Here we talk to the couple behind AMMA Sri Lanka - about their project here in Sri Lanka and their plans for the future.
1) Hey guys, tell me a little about yourselves!
I grew up between London and Wales, thinking about it now it was the perfect balance between city and coast. Once I had the chance, I was back to London for university where I studied Textile Design at Central Saint Martins. I specialized in weaving, and spent a lot of time in the dye room experimenting with colors - dyeing yarn to use in my work. Understanding the time and dedication that goes into producing a piece of fabric has given me a new respect for how our clothes are made and the people who make them. I have always been interested in the social aspect of textiles, and how ancient skills like weaving or natural dyeing can be revived and harnessed to create sustainable employment.
2) How did AMMA Sri Lanka come about? What made you guys move to Sri Lanka?
I first came to Sri Lanka in 2010, which massively influenced my decision to study textiles. I was really inspired by the colors, texture and vibrancy, it was the first time I thought about textiles' place in the world and how fundamental it is to both Sri Lankan heritage and also its economy.
I have a friend who helps direct a charity called Child Action Lanka, which is based in Kandy. Once i finished university she mentioned that CAL were looking to start various social enterprises to help generate income and rely less on outside funding... and if there was anyway I could start something amongst the mothers focused on textiles that would be great! So myself and my husband visited in 2016 to see if the Sri Lankan lifestyle would work for us... and it (mostly) did!
3) Your website says 'Mother Made' so who are these mothers? Where do they live and how did you get involved with them?
Yes, the best bit! We welcomed two mothers into the workshop last week 'Priyadarshani' who's 23 and 'Chandraleka, 29. Both drop their daughters off at the CAL pre-school, then come downstairs to work with us 9.30am - 12.30am, before collecting them once school is finished. They live on the local tea estates. Its Priyadarshani's first job, but she's picking everything up really quickly and Chandraleka used to be a nurse before having her daughter. The way we work celebrates motherhood, and makes space for them to earn a fair wage and learn new skills whilst also getting quality time with their little ones.
4) You guys got in touch with Cafe Kumbuk and asked for us to keep aside any avocado stones that we have - what do you do with the stones?
Avocado stones are a great source of natural dye, I started to experiment with them in the UK but was limited as their expensive to buy - so working with you guys is a total dream. Avocado stones are high in tannins which means they produce dyes with good color fastness, you can also use the skins but these are harder to transport and store.
Once I've collected the stones from you, I soak them until the brown outer layer comes away - this reveals a beautiful orange/peachy color on the inside. I have found the best way to store the stones is to dry them out, this also deepens the color and richness of the dye. Once black marks start to appear i place them in a saucepan, cover with water and gently boil to release the color. Out of all the dyes we use avocado takes the most time to develop. I've also found it one of the trickiest to get consistent (I'm still working on it) as water quality and acidity plays a big role. It takes around 2 hours simmering and another hour the next day to extract the full color once this is done you can add the yarn or cloth - we tend to do this in a bucket off the heat as it saves energy but you can do either.
If you interested in learning more about avocado dyes take a look at rebeccadesnos.com I’ve learnt pretty much everything about avocados from her!
5) What other foods do you use to extract colour? How did you learn how to extract colour?
We use carrot tops, onion skins, tea waste and pomegranate skins plus some plants like eucalyptus, madder and chamomile, I'm always on the look out for local dye plants next on my list is marigold flowers, bracken fern and indigo.
I learnt how to extract color at university, its very similar to making tea - the tricky bit is adapting to the changes in each plant. I regret not concentrating in chemistry because its all to do with the water PH. Lots of trial and error, even more so now we are trying to do it on a larger scale. Sometimes something just doesn’t work how you expect - but its nature, its unpredictable.
6) What are the next steps for AMMA?
A few different things, we are working with some local brands who are interested in using naturally dyed materials in their designs this is a really exciting challenge for us and good opportunity to train our mothers up on the job.
We also want to start developing our own range, we don't know exactly what this will look like - but we have been so encouraged by people’s reactions to the little steps we have taken so far, its great to see people valuing a more sustainable eco friendly way of dyeing.