We are excited to feature a guest post by Lucila Kenny, a textile designer who hails from Argentina. Today, she works in the Netherlands, teaching workshops and making beautiful textile goods. Most of her dyes are made a windmill in Zaandam, a town near Amsterdam. She collects rain water for dyeing and uses the leftover dyes for new batches in order to reduce her water footprint.
I started my natural dyeing studio Lucila Kenny, in 2014, where I design and produce unique collections of scarves, shawls, customized fabrics, and garments. The process involves applying plant extracts, locally foraged plants, and select organic matter, to 100% organic fabrics like cotton, hemp and wool.
Much of my work has been inspired by the rich history of natural dyeing in cultures worldwide. Beautifully reflected in the distinct hues of their fabrics, each community’s native flora is nourished by components of the local soil and climate conditions.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, with the accidental discovery of mauvine, which allowed mass production of textiles to become prevalent, the natural technique has become virtually obsolete. This process is more intensive, requiring research, knowledge, testing, patience, and respect for the environment. My goal is to re-introduce it in our everyday actions and encourage local designers and students especially, to learn the process and help grow awareness around eco-conscious textile production.
As for materials, I supply the studio with fabrics from local markets in Amsterdam, which are imported from Germany and originally produced in China. I would prefer to find fabrics that are produced nearby – this is an ongoing search. The dyes are sourced locally in Zaandam at the windmill De Kat, which processes various plant parts from all over the world, in extract and powder form.
These dyes, in combination with trialed measurements of heat, water and time, cause the transformation. The production of each garment begins by simmering the plant extracts for approximately an hour. Later, the fibers or fabrics are added to the dye bath for another hour and left to cool overnight. As much of the water as possible (about 80%) is recycled for the next batch. This simultaneously ensures a sustainable practice, while creating deep, unique colors. From light to darker hues, the color results in a truly original finished piece.
This process is innovative in many ways. Using modern technology and communication tools like social media, what we have now is a contemporary take on an ancient tradition. Most importantly, because it’s become a lost tradition due to mass production and the fast pace of our lives, I’d like to make younger generations aware of the benefits of these practices — to them it is new!
In addition to designing and producing each piece by hand, I teach workshops about this traditional technique.
Participants include those with various backgrounds, such as artists, photographers, gardeners, archaeologists, fashion designers, and students from AMFI, (Amsterdam Fashion Institute), Gerrit Rietveld Academy, andEindhoven Design Academy. Through hands-on teaching, the classes are open to anyone interested.
I really believe my inspiration for the collections is triggered when the benefits of my research, teaching, and traveling
all converge together. I am currently working on research for a future book publication, featuring local plants from Amsterdam. “Colors from Amsterdam” is a research, experimentation and reflection on the tinctorial properties found on local plants for a more responsible production of pigments and dyes. We aim to produce an interest in local small scale
qualities and share this knowledge with the textile community.
I work with Dutch biologist and artist, Naan Rijks, who founded “Blauwe Maandag.” Blauwe Maandag does
ongoing research on tinctorial plants grown in Amsterdam for ink making focused on printing. You can visit her
work here. I’ve learned about the properties of plants through the concept “from seed to ink,” which is the influence of biology and chemistry in the process and colors achieved. With this tool, I now understand how tinctorial and medicinal properties can be transmuted by heating a fabric provided by the earth and giving us a deep sense of calmness when using them to cover our bodies.
Learn more about author and natural dyer Lucila Kenny here.