Interview with Sasha Duerr, Author of ‘Natural Color’

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Despite being busy with the release of her newest publication, we were lucky enough to receive a gift in the mail from our friend Sasha Duerr – an advance copy of ‘Natural Color,‘ all the way from sunny California. We were able to have a sneak peek at the beautifully edited bible for contemporary visionary textile artists and were consumed by the range of colors she depicts in her recipes. This carefully pieced together manuscript enlightens us with holistic methods for dyeing and expresses a deep respect for our environment’s ever changing seasons.

You place strong attention on the seasons and how to work with our environment’s cycles – do you encourage artists to use locally sourced materials/produce that is in season?

I do encourage working with locally sourced materials, and seasonal color can be a very powerful way to understand and experience deeper aspects of nature and in turn help to create more connected cultures.  I also second creative diversity and re-use as a way of working intelligently with weeds, waste and other common and everyday, as well as easily accessible bi-products of useful plants… Working  this way can also be a conceptually authentic pathway to making meaningful work- as well- in our era of mass consumption- recognizing limits also helps us to become more aware of resources- and in my opinion limitations build creativity.

From interviewing one of your students at California College of the Arts, it seems as though you encourage designers/artists to travel and explore their natural surroundings – why is this important and has understanding different locations given your work depth?

Having a sensory experience through knowing and exploring materials in connection to a whole system can build depth and awareness, as well as social practice and authenticity. In my own work, as well as in the work of many of my students at CCA- exploring various regions, as well as knowing more about where you live, can become a learning lab for natural color. One aspect of being a natural dyer is that there are so many environmental factors that go into the quality  of creating a plant color from scratch- literally terroir- the water, the soil, the time of year… all play a role in the dye pot- and the nuances and the unique aspects of how these elements come together create the color you experience.

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You talk a lot about our relationship with food in relation to textiles. In your own ideal world, how do you visualize securing the bond between the fashion and food world and what benefits would it bring?

At one point color was as seasonal and regional as cuisine- cooking, making medicine,  and creating dyes were a simultaneous practice…often directly centered around the usefulness of knowing the whole plant and more biodegradable practices.  In my ideal world- the fashion and food worlds would be able to share interdisciplinary knowledge and work collaboratively. Ironically many of the fruits, herbs, and vegetables that we use in the culinary world have bi-products that make natural color- and vice verse. The drive for beautiful fashion can create healthy and meaningful opportunities through natural color, providing designers with unique and vibrant color palettes to draw upon… And as an alternative to many of the synthetics options that are currently in play! There are also so many under-utilized weeds that are also culinary, medicinal, and color producing.

Can you tell me about the slow textile movement’s advances in California?

Northern California- and its year long growing cycle-  has helped the slow textile and fashion movement in many ways, making it (literally!) ripe for experimentation on so many levels for new ways of working with a biodiversity of plants and social aspects of natural dyeing. Just as with food- fashion and textiles also have great significance as an agricultural act. (Fibershed exemplifies this notion!). California is also home to a number of slow food luminaries- and as textiles and food production were once interconnected- it is fascinating to work directly with those in food who have similar goals of reviving recipes, preserving biodiversity, encouraging innovation, and supporting community- joining forces means a stronger movement and ways to work more holistically.

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Do you have any plans to expand your Permacouture Institute organization or do you have any new community projects on the go?

Permacouture Institute has been a deep well  to draw upon over the past ten years-  as a  vessel for natural color experimentation and collaboration- and as a satisfying way to dig deeper into social practices for slow fashion, textiles and plant based color.  We are continuing to explore and document regenerative design practices and new terrain for natural color- AND always love a good collaboration!

Being constantly surrounded by color, have you noticed their effect on your well-being? Do certain colors exude different feelings/moods within you?

Many of my current favorite plant colors were curated into ‘Natural Color’ as a way for me to work with recipes and plants I love! For me, plant-based palettes are even more alive due to the sensory process involved from the start- whether its in growing the color from seed, foraging, cooking with the color, or  living with the hue- as it will often shift in different light, or even through time and life.  I love the luminescence of fresh indigo-its vitality (even the smell of the fresh green leaves) and its extra bright glow of turquoise.  I also love how loquat leaves yield subtle yet neon peach or deep mauve in the right pH- and I’m also such a sucker for the depth of grays that you can conjure with plant dyes. As an additional gift of being a practicing natural colorist- you begin to see a rainbow in neutral shades!

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Do you think there should be more importance placed on implementing urban agriculture in developed city areas?

I am definitely an advocate for urban agriculture… Gardening is a huge calming and equalizing force for many and within urban communities it can be greatly empowering. I got to work on urban landscaping studies, and urban farm reports, over the past few years and the positive effects of plants and gardening on people and the planet is undeniable. Another aspect that I love of being a plant dyer is that your color palette can help pollinators, bring together community, and provide endless opportunities for vacant lots and gardens.

Can you tell us your hopes and aims for your new book on natural dyeing?

My hope for ‘Natural Color’  is that it opens up new ideas and inspiration for the potential of plant-based palettes- both literally for the unique and varied true hues- as well as for the social and environmental benefits of working with these colors. Many plant dyes also have important medicinal and healing properties, and provide a way to make beauty from agricultural waste, invasive weeds, and culinary bi-products. I also hope that ‘Natural Color’ will help to provide a visual entry way for those who also love food, gardening, flowers, and design!

How do you think new designers should approach or alter their attitude towards design?

I think new designers have the opportunity to work toward more sustainable solutions by starting small, experimenting, and gradually scaling in intelligent and intuitive ways appropriately- it is much more difficult for large corporate companies to turn back the ship or to take experimental risks in more ethical and holistic even innovative design directions.

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Where would you place your focus within holistic design now and how has it progressed from the beginning of your journey?

Holistic design is based upon so many individual factors. Beyond just working with healthier materials and processes, in the end the usage, care, and collective values of holistic design benefit our communities and are part of thinking about cyclical economy. It is all truly an ever evolving process of awareness, inspiration, and being brave in following your intuition and sensibility- trusting that good design is as rooted in the process as in the product. I think I have also come to  learn from the beginning of my journey until now- that you can not and you do not need to do it all. I always use the motto that my husband, who has worked extensively in the realm of biomimicry, likes to state, “Living organisms in nature – to be successful-  first need to differentiate and then cooperate. This allows life to survive, and then to thrive.”

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Join Sasha Duerr on September 28 for her NYC book launch and talk. Learn more + RSVP here.

All photos via @sashaduerr. Order your copy of Sasha Duerr’s new book on Amazon here!

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