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An Interview with Centre Half - designers & natural dyers

I’ve just launched some very special waistcoats made in collaboration with natural dye duo Centre Half! We’ve made a limited run of 5 unique pieces, using a natural palette of bright pinks from cochineal, peach pinks from birch bark, ochres from walnut leaves, and deep purpley greys from logwood. They are fastened with vintage shell buttons that I found at a carboot sale which feature delicate floral engravings (amazingly I found *just* the right number of buttons for five waistcoats). Have a look at them online here, and read my interview with Centre Half below to find out more about their process.


10% of each waistcoat purchase will be donated to TheMusicWorks, a charity based in Gloucestershire (near where we shot these images) that uses music to inspire and empower young people in challenging circumstances. Their work ranges from mentoring, after-school clubs and private music sessions to giving young disabled people the chance to attend music school programmes.


Hello! The colours you achieved for these waistcoats are just beautiful - can you tell us about the dyes you used? For this collection of waistcoats we used birch bark, walnut leaves, cochineal and logwood to make our colour palette. The logwood is from a tree native to Central America which gives a deep purple. When combined with an iron mordant you can achieve really dark purples, greys and sometimes even blacks. The cochineal gives the bright popping pink, nothing else really beats it, and we really love the paler dusty pink tones that the birch bark makes. Khaki golden greens come from the walnut leaves, and it smells really amazing when it's steeping. Where possible we try to work with plant dyes that grow in the UK, in combination with some of the brighter tones that you can get from Central European and American plants and flowers.


Can you give us an insight into the process of dyeing these pieces? The first step is the mordanting process, which is the step that fixes the dye to the cloth. Mordanting also makes the colours more bright and deep, more lightfast and means the dye doesn't come out in the wash. You want the colour to last. Our second step was to extract the colour from the plant matter, and then strain off any pieces from the dye bath so that you get a nice even result. We needed a lot of space to dye the cloth for these waistcoats… bathtubs were involved.



What are some of the challenges when using natural dyes? There are constant challenges with natural dyes, and we are always learning new things too. We have learned that accuracy and keeping good notes definitely pays off, especially if you are trying to repeat a colour. Each batch of dye is totally different each time, so you can get some unexpected results, which you have to embrace! We once achieved an amazing bright green with St. John's Wort, but have never managed to get that colour again. It’s a constant learning curve and you continuously have to make small adjustments… even the pH balance of the water depending on where you are in the country can make a difference to the colour.


How do you come up with your designs together? We’ve known each other for a really long time so working together is an organic and spontaneous process, and a really fun one too. We usually happen on an idea for a project when we are talking about shared interests, exhibitions we’ve seen, an object we found or an article that one of us has read. We are both interested in textile histories and textile processes from all over the world, and CH loves colour and playing with clashing and contrast. Our design process often starts with drawing, sketching out ideas and testing out different colour combinations and patterns before we start working with the dyes. CH love a bit of visualising. The unexpected colours of working with natural dyes can sometimes be the bit we like the most. But there is also an element of control, especially when it comes to working with Shibori techniques. This is the wrapping of the fabric to create quite detailed and intricate patterns in resist dyes. When you untie, there is always a surprise, which is really joyful! We have been having a lot of fun recently working on limited runs of tights shibori dyed with indigo.



Where do you find your inspiration? Costumes. Books. Vivienne Westwood. Colour. Stripes. Dots. Conversations. Good finds from the carboot. Our friends! Each other. Our inspiration is everywhere if you can appreciate it. Follow Centre Half on Instagram here and find more of their work for sale online at Mimmo Studios.




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