On a cool, misty afternoon in Alaska, Kathy Hattori crunched down a dirt trail, plucking foliage as she went. “It’s a miracle that you walk up to a plant, take a few leaves, berries, or twigs from it, and come up with a color,” said Hattori in a video on her Botanical Colors website. In the clip, a bee landed on a wild flower, and Hattori waxed philosophical about natural dyeing as scenes transitioned from grassy meadows to someone pulling a ring of yarn from a bath of dye. Natural dyeing tends toward bucolic, and yet, the art of natural dyeing is actually a science.
“It’s so much more technical than the romanticized version,” says Hattori. But that suits her. The California native worked in Silicon Valley for over a decade until, in the early aughts, she came to Seattle to turn her hobby of dyeing into a career, first at Earthues, a natural dye company founded in 1995. She established Botanical Colors in 2010.
Hattori gathers raw materials from all over the world: cochineal bugs from Mexico impart a rich red, Central American logwood delivers a brilliant purple, flowers grown off the coasts of Washington and Oregon or on a Bainbridge Island farm yield a wide spectrum of hues. Botanical Colors’ plant- or insect-based dyes are for anyone who wants to dabble in dyeing at home, but more often Hattori works with clients looking for greener options.
Seattle is an epicenter of sustainability—a statement to surprise no one—but to produce eco-friendly clothing in an industry notorious for its environmentally wasteful ways was a tough sell until only recently. Five years ago, Hattori was knocking on doors and pleading with people to at least give it a try.
Now she’s busting the myth that naturally dyed fabrics are low quality or fade easily. Botanical Colors adheres to the same colorfast, or hue resiliency, test models that commercial companies do. The almighty governing body is the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists, and the organization has a laundry list of standardized tests: colorfastness in specific temperatures, time, or light; how many washes it should last (50 washes to be precise). Hattori has tested and observed her way through hundreds of batches of fiber and textiles. True, she relishes the sentimentality of bringing color to life through roots and seeds.
“But when I’m in a big, huge steamy-hot factory putting hundreds of pounds of goods through machinery,” she says, “I’m not running around with a bouquet of flowers."
This article has been updated on August 20, 2018 at 8:55am. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Earthues was "bygone." While it's bricks-and-mortar operations has closed, the company still sells natural dyes online.
These Seattle designers don’t always employ a natural method, but their hand-dyed wares are as lovely as they come.
Silk blanket scarf at Tuesday Shop, $48
Inside her Chinatown–International District studio, Rian Robison turns raw silk scarves and kimonos into uniquely patterned statement pieces (left).
Leather sneakers at Moo-Young, $340–$440
Owner Francine Moo-Young’s hand-stitched and hand-dyed shoes are all custom made to order inside her Capitol Hill shop in Chophouse Row (middle).
From bandanas to button-ups by Angelica Sta. Teresa, $30–$65
As a fiber artist, Angelica Sta. Teresa has dabbled in many forms, but perhaps none as bold as her cotton clothing (right).