Colour & Culture

There is a hidden wholeness to planting, and tending, and maintaining an orchard, and using its produce to dye fibre.

The elemental forms of both orchard work and fabric dyeing are in fact part of enduring patterns, that given similar geographical, economic, and social circumstances, communities maintain habits of life and mind over immense periods of time.  Part of these patterns are learned of course, and passed on.  But there is a part of these behaviours that are inherently and deeply embedded in human intuition.

There is a certain sensuous pleasure that comes from the work of real-life husbandry that goes hand-in-hand with a dye pot.  It is work that is best done through the reflective observation, and responses, and care for a community of plants that is carried out over a long period of time itself.  Learning to read the natural world in which you live provides you with  both an actual context into which to enter, as well as real things with which to grapple, both in terms of these living creatures, as well as in your own soul.

When my husbandry finds symbiosis with the community of plants with whom I live it is always humbling, and very clearly the product of not consciously thinking too much about what I am doing.  That is, there is a strong element of grace about it…a mutual self-revelation and benefitting.


In anthropology now, the term thick description refers to a dense accumulation of ordinary information about a culture, as opposed to abstract or theoretical analysis. It means observing the details of life until they begin to coagulate or cohere into an interpretation…I’d like to see thick description make a comeback. Apart from sheer sensuous pleasure, it gives you the comforting feeling that you’re not altogether adrift, that at least you have an actual context to enter into and real things to grapple with.                      

– Anatole Broyard