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What Edie Ure Learns from Plants

It’s a late evening in August just before dusk on the front range of the Colorado Rockies. Edie Ure has spent the golden hour walking around her fragrant backyard of tidy gardens and native plants. She pauses and strips leaves from an indigo stalk, places them in her basket, and continues to a full goldenrod bush, a brilliant yellow swaying in the gentle breeze, collecting a few of its flowers. She hesitates for a moment and crouches down with delight at the sight of a few late summer pine cones. With each step, she assesses the health of the plants, as well as their availability. She takes, and yet is hyperaware to not take too much. This relationship is symbiotic.

Edie is a highly-regarded botanical dyer and textile designer who utilizes plant-based materials to create remarkable products ranging from custom wallpaper and exquisitely patterned tablecloths to velvet pillows and clothing. Born in England, Edie spent her formative years in the fast-paced club culture of 90s London. Incredibly ambitious, she started her own magazine publication at 16 years old and immersed herself in music, fashion, and design. She organized photo shoots, became a stylist, and by her early twenties headed to Milan as an assistant designer. There she acquainted herself with the likes of Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Ulla Johnson, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Anna Wintour. She was at the top.

That was until 2006, when Edie’s profession and lifestyle experienced a major reset as her partner’s work relocated the family to Boulder, Colorado. Her metamorphosis to her current occupation as a natural dyer wasn’t as serene as it may seem. “I had never spent time in the countryside or outside at all. Simple things like raccoons in my trash bin completely freaked me out.” She had never driven a car. She hadn’t spent extensive time in rural places. There were mountains, valleys, and great swaths of prairie. Everything was new – new country, new people, new terrains, new priorities. “It changed me. This idea of working with nature. Coming from a city, you don’t really feel like you are part of nature or one with nature.” The massive Rocky Mountains, forests, and alpine tundra were just west of her, the immense Great Plains to the east. She was surrounded. “Once I was in Colorado… I had that ‘ah ha’ moment, I’m not in nature, I am nature.”

Working in the fashion and design industry, Edie had always gravitated towards colors and natural textiles but primarily remained in the lane of creating color concepts for designers or experimenting with synthetic dyes. However, a chance encounter with a natural dyer Donna Brown in Boulder coupled with her newfound relationship with the natural world became the catalyst for what would become her life’s work. “My whole history of working in the fashion field was working with (synthetic) color, and then seeing the natural color you can get from plants is mind-blowing. You can draw from nature to make this incredible palette.”

As she was educating herself on her new craft, she was also educating herself on her new home. “You can use your local ecosystem to make color, and that’s pretty cool. It gives you another dimension to the world.” Edie’s landscape became her palette. She started exploring her new home in a very primal and intimate way. On her summer walks along the road she’d pick tansy, rudbeckia, black-eyed susan, and rabbitbrush. She would go for a hike and mindfully gather spruce cones, charred pinewood from fires, prickly pear fruit, or even red cochineal bugs found on the pads of prickly pear cactus. She’d visit her neighbors and collect wild yarrow, hollyhock, black iris, acorns, walnut hulls, and fallen apple or plum branches. With each day, she became less of a visitor in her new landscape and more of a dynamic part of it.

There are many nuances to natural dyeing, and for Edie, the most important is being cognizant of where you are and what you are collecting. “Understanding the lands we are living on, and who used to live there. Being a British person, I originally had no concept of this whatsoever. Also, the necessity of being reciprocal to nature for it to work, it’s a balance of give and take”. Edie often collects dead trees, invasive species, weeds, pine cones, seeds, or plants that are in abundance. “You have to be aware of what you are gathering and to take in small quantities.” This philosophy goes beyond foraging; she also embodies it when she grows her garden. “When I put things back into the soil, I always make sure the pH is balanced, not too alkaline or too acidic.”

Edie’s natural-dye education has been a combination of mentors, courses with dyeing artists like India Flint and Aboubakar Fofana, as well as extensive reading and self-study. For people new to foraging and dyeing, she recommends taking a small amount of a plant (only if it’s abundant or if it’s invasive), as well as collecting fallen sticks, acorns, or pinecones, and starting with plants already in your kitchen like onions or avocado seeds. For learning about natural dyeing, a favorite book of hers is Sasha Duerr’s “Natural Palettes.”

Edie will be teaching a natural dyes workshop at Zapata the summer of 2022. “I love teaching. When people’s faces light up, and something clicks in their head, and they see how amazing natural dyes are, that’s my favorite part. I enjoy sharing the knowledge”. 

For Edie, natural dyes have truly changed the way she perceives the world. “Drawing color from plants is the window by which I understand nature in a deeper way. Now I look at everything and know what color it makes. I look at plants in a completely different way. That is an amazing thing.” This understanding goes beyond aesthetics; it’s a lesson in the delicate balance between taking and giving. Sourcing and resourcing. Beginnings and endings. Or, as Edie says, “Natural dyeing isn’t about extraction, it’s all about harmony”.

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