Wearing Dinner

The Highland County Arts Council believes that the arts are essential to our community and we have been focusing attention on our many talented local artists.

Shamrock and Stephenson Realty has provided the use of a window in the old Highland Craft Shop on Main Street in Monterey to create a series of displays as a way to share art with the community.

Currently on display is “Wearing Dinner” by Tate Swecker Dunn.  This collection of wearable art was created by using table scraps and vegetative waste from the yard in combination with natural heirloom, recycled and new textiles.

From the featured artist:

As a fiber artist, I’ve had to acknowledge that the creation of textiles is not always environmentally friendly.  For example, commercial dyes are chemical laden, even toxic, and it takes massive amounts of water to create cloth. So, if I’m trying to live a healthy, organic, environmentally friendly lifestyle, how do I reconcile that with my art?  That’s what led me to experimenting with traditional methods of eco-dyeing, and the newer art of eco-printing.  It was also a logical tie to my organic garden and a way to use other vegetation growing wild in our area.

What I discovered along the way is the artistic process takes much longer when you have environmental concerns, and eco-dyeing will take you on a path where the finished product can look very different from your intent. You can use a dye “recipe”, but time of year, type of dye pot, mineral content of water, type of fabric, etc., all create different shades of the same color, or a completely unexpected color.  As it turns out, I ended up loving that aspect of the process – it’s an adventure!

As a felter, I’ve used wool, silk and other fibers to create art cloth.  As an antique dealer, I’ve collected vintage textiles, buttons and other embellishments for years. I’ve always been intrigued by women’s handiwork, including mending techniques and the sentimental re-purposing of important family textiles, like a christening gown, into a new heirloom.

Years ago, I dyed clothing to hide food stains when I was literally “wearing dinner” after cooking or eating a meal.  That’s still important to me, but in a broader sense I want to create ethical fashion using plant waste for dyes while repurposing clothing.  It is very satisfying to create a dye with red cabbage, or fallen leaves, that I can still compost at the end of the process.

“Wearing Dinner” is also about using clothing that might otherwise be thrown out or breathing new life into a favorite piece.  This show includes new textiles created from wool and silk fibers as well as the repurposing of brand name wool, silk, linen and cotton clothing.  Details about the plants and fabrics used in each creation, as well as the process, are included for each item in the show.

Tate Swecker Dunn


Fabric care – I’ve set all the dyes and cleaned each item, but my recommendation is; when needed, please hand wash all items because machine washing can be harsh and if done incorrectly, can shrink natural fabrics and fade eco-dyes. Use a gentle detergent and hang to dry inside or lay flat to re-block.  Keep in mind that you own a piece of wearable art, and you want to treat it as such.

Purple Scarf – Tate included several pieces in the exhibit that were made from fibers that had been commercially dyed when she purchased them.  This demonstrates how the color in commercial dyes can be more vibrant than plant-based dyes.  This scarf was made from merino wool and silk fibers in shades of purple, with vintage purple sari silk imbedded between the fiber layers.   $56.00

 Felted ball necklace – A number of felted balls were created from pre-dyed merino wool and then embellished with silk fibers. They were combined with lampwork glass beads sheI made several years ago from Italian glass rods. $79.00

 Felted flower necklace or head ornament – Tate has been making felted flower pins for some time and decided to take flowers and leaves and attach them to felted roping.  All of the elements were formed out of merino wool with some silk fibers and embroidery.  It can be worn open or wrapped around the neck, used as a centerpiece on a table, or as a flower headband crown (as displayed).  To create the headband, she used a piece of felted roping to make a removable element to adjust the size from child to adult.  A few of the flowers are made from plant based dyes, like hibiscus buds, all others made from commercial dyes.  NFS


Felted collar embellished with vintage lace and pieces from a vintage wool blanket.  To create this piece, she used uncolored Merino wool and felted it on plain muslin to give it more structure. Once the basic garment was formed, it was dyed using avocado skin and pits, giving it a pale grey coral color.  Bits of vintage lace and wool and silk fibers were added as embellishments.  Collar  $26.00

A grey Pashima wrap was eco-dyed first using an iron mordant and sumac berries to create the deep purple blue colors.  I then overdyed it using red and yellow onion skins and turmeric powder. Wrap – $26.00

Silk shirt in shades of pink created from using madder root, hibiscus buds, avocado pits, ivy, red cabbage and sumac berries in 3 overdyes. Final dye bath used an iron mordant.  Tate replaced the original buttons with antique shell buttons.   Multiple scarves on top of the blouse were eco-dyed using the same plant matter and tied together to create a wrap.   Scarf/wrap is NFS       Blouse, size 9, $32.00

Long silk scarf that was created using a technique called, “eco-printing”.  Local leaves and berries were dipped in an iron mordant and steamed on silk that was dampened using water and vinegar.  Theresa Brown taught Tate this technique and will be an instructor at the Highland County Arts Academy this summer.   NFS

 Linen dress– Tate eco-dyed a pale pink linen shift using red cabbage, then eco-printed it using a variety of local leaves and sumac berries.  An iron mordant created the dark printing.  Vintage shell buttons were added at the end of each slit.  Dress, size L –  $38.00

Short silk skirt – Using an off-white “Marks and Spencer” silk skirt, Tate eco-dyed it multiple times using onion skins, turmeric and mustard seeds, along with an iron mordant and sumac berries to create the dark blue spots.  USA size 10.  Skirt – $29.

Silk blouse.  Cream colored silk blouse was dyed using yellow Rit dye, it was then overdyed  with yellow onion skins to create the tan coloration.  Size 14      Blouse – $26.00

A skirt was created from a piece of white silk that was dyed using yellow onion skins and turmeric, then covered in  wheat paste.  After the paste dried, she cracked the paste and filled the cracks with multiple colors from silk paints. NFS

A belt was created from multiple wool, cotton and silk fibers that were both commercially and eco dyed and includes an eco-printed bag using plant matter and an iron mordant.  $18.00

Cotton t-shirt was dyed using yellow onion skins and turmeric.  Turmeric paste created the dark patches.  Shirt is featured with a mixed fiber necklace.  T-shirt and necklace – $28.00

Cotton knit pants were eco-dyed using onion skins, then overdyed and eco-printed using an iron mordant with oak and other leaves and sumac berries.  Pants – $26.00

Wool and silk wrap – Undyed merino wool and silk fibers on cotton gauze were used to felt a wrap.  The cloth was created using wet and dry felting techniques, with antique ribbon and bits of silk fabric added to the felting process as it progressed.  The entire garment was then eco-dyed the with Jamaican Sorrel (hibiscus buds used in tea) to create the pale dusty rose color   Wrap – $110.00

Pin – Tate used felted wool in various shades of pink and flesh tones. Some fibers were from the same hibiscus dye bath as the wrap.  Antique sari silk was used for ribbon and pearls and crystals were added as an embellishment.

Pin – $18.00

Child’s cotton dress – The undyed child’s dress, with its gauze-like dress fabric and under skirt had a vintage feel and Tate decided to dye it using red and yellow onion skins, then added turmeric powder, to create even more of a historic look.  She then added a pocket made from vintage wool that was dyed with mustard seeds and turmeric powder.  Child’s size 4 dress – $24.00

Child’s organic cotton onesie, eco-dyed with madder root, hibiscus buds and avocado pits using a technique that creates shading and not a solid color.  This was purchased as a never worn, undyed, organic cotton garment.

Size 6-9 months – $18.00

Child’s jacket/blouse – Tate repurposed a child’s cotton knit jacket, eco-dying it in layers with ground mustard, then ground turmeric.  The grey color was created by using an iron mordant on the sleeves.  The removable pin was created from a piece of a vintage cashmere sweater that was repurposed by dyeing it with turmeric and an iron mordant, then embellishing it with vintage lace and button.  Child size L  – $18.00

Baby socks – Eco-dyed using red cabbage and embellished with ribbon.  $6.00


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