Creating the colours of the East Coast with natural dyes
Hand-painted silks are a defining feature of Kinetika’s transformational arts projects, bringing diverse communities together through walking and talking and making large-scale flags. The artists at Kinetika are accustomed to a challenge, often working on giant batiks, or on projects with intricate detail and emotional value.
Beach of Dreams has inspired artistic director Ali Pretty to adopt a different approach to the silk painting for this project and take on an entirely new challenge. Beach of Dreams is an epic 500 mile walk from Lowestoft to Tilbury 26 June to 1st Aug 2021, following the coast as it travels south. Each of the 500 miles will have a specially created silk pennant to represent it, reproduced from designs sent in by participants who have signed up to walk that mile during the event.
With strong environmental themes, Ali specified using a special hand-woven silk for the Beach of Dreams pennants, created on non-mechanised looms. Kinetika uses this silk on many of its projects, having built a relationship with the small number of artisan-weavers who still make it in West Bengal in India. The challenge came when choosing how to dye this silk to represent the values of the project in an authentic way.
In 24 years of painting silk the dye of choice for Kinetika has always been Procion MX, a type of cold-water dye. It is mostly considered non-toxic except for a few specific colours, and additional chemicals for fixing like soda ash are similar to compounds found in washing powder. So why consider a change at all?
Galvanised by conversations around the environmental challenges of the places along the route, Ali began to question whether the type of dye used could be entirely natural. Exciting experiments followed, and with advice and help from Rob Jones of Romor Designs the studio filled with bubbling vats of tinted liquids. Using three main dyes made from Poplar, Tansy and Elderberry, combined with a variation of mordants, the team could create an amazing range of natural colours.
The results speak for themselves and all five hundred of the newly dyed pennants were revealed for the first time at First Light Longest Days event on Lowestoft beach 27 June, marking the start of the Beach of Dreams walk.
This journey of discovery into natural dyes does not mean the old ways will be left behind just yet, although Ali and the Kinetika silk painters welcome this new addition to their skillset. But for Beach of Dreams, they are delighted to be able to rise to the challenge to create a collective artwork that reflects the colours and textures found along the coastline between Lowestoft and Tilbury. Forty-eight shades of sand? No problem at all.