This ancient dye, made from the 3-foot long roots of the Rubia plant, produces subtle hues of dusty pinks and browns. ‘It’s the dye du jour’, Lely says – and it visually dominates the atelier space she has created. As a natural dye, madder loves all materials, but the rawer the fabric the better – working best on hemp, linen and silk. It is ground down with one of the pestle and mortars that are dotted around the atelier, amongst other spices and teas. The repetitive movements of Lely grinding down the roots – plus the medicinal smell of the brewing dye – also proves an effective way of drawing people into her space.
Lely brought with her two assistants, Mila and Rhian Harris-Mussi, who help her run the atelier. ‘They have the look’, she says smiling. Rhian currently studies Fine Art at The Ruskin, and is behind the crazy tools that Lola now sees as her second hands. Mila, meanwhile, specialises in knit in her London-based studio – and her strength is her astute eye for colour. All three have a clearly shared knowledge of beauty, ideas and solutions – which makes for a productive trio.
The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing
Lely’s most prized book: and one that is at the root of most of her techniques. ‘It’s golden,’ she says of the book that she likens to her ‘personal bible’. Lely tells us she is slowly making her way through the book’s ancient disciplines, some of which are on verge of disappearing due to their complexity. Another go-to book for her is A Book on Vegetable Dyes by Ethel Mairet – a pioneering dyer of the early 20th century. The book contains her collection of recipes, showing her significant development to craft and natural dyes within the fashion world of her time. Sounds like someone we know…
Photography: Aloha Bonser-Shaw
Originally published for Hole & Corner Online