Natural dye artist Cara Marie Piazza sustainably creates artisanal fashion

Want to know which Brooklyn dyer artist Cara Marie Piazza is working with at any given time? Just look at his fingers. If they’re stained yellow, she could simply dye a top with marigold extract from Peconic’s Treiber Farms. An orange hue? Maybe it’s the onion skins for this fashion collaboration. A mix of colors? Probably the flower petals from a bride’s wedding bouquet for this heirloom dress. Whatever the material, you can be sure it comes naturally, often from the North Fork, and has been used to create a meaningful object.

Piazza comes into fashion via an artistic journey. Originally from New York, she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Textile Design from Chelsea College of Art and Design in London and has treated her hand-dyed designs as true works of art ever since. Always interested in creating durable, non-toxic textiles, she convinced her professor to let her do her thesis on natural dyeing after becoming addicted to a class workshop.

Twelve years later, Piazza runs her custom-dyeing business out of her Brooklyn studio, creating everything from home textiles to runway-walking fashion collections (a Mara Hoffman capsule is currently in store) — whether colorful as solids, shadows, dip-dyes, hand painted prints or unique swirl patterns enhanced with ice and salt.

The process can surprise and delight. “What gives us the most color are actually nature’s shells, rinds and rinds – think avocado pits, pomegranate rinds, onion skins – the things that would typically be thrown away can be harvested as a dye,” says Piazza. It’s a misconception that any colored plant, seed or root – think beetroot or turmeric – can be used to naturally dye clothes, as many lack the color fastness to retain the tint through life. wear and washes. “I guess that’s nature’s way of saying we should eat what we can eat and dye what we can dye!” Piazza laughs. Another edict of nature? Only natural fabrics like silk, wool, cotton, linen, or hemp will properly absorb natural dye.

Dyes also tell a story. Globalization and technology have blurred the boundaries of today, but fashion and color were once very localized. “Centuries and millennia ago, color was also used to instill a sense of belonging and community,” says Piazza. “Clans of people would be recognized by the color of their clothes, which were dyed by flora found only in those regions.” Color can also indicate status. In ancient Rome, a purple dye made from a rare sea snail in Tire (Phoenicia) was so valuable that only the wealthiest monarchs could afford it. “Tyrian Purple” represents royalty to this day.

The North Fork, with its abundance of farms, wildflowers, rocks and seashells, has its own colorful connections and offers limitless inspiration. “The pace and environment of North Fork really helps me understand why I dye in the first place,” says Piazza, who has been coming to North Fork since she was little in her family’s Cutchogue home. “There are so many ecosystems here, and a thousand different invasive weeds that you can look for as a tincture, like goldenrod and mugwort,” she says. “A few years ago I was talking to Peter Treiber, a very dear friend, about growing dye plants, and he told me to send him a list of what I wanted to use. The following spring, he said, “They have grown up! Piazza now uses Treiber marigolds, coreopsis, scabiosa (cushion flowers) and dyers’ chamomile, and has also held on-farm dye workshops.

“The pace and environment of North Fork really helps me understand why I dye in the first place. There are so many ecosystems here, and a thousand different invasive weeds that you can search for as dye, like rod gold and mugwort.

Piazza Cara Marie

Flowers are also an integral part of Piazza craftsmanship. She has partnered with North Fork Flower Farm in Southold for dye workshops and is planning one with dried flower artist Nathaniel Savage at the new flower space at White Flower Farmhouse in Southold. She also sells do-it-yourself dye kits with plants for creative home projects.

The abundance of local flowers dovetails perfectly with the vast wedding activity on the North Fork, allowing the bride and groom to get a sentimentally dyed dress, tie or handkerchief from their wedding flowers. “It’s a very special memory of their special day,” she said.

Beyond the North Fork, Piazza is working with florists and event planners in New York City to collect spent flowers — namely post-event floral composting company Garbage Goddess — to source viable flower waste for the dye. “The floral industry provides thousands of pounds of flowers every day, and it all usually goes to waste afterwards,” she said.

Craft dyeing is also a viable option for consumers who would rather reuse existing items in their wardrobe than buy new ones. “We don’t have a minimum order, so someone can give us an item of clothing, say a white dress, and we can turn it into a beautifully dyed creation,” says Piazza, who handwrites the hangtags of each garment to add an artisanal sensibility. .

And when in doubt, however, dye it black. Community Charcoal Bath allows people to send in as many garments as they wish to be over-dyed a rich charcoal color (dye is created from oak gall and peanut ).

Piazza says picking a favorite technique would be like picking a favorite child, but notes that Shibori, a Japanese indigo-based tie-dyeing technique, has been all the rage lately and consumers should expect some. see even more in the fall. As for the color, she admits she’s been in a very happy yellow phase lately.

“I love using marigold extract because it’s a big beautiful bright yellow, so bright and upbeat,” she says. “And we all need a bit of that now.”


Natural dyeing has its own language. A cheat sheet:

Scouring: Prewash fibers to strip fabrics of residue, dirt and oils to achieve a solid color.

Biting: A chemical substance, usually an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye or stain and fixes the dye to fabric.

Tannin: An astringent property of the pods, rinds and nuts used in the dyeing and mordanting process.

Natural dye: A natural material usually composed of barks, seeds, petals, plants that gives dye color.

Cellulose fibres: Fibers created from plants (cotton, hemp, flax, jute, ramie and lyocell.

Protein fibers: Fibers created from animals (silk and wool).

Bite: The transfer of dye from the treated fiber to other surfaces.

Neutral pH soap: A mild, non-reactive soap that is suggested for washing natural dyes.

Tonal difference: Areas of the garment that may vary in color due to the organic nature of the dyes.

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