Foraging, handmade ink and dye workshop + a recipe for dyeing with turmeric

I have always loved wandering the Tuscan countryside (or Melbourne city!), picking plants and flowers to inspire a meal. And ever since learning how to dye fabric with foraged plants (see below for a ‘recipe’), I’ve fallen in love with the idea of sharing this beautiful, sustainable process, along with making handmade natural inks over a truly creative, inspiring few days. So I’m very pleased to announce a new and unique workshop in Florence for May 2020, where we will spend a few days foraging for, making and playing with natural ink and fabric dyeing in the serene setting of one of Tuscany’s prettiest B&Bs, Valdirose in Lastra a Signa, a 15 minute train ride from Florence.

Our wonderful teachers are two creatives whose work I absolutely adore, Kathryn Davey and Marta Abbott. They will guide us in their specialties — Kathryn dyeing fabric with plant-based dyes and Marta’s being natural ink making and painting (just see their instagram accounts for the beautiful work they both do!). I have even twisted the arm of Irene Berni, Valdirose’s owner, to teach us a styling and flower arranging class and once you see how dreamy the space is that she has created, you will be so glad I did.

Plants and flowers will feature largely in the local and seasonal food that I will prepare for our meals too (think fried robinia flowers and wisteria, stinging nettle tortellini and saffron hued pasta, elderflower infused sponge cake), which we will sometimes make together and always share on long tables with natural wines, all on the charming grounds of Valdirose — “Wandering wooded paths and flowering fields in search of supplies and inspiration,” as Marta says — for a few wonderful days of creative nourishment. Would you like to join us?

About your hosts:

I first met Kathryn at our co-hosted workshop at beautiful Melisses on the Greek Island of Andros. She is a natural dyer based in Dublin, Ireland. She works exclusively with natural fibers to create a line of homewares and accessories for her company. She loves sharing the magic of natural dyes with others and teaches ongoing workshops in Dublin, London and elsewhere.

Marta Abbott is a Czech-American artist currently based in Italy. In addition to her painting, Marta has spent time in the worlds of art restoration and floral design. She lived in New York before moving to Rome in 2012. The natural world is the primary focus of Marta’s work and as such, the use of natural inks made from organic and often foraged materials like plants and flowers instinctively became a part of her process. A favourite part of her learning process is sharing what she’s learned with others and encouraging them to discover the world of natural inks for themselves.

Irene Berni is Tuscan born and bred. Since 2007 she has run her family’s B&B, Valdirose, in Lastra a Signa and here she creates atmosphere, develops recipes and hosts events that celebrate the beauty of small things. She loves details, frugality, light, fabrics and natural materials and when not preparing her beautiful breakfasts at Valdirose, she’s fossicking through markets and antique stores. She has written two cookbooks (in Italian) and has a monthly column for “Cook” of Corriere della Sera.

Emiko Davies is an Australian-Japanese cookbook author based in Florence, Italy, since 2005. Before writing three cookbooks on regional Italian cuisine, she studied art restoration in Florence, Fine Art in the US, and worked as an art restorer, a darkroom assistant and art history tour guide. She loves art as much as cooking and sees the two things as very intertwined.

Itinerary:

20 May: Guests arrive. 1pm light buffet lunch in the olive grove (weather permitting), then a walk to collect plants for creates dyes and inks. Back to Valdirose to get settled into rooms in late afternoon. Aperitivo and candlelit dinner.

21 May: After breakfast, introduction to dyeing with Kathryn; light grazing lunch, then afternoon ink making/painting with Marta Abbott. A special styling and flowering mini masterclass with Irene Berni. Aperitivo and candlelit dinner.

22 May: Morning with Marta Abbott; making pasta and a cake with Emiko, then after lunch dyeing workshop with Kathryn. Dinner in a local trattoria.

23 May: Breakfast and a chance to finish any last minute projects before saying goodbye to Valdirose (optional for anyone headed to Florence, I’ll accompany people to Florence to visit the Sant’Ambrogio market and the trawl the flea market).

Included in the workshop are:

  • 3 nights accommodation at Valdirose (double occupancy)
  • Two lessons in plant dyeing natural fabrics with Kathryn Davey
  • Two lessons in natural ink making with Marta Abbott
  • Styling session with Irene Berni
  • All meals (3 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 2 dinners) catered by cookbook author Emiko Davies
  • Natural wines with meals, a foraged flower welcome cocktail
  • A meal out at a local trattoria together
  • All materials, which includes a kit for each participant containing fabric to dye, paper, brushes and ink bottles.
  • Small group of 6-8 participants

Price: 1150 euro per participant (single supplement 350 euro)

Book your place with a 50% deposit now.

Tea and turmeric dyed cotton market totes

A few months ago while I was in Australia, I was gifted some beautiful organic cotton market totes (above left) from sustainable Melbourne brand Toko Eco. I wholeheartedly love them and they come everywhere with me so I never have to use or accept plastic bags while shopping (I’m happy to say that Toko will be supplying some of their totes for each participant at the workshop too). To customise them, I decided to dye them inspired by what I learned from Kathryn Davey’s workshop and I used just a few simple household ingredients — English breakfast tea and powdered turmeric!

What you need:

  • 2 clean cotton totes
  • 2 tea bags (or equivalent loose leaf) of any black tea
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of powdered turmeric
  • a wooden spoon and a big pot

How to do it:

If your cotton totes are already used, make sure they are washed in warm water before dyeing to avoid any inconsistencies in the process. Technically, washing soda, soda ash or even baking soda should be added to the wash to prepare the fabric before dyeing (they help remove any spots that may have grease or other substances on them that will dye differently) but I admit I skipped this for the totes, I just rinsed them in warm water. You can also leave them to soak overnight first.

To help the turmeric dye ‘stick’, the fabric needs to be pre-soaked with a fixative or mordant, or a tannic substance (tea!). Note, you can use a dye that is naturally high in tannins, avocado pits for example, which make a pretty pink, and skip the mordant. I used English breakfast tea. Put a pot of water to boil (use enough to cover your fabric) and add the tea bags or equivalent in leaf tea. Let boil 5 minutes to make it quite strong. Dip your damp totes into the pot of hot, strong tea and let them simmer for at least 15 minutes, then remove and let soak until you are happy with the colour if you would like to simply have a tea-dyed tote (this comes out a lovely, pale rosy-beige). Rinse in fresh water and let dry if you are done. Continue below to dye with turmeric.

To dye the tea-dyed totes yellow, fill a pot with enough water to cover the totes. Add the powdered turmeric and bring to a simmer. Add the damp totes and let simmer gently for about 15 minutes then let soak off heat for about 1 hour or until you have the colour desired. Play around with this process, the longer you leave it the deeper the colour, and obviously less time, the paler the colour. Rinse in fresh water and hang to dry.

Read more from Kathryn’s journal on dyeing with avocado pits here.

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