During the Craft Revival, yarn was dyed in a way that echoed the past. Craftsmen gathered wild plants like elderberries to produce a soft brown color. Walnut hulls were used for darker shades. Madder was a cultivated herb, one that yielded a range of rust and warm reds traditionally found in woven coverlets. During the craft revival, madder was considered particularly appropriate for artisans after well-established beds were discovered in the region, as proof that the herb was used by traditional craftsmen. An equally popular dye material was indigo. Depending upon how long the thread was soaked, dyeing thread with indigo resulted in shades of blue, from light to dark. Both madder and indigo were considered to be authentic dyestuffs, that is, they were materials that had been used on regional forms in the past. During the Craft Revival, it was considered important for craftsmen to use natural dyestuffs.
Louise Livingston Pitman (c. 1902-1979) is typical of the type of person who was drawn to western North Carolina because of the craft revival. After graduating from Columbia University, the New Jersey native arrived at the John C. Campbell Folk School as a volunteer in 1928. Intending to stay a short while, she remained at the school for seventeen years, presiding over the crafts department until 1946. There, Pitman experimented with various forms of plant matter to produce a palette of colors.
This picture of Pitman and her dye pot was made by photographer Doris Ulmann (1882-1934) during one of her many visits to the Campbell Folk School in the 1930s. While Pitman is shown using a large iron pot outdoors, some craftsmen produced smaller batches of dyes on their kitchen stoves.
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