I am so excited to share this project with you 🙂
I am so excited to share this project with you 🙂
Since the beginning of summer, I have been working on these tote bags, and they are now ready!
With this series of bags, I wanted to explore tinctorial plants and natural dyes and the amazing traditions that surround them. From Indonesian Batik, Nigerian Adire, Indian Dhabu, to Vietnamese Muong indigo fabrics, it was a real trip around the world that I engaged in through my research.
To create my bags, I wanted to use only natural, biodegradable and safe products. Luckily, I was able to find a lovely supplier here in Canada who helped me figure things out and get all that I needed to complete my project. Once all the material arrived in February, I needed to wait for warmer weather to work outside. I decided to go with a completely handmade process because slow work, respectful of the environment was paramount to me. I wanted each bag to be a unique object.
Dyeing fabric the natural way requires many steps, and each step requires time, dedication and patience. The entire process spanned through weeks as I waited for colour to develop and fabric to dry.
Before I even started work on the bags themselves, I needed to figure out what I wanted to print. As always, I went to flowers as my source of inspiration. The first flower I wanted to present was beautiful Centaurea montana because of its incredible blue colour, but also for its symbolic meaning: hope, happiness and patience. A few years ago, I suffered from a concussion after a horseback riding accident.
It took me years to recover, but in the end this accident was a blessing in disguise as it propelled me to follow my true passion: art. With the centaurea and horse design, I wanted to underline this relationship and to celebrate hope.
The second stencil I designed was the wild cat. For this one, I wanted something entirely composed of flowers but wanted it to have something a bit special. I arranged some of my favourite Canadian wild flowers into the shape of a cat! Here are the flowers I selected: Pitcher plant, Lady’s slipper, Harebells, Black Eyed Susan, Columbine, Tiger lilies, Creeping dogwood and a fern.
For the third design, I wanted to underline my Vietnamese background and wink at the traditional indigo dyeing techniques that the different mountain tribes of Vietnam use. For these reasons, I chose the lotus flower which grows wild and cultivated in Vietnam and is also the national flower. This incredible graceful plant is of significant importance as it provides for food, fabric, medicine and inspiration.
As spring was coming to an end while I was designing the bags, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the many geese coming and going around us. These fascinating birds are not only strong and endurant, they are also so beautiful. Seeing the little geese families walking around is always a delight, and I wanted to capture this with this final design.
Working the Colours
Once the designs were drawn, I cut out my own stencils. This process was entirely new to me, and it was interesting to try an unknown technique.
Finally, the weather got better, and it was possible for me to work outside! The first step was to wash the organic cotton tote bags to ensure that the dye would attach itself properly and evenly. Then, I made some colour extracts using four natural dyestuff. I obtained a warm red-orange, a stunning butter yellow, a deep purple and a fresh fuchsia pink. I was amazed to see how rich the colours were. For each extract, I made four bags, two at a time: the first two were intensely coloured while the second two were paler. Dyeing out 16 bags took me a few more weeks between making the extract, dyeing time and drying time.
Once that was done, I researched indigo. Indigo is such a versatile and unique dye plant! Used all around the world, it has a rich history and fascinating chemistry. The chemist geek in me really had a blast learning about this plant. I decided to try indigo paste dyeing for my first try. It was perfect to use with the stencils and would let the previously dyed colours shine. The process of stencilling each bag is long and required patience. First, each bag needed to be ironed as flat as possible to make sure the stencil would be as clear as possible. Then, once the painting started, it was necessary to work slowly to avoid bleeding. Each bag took me between twenty and thirty minutes to complete. After that, the bags required a thorough drying to ensure that the indigo would stay put. Finally, a final wash in different solutions was needed to make sure the indigo would be permanently attached to the fibres. Then, I rinsed and washed the bags to make sure they were ready to be sold, let them dry and ironed them a final time before sewing the woven labels to each one.
As you can see, making these bags is a process! I enjoyed every step as I felt like I was creating something more than bags: reconnecting with traditional processes was comforting, validating and enriching work. Getting to know many new plants was also an incredible gift. Exercising patience and open-mindedness as each step revealed expected and unexpected results was also a great part of this work.
I really hope you will enjoy, cherish and proudly use these bags. I hope you will be curious to see how they change with time and on which adventure you take them with you. Thank you so much for supporting my work as an independent artist,
These bags are dyed with natural pigments that are not suited to our modern washing detergents. It is best to spot clean by hand using a pH neutral soap to avoid colour change. Letting your bag soak in cold water before you wash it by hand is also helpful. Always let it dry away from the direct sunlight. You can rinse the bag by hand in cold water from time to time, let it dry (away from direct sunlight) and iron it, but spot cleaning should be all you need.
With time and use, the colours might shift, but it is part of the beauty of using natural dyes: the results are unpredictable, and as you go through life together, your bag will change as well.
The bags are available in my shop!
And, here is a video I made of my process making these bags.