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A Conversation with Fiber Artist, James Perry

We recently sat down with James, (AKA Longdrawjames on the socials) who is a professional spinner, knitter, weaver, dyer and PhD in chemistry. We discuss dyes and natural dyes through his lens as a chemist.

Cina: Hi, James, so lovely to meet you. I’m Cina, and Bethany is here on WhatsApp on my phone because her Zoom was not cooperating. We are both very interested in all things botanical colors, natural dyes, pigments, paints, etc. So, when I came across some of your posts in the Natural Dye Facebook Group, I sent them to Bethany with a, “Check out this guy!” Of course, we both wanted to chat with you, so here we are. 

Let’s begin with who you are, where you're from, what you're doing, and how you got into this whole world of natural dyes.

James: Okay, that’s a rabbit hole question. Primarily, I have been in the fiber arts for a long time, 20 years. In case you can't tell, I'm 30. So, I've been doing this since I was ten. I learned to knit at the age of ten. My grandmother taught me and me being me, I couldn't just stop at knitting. At the time, I went to a fiber show with my mom and we were looking around the stores when we found a spinning wheel. I was like, “I want to do that.” So, I came home with this Ashford traditional spinning wheel and I more or less started learning how to spin. 

I went at it pretty much like that for a few years and then picked up synthetic dyeing in my mom's microwave with some acid dyes. I just kind of went at it from a bit of reading online because I was on Ravelry at that point. It was trial and error. After that, in 2015 I think it was, I became a weaver, too, because I was finding that I was spinning a lot of fine yarns and stuff with a lot of twist that wasn't necessarily suited to most types of knitting. Obviously, there's only so much lace one person can really knit in their lifetime, right? So, a lot of this was weaving yarn.

I also wood turn and I'm a spindle maker. I make supported spindles as well. So, there's a whole plethora, now. I should add that with all of the making I do, I am also now into the writing side. I write for a number of magazines around spinning and technical aspects of hand spinning. I also teach hand spinning and do that professionally as a sideline. 

So, in terms of natural dyeing, I've been doing synthetic dyeing for a long time, but natural dyeing is a more recent thing for me. I only really started picking it up in 2020 during the lockdown, believe it or not. We had a lockdown starting in March and I was like, “Well, I'm going to do something new. I'm going to learn how to do natural dyeing.” I was already a chemist at that point, which I'll come on to, later. So yeah, that's kind of my professional craft side of things.

Now, aside from that, for my day job, I'm actually a chemist. I've always been into science, since I was a kid. When I was 18, I did a bachelor's degree in chemistry. I then left university and became a high school teacher for three years, teaching chemistry. Teaching teenagers wasn't necessarily for me, at that point. So, I went back to university and I did a master's in green chemistry and sustainable industrial technology.

My chosen area of specialism was the sustainability of textile dyeing. I wrote my thesis on that and then I moved to Imperial College in London and am now doing my PhD in chemistry. I'm in my final year. I actually work on bio-based green surfactants and detergents for wool scouring, but I have tried to keep a dye theme going through it. Of course, my chemistry heavily informs my knowledge of the fiber arts that I do. 

That leads me, I think, quite nicely up to where I'm at now because it's weird. I have these two side-by-side parts of my life, my day job professional life, and then all my fiber stuff, which kind of is a sideline but also kind of isn't.

Cina: Great. I understand. You also have a farm, is that correct? How does that fit in with everything you’re doing?

James: I don't have a farm, my friend owns a farm and has 150 black Wensleydale sheep. It's the largest flock of colored Wensleydale in the world. So, of course, I have my hands on quite a lot of wool. We also run an Etsy shop called Ashenflock.

Basically, my friend used to farm commercial meat sheep. At one point, she said, “I don't want to do this anymore.” She was struggling to make much money in farming, which you never do, anyway. But she said, “Let's try and make this less horrible. Let's go down the rare breed route.” We looked into all sorts of options and I came up with all sorts of harebrained schemes to try out. She eventually settled on Wensleydale sheep and we started off in 2018 or 2019. 

She was using me as a dyer and we were just dying white Wensleydale locks. That was where it started. We said, “Oh, maybe we'll do some locks and we'll sell some fleeces online. Me being me, I couldn't leave it there and start saying, “Oh, we should get this and we should get that.” It's now kind of expanded so that we more or less run this little fiber business. We're not huge and of course, it's only a part-time thing. But yeah, we do that. 

We do mostly cone top at this point, but we do still sell a lot of fleece, predominantly synthetically dyed. But I do, when I have the time and the space, offer some naturally dyed stuff as well. It's one of those things, again, that starts small and kind of grows. It's a way of allowing a platform for us to be able to sell the fleeces, which has grown into a bit more than that, if you will.

Cina: O.k., let's back up just a bit. Coming from synthetic dye, what spurred your interest to explore natural dyes?

James: That's a really good question. I think it was an experimentation thing because, you know, I was informed by my master's project. I read the most awesome 15th-Century dying manual in old English with all the ye and thous and all this kind of thing. I was reading it and it was saying, “Ye shall taketh this, seething bottle of…” I'm just like, “My goodness, I gotta try some of this. This looks kind of cool.” I already knew I could get really nice, light-fast, wash-fast colors from my synthetic dyes. I'm an experienced synthetic dyer. I've got the chemistry down on those. But I don't know as much about the chemistry of natural dyes.

So, I did a deep dive into it as part of my master's and supplemented that with a practical understanding. I had the theory and there was a little itch in my brain. So, that's what spurred it. I think the first thing I tried was ground-up madder root. I used the standard alum potassium and cream of tartar mordant system on a bit of really rough, old wool, just to try it. I was like, “Oh my goodness, it's orange and it's stayed orange. Right, okay, now I need to try everything.”

Cina: Did it take you a while to start understanding the chemistry of it? Do you feel like you now have a good handle on the chemistry of natural dyes?

James: Honestly, the learning curve wasn't huge because like any dyeing, it works off basic principles. Having had the training and experience I've had, I mean, I've been working in chemistry now for 11 years, you get a bit of a sixth sense. You can work out what's happening and you look and you go, “Okay, yeah, this is chelating here and this is going to bind in, here,” and you can start to see the links. The practical side of things was a learning curve, you know, because a lot of these color molecules have sensitivities that you wouldn't necessarily need to think about with a synthetic dye. So, I enjoyed exploring that. I also did some things I knew I shouldn't just to prove to myself I shouldn't do them.

Cina: Like what? Do you have an example?

Cochineal dyed wool

James: I have a great example. They told me that cochineal is going to change color if I use alkaline conditions. I'm like, “It's probably going to struggle to bind and it's probably going to destroy my wool if I boil it in like a pH 12 solution.” And oh my goodness. It was like poorly crimped hair at the end. And the color was just insipid and horrible and kind of pale and dusky. And then, in the end, even taking out bits of the solution in plastic cups and adding different amounts of acid and alkali and watching the pH change the carminic acid-that kind of thing is super cool. And you don't get that with synthetic dyes, right? That was fascinating to me.

Cina: Yeah, Bethany and I are both newly coming into the natural dye world, so it’s just the opposite for us in understanding synthetic dyes.

James: With synthetic dyes, if you get that color, you dissolve it in water, you add the acid to it and it is that color. No matter what pH it's at, it's that color. If it's green, it's green. If it's blue, it's blue. That's pretty much how those work. They're slightly more user friendly and they're slightly more idiot-proof. You add this much dye, this much acid, you put it on, you cook it to this temperature, it always gives you the same color, every time. And of course, natural dyes don't do that. There is a level of skill, involved.

Cina: Yes, we are fascinated by the chemistry of it because neither one of us has a chemistry background. It’s a new and exciting learning experience. We also live in different countries and in very different climate environments, so we sometimes experience different results from some of the same experiments. It’s so fun trying to figure out what's what and why.

O.k., back to synthetic dyes. I'm curious from your perspective, because clearly you're interested in the natural world and working with natural fibers, how do you reconcile the impact of synthetic dyeing and that industry with sustainable dyeing practices?

James: Okay. So, I come at this from an interesting perspective because I've been in sustainable chemistry for a number of years, and I'll preface this with there's no such thing as "green." There's only such a thing as "green-er." Now, I haven’t done the actual numbers myself, so I can't give you figures on this. But, there's a lot of things you have to take into account that a lot of people don't necessarily think about. 

With a synthetic dye, you've got the impact of the dye being applied to the fiber and the water usage and the energy usage and all this kind of thing. Realistically, your auxiliary there is citric acid, or in industry they sometimes use sulfuric or formic acid, depending on the dye and what method they're using. Then, you've got the production of the dye itself, which okay, honestly, it used to happen more in-house, but since the legislation has gotten more tough, a lot of the industry has been outsourced to places like India and China who don't really care as much about the environment, and where effluent isn’t a problem.

The actual dyeing part, though, of synthetic dyes is not awful because the exhaustion rates are incredibly high. I mean, you're usually expected to see a clear dye bath right at the end, and the amount of dye you're using is very minimal. So you might only be using 1 or 2g for 100g of fiber, right? If you actually take into account the impact of dyeing, say one braid of fiber, it's not as awful as it might seem.

Now, with natural dyeing there are some advantages, of course, because you're working with plant-based materials, predominantly, which are going to be biodegradable, for the most part. An interesting point is that “bio” based doesn't always mean biodegradable. But for the most part, they are, but

You go into it though, and you think, “Okay, so in my synthetic dyeing, I had to cook this for 45 minutes at this temperature. In natural dyeing, even though I've not had to deal with the synthesis of a dye, I've had to cook it twice because I've had to alum mordant it and then dye it.” Do you see what I mean, when you take into account how they produce the alum and all of this kind of stuff? I think I reconcile it as they're just different. They're not necessarily better or worse.

Again, I can't give an accurate assessment of which one is or isn't better or worse without having done the numbers. But I would still probably hazard that natural dye is better. I try and look at it from a logical perspective and try to think about all the factors that go into it, not just what is going into the pot. I ask ‘Where does that stuff that I'm getting come from?’. I know there's a safety element that comes into it, right? Do you know how many times I have seen people worrying about using aluminum or tin as a mordant and worried that it’s going to cause Alzheimer's? The amounts are so small that I wouldn't really worry. You just have to use common sense. It’s the same with some synthetic dyes. There's one in particular, Rhodamine B, a neon hot pink. That's a respiratory irritant. And some of them contain chromium. But again, some natural dyes like logwood, well, you wouldn't want to eat Logwood.

Cina: Yeah, we try to focus on the small steps we can make-trying to learn what we can and learn how to find that balance. When you really start backing up the various layers of something and get all the way to the source, things aren’t so black and white. There's no reason to adhere too tightly to an ideology if we really don't understand the full thread and understand all the implications in the whole process of something. 

James: Absolutely. And I think there are ways. If you're worried about certain aspects of the process, there are ways to make it better. You can make your own copper sulfate, for example. You can crush excess mordant out of your solution by increasing the pH if you're worried about pouring metals down the drain-crush them out and then re-acidify them and reuse them. I think you're right, take it down to the nitty gritty and go through each step and assess that way rather than trying to think about it as a whole thing.

It's a life cycle assessment problem really, isn't it? And life cycle assessment is notoriously complex at the best of times. I did it in my master's, actually. We were looking at synthesis predominantly and we were looking at, you know, the amounts of waste generated from synthesizing one kilogram of a dye. It's like, “Oh, okay, so we've got it here, but how far do we go back? Do we go from this material or that material, or do we just go from crude oil?." So, yeah, it's complicated.

Cina: Very complicated. Nuanced, complex, layered, all of the things. You have to evaluate each layer and the sustainability of each layer, individually.

James: Layers and then layers upon layers upon layers. It's like bureaucracy where there's a form and a form and a form for the form, you know?

Cina: Definitely. O.k., let’s tackle something a little less complicated that you mentioned earlier so we don’t skip over it - mordanting. Do you not mordant with synthetic dyes? 

James: No, you don't. Synthetic dye and the mechanism of fixation is fundamentally different. You use a weak acid and bring down the pH to the isoelectric point, or slightly below the isoelectric, point of wool, which is 2 to 3. You're basically protonating basic sites on the wool fiber, and then what you have is that the dyes are large, strongly negatively charged molecules that come in and do an ion exchange. They electrostatically bind to the fibers. So, synthetic dyeing requires no mordanting.

Cina: This is something we're exploring right now in trying to understand mordants and tannins and how these things react, bind, etc… and what causes what. Of course, without having a chemistry background, I know for me, I'm standing there during an experiment like, “I have no idea what just happened or how to replicate it.”

James: Yep, that happens. I've had it happen myself, in fact. I'm just like, “I don't know what this is doing and I don't know why it's doing it. I just know it's doing it.”

Cina: Has it given you any kind of inspiration to dive deeper into natural dyes, do you have a preference, for one over the other, or, is it just all inspiring for you?

James: Do you know what? I don't. I actually really enjoy both. Part of me really likes the unpredictability, that's kind of the wrong word, the more finicky nature, I should say, of natural dyeing. I think I like that because it makes me write detailed notes about exactly what I'm doing for each step. Altering small things can make such a difference. That's kind of a challenge and I like that. 

(L to R) Tumeric, Walnut Leaves/Indigo, Dandelion Flowers, Indigo, Indigo/Cochineal, Cochineal

Also, it's not necessarily something I've done too much of, but often I’m thinking about using natural dyes predominantly on fiber to be spun. Although, it could apply to yarn. But, we think, “Okay, I'm going to take this skein of yarn or this bolt of fabric and I'm going to put it into the bath and I'm going to cook it and I'm going to get a whole bottle of fabric that's pink, red, green, yellow, whatever.” But what if I don't want it with just one color? What if I want like you see with the hand-painted skeins? What if I want that? I think I’m excited by an interest to play around more with how I can take the technology, which has essentially been around for hundreds of years, and put a modern spin on it so we can kind of modernize it. That's exciting for me. You know, a fresh take on old tech-old that we know works. That's how ideas develop and evolve with the times, right?

Cina: Certainly. That’s something we’ve been inspired by as well. Bethany, do you have any questions for James?

Bethany: Hi, James! Wow, I'm really loving this conversation. I'm laughing a lot. Yeah, it's so fascinating to hear about synthetic dyes. Natural dyeing is completely new to me, too. To hear about a world I didn’t even know about is very fascinating. And the whole chemical process that happens is completely different. I'm wondering, are there layman's terms for teaching and breaking down these kinds of methods? You don't find that kind of material out there, so much. I love that about putting a modern spin on things. Here on the island, there were books produced 200 years ago about what they used to dye and how and this is what got me interested in starting to grow some of these plants. I also like food and juicing, so I've been juice-extracting these dye plants to see what I can get. 

James: That's an awesome idea. I'd never thought of doing that.

Bethany: But I don't know. They boiled plant material, but they didn't have these machines. Are there some kind of terms to think of like, flavonoids? Can they use pressure to get those out or does it require heat? 

James: Yeah, that's a really hard question to answer and I don't necessarily have a good answer for you. I dare say, “Yes.” They're going to be found within the plant. The plant produces them. So, if you mash the plant and squeeze the juice out for sure, it's going to have flavonoids in it. Are you going to get all the flavonoids out? Probably not. One of the things they do a lot in green chemistry is extractions and they love extractions and different extraction media. Boiling is pretty much the simplest way, obviously, or just stirring in water to extract the compounds you want. It works, but you're limited.

This is always the problem. You're limited by solubility and how much the solution will feasibly take. There's an equilibrium, right? To an extent, you've got stuff leaching out and stuff leaching back in and it will hit a point where the amount going in equals the amount going out. And that is to do with your extraction efficiency, if you will. You can't really make it better unless you put in fresh water. Of course, then you're using a load of water to just get this small amount of pigment out and that makes it really hard. Are there other ways? Yes. Are they always available to people who don't have more specialized setups? Probably not. 

There is a really good device called a soxhlet extractor, which is kind of crazy. I used to use it quite a lot in the lab. My master's degree came during Covid, so during lockdown they shut down the university. I couldn't do any more lab work, but I was doing natural product extractions on turmeric, at the time. I was putting the dyestuff in this kind of paper thimble. It evaporates the solvent up and drips it through and it brings this level up and there's a siphon arm and it washes the whole thing through and it will just siphon all the solvent down and then it boils, fills back up with new solvent and all the way back down. So, you end up with this flask of soup, a super small flask of super high concentrate solution. And we just let this thing go overnight and it would just keep siphoning. You're constantly washing it with fresh, hot solvency. You know, solubility is greater at higher temperatures, which is why we boil this stuff. You get better efficiency at higher temperatures. So, this is the whole point. You're trying to freshly wash and this is the way they get around it. 

For years, I have wanted to use a soxhlet extractor to extract natural dyes. It would be ideal for something like cochineal where filtering through a coffee filter kind of sucks.

I've gone well around the houses on this one. Can you get flavonoids out by mashing and juicing? Sure. Can you get more out with other methods? Probably. That was a very long-winded way of saying that. But, it's an interesting point and I had never thought about juicing dye plants before. So, that's actually very cool.

Cina: For sure. We've been talking a lot about better ways to filter our lake pigments.

James: Yeah, like madder. People say to just throw the madder powder in there and don't worry about it. It's all dusty, it'll come. Yeah, no thanks. Using what feels like clay through a coffee filter, waiting for hours. I'm just like, “My goodness.”

Cina: Yep, we’ve been there. O.k., I want to hear more about your PhD. I'm assuming scouring wool is what inspired you, but tell us why you pursued detergents?

Grey is pure qiviut, blue is tundra qiviut blend dyed with indigo from Ixchel Bunny

James. Honestly, I will preface this with my fundamental interest in chemistry is that I'm a textile chemist. That's what gets me out of bed in the morning. I bridge that chemistry of textiles with organic chemistry. I'm a synthesis guy, you know? I like to go into the lab and make stuff and do reactions and all this kind of thing. Organic chemistry is great, but if you turn into a proper organic chemist, you basically spend years and years of your life making white powders. That's kind of boring. 

I want to make things that aren't white. So, I was like, “Well, dyes would obviously be the thing." This is why I was very interested in sustainability in dyes and it is what led me to look into my master's project. Honestly, there are 10,000 words on my pen drive of me being sanctimonious about how horrible the textile industry is. I really, really, really wanted to do my PhD in textile chemistry or in dyes. Unfortunately, I started looking for my PhD position in 2020. There were just not any PhDs on dyes and people hadn't quite caught on to the idea of fast fashion being a bad thing, yet. I kind of came to it 2 or 3 years early. Had I been coming into it now looking for a doctoral position, I think it would have been much easier.

I remember saying, “Well, okay, I can pursue dyes at a later date, if I want to. But what I need now is a project which is still going to be enjoyable to me, is still relevant to my interests and is going to give me the skills to still enable me to pursue what I'm really passionate about later down the line." Surfactants and detergents aligned quite well. They are used very heavily in the textile industry. They're not always that environmentally friendly, even though the detergent companies will tell you they are. And the synthetic skills and the analysis skills are very similar to those you would use in dyeing. So, there were some crossovers. That is basically why I ended up with the position I ended up in. It turns out, I do actually quite like detergents.

Cina: Do you think that you'll also pursue educating people about that topic as well, or are you just using that for your own personal pursuits?

James: I'm far too sanctimonious not to. I can't help myself. I'm one of those people who likes to teach. I always have. Teaching is something I do really enjoy. I like to educate people to help them succeed and make their own work better. And like with dyeing, especially natural dyeing, there is so much misinformation and inaccuracy shared on the subject of wool scouring and understanding of detergents and how they work. I fully intend to continue to talk about them. And the same with natural dyeing. I mean, how many posts do we see on the natural dye education Facebook group every week with someone telling you they want to use black currants to dye their fabric? Or, cornflowers, or beetroot. You see a Facebook video or Instagram reel about someone saying, “I've just dyed this t-shirt blue with red cabbage.” So much misinformation. So, yeah, I kind of make it my mission to help dispel some of the myths, which is where my Facebook page comes from a lot of the time.

CinaYeah, the first time I saw one of your posts, I just happened to pop into that dyeing group one day and ran across your response to somebody and thought, “I’d like to ask that guy some questions.” So what's next for you as you head out into the world with your doctorate? 

James: Academia is a hard world. Especially as a new PhD, trying to find the contracts which are often very short term and make life very difficult if you want to, you know, have a mortgage, for example. So, I'm kind of tentative to go down that route. Also, you've got to eat and the amount of time they give you to do stuff is not great. Academia is a very time-heavy job. So, I'm kind of thinking about staying in detergents for a bit. If I can find something within the scope of the textile industry, I would love that. So, I'm kind of up in the air, but also thinking about going down the startup route. 

Cina: You're in such a great position, though, because academia is changing so drastically that it seems the outlets for entrepreneurship and teaching are really growing. You are well positioned to be the expert in that niche because it is quite a niche around the world and is quite popular, right now, even with spinning and weaving.

James: It really has grown, actually. And you know, it's morphed from what it was maybe 30 years ago where people were still spinning from like, you know, greasy, raw wool into like bulky weight yarn. That was kind of the perception of the craft. I think that has changed significantly over the last 20 years, certainly since I've been doing it. So, things are changing and a lot more people are taking it up, which is cool to see. I've actually noticed the same thing in natural dyeing. Natural dyeing went through a massive, massive resurgence in the 80s and then everyone just forgot about it for some reason. And then recently, within the last few years, it's been coming back into fashion. I think it's the CO2 and the climate crisis. Everybody's like, “What's more sustainable? Let's try and do it from plants, not from not from petrochem.” 

Cina: Right. But then we have to make sure we do that responsibly because if we're all moving to plant-based everything, the people who will ultimately have to grow those large crops for a larger dye industry have to grow and producing responsibly. If not, then where are we?

Grey is pure qiviut, the blue is tundra qiviut blend dyed with indigo from Ixchel Bunny

James: This is the big question, right? It's like, if natural dyes are better, then why do we not just, you know, switch our entire textile dyeing industry to natural dyes? You get into this whole discussion of, well, with a population of like, what, 7-8 billion people, how many tons of fabric are dyed and therefore how many tons of biomass, or raw plant material, do you need? And then, you calculate the space you need to grow that and you work out, “If you're going to grow this many fields of this to be able to clothe all these people, how many fields of that could be used for food and it’s now going to be used for textile instead?” So what's more important? It becomes the typical biodiesel discussion of it's all fine and we'll just use biodiesel and make it

from soybean oil. And you're like, “Yeah, but what about food? We only have this much land.” 

Cina: I've sort of had this thought that we need to stop producing fabric, period. No more fabric should ever be produced. It should all be recycled. Or at least go on a 20-year hiatus where no more crops are grown for fabrics. When you think about the mountains and mountains of waste fabrics going into the landfills, it’s overwhelming. I’ve actually seen them in various countries.

James: Fast fashion is the enemy here. If people would just buy like five T-shirts and let them last for 15 years, we wouldn't have the problem we have now. Right? If people would just accept that they're going to pay a bit more for a wool sweater and that that wool sweater will last them for 15 years... Yeah, we've got a problem. This is fundamentally where it comes from, when people say, “I'll just buy polyester and be done with it” Or nylon, or acrylic. Me and acrylic yarn have a horrible, horrible relationship.

Cina: Speaking of that, the type of sheep that you're working with, I assume you chose that sheep because of the type of wool.

James: Yes and no. I mean, Wensleydale is a long wool. It's not a fine micron count, but it is long and very lustrous and very drapey. So, it actually spins into wonderful shawls and it's good for weaving. But it has the long locks and people like those for the art yarns. So, we kind of picked it based on what the market wanted. They're not the easiest sheep to deal with. They're very big, they have their own problems, but that’s where we went. Also, my friend already had one black Wensleydale ram beforehand that was just a pet and she really liked him. She said, “Oh, I liked him, he was sweet, let's do those.” So, that's how it went. 

Honestly. with the sheep I don't really get involved in the actual day-to-day farming. I do the shearing because I am the wool grader and because we sell mostly for hand spinners. So, I'm the one who gets to grade and sort all the fleeces for the hand spinners and things like that. I tend to get involved in the stuff that deals more with the wool. But she's the farmer, fundamentally.

Cina: What is it that you most love to do? 

Synthetically dyed, polwarth silk laceweight handspun

James: Honestly, it sounds really simple, but I get a lot of joy out of weaving scarves and wraps. That's what I really enjoy making. Scarves, wraps and blankets if I have to pick three, that's what I enjoy doing. It's because, and this won't surprise you to know, I'm fundamentally a color person. So, whenever I make a thing, it's always like, “How can I use these colors in a way that creates something interesting?” You know, I love gradients. I'm a total nut for gradients and progressions and I like being able to use the colors with themselves. 

I enjoy doing things like this in weaving. That's what I enjoy. That's what really excites me. And the same with knitting. I really like to experiment with color use in knitting, too. That’s what excites me. Which is, I suppose, why I've been so into my dyeing because I'm just like, “How can I apply this to what I now do?” I've got plans and I've got so many things I want to do, things that I want to try out. I'm completely obsessed. I want to try hand paint, naturally. I want to try taking some white warps and naturally dye them and just hand paint them with all the different colors. I want to play with dyeing the whole thing in cochineal and then dip dyeing. I don't know. I used a hard water cochineal to get the hot pink, maybe then do the other side of it in a different red. Maybe I use madder and then maybe I drop the whole thing in an indigo vat afterward and then try and weave that, you know, and see all those different colors intermingle with themselves. That's the kind of stuff I want to do, and that's the kind of stuff that excites me.

Cina: Okay, then all financial constraints aside, if you could set up your ideal scenario, post-doctorate, what would that be? And I understand this could change tomorrow!

James teaching

James: Yes, it may well change tomorrow! My ideal scenario would be that I could do all this kind of stuff, do my maker things and teach hand spinning and weaving and all the stuff for a living and literally just be able to dye all my own stuff. And natural dyeing would be a big part of that. I would really love to do more natural dyeing and experiment more. That would be my ideal scenario. I'd love to be able to do this stuff all day, every day. 

Cina: O.k., so we will be visualizing for you and seeing you in your own workshop where people can come from all over the world to learn from you. We’ll be the first to sign up!

James: Oh, that's my dream.

Cina: O.k., I know it’s late there, and I could keep you all night. I’m going to let us wrap up, here, and say a very big “Thank you,” for being willing to join us for this conversation. I’m excited about the vision you’ve shared with us and look forward to coming to your workshops. Or, maybe we can bring you in and host some for you! More on that, later. In the meantime, we’ll just keep cheering you on in your efforts.

James: Now, I’ve got to go do it!

Cina: Yes! Hopefully, this is just the beginning of more conversations. If there is some way that we can support what you're doing, please let us know.

James: Absolutely. I'm very glad to have been able to sit and chat. Hopefully, I had something interesting to say. Thanks so much! 


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