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Dyeing Now: Contemporary Makers Celebrate Ethel Mairet’s Legacy

17 September 2016 - 31 May 2017

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An exciting live research project will bring to life this 100 year old book as we attempt to catalogue every natural dye recipe from Ethel Mairet’s influential publication with the help of artists, craftspeople and students from across the country and beyond.

Ethel Mairet was an enthusiastic teacher, dedicated to ensuring that her lifetime of experimentation with natural dyes and textiles was passed on to future generations. A pioneer of the 20th-century modern craft revival in Britain, Mairet’s arts and crafts affiliations began alongside her first husband, Ananda Coomaraswamy, at C R Ashbee’s community in Chipping Campden, before moving to Ditchling and befriending the Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic. She was visited by Gandhi in 1914 and became the first woman Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1939.

Mairet shared a view common with many of her Ditchling contemporaries that the sustainability of craft lay in communicating with a new generation of practitioners, and to this end she taught at Brighton Art School between 1939 and 1947, favouring experimentation rather than technical expertise. Mairet’s ‘A Book of Vegetable Dyes’ was first published in 1916 and was so successful that it ran to five editions (including a version published by Hilary Pepler’s St Dominic’s Press).

Today the book is still regarded as the definitive text on natural dyes and it remains an enormously influential text for weavers, natural dye and textile artists. Reflecting both Mairet’s ambition to pass on her knowledge and the book’s continued influence, we have invited contemporary international weavers, artists and dyers to respond to the book in a live research project, creating their own natural dyes based on Mairet’s recipes and advice. Their works are incorporated into the display alongside examples from our collection of Mairet’s dyeing and weaving and all five volumes of the original book.

Samples of hand dyed yarn will continue to arrive throughout the exhibition, and the display will evolve throughout its run to accommodate new contributions. Individual pieces are labeled and charted with notes commenting on different techniques and ingredients, and the museum’s Parlour has become a place for visitors to relax and view hand crafted yarn work and equipment.

Accompanying the exhibition is a series of workshops, events and drop-in sessions with the aim of encouraging visitors to try their hand at creating their own textiles and natural dyes.

If you are familiar with the natural dyeing process and would like to take part by dyeing your own skein of yarn to contribute to the exhibition, read our article containing instructions and guidelines.

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