* "A Handbook of Dyes From Natural Materials" by Anne Bliss (Scribner's, 180 pages, well illustrated, $14.95) is a book of dye recipes collected from outstanding contemporary dyers across the continent. Their focus is on the practicalities, availability, use, and beauty of dyes produced from natural materials.
The author is well known for her experiments with dyes from natural sources, particularly native and naturalized plants. She has written and taught extensively about five crafts, and she contributes a regular column to Interweave magazine. Her textiles have been shown in numerous juried and invitational exhibits.
"First, I wanted to examine some basic attitudes and working methods for contemporary dyers in North America who have elected to use natural materials to produce color -- a means of dying that to many people seems very old-fashioned and silly when there are so many synthetic dyes available for home use.
"Second, I wanted to present recipes for natural dyes that have been tested for lightfastness. Many people dismiss natural dyes as fugitive and unfast, and they believe that natural dyes easily lose their color. In fact, just the opposite seems to be true in many cases.
"To test the dyes, a sample from each method or recipe provided in this book was tested for fastness to light, using industrial methods in a weatherometer. This instrument tests lightfastness by means of a carbon lamp in controlled atmospheric conditions.
"Development of weatherometers came about after synthetic dyes had fairly monopolized the industrial dye market; as a result, most natural dyes have never been tested under the standard industrial methods, nor are there fastness ratings for most natural dyes.
"Third, I have been interested in providing natural dyers with a means of communicating about the colors they obtain. Most reference sources for natural dyes give only very general descriptions of the colors produced by the natural materials -- for example, 'yellow' for goldenrod with alum mordant, or 'red' for madder with chrome mordant. To provide a more accurate description, each dyed sample representing the recipes and methods contained in this handbook has been coordinated with the Inter-Society Color Council, National Bureau of Standards Centroid Colors, and each sample color is designated with the color code for the closest color match to it.
"People are often curious about the reasons why I've chosen to dye with natural materials when it would be so much easier to buy a packet of dye powder and have nearly instant color. Perhaps it's because I love soil and plants and my pet cochineal bugs, who slowly suck all the life and color out of the succession of prickly pear cacti I feed them with.
"Perhaps it's because I don't want one of humanitity's oldest arts, crafts and trades to disappear. Perhaps it's because I can wander through the woods or the vacant lots in town, gather up a few unsuspecting plants, take them home and brew a lovely dye all by myself.
"Perhaps it's because there are sometimes surprising results in the dyepot that make me wonder and appreciate the fact that I can't always control what nature has produced. Perhaps it's because dying with nature feels to me like the way things are meant to be.
"I do know that brewing dyes from natural materials has become somewhat of an addiction; I can no longer look at a fruit tree and think only of eating the fruit. Instead, I also think of the color the bark will make when the tree sheds it, or of the color the peelings from some fruit I have eaten will produce.
"Natural dying has become a part of me in a way that adding a packet of laboratory-produced dye powder never could, for working alone with nature is a very personal experience. I enjoy nature's produce, the dye process, the fibers, and the results. I have discovered the rainbow in my dyepot."