True Colors Highlights Natural Pigments and Expert Dyers Around the World

As with other forms of making that were impoverished by the Industrial Revolution, the task ahead is to conserve where necessary while continuing to innovate.

Juana Gutiérrez Contreras is among the few Zapotec artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico, with expertise in dyeing with cochineal, an insect-derived pigment. Courtesy Joe Coca

Synthetic dyes were developed in the 1850s, and though we know that they’re no friends of the environment, they’ve become so entrenched that returning to colors sourced from plants, insects, or minerals seems impossible. Yet we must, as Keith Recker points out in his new book True Colors: World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments (Thrums Books, 2019). “Color, so integral to our consumer choices, has a role to play in addressing our environmental challenges both through better practices and through more satisfying narratives,” he writes. His 26 painstakingly researched case studies show how we might shift toward more sustainable fabric dyes. Each highlights a natural color source and an expert dyer—whether an indigo artist working within centuries of tradition or an entrepreneurial designer developing hues from marigold petals. Some color sources, like avocado pits and turmeric, are widely accessible, while others, such as the sea snails from which Mexico’s Mixtec dyers coax a range of purple tints, are endangered. As with other forms of making that were impoverished by the Industrial Revolution, the task ahead is to conserve where necessary while continuing to innovate. For those interested in this mission, True Colors will be an essential handbook.

You may also enjoy “New Color Technologies Are Challenging CMYK’s Hegemony.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send your thoughts to: comments@metropolismag.com

Categories: Arts + Culture, Design