In 2017, we featured Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors in our Indigo Stories series on The Journal (among many other movers and shakers in the natural dye world). For our new readers, we revisit her background, her work with Alabama Chanin, and share the mission of Botanical Colors—with who we’ve recently collaborated on for our capsule collection of limited-edition, naturally dyed styles.
Kathy is one of the founders of Botanical Colors, a well-respected source of materials, support, and educational offerings for those seeking to employ natural dyeing techniques. They offer a range of services for both the new dyer and the designer wishing to use a more sustainable supply chain—including color development, prototypes, sampling, and production. Kathy was a big help to us when we started our own natural dye house at The Factory in 2014. We sourced our indigo from her, and she patiently answered questions and helped us troubleshoot our vats.
Kathy has a background in environmental studies but spent years working in the tech industry before founding Botanical Colors. When asked why she wanted to make the change, Kathy told us, “The realization of how precious time is and how I wanted to spend it prompted the leap from telecommunications to textiles. And then I found it wasn’t a leap at all, but just a firm step forward. Working with colorants wasn’t my first career, but I had created for many years with textiles and dyes in my own work. The reason I moved toward natural dyes was that I felt strongly that my next career had to make a positive impact in the world.”
There is a science to natural dyes, no doubt, but Kathy also approaches the process with a historical perspective and poetic intentions. “I’ve worked with and learned from some very talented teachers in the natural dye world, and am constantly striving to improve processes while celebrating the tradition of natural color. I love to see how natural colors change with different locations and water sources. There’s something about being able to drop a few flowers into a dye pot and pull out a beautifully dyed fabric. That will always be magic for me.”
Kathy and the team at Botanical Colors embrace collaboration, as we do at Alabama Chanin. Our creative exchange has resulted in a beautiful, soft pink shade developed specifically for our organic cotton designs. Kathy shares her process for collaboration, “There’s often this creative tension around making color. I will stare at a color inspiration for a long time, then I look at the fabric that the designer chose and I try to imagine how to make that color appear on the fabric. Once we get a few fabric swatches made, I sit with the color to see if the story is the same or if it changed, or if it needs a little nudge in a different direction. The conversation about which dye plant to use is always interesting. A skillful dyer can coax all sorts of shades from the dyestuff, so we’ll often discuss what quality we want to highlight with the dye and how to get there. Since each crop and harvest yield subtle differences in the dye, there’s always time for discovering some nuance with the color.”
Madder root (Rubia tinctorum) is the dyestuff used in our collaboration and is one of the oldest and most frequently used traditional dyestuffs known to man. It has an extensive history in Turkey, India, and Iran where it is still being used for dyeing knotted and woven carpets. The secret for Turkey red, a deep rich red color, was guarded for centuries throughout Central Asia. In addition, it involved more than twenty steps to create this prized shade. Madder extract will produce pale pink and peach shades all the way through a deep, wine-colored red. To source many of their dyestuffs, Botanical Colors has reached out to a group of growers to grow dye plants for them the past few seasons. They are “really happy that they are younger farmers and very committed to organic and regenerative practices and that sequestering carbon is important to them.”
Through collaboration and by open-sourcing dyestuffs and materials, hosting workshops, and offering scholarship donations, it is obvious that Botanical Colors wants to give back and share their world of natural dyeing. They are excited by the possibilities and look ahead to the future of their sustainable practices in many ways, big and small. “We’re reclaiming color out of used dye baths and creating pigments and paints for other projects and that’s been very satisfying. Even though much of our supply chain is still global, there’s a real satisfaction out of using and reusing the bounty from these dyestuffs. We’ve also nurtured our pocket dye garden this year. Even a flowerpot of dyer’s chamomile is still enough to create lots of beautiful color stories.”
Images courtesy of Botanical Colors