India Flint Talk at Confluence Inspires Bio-regional Dyeing Project for 3rd Graders in NYC

Inspired by India Flint’s “bundling” talk (Ecologically Sustainable Color: Bio-regional Dyes for Cloth) at the recent SDA conference in Minneapolis, I combined her ideas with the fact that my daughter’s PS 234 3rd grade class was studying the Eastern Woodland Indians. Then, with teacher Mary Jacob-Alex, I developed lesson plans over 3 days (June 20-23) and led the 25 3rd graders through a natural dye & stain tee shirt project.

I gathered fresh fruits and vegetables at TriBeCa’s Farmer’s Market (NYC) since 1) there was no time to send the children on a nature walk in our urban environment to gather things for themselves and 2) it was the last week of school before summer vacation. I also collected some small rusty items in my studio to contribute to the selection of objects that would leave a mark on fabric.

The first session we talked about the difference between chemical and natural dyes, carbon footprints, and creating stains on fabrics with foods, dirt and rusty items. Then we sliced up vegetables, fruits and flowers and the students designed their tee shirts. We folded, compressed and bound them with recycled shibori cord (fr0m my studio). I boiled the bundles at my studio that afternoon.

The second session was in the school yard the next day – first thing in the morning.  We spread out plastic tarps and laid out the boiled bundles like place settings at a tea party. The children unwrapped the cords binding the tees (not necessarily theirs) and, in groups of 8, unrolled the tees, which smelled like rotting vegetables.

Then each tee was presented to its designer. I gathered the tees and took them to my studio to rinse, wash and dry.

The third session, later that afternoon, was a “branding opportunity” for each student to write their adopted Indian name (logo) on the tee with a permanent marker.

The fourth session was the next morning when everyone wore their natural dye tee for the class celebration! The mud color fr0m the local baseball field was a big hit and there was some disappointment that the orange and pink fruit stains dulled after washing.

Following the cele- bration (after the families left), I took a minute to answer some questions about garment care that were posed by caring mothers. The 3rd graders agreed not to throw them into the washing machine with Tide detergent. They were all keen to hand wash their bio-regionally dyed tees!

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“Chief Dyer” (and SDA member) Mary Jaeger is an entrepreneur well known for her timeless designs using wool manipulation and shibori dyeing technique inspired by years of study and work in Asia. She was a panelist for “The Textile-Driven Life: Creating Products and Careers” at Confluence, the 2011 International SDA conference in Minneapolis. Jaeger exhibits internationally with collections available at her NYC gallery, maryjaeger.com (soon to be updated) and fine stores worldwide.

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