour.
What have been some of your most successful plants for dyeing and what colours do they produce?
Interesting question, as I believe everyone’s idea of “success” is perhaps quite different. There is an abundance of dyes available, and my idea of success is simply the colour I am hoping to achieve, but if different – that is also a nice surprise. This is infinite because there are many
variables with natural dyes, such as types of mordants used, on what kind of materials, over dyeing, and then the dyestuff itself since every plant is unique. I have great resources of books that guide me in the right direction of knowing what are good sources of dyes, and what not to waste time with. I therefore dye with store-bought natural dyes as well as gathering my
own. Examples of store-bought dyes such as indigo, logwood, madder, weld, cochineal (not plant-based), quebracho, walnut hulls, are generally quite reliable and colourfast. Indigo and madder can be grown locally and I hope to start a dye garden this year. Dyestuff that I collect would be avocado pits + peels, onion skins, pomegranate peels, fig leaves, blackberry leaves, Japanese maple leaves, various barks, acorns, nut hulls. Last year I experimented with tansy, hibiscus from a friend’s garden, and lavender stalks from a local lavender farm. I’ve also been collecting wilted flowers that would otherwise go to compost, from a Vancouver-based floral
shop whose mission is also aligned in minimizing waste as much as possible. That partnership is great because I am able to dye with greenery such as dahlia and eucalyptus. I look forward to experimenting more with eco-printing using flower petals and various leaves.
Basically I get dyestuff from a variety of places and friends think of me when they are raking their leaves or making guacamole.
Among my favourites:
Logwood – purple
Madder Root – red
Indigo – blue
Onion Skin – yellow, orange, and olive
Avocado Pits + Peels – pink
When I give workshops or do demos, I generally have chosen logwood, madder, and onion skin/ pomegranate peels. They yield instantaneous and strong results on protein fibres such as silk. My mentor would say she has a deeper appreciation for muted colours, so this reminds me not to forget the soft lovely shades from a world of other dye sources.
What tips would you give to a beginner natural dyer?
While it is definitely fun to experiment, and I encourage that – do be sure to also read books by esteemed natural dyers who have been experimenting and documenting for years. Jenny Dean, Michel Garcia, Eva Lambert, and there are so many more. Working with natural dyes is a beautiful magical process, and it is also a science. By this I mean that there are indeed recipes to follow, fugitive dyes to avoid (unless you don’t mind fading), and some understanding of PH level of the water is beneficial. Taking a workshop at the very beginning is a good idea to see if you enjoy it enough to start investing in equipment, etc. Remember it is a lifelong journey and new things to discover. Be patient, and release expectations.
Is there anyone along your journey who has been an inspirational teacher? or who has led you to a transformative moment?
Absolutely. As mentioned in my answer to Question 1, Yvonne Wakabayashi was my teacher then to have introduced me to natural dyes and shibori. I am very lucky to have her in my life as a dear friend and mentor after all these years. I’ve been also fortunate to cross paths with mentors, coaches, and friends whom have impacted my journey. Just to name a few: Cees Creutzburg, Oscar van der Ende – both in the Netherlands whom encouraged and guided me to create a business from my craft, after
a reorganization occurred in the company where I was employed full-time (Nike). Jordan Birch – a life coach in nature whose support was invaluable as I transitioned to returning to Vancouver after living in the Netherlands for a decade. Jeff Willis – a friend who leads by example a life of experiential education, and who also fished me out of the Yukon River when I fell (jumped) in. Shane Pointe – a friend who taught me many life lessons and reminded me to ‘have fun’ as I trudged along my daily grind of full-time work in a company whose mission did not align with my values (Lululemon).
The whole Groundswell Community team, including my peers in Cohort 5, whereby I was exposed to a new world of alternative business choices and what it really means to be a community.
Do you think it's important for us to have a relationship with nature? Do you feel like the process of natural dyeing allows you to have a deeper connection with nature?
Yes, it is imperative for us to have a relationship with nature. If we don’t have a relationship with nature, how do we in our hearts feel a need to protect it? If we abandon nature, then we abandon ourselves, because we come from nature. Absolutely the process of natural dyeing allows me to have a deeper connection with nature. I only realized this a few years ago that it was my creative outlet to connect with nature. The process teaches me so many things, including letting go of expectations, and finding beauty in all things natural - regardless of it’s stage in life, or death.