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More than One way to Dye in Italy

This afternoon we went to the home of Lucia Nesi in Colle di Compito. Lucia is a member of the Antiche Tessiture Lucchesi (Antique Textiles of Lucca). After a quick introduction, we started to collect fern leaves and different plants, etc to naturally dye wool. Those of you that know me know I have no knowledge of textiles other than if I want a shirt, I go the the mall and purchase one off the rack. For all I know, there are little fairies that produce the shirts in the middle of the night in different shapes and sizes, colors and styles. This particular tour group includes mostly members of textile guilds from England, one from Austria, and one from Canada. I figured I’d keep my mouth shut and just listen.  I know when I’m out of my element.

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Lucia Nesi beginning the dyeing demo.


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Heather pointing something out to Lucia.


Lucia explained her experiences with different plants, how she loves discovering new plants and products for natural dyeing. Everything from onion skins, to rhubarb, to chestnuts and various flowers. The tour participants were fascinated and took notes on her procedures, processes, and experiences with different items. Below, we took ferns and ivy and boiled them with skein* of wool. Then used Alum (a natural mordant**) to fix the color to the wool. Last photo is of the final outcome.

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Boiling fern leaves


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Adding the mordant.


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Fishing the skein out of the pot.


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Hanging the wool yarn to dry.


*Skein is when a length of yarn is bundled in a loose roll rather than put on a cone (as you would purchase from store)- usually done if yarn is going to a dye vat or needs a treatment in a manufacturing/knitting mill environment.

**A mordant is a substance used to set dyes on fabrics or tissue sections by forming a coordination complex with the dye which then attaches to the fabric or tissue.

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