Modernizing a tradition


Specializing in natural dyes is a decision that grew on me through years of experiments, but the final decision to drop everything else came twelve years ago, at the Symposium for natural dyes in France, where I understood that I am not alone with this passion.
Diving deep into the Matter, gathering knowledge, takes a lifetime, and one feels that there’s just more to discover as long as one goes on…
I feel that if I can contribute to at least a small change of course with the way the world seems to be going, I can best do it in the field that I know something about, textiles and colors. Work is always giving one’s time for something, however passionate one feels about it. It this way I know I am lucky, but believe me, getting here has taken some effort.

Sustainable development is a question of a world for the future, culture, environment, social context and also economical balance. Within this framework I speak about modernizing a tradition. Natural dyeing has just now been given a status of living heritage. Cultural values and historical perspective is of great importance when talking about sustainability. As the goal is to hand forward a healthy world for the future generations to live in: ” Intangible cultural heritage includes phenomena which are preserved, alive and changing, from one generation to the next.” (

As a dyer, I see that the big reason to study the dye processes with natural materials is to understand and have control of the substances I am handling and to be able to make conscious choices. Harmful chemicals have been used doubtlessly in textile dyeing in the past, and unfortunately in the present, with horrible effects to our environment and specifically to the health of the workers.
When we know that this can not go on, a search for new ways to take is essential. We can learn from the past, take with us what is good, and change the ways that turn out to be mistakes with the current knowledge and science.

With enthusiasm for the encouragement it’s giving me, I follow the current discussion and work of fellow searchers. I deeply recommend the World Hope Forum, launched by Li Edelkoort. These kinds of efforts bring together the people who think about these issues in a deep inspiring way.
Material based art is finally on the table as a serious practice.

My point of view is as a Textile Designer to create a path and network, to be able to make usable items from local materials and natural color substances. Strengthening the possibility to use natural dyes in small scale manufacturing makes it possible to provide products for a wider audience. When the upcoming problems are solved on this scale, the best uses of the materials found, it can lead to deeper innovations. I am now honored to receive a grant for my development work from Svenska Kulturfonden, and aim to find ways to share my discoveries with you.
In the coming texts I will tell you about my thoughts and findings during this project.

Anna Vasko
textile designer