Natural Dyes

Chickasaw Culture Keepers

Like generations of Chickasaw ancestors before her, textile artist and natural dyer Whitney Courtney utilizes the vibrant hues found in nature to add color to handmade yarn and fabrics. "Our ancestors, they didn't have books, they didn't have Google," Whitney says. "They used what was around them in nature. They didn't have the stores like we do." Natural dyeing connects the Chickasaw cultural demonstrator to her nature, her ancestors and her family members.

Traditionally, bags, mats and skirts would have been patterned out of plant fibers such as nettle or animal hairs like rabbit, buffalo and naturally growing plants would have been used for dyes. For instance, wild strawberries provided pink dyes and blueberries provided purple dyes. "Naturally dyeing is something you're not going to learn in a week or a day of class," Whitney explains. "You're going to have to learn your entire life because everything affects the plants, from the rain that you received that season to the soil quality, it's always changing and you just have to kind of listen to your surroundings."