Q&A: Amanda de Beaufort

Q&A: Amanda de Beaufort

Sometimes colourful characters enter your life and leave an indelible mark. Amanda de Beaufort is one such character who stayed on my mind after meeting just once at a market in New York. And it’s fitting because her beautiful botanical dye work leaves literally indelible marks all over her collection of fabrics from bedlinen to sweatshirts and, more recently, face masks. We spoke to Amanda about her journey as a handmaker, and how her work connects her to nature’s true wonders.

Amanda de Beaufort
Amanda de Beaufort, the @dyekween Image credit: Claire Weiss

1. Tell us about how you discovered your method of dyeing.

I’ve always had making in my blood. I went to art school and studied photography and printmaking. I am a lifelong crafter as well. I find the process in creativity fascinating.

When I discovered botanical dyeing I had been working in art, design, and architecture for the past fifteen years, but doing communications and marketing. The long hours staring at the computer screen had me craving getting my hands dirty and connecting to nature.

I first got interested when I read about Audrey Louis Reynolds, a natural dyer that works in the fashion industry. She sells dyes that are made with flowers, earth, and minerals— they are beautiful! So I bought a packet and was intrigued to learn more. My friend encouraged me to try dyeing with avocado pits and after that an obsession took hold!

dyequeen sweatshirt
2. Can you tell us a little bit about the process?

I work primarily with plant fibers—cotton, linen, hemp. I use foraged and homegrown dye plants, as well as dye extracts. Right now, I grow marigold, cosmos, scabiosa coreopsis, and black-eyed Susans that I use to make botanical color prints on cloth called bundle dyeing.

I grow Japanese indigo that can be used to make fresh leaf blues and minty greens. I also vat dye using indigo, immersion dye with various dye-stuff, and create botanical paints for cloth and paper.

One of the things I love about the natural dyeing process is that it’s slow. Dye baths can take more than a day to soak up all the color and get that beautiful varied texture. To create one piece can take more than a week when you factor in the scouring, mordanting, dyeing, curing, and finishing of each piece. This unique and handmade quality of natural dyeing gives it life! A piece that is hand-dyed with plants will change over its lifetime and, to me, becomes more beautiful.

3. What's the most bizarre thing you've ever used for dye color?

I love this question. I think the thing people are most surprised by is bugs. I use cochineal, a parasitic scale insect that lives on the prickly pear cactus. It gives bright pinks and reds that are a very strong and ancient color. I also use lac, which is a resin that is secreted from the scale insect, Kerria lacca. It also gives reds and pinks. Lac was used as far back as 250 AD!!

4. If nights are spent dyeing...what's your day job?

I work with the architect Daniel Libeskind doing communications and marketing in New York City. I having been working in public relations for nearly two decades now, before Libeskind, I worked primarily for art museums in the US and Europe.

Dye Queen Indigo Yarn
Shibori style indigo rope, from a plant that looks like basil! Image credit: Instagram/dyekween
Dye Queen Table Napkins

“Science can find no biological reason the indigo plant has the blue dye molecules.”

5. Hearth Co is all about the importance of daily creativity and the soul within handmade products. What drives you to make what you do? Why do you care?
I am not an especially spiritual person, but when I look at the natural environment I feel a deep connection. It blows my mind the colors that are locked inside the most unsuspecting of plants. For example, the indigo plant that gives the most brilliant deep blues looks like basil! The green leaves offer no hint of the blue hiding inside. In fact, science can find no biological reason the indigo plant has the blue dye molecules.
I am driven to share this lost (at least in the Western cultures) practice of using plants to make color because I think there is meaning in it and perhaps I can open a door for others to explore what nature can offer. Up until the mid-19th century, all textiles were colored with plants! I think people change when they care, and you care when you are connected.
Right around the time I started getting into natural dyeing I also stopped buying fast fashion. That is another factor for me in this craft, I believe in surrounding yourself with beauty and objects that you love. Slow food, slow fashion, and slow color.
6. Anything else you'd like to tell us about you or your business?
I am very lucky to have been able to build my business and craft over the years with the support of an incredible family and my local community.
I am self-taught, but I owe a lot to Liz Spencer the Dogwood Dyer, she is a source of inspiration and guidance, also Rebecca Desnos her book Botanical at your Fingertips was an early guide to learning about dyeing with food-waste, and Kathy Hattori at Botanical Colors in Seattle— her website is a treasure trove of information.
But most importantly, the indigenous cultures that have been using these methods for millennia.
7. Handmaker(s) you're currently admiring?
So many! But right now I can't get enough of Loria Stern, she makes the most beautiful sweets with real flowers; and Object-Matter Ceramic, Carrie Lau's work makes my heart sing!
Thank you Amanda!
Read more about Amanda de Beaufort here.
If you are an artisan or know one who might like to be featured on this site, please send an email to nina@hearth-co.com
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