Laura Dell'Erba is a textile artist who was born in Vigevano and specializes in Eco-printing (vegetable printing). Indeed, she obtains original, delicate patterns on fabric and paper using flowers and plants. Her creations are impressive unique pieces reflecting both Laura’s love for Nature and her sustainable approach. In November 2016, Laura is going to be at the DHG headquarters for an eco-printing course, which is different from traditional natural dyeing. Read the interview to find out more about this magical dyeing technique.
Hi Laura, when did your passion for eco-printing start?
I started experimenting with eco-printing about ten years ago, after seeing some pictures on the web. However, I had already some experience using vegetable dye to dye wool, which I would hand-spin myself.
Did you get any specific training in order to learn how to use this technique?
I taught myself how to use vegetable dyes, by reading and studying many books, some of which are little known, others extremely rare. I have gathered quite a collection by now. For eco-printing, that I like to call vegetable printing as it gives a better idea of it actually is, I attended courses with Irit Dulman, and then, finally, with India Flint, who is the person who really created this art form.
When did you realize that this passion could become an actual job?
Making my passion into a job was a necessity, as doing anything else seemed to me a boring waste of time. Eco-printing allowed me to unite my passion for art with my love for botany. In addition, I believe that once you find your real path in life, all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, also economically. After all, my name is Laura Dell’Erba, and erba means ‘grass’ in Italian: what else could I do?
Your works are very special but also very fragile. What do you recommend people who buy your work should do, in order to preserve them over the years?
Actually, my works are a lot less fragile than they seem. Cotton and vegetable fibers can be safely machine washed using a gentle cycle and a non-aggressive detergent, ideally a biological one. Wool and especially silk should be hand washed, but because of the fabric, rather than because of the dye.
What process do you follow for eco-printing?
The first step is to mordant fabric, to prepare fibers to receive the vegetable dye. I prefer cold mordanting, which in addition to being more delicate on fabrics, is also definitely better for the environment. Then, you can dye the item, using a traditional method, such as a decoction for example, to get a base color. Next, you place leaves or other vegetable parts on top of the fabri, you fold it, roll it up and tie it very tightly, to make a roll of fabric and leaves. Lastly, you boil it in a pot. I tried to use as little synthesized chemicals as possible, partly because I like to stick to the philosophy of the person who invented and developed eco-printing, India Flint. This natural dyeing technique was created to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Indeed, it calls for less mordanting and encourages a deeper awareness in the use of plants: with eco-printing, you use less vegetable material than with traditional vegetable dyeing methods, and you preferably use fallen leaves from local plants, which will easily grow back. Also, no sulphates are used. All the materials (sticks, cords, color baths, mordant, etc) are used again and again until they completely degrade. No complex tools are needed: anybody who has access to a kitchen can have fun with eco-printing.
When you create a pattern, is there a type of leaf or flower you prefer? And why?
I love plants ever since I can remember. One of the first books I asked for as a child, was a herbal book published by Hoepli. There was no Internet at the time, and I loved picking plants and finding out what their name was. I was in elementary school. My mom went all the way to Milan only to buy that book for me. So, it is really hard to say which plants I prefer, I like them all. And above all, I have come to understand that all of them, and I mean all of them, are needed for something, apart from their use in dyeing. They are a tangible sign of Mother Nature’s love.
During the creative process, do you let music guide you or do you prefer to work in silence?
Sometimes I like to work in silence, and because my studio has a window overlooking the garden, I have the sounds of Nature to keep me company. Other times I listen to music. Lately I have develeoped a passion for Rising Appalachia.
From the pictures on your Facebook page, I noticed that you have a tattoo of a plant on your arm. What does that mean? Is there a connection with your job?
The tattoo on my right hand is of a leaf of Rosa Rugosa, a special kind of rose, with small, round leaves. It’s a plant I use a lot in eco-printing, as it has a very strong dyeing properties and I like its shape. More than anything, I like its “soul”: it does not need much to live, it easily grows from cutting, so anybody can propagate it just by placing a small branch into a pot of soil. It grows quickly, producing nice bright green leaves, which almost never rust, as well as wonderfully scented flowers. So, it is a modest, strong, beautiful, thriving plant, with no frills… An example to follow, I’d say!
If you liked this article, you may be interested in The 10 gold rules to dye.