As a natural dye artisan and owner of Noon Design Studio, Jane Palmer cares about the product lifecycle from beginning to end. She works with organic fabrications and sources leftover yarn from stock that larger brands could not use. She studies natural dyes from a perspective of a scientist and an artist, taking care to understand the process and investigate what could be done to improve it while not forgetting aesthetics. Her focus is on progress and sustainability. She believes each item she makes should be able to be buried in the backyard at the end of its use. Inspired by the true craftsmanship that Jane brings to the dyeing process, we recruited her to run an Indigo Dyeing DIY workshop at our Abbot Kinney and Larchmont stores this summer.
When did you first start experimenting with natural dyes?
I started experimenting about 12 years ago (2002) after completing a textiles grad program and reading the book Cradle to Cradle. This was before any kind of green movement was going on and the book just completely blew my mind. It promotes the idea of product developers designing things from the beginning to the end so that their products could be completely biodegradable or completely upcycled. I took it as a personal challenge for what I was going to do in relation to textiles and dyes. There were some organic fabrics on the market, but there certainly weren’t any organic dyes. I started experimenting and I developed a philosophy that everything I make should be able to be buried in the backyard.
After a while, I wanted to progress my work to be more than just a hobby, so I purchased some equipment and converted it to be used with natural dyes. I realized there was a serious problem in the dye industry and wanted to find a solution. I think there are a lot of different solutions but it’s rewarding and fun to work on one potential idea.
Explain the combination of science and art that goes into your work:
I have a background in fine art and think that aesthetics and beauty are a very significant part of our lives. Natural dyes contain their own aesthetics but as functional dyes they are also based in chemistry. There’s a lot of potential to create a technologically advanced natural dye through modern chemistry while retaining the benefits including environmentalism and aesthetics. I’m really interested in working towards that goal. For example, we partnered with a Nano Particle Chemist at Rutgers University to research if we can improve the colorfastness of natural dyes by creating an advanced natural dye molecule. Our additional goal is to develop a dye that can achieve more level dyeing and use up to 80% less water.
What is your personal favorite dye to work with and why?
Indigo is such a popular dye right now and it’s popular for a reason. It’s one of my favorites because it has this inner depth and glow that just can’t be achieved by any other dye or process. I’m also really attracted to the chemistry and the process of how to use it. It’s not a dye that you throw into a machine, add some blue powder and out it comes. You have work with each piece individually. It’s a dipping process and a layering process.
I also love just researching ancient recipes and retrying them and seeing if they work. I love the story, the history and the combination of materials. I enjoy just seeing what can happen.
What are the best fabrics to dye on and why?
Natural fibers dye best with natural dyes: cotton, linen, silk, wool and hemp. We do have some customers experimenting with surplus goods that have a lot of poly, nylon or rayon in them and the outcome is kind of amazing because it sort of works and sort of doesn’t work. It creates a whole new sort of aesthetic that’s really interesting.
What role/level of importance does sustainability play in your craft?
Huge. It’s the driving force. It’s a very strong belief that things don’t have to be toxic at all and still achieve satisfaction through aesthetics and performance.
What’s next for Noon Design Studio?
In addition to dyeing indigo for Los Angeles apparel brands, we have developed our own home line consisting of of bedding, blankets, pillows & accessories hitting stores this summer. The collection will first be available at ABC Home, Mohawk General and on our website at www.noonbyjanepalmer.com. On the development front, we are working with Dr. Nina Shapley at Rutgers and going into a R&D mode to create high-performance, lower-cost natural dyes. We’re thinking about an advanced dye molecule.
Written by Kate Koeller
Photos by Erik Dixon