For the last few months, I kept seeing beautiful pictures by Teinture Sauvage (Wild Dye) on Instagram. There is a deep connection between the photo and its object. Despite her crazy busy days, Céline has found the time to share her passion with me for a few hours.
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
All the pictures are copyright protected for ©Céline Philippe – please do not copy them without her agreement.
Ten years ago, Céline and her husband bought an abandoned house in the country. Her work as a lawyer, all the time spent behind her screen was starting to weight on her. She also needed to create things with her hands. Plants have always been present in her life. She particularly loves the ones we use to dye, heal or cook with. Thanks to her new garden which offers some space, she started experimenting with vegetal colours with the plants she can grow there. Then she took a course for several weeks, and finally, in 2017 she opened Teinture Sauvage, with the hope to sell threads dyed only thanks to plants.
To understand the difficulties of this adventure, we need to know the basic processes of textile dyes.
Plants have many chemical components, some with tinctorial propriety. Natural fibers such as linen, wool or silk need to be bathed in different baths, with different temperatures in order to be dyed. Some plants have a direct affinity with fibers and do not need a mordant (a fixative). But most plants need this fixative to interact with the fibers.
The first step to natural dye is called mordanting. This will create a connection between the dye and the fiber and will ensure they keep together a long time. Metallic ions create this affinity.
Traditionally we used aluminum salts (or alum sulfate). They can be from a natural source or man-made. But whatever their origin, they all come from aluminum, a non-renewable natural resource. Mining aluminum is particularly harmful to the environment. Celine decided to never use them, in order to be more coherent with her approach. She tried different solutions, particularly ones that were used by ancient Peoples who only had access to a few resources. She uses plants with natural mordant than can associate the dye to the fiber.
This technique supposes a great knowledge of botany but also to be a bit of a chemist! As Celine has not previous knowledge in this field, she started experimenting. A lot. With very simple tools, often home-made, she created decoctions of all sorts, played with temperatures, number and length of baths, etc. She uses only rainwater, which is softer, and collects it in a cistern made of cement (it is very important to use inert containers to avoid chemical reactions). Celine uses also inox pans or vat (from 5 to 50 liters) or even recycled aluminum containers. For her plants, apart from a small production she can grow in her garden or collect in the woods and fields around her, she buys them at a herbal shop or from specialized shops.
For the last few years, Celine has noticed that more farmers were cultivating tinctorial plants (indigo, madder, weld…) as the interest for botanical colours is growing. The dying process is a complex one, which starts with the cultivation of plants, and raising of animals, to the making of woven or embroidered fabrics. Each step has its own job, and it is important that we have specialists in each of those phases.
Celine works mostly in a small barn, largely opened. She has her pots and baths here, but it can be a challenge to work there in the winter. She likes to touch the fibers, feeling the ongoing process with her fingers – her hands are often multi-coloured! She accepts to wear gloves only when she starts to burn herself, but she still has to find the perfect pair that will allow her to feel her work while protecting her skin.
The work of a dyer is very dependent on the weather, and on time. It is very difficult to predict your work up ahead, and, for Celine, to count her working hours is still a faraway dream. Beside the plant concoctions to be prepared, the different baths to heat, she has to clean and abundantly rinse and re-rinse all the fibers. Quite a hard work physically. And which requires a good weather. She works alone, and has to adapt her work to the rain or sun of the day.
Besides this barn, Celine also has a small workshop at home, used when the weather is too bad. She prepares her orders, shoots her wonderful pictures, and manage her “virtual window” on Instagram, where she is followed by more than 11 000 people.
She can count now with a few boutiques which sell her products, like Loop London
Celine loves to play with colours, to see how they grow on the fibers, to experiment with them. She doesn’t like to follow orders for this or that particular shade. “I am not looking for one specific colour, but for what the plant has to offer.” She is truly an artist!
Today, she has quit a job and works full time with her threads. Since July, she sells small kits with plants and threads so people can learn how to dye their own fibers.
She works mostly with local fibers, from France. She loves to create beautiful ranges of colours for the embroiderers. Stitchers are very happy to order their threads here as they know they will get the best quality and unique organic fabrics.
The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire