Sarika Doppalapudi: Natural Dyes, Quilt Tops, and Interviews

Over the past month, I have completed the construction of all of my mini quilt tops which use a fairly simple patchwork design, as I wanted to create backgrounds that would make the embroidered quotes more readable. In recent years, I have begun experimenting with natural dyes, as a result of a project I completed for Professor Myisha Priest’s Women’s Textiles course. The project encouraged us to think about our maternal lineages, and to conduct an oral history of our mothers. For my project, I was inspired by Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Garden’s, and interviewed my mother about her own creative outlets, as well as how she had been influenced and mothered by the women before her. For the project, I took up tatting, or handmade lace-making, a skill my mother’s mother was especially proficient in, and used food scraps to dye my tatted pieces, as my mother’s grandmother was an experienced gardener. I became interested both in tatting and natural dyes, and they have become creative practices I have incorporated into my own textile work.

In thinking about my quilt tops, I wanted to find a way to introduce some variation into the quilt tops without detracting from the embroidery, and while still thinking about the construction of the quilt tops through the lens of my research question – how is meaning constructed through the creation of textiles? I was inspired to work with natural dyes again because I find working with them a process that connects me to my own maternal lineages, and because they create a wide variety of often muted and unexpected colors. In past natural dye experiments, I had gone through a process of mordanting my fabric using alum. This process involves heating the mordant (alum) with a pre-moistened and scoured fabric. The mordant is a fixative, which throughout this process, attaches to the fabric to allow the dye to become more wash and color fast. Prior to mordanting, I had scoured my textile materials using soda ash. Scouring, a process in which the textiles are thoroughly washed, is used to remove any dirt or impurities, which allows for the most “true” version of the color to come through. Mordants might also incorporate different levels of acidity, or different amounts of tannins, which will change the color of the dye. For example, one common mordant is created by soaking rusty nails in water. This creates a tannin-rich mordant, which darkens or “saddens” the color produced by the dye.

However, in thinking about the natural dyes I wanted to use for this project, I was curious to try and examine natural dyes that were already tannin-rich and did not need a mordant to appear on the fabric. I used a light-weight scouring substance, white vinegar, just to get rid of any impurities. Since the particular fabric I was using already had a self-embossed design on it, I was worried that using a traditional mordant would make the design less visible. For my natural dyes for this project, I used black tea, turmeric, foraged mulberries, sweet potato peels, walnut shells, indigo, henna, a mix of henna and indigo, a mix of paprika, sumac, and turmeric, and just a plain white one to show the color difference.

Over the course of this past month, I also conducted an interview with Melissa Blount, a textile artist in Chicago, which was very productive. I have transcribed about 75% of the interview, and have picked a few pull quotes. Melissa Blount also invited me to attend Stitch by Stitch: Conversations on Quilting, “Healing”, and Abolition, a conference at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which I will be attending this weekend.

The conference I will be attending this weekend
My quilt tops!
Foraged mulberries, and very mulberry stained fingers.

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