Amanda De Beaufort
Location: NYC & Maplewood, NJ
Amanda De Beaufort, a.k.a the Dyekween is a modern renaissance woman: a mom of two, professional and natural dye artist. With a full-time career in PR at an architectural studio, Amanda’s approach to natural dye is a labor of love.
Through a chance discovery on her Etsy page, a_db botanical color, I took a chance and messaged her which became our introduction and the beginning of our collaboration. Through the love of working with her hands and the surprise that results from natural dyes, I too discovered the craft of natural dyes that is part art and part science. Below, I caught up with Amanda to give us insight to her world that she literally paints with her hands!
1. I was at a museum this summer and saw natural dyes created and used by the West Coast First Nations: seaweed pinks, root tans, and marine herb greens. We both hail from the Pacific Coast: you are from Alaska and I am from the Canada’s West Coast. After all these years living on the East Coast does the West Coast still inspire?
Absolutely. I feel like it has inspired my creative process. Growing up I spent endless hours outside up in the mountains, the forest behind my house or on the ocean. Even then my mind was constantly blown by the power and beauty of the natural world—the landscape of Alaska is particularly dramatic. There is a very particular grey-blue that I always have in my mind from the inlet.
Yet, I was always drawn to the city. I have been living on the East Coast for 15 years now. I love the culture and diversity of the city, but I feel that when I started natural dyeing it reconnected me to my love of nature and my roots. I find it incredibly satisfying to forage for something that will produce a brilliant color in my studio.
2. Natural dye is an ancient craft which has seen a renaissance of late with the advent of social media. How did you get into natural dyes?
I find it incredibly exciting to see so much interest in this craft. A lot of the ancient processes and recipes have been lost due to the industrialization of the textile industry but it is coming back.
I first got interested in it about three years ago, I bought some dye from the natural dyer Audrey Louise Reynolds and was intrigued and started exploring natural color. It was like I caught a fever—I was totally obsessed and couldn’t stop thinking about it and trying new things. At the same time, my dear friend Cindy Bokser had left her career as a publicist and started her own fiber business, Niroma Studio. She really encouraged and pushed me to develop it into more of a business.
3. All cultures on Earth has used natural dyes, in her book Colours of Vanishing Tribes, Bonnie Young shows us many examples from Africa to Asia. Does the primitive and historic use of color inspire your work? If so, which particular culture or time inspires you the most?
I am going to try not to answer this question poorly…I am such a textile junky that I could not point to just one. I am drawn to the textiles of Central and South America, Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemala. I am a nut for Indian and African textiles. But maybe the Moroccan Boucherouite rugs are the biggest inspiration—I love the bold geometric patterns and how they are kind of weird—more painterly than most textiles.
4. As designers, natural inspires us in so many different ways; however, in your work, nature gives the color to the object and leaves its trace behind forever. How do you get inspired by nature knowing that its effects are both essential and permanent?
You bring up an interesting point about permanence. There is a lot discussion and disagreement about permanent color in the world of dyeing. Natural color isn’t exactly permanent—it’s alive like anything else, it has a life span, it fades and changes and becomes better with time. Even one of the best natural dyes indigo changes over time. I think that is what makes it so beautiful and why as humans we are drawn to it.
I am extremely inspired by the cycles not only of the color and the process of dyeing, but of the plants I use. I am fascinated for example the humble marigold is planted and enjoyed for its blooms. By harvesting the flowers more flowers grow, and with each flower comes color for the dye pot and seeds to grow more flowers!
5. You become part artist and part chemist when you work with natural dyes, there are so many possible shades of one color depending on the amount used and the plant used - was there a time when the dye would not react the way you wanted?
Definitely! Gosh, I feel like half the internet heard me complain about my purple/ logwood woes a few years back. I could not get logwood to give me purple, after getting it consistently for several other projects. I had switched suppliers and it turned out that all natural dyes are not created equal. And right now, my avocado dye pots haven’t been going well. I think it’s my storage method.
I am actually a very loosey-goosey dyer. I am not a precise person, so that is one of the reasons I enjoy natural dyeing. You can be extremely anal about it or just go with the flow. For example I don’t keep a dye journal. Believe me I have tired! It is just not my personality. I do run a lot of test before I dye something for a client and by now I know how to get what I want. I do think I might be keep better record keeper in the future.
6. There are different dyeing techniques, could you tell us a couple of your favorite?
I really enjoy bundle dyeing. I like that is pretty immediate and every bundle is like opening up a present! I especially love using fresh flowers in my bundles.
7. What inspires your work?
The process and color. I get so excited to try new techniques and dye-stuff.
8. How was your collaboration with 5TH26 different from other collaborations you’ve worked on in the past?
I felt early on in the collaboration that there was immense amount of trust and respect for both the process and my aesthetic sensibility, which isn’t always the case when working with a brand. I enjoy collaborating with 5TH26 because I get to work with beautiful and unusual textiles. Every collection we have created together is a new adventure!
9. You have a full-time career and a mother of two, how do you find the life / work balance?
It can be tricky especially given how demanding my daytime job can be and the amount of travel I sometimes have to do. I often get my kids involved to make sure we can do something together when I am busy with the side hustle. Luckily, natural dyeing is truly a slow process, so I can leave something for awhile and come back to it. And I have recently enlisted my husband to help out with some of the more tedious tasks.
10. What advice would you give someone who is interested in the art of dyeing with plants?
Do research and don’t skip mandating and scouring—it’s an important part! Otherwise have fun and be free.
11. Lastly, what is your favorite plant to dye with and favorite color?
I love dyeing with fresh indigo leaves—I find the transformation from a leave that looks like basil can release beautiful blue! Favorite color is pink.
Visit Amanda’s instagram to see more of her work here