EyeSwoon

Leave it to dear friend and celebrated photographer Andrea Gentl, and natural dyer and textile designer Cara Marie Piazza, to show us how utterly dreamy wilted, decaying and dead flowers can be. With Andrea behind the lens and Cara sharing design tricks of the trade, the two recently joined forces to create this stunning natural dye tutorial.

While many would toss a wilted bouquet, Andrea and Cara have long seen it as something beautiful and transformative. Andrea shoots the process of decay in her ongoing series, Natura Morta, and Cara uses decomposing or discarded plant matter as dye to create one-of-a-kind clothing and home goods. With a shared love for this unconventional subject matter, the collaboration was born.

The project began with a trip to the historic garden of Meadowburn Farm in New Jersey to collect iris, poppy and peony debris. Cara will dry and freeze the flower remains to use later in the year for her hand-dyed vintage intimates collection, Calyx — and she and Andrea break down each step of their natural dye process right here on EyeSwoon.

In addition to sharing the DIY, Cara let us pick her brain about everything from the path that led her to natural dyes to the incredibly creative ways she goes about sustainably sourcing fabric and flowers. Check it all out below — and stay tuned for our interview with Andrea, coming up soon!

Floral Imprinting How-To

By Cara Marie Piazza and Andrea Gentl

  • What You'll Need

      • Steamer pot, or non-reactive pot and grill grate (toaster oven shelf)
      • Silk fabric
      • Tongs
      • Rubber bands or string
      • Distilled white vinegar
      • Bowl or spray bottle (for distilled vinegar)
      • Plant matter
      • Rubber gloves
  • Directions

      1. Collect your flowers and save them in an airtight container or resealable bag. If you’re not using them immediately, put them in your freezer.
      2. Cover your workspace with newspaper or on old cloth, lay out the silk fabric and put on your rubber gloves. Now it’s time to decide what pattern you’d like to create. The pattern is created where the petals touch the fabric. So, either leave the flower heads on or pluck and scatter the petals to create your desired look.
      3.  Starting from one end, tightly and evenly roll the fabric so it looks like a snake. As you roll, try to keep all the flower matter well-packed in your bundle.
      4. Tie up your roll with rubber bands or string. It should resemble a sausage when you’re done.
      5. Pour distilled vinegar into a bowl or spray bottle. If you’re using a bowl, dip your roll in the vinegar, wetting the roll thoroughly. Or with a spray bottle, spritz the fabric roll evenly throughout.
      6. If you have a steamer pot, great! If not, just fill a pot with water, bring it to a boil, and add a grill grate, like the rack from your toaster oven, on top to create a shelf for steaming.
      7. Place your bundle on your steamer pot or grill grate, fully immersed in steam, for at least one hour — but the longer, the better!
      8. Using your tongs, pick up your bundle and rinse lightly under cold water. Unroll and shake all the flower bits off your fabric, then give the fabric another quick rinse in cold water.
      9. Let your silk dry naturally overnight. When it’s dry the next day, iron it to set the color.

Cara Marie Piazza

Natural Dyer and Textile Designer

Q&A

  • Tell us a little about your background.

    I grew up in New York city where my first love of nature came from being fascinated with how despite her concrete cages, she would always find her way through the cracks. I went to university in London at the Chelsea College of Art and Design where I studied textiles and first came in contact with natural dyes through a workshop in my final year. After discovering the magic I dedicated my thesis to the profession and haven’t looked back since.

    What drew you to floral dyeing?

    When I began natural dyeing, I immersed myself in all the books I could find on the topic. In doing so I came across India Flint’s Eco Colour. I tried every one of her techniques and was transfixed by bundle dyeing. Since I didn’t have a garden in London where I could grow my own flowers, I was forced to get creative and use food wastes from the scraps of my own food. I began also experimenting with leftover flowers — I’d dye anything I could get my hands on.

    Have any favorite flowers or plant materials to use for dyeing?

    They change with the seasons. Currently I am loving peonies. The range of color and patterns you can create with them are astonishing. I love experimenting with different salts and tannins. The beauty of natural dyes are that with one dye stuff you can achieve a rainbow of color.

    What do you like about working with natural materials and what are some challenges?

    There’s a certain sense of calm and mediative peace I have when working with natural materials. The alchemy of the practice was what initially drew me in. Admittedly, I’ve always been a bit “away with the fairies”, my head always in the clouds, easily transfixed by materials and their potential magical properties. I’m fascinated by how just one dye stuff has a multitude of purposes and applications. Whether it be to create color, promote healing, or become compost, the holistic element of using a natural material and aiding it through its many transmutations is what I love most. I find the challenges are also what I love most about the practice. We can’t control nature but can act as conduits of her will. Embracing this fact and what are the process’s perceived imperfections are what I love most about the practice. There are many variations that can come with creating a color from just one dye stuff, ranging from the soil it’s grown in, to the pH balance of the water, to the heat. All of these variables can cause drastic changes in color, so it’s very important to take detailed notes. But this also allows for each piece to be completely unique.

    You source all your materials ethically. What are some tips for finding fabric and florals?

    It is of the utmost importance to know where your fabrics come from. Buying organic when possible is ideal. I also try to work with fair-trade certified providers. For flowers, buying organic and in-season is also important. I also work with florists to collect their leftovers from weddings, which would typically be chucked in the bin. This helps intercept a waste stream that if not composted would unnecessarily become landfill. I would recommend supporting your local farmers’ markets for flowers, using your leftover food scraps and and buying fabrics from places like Organic Cotton Plus.

    How would you describe your aesthetic?

    My aesthetic changes as drastically as the seasons. Once a friend described me as a dominatrix astronaut. Currently I think I’m moving through an Edwardian-vintage-mixed-with-minimal-bold-shapes moment.

    Tell us about your commitment to sustainability.

    Sustainability is the guiding force behind our work. Creating industries and the fashion industry can be detrimentally consumptive and polluting forces, so I believe when entering the marketplace, the pieces you put out must also give back. Creating responsibly is the only way we can help to heal our planet.

    What’s inspiring you currently?

    Nobuyoshi Araki flower photographs, gauzy peace silks, Eugène Delacroix botanical drawings, The David Hicks Book of Flower Arranging, creating floral watercolors, self-imposed grids, rusting metals, Merce Cunningham, Agnes Martin… I could keep going…

    What are some of the dyeing techniques you use in your work?

    I work with designers to curate different techniques for their needs, based on their inspirations. A few include bundle dyeing, hand painting, hot immersion, shibori, rust dyeing and ombre dyeing.

    What do you swoon most about your creative journey?

    The happy randomness and magical mess I can create. The healing properties I find in color and the creative energy flow from seed to garment.

    What’s on the horizon in your career?

    Currently I am dyeing for designers and artists and working on my intimates label, Calyx, which I will show this September. Soon to come will be limited-edition homewares as well as art objects. I am also exploring the connection of color and healing and how natural dyes can play a role in art therapy. Stay tuned for more collaborations!

Swoon with Cara

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