eccomi 5: Chelsea Physic Garden


Dye plants in the Chelsea Physic Garden


A favourite haunt of ao textiles is the Chelsea Physic Garden in London.  A place that demonstrates the medicinal, economic, cultural and environmental importance of plants to the survival and well-being of humankind.

An interesting extract from some signage in the garden explains why historical research is so intrinsic and necessary to our natural dye development.

'Until quite recently all dye pigments came from nature, particularly plants. The craft of extracting colour from leaves, roots, flowers and seeds is one of the earliest examples of chemistry and was the basis of a huge world-wide industry. Plants found to produce the most striking or reliable results became highly valued crops. Centres of excellence developed where secret dye recipes were closely guarded by the master craftsmen who created them.'

Unpicking the secrets of these dye recipes continues to intrigue us and thanks to Penny's many years of exploration we have been able to uncover some of the mystery.

We acknowledge that cheaper and more consistent alternatives have been developed from petroleum by-products in the form of conventional dyes. However, as the Physic Garden explains:

'With the decline of fossil fuels and a move away from synthetic chemicals, could dyes from plants become significant again?'

We think so, and know that although there are variations in batch production, the colour quality always has a richness that chemical dyes cannot replicate. 

In line with our dye explorations we continue to research the production of woven silk created by the Huguenot weavers of Spitalfields, London.  These vibrant 17th century fabrics would have been coloured from natural dyes and are a constant source of inspiration.


Woven Spitalfields silk fabric










Emma D'Arcey