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21 Days of Colour

Project Type - Natural Dyes on Textiles

Location - Johannesburg, South Africa

Year - 2020

Collaborators - Nisha van der Hoven


Our process in Hoven almost always involves a series of investigations across different work stages to develop design scenarios and purpose driven solutions.  In some ways, our approach to natural dyes was no different. 


Colour has both an enigmatic quality and material quality that can be used to express emotions or make things recognisable.  When we design spaces, we create colour palettes as a tool to convey an atmosphere.  In many instances, colour is what unifies the space and allows us to curate environments.  While colour isn’t necessarily physical, it is embedded in so many physical things.  


21 Days of Colour started out as a challenge during lockdown to explore colour through natural dyes.  We became very aware of our consumption of food during this time - how much we consume, how much we waste and seasonal diversity.  This inspired us to use our daily food waste, spices used in cooking and even natural found objects from our garden as a means to experiment with developing natural dyes that could be tested on leftover scraps of fabric.  Our intention was to use natural dyes as a means to develop a different colour each day.


Since natural dyeing is making dyes from natural ingredients and using them to impart colour on textiles, we experimented with anything we could find and sometimes not knowing how the dyeing process would perform - whether it would fade entirely when exposed to sunlight or whether it would rinse out when washed.  Incidentally, the colour palette became a reflection on the vibrant mix of colour from the autumn season.  In a way, this body of work was enriched and refined through each extraction providing a seasonal colour combination.  By extracting colour from natural dyeing, colour itself became a physical material.

We create colour palettes as a tool to convey an atmosphere
By extracting colour from natural dyeing, colour itself became a physical material

The sourcing of the colour ingredient, the method of extracting the dye from the raw material, the mordant and ph levels of the water, the textile and preparation of the textile all have an influence on the colour result.  Since one is working with raw materials that have been produced under different conditions - soil, sun and water, and harvested at different times of the year, the results remain surprising.  Colour has many different associations and the process followed was to test what was available at the time to create a range of colour results.


Reds - Beetroot 

Pinks - Avocado, Beetroot

Purples - Red cabbage

Blue - Red cabbage

Orange - Paprika

Yellows - Turmeric, Marigolds, Rose Petals and Vanilla Tea, Chamomile Tea, Olive Leaves (Caramel), Onion Skins, Orange Peel

Browns - Eucalyptus Leaves, Coffee Pods, Tea (Chai, Rooibos, Earl Grey 

Greens - (Biggest Challenge) Lettuce, Baby Spinach, Mint Leaves

Herbal Textiles

Through the process of dyeing fabric, our research led us to investigating the healing properties of natural dyes on textiles and their effects on our bodies. Our skin is our protective layer and a conduit for substances to enter the body - in the same way the skin absorbs toxins and chemicals it can also absorb the herbal properties found in natural dyes.  Using an old Indian technique derived from Ayurvastra, a system of Vedic healthcare, herbal textile dyeing involves a process using a blend of natural herbs, flowers, roots or bark. In theory, when the herbal cloth is exposed to the skin, the herbs are absorbed into the body and may function as a means of providing treatment to help skin conditions, or a sensory experience to boost mood and even provide a sense of calm for the body.  


While this is a technique that we are still in the process of exploring, antimicrobial textiles combined with the colour variations from natural dyes have the potential to create healthy wearables that enhance and promote health and wellbeing without being harmful to the environment.

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