LIZ SPENCER, NATURAL DYER
Liz Spencer, The Dogwood Dyer, prepares an indigo vat in her studio in Brooklyn, NY.
Indigo has been harvested for thousands of years for its rare and natural blue. The leaves of the plant are first fermented then boiled to a reduction that creates a “white bath”. When material is submerged then lifted in the air, it first appears to be a bright yellow then magically turns blue as it oxidizes. Unlike other dyes in which color intensity can be somewhat controlled by soaking time, Indigo differs in that it must be re-dipped repeatedly to achieve deep tones.
What is your favorite color?
This is a tough one…considering that my work demands an appreciation for and understanding of many colors, but I love the aqua blue that results from fresh leaf indigo dyeing on silk. It’s like a Carribean light teal blue or a southwest turquoise stone. I’ve never been able to achieve this color with any other process or plant, so it’s very special!
Where did your love for natural dyeing begin?
I began by collaborating with a community garden called Cordwainers Garden in London at an allotment next to my Grad School (The London College of Fashion) in Hackney, East London. Space to garden, as in many urban areas, is little to be had there and as a result, very much cherished, so I was lucky to have ample space to explore the process of exclusively growing dye plants. As a natural dyer that actually grows my own plants for dyeing, I am able to see the process from seed to cloth and this holistic approach keeps my research hungry mind and creative spirit continually fulfilled. Gardening and harvesting is immensely gratifying, and distinctly different from dyeing with only imported powdered extracts. This full life cycle aspect of my introduction to natural dyes has generally keep me coming back to the practice.
What’s your favorite scent?
Jasmine, Magnolia, and Gardenia are all favorites of mine
Where do you love / want to travel?
I grew up moving around the US quite a bit (The Carolinas, New England, The Pacific Northwest) , and have lived and traveled a good deal in Western Europe. Outside of a trip to Japan and Honduras, I haven’t seen much of Asia or Central and South America, where some of the richest and most complex natural dye traditions have developed. I would love to spend a year in India, especially Jaipur.
Tell us a funny story about your childhood.
I’ve heard this one many times from my parents…
In first grade my parents were called in for a teacher conference concerning my behavior in class. My teacher was having trouble keeping me from distracting my peers from their work. She wanted to see if they could help by reminding me the importance of letting my desk mates finish their work before engaging them in conversation. When they sat me down to discuss my overly gregarious behavior, I defended myself by saying that “talking is my hobby!”. Fast forward 25 years, now I am an educator at The New School and I teach workshops independently, and I think that my eagerness to talk to those around me serves me and others well.