Crown Heights-based natural dyer and textile designer, Cara Marie Piazza, loves changing plain garments into custom, colorful works of art. Using onion skins, avocado pits, pomegranates, and more, she also sources all of her fabric ethically and works with only organic cottons and sustainable peace silk. Her latest favorite project? “Working with brides post-wedding to preserve their flowers, which I then immortalize into a garment,” she says. “Each result is completely different.” Here's how she does it.
When did you start using flowers to dye garments?
About six years ago. The first piece I ever dyed was a vintage t-shirt. I used a bunch of onion skins and it came out a deep burgundy shibori.
Natural dying is not always calculated or precise, how do you achieve your desired outcome?
I always do swatches and test dyes but, at the end of the day, I say a prayer and set intentions before every vat that I make.
What made you decide to start working with brides after their wedding?
The whole after-the-wedding-idea came about when I was working with my florist friend Taylor at Fox Fodder Farm—she kept giving me leftover flowers and a lightbulb just went off. So many couples have their wedding and then it's all over. I wanted to provide an extra step to prolong the magic of the day and preserve it somehow.
How does wedding flower preservation differ from your other natural dying techniques?
There are so many different techniques and surface treatments I use. Natural dying is a medium—it's really about how you obtain color from a plant. Sometimes after I dye fabric, I leave it in the sun or I'll use shibori technique, or woodblock dying. For my bridal clients, I use a gentle bundle dye technique, and I steam the imprint of the flowers on the fabrics. Each result is completely unique to their bouquet. The real difference, though, is the transference of the energy from the flowers.
What are these exact ingredients that you use besides the flowers?
First, I ask the brides to send me their wedding flowers or bouquets. I mainly use the petals and flower heads and compost most of the greenery. It's totally okay if they get mushy in the mail but if they’re overseas, the flowers have to be dried out before sending. Sometimes, they also send me their own lightly-colored natural fiber garment, or I provide them with a Calyx silk bridal robe, slip, intimates set, or scarf.
What type of flowers make the best design?
Flowers with deep, dark tones give the best pattern and color. Rose petals and dahlias make an exact imprint onto the fabric. Coreopsis are seasonal but create an extremely beautiful replica of the entire flower onto the fabric, same with marigolds. Many brides have white and grey tones in their bouquets and that’s okay too! Interestingly, eucalyptus also make a gorgeous dye pattern.
Here's how to recreate Cara's process:
3. Starting from one end, tightly and evenly, roll the fabric so it resembles a snake. As you roll, try to keep all the flower matter well-packed in your bundle.
4. Tie up your roll with rubber bands or string. It should resemble a sausage when you’re done.
5. Pour distilled vinegar into a bowl or spray bottle. If you’re using a bowl, dip your roll in the vinegar, wetting the roll thoroughly. Or with a spray bottle, spritz the fabric roll evenly throughout.
6. If you have a steamer pot, great! If not, just fill a pot with water, bring it to a boil, and add a grill grate, like the rack from your toaster oven, on top to create a shelf for steaming.
7. Place your bundle on your steamer pot or grill grate, fully immerse it in steam for at least one hour—the longer, the better!
8. Using your tongs, pick up your bundle and rinse lightly under cold water. Unroll and shake all the flower bits off your fabric, then give the fabric another quick rinse in cold water.
9. Let your silk dry naturally overnight. When it’s dry the next day, iron it to set the color. Wash with a pH neutral soap, or this beautifully smelling rose glycerine shaker water from Sharktooth.