Becoming an ecology

An extravaganza of sustainable colour. 

We invited Ceres alumni to become part of an Ecology of natural dye print. To contribute to a day of sharing ideas, co-designing and playfully exploring print techniques. Organised by Lara, as a component of her MA in Academic Practice, and co-hosted by Flo. Lara was researching how practitioners navigate this emergent natural dye-print movement. How a process may influence designing and making, and how a commons approach could encourage experiments, learning, and adoption of ideas. 

Inspired by a youth spent at dance festivals, trading steps of pattern and rhythm on the dance floor. Swing camps, dancing all night, where invention happened at 3.00 am in the subliminal spaces between sleep-haze and dawn-light. A desire to create a similar sensitivity of community in natural dye printing; with an ethos of playfully sharing to develop a design. Perception flourishing amongst the collective making… chat, cut stencils, arrange, print, this is our liminal-light learning.

Silk-hemp, a luxurious, cost effective fibre-mix that reflects Ceres interest in sustainability was chosen for the printed studio length. Linen, for the participants take-home prints. Lara made a smorgasbord of dye colours, predominantly bio-waste for the linen, and colourfast heritage plants for the silk-hemp. She printed two sample sets of the key colours on both fabrics, enabling participants to reference both washed (colours can change dramatically) and unwashed.

To-ing-fro-ing. Dance manoeuvre of collaboration. 

Flo arrived in the morning with a linen epiphany. She described a “quilt” of squares, a sampler, where participants could work into each other’s designs. They would print two pieces of linen, one for Ceres and one for a take-away. Perfect idea! Except, participants in awe of others designs, were loath to over-print and change their squares. 

Serendipity of printing. 

The design theme, Place and Provenance was taken literally; Googled and mulled, then whoosh, and they were gone. Chatting, trading, manoeuvring screens. Stop-motion recording a choreograph of steps around the print table.

Morning; transformations as the groups responded to each other’s prints on silk-hemp. 

Lunch; steaming dahlia prints, journeying from Somerset to Greece, a suitcase of flower rich scarves. Making dye-paste from Meadowsweet from the Isle of Skye, perfume of marshmallows and a gleam of yellow.

Afternoon; a thrill of mystery, modifiers printed onto the silk-hemp, participants quizzing how beige dye may metamorphose into intense new colour. A flurry of shapes blossoming across the fabric, a burst of paparazzi, and a tight roll into the steamer for fixing.

A parade of linen and silk-hemp sashayed into the room, unfurling for display and contemplation. Silk-hemp fixed but not yet washed, the linen fixed and washed. 

The Preview, to share participants personal work and the prints created during the day. Unique screen printed fabric garlanded table tops and scarves lounged over the display table. The silk-hemp was taped to the wall, and toasted with prosecco.

Provenance, Brixton. Flaunting the newest sibling in the Ecology of Natural Dye Printing.

The studio in Brixton

Ceres studio 1 is a contemporary natural dye print studio in London. It was established by Lara Mantell and Florence Hawkins as a collaborative venture to share knowledge and experimental work with natural dyes. The duo have individual yet complementary areas of expertise; Lara’s in textile design and natural dye printing onto fabrics, and Flo’s in printing with natural dyes on fabric and paper. This expertise and enthusiasm has led to their Brixton studio becoming a hub of colourful natural dye research and design projects.