Sunday, 4 November 2007

Little treasures

As I'm sure many of you have realised, I love books, and to some extent I collect them (at least, they seem to collect all around me). That's not collect in the sense of investing money, it's collect in the sense of gathering knowledge and building a reference library.

This means that every time I find a really good book, I turn to the back and see if there's a bibliography, and look to see what titles I recognise.

Again and again in the bibligraphies of books on natural dyeing, I saw the words "Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record of Plants and Gardens". There were two different titles:

Natural Plant Dyeing, A Handbook, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record Plants & Gardens Vol. 29, No.2, 1973


Dye Plants and Dyeing - a handbook, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record Plants & Gardens Vol. 20, No.3, 1964.

Another title that came up from time to time was:

Journal of the Chicago Horticultural Society, Vol. III, no.1, Winter 1976.

To give you an idea of how influential these titles are, at least one of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden titles is cited in all these works (brief book details):
Anne Milner, The Ashford Book of Dyeing,
Jill Goodwin, A Dyer's Manual,
Su Grierson, The Colour Cauldron,
Jean Carmen, Dyemaking with Eucalypts,
Rita Buchanan, A Dyer's Garden,
J N Liles, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing,
John & Margaret Canon, Dye Plants and Dyeing,
Jenny Balfour Paul, Indigo
Gwen Fereday, Natural Dyes
Dominique Cardon, Le Monde des teintures naturelles.

I'm sure I'll get around to telling you more about some of these other books in due course, however, the particular reason for writing about my little treasures is to highlight their value and say these publications need looking taking care of.

Why do I say this? Because in spite of their value, and in spite of my experience, determination, and tenacity in hunting down copies of second hand books, they were very, very hard to find.

And when I found the first two, they were on the shelf of a second hand book shop I was visitng because of a different title that I'd seen advertised on the internet. These little treasures had not only not been recognised as valuable enough to advertise, they were tucked away on the shelf and priced at a mere £1.50 each. Now, I love a bargain, and I was absolutely delighted not only to find these booklets but also to buy them cheap. My other purchase turned up after a year of so of looking, on the Loom Exchange website, again, inexpensive. But these bargains set alarm bells ringing in my head. The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens titles were special reprints, and reprinted several times over. So where have they all gone?

They are volumes, what we in Europe describe as A5 size, stapled (not bound) and as journals, they are slightly more substantial than a magazine. So how many of these volumes have been over looked, discarded as small and worthless, or just got worn out and been thrown away?

It is about time I told you why these publications are of such interest. The Journal of the Chicago Horticultural Society, Vol.III no.1, is a small handbook on growing dye plants and using natural dyes. It is slightly out of date, in that the amount of mordant to volume of fibre used by dyers nowadays is generally rather less than described. Apart from that, and not having colour pictures, it is an excellent instruction book, concise and easy to follow, with much information laid out in easy to read charts and tables.

Both the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens publications are in more magazine type format. They have an introduction followed by a number of different articles relating to the title.

To let them speak for themselves, the introduction of the 1964 volume says "This handbook on natural plant dyes and how to use them has many objectives, not the least of which is to help in the revival of an ancient craft..." that sets the scene for you. With regard to the contributions: "Guest Editor Schetky, her invited authors and members of our Editorial Committee have pooled their ideas, knowledge and resources to bring this hundred-page book into being. Warm responses to inquiries in other countries have given us a feeling of great friendship for people in many parts of the world... Their dyeing formulas, including how-to-do it recipes from 18 different countries, are given here...". The 1974 volume introduction tells us "interest in dyeing with natural plant materials has grown sharply since 1964....letters, literally hundreds of them from the United States and other lands, have prompted this companion edition."

The 14 articles in the first volume include: "Tannins and Dyes from Plant Galls", "Dyes of Ancient Usage", "Family Dyeing in Colonial New England", "Notes on Aztec Dye Plants", "Dye Plants in a Scottish Garden". The 1973 volume has 28 contributions including articles on madder, indigo, pokeweed, eucalypts, "A Practical Approach to the Use of Lichens", "The Sleepy Hollow Restoration Shawls", "Coreopsis for reds on cotton and wool", "Plant Dyeing in new Zealand", "Southwest Navjo Dyes". There is so much here, I can't re-publish it all for you. it is a wealth of information, short articles written by writers who knew their subject well. There is history, chemistry, botany, dyeing technique, different traditions from around the world.

If you have, or ever come across, one of these titles, please look after it.


Peg in South Carolina said...

Books are one of my very great weaknesses. In my early years of weaving I haunted used book sites and found many treasures. I can pass clothing and jewelry stores without a problem. But not a bookstore.........

Unknown said...

As an art librarian and textile artist I know how difficult it is to locate these journal issues from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (I bought mine in college in the 70s) and the Chicago Historical Society. I think they are so difficult to come by because people tend to hang on to these, more so than their other books. I gave up natural dying after 30+ years, I sold all my other dye books on eBay, but hung on to these. There is something almost classic about the information in these works. Another factor is the paper binding and the binding method makes them vulnerable to certain types of wear. I wish we could make everyone aware of how valuable these works truly are. So glad you were able to find copies of these wonderful publications.