Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Mette Biering


This paper describes how the knowledge about natural dyes survived the introduction of aniline dyes to Norway in the last quarter of the nineteenth-century. How this happened involved women, for there was a great campaign to keep the traditional colors alive for the continued use in woven cloth, coverlets, tapestries and folk costumes. At the beginning of the nineteenth century great efforts were made by women to restore and re-design traditional folk costumes; they were therefore in a position to keep the dye knowledge in the face of industrial competition. There was a country-wide search to gather dye recipes from people who lived in remote areas where traditional life remained unchanged well into the twentieth-century.

The Norwegian folk costume is today enjoying a “renaissance”. Woollen skirts and jackets in different colors are richly embroidered with natural dyed silk or wool in a wide range of colors. Woven woollen ribbons in natural dyes are often used as belts or decoration. All of the color in a costume, which is worn with embroidered blouses or shirts and lavish silver jewelry, derives from the embroidery which varies in pattern and style from one region to another. At any big event in Norway, crowds in their folk costumes create a colourful display you can see from a great distance. What is very exciting is that the fashion industry has become aware of natural dyes as a trendsetting form of embellishment. A special effort has been made since the spring 2007 Oslo Fashion Week to promote awareness of dyes, and environmental and ethic issues.

The Norwegian Home Arts and Crafts Association (Husfliden) has kept alive empirical knowledge about natural dyes by sponsoring workshops all over the country. I have also lived abroad and studied dyeing elsewhere. Those influences came back with me to Norway.

My own work in natural dyes involves innovations in technique which can be seen in how I manipulate the dye and also the fabric. I describe this as “stunt dyeing”. So you can see that the traditions and the folk costumes have had an influence on me. I have also adapted my own work to reflect the woman I am, where I have lived and worked, and also to show how past and present come together for me in natural dyes.