Artist in Residence for Peatland Connections (a Crichton Carbon Centre project), Morag Macpherson, writes more about her work and discovery of eco-dyeing using bog plants.
The bog definitely has a visual ‘star’ in my opinion and that is the sphagnum moss.
Its appearance on mounds can be really beautiful. Gorgeous shades of yellows, pinks, limes and reddish-browns all vie for attention. It’s the sight of such a lovely coral pink on landscape mostly populated with browns, beiges, greens, and ochres that really appeals when it flashes into your vision and draws you close.
This visual star also happens to be the important factor atop the bog…some mosses are 350 million years old! Sphagnum is the most widespread, it has about 380 varieties! The bogs that store it cover 1.2 million square miles, attesting to its historic abundance.
Other beauties on parts of a bog include heather and bog myrtle. When I discovered their colour palette from dye extract create pinks and yellows on fabric, I decided to mindfully take some for dye baths in order to leave the sphagnum moss undisturbed. I could evoke the beauty of the sphagnum moss by dyeing with its neighbours. What an act of interdependent community work from the bog plants!
Heather gives strong shades of pink to peach and gets paler as the dyebath exhausts and the dye clings to the submerged fabrics, taking its colour with it. It also pales when foraged during different seasonal timescales. The stronger hues are more common in Spring when the plant first bursts into life, following a fallow Winter. When it flowers in late Summer with the beautiful purple carpets that cover the Scottish landscape, its dyeing capacity pales. A lot of these plants have contrary natures! I’m looking forward in anticipation for what Autumn will bring. It’s seasonal colour palette perfectly illustrates the hues and subtleties of tone inherent in sphagnum moss.
Bog myrtle can dye almost lime at its best and bright yellow on the first dip of cloth into a newly brewed bath. The subtler shades on exhaustion are also pretty in pale ochres and lemons and can also change seasonally. The smell of the bog myrtle on the peatland landscape is another sensory pleasure gifted by the bog.
Dye expert Joyce Woodcock has an MA in natural dyeing and many years of hands-on experimentation. She often comments that any colours produced naturally, inherently mix well with each other. So, it’s impossible for colours to clash! As someone who loves a colour ‘clash’ I’m somewhat disappointed! But seriously, I appreciate the beauty in anything that derives directly from nature and how it all blends together harmoniously. The subtleties of shades within one colour spectrum from one plant can be never ending. My love of colour on cloth is taken to new levels when exploring the qualities of natures hue’s. To hone in on peatland specifically, is a challenge that I’m relishing.
So my last and fourth phase of the project is to give the star of the bog its rightful place and focus. By obviously side-stepping its use and utilising its neighbourly bog friends to emulate its colours, I’ve enjoyed building a relationship with my ‘BOGSTAR’ and friends. I’ve decided to make a final ‘showstopper’ garment in delicate silks (which take the dye better than any other fabric I’ve tried in terms of strength and depth of colour). I’m hoping Kerry can contact her inner ‘Lady of the Bog’ and wear this outfit, embodying the ‘spirit of sphagnum’, during our forthcoming photoshoot and film-making project.
I’ve set out to encompass an entire experience of a peatland bog within this project, with four identified areas:
OUTSKIRT: the surrounding area of the bog
SUNKEN CLOTH: What lies inside the bog.
CLEARANCE: What gets cleared off the bog as waste in the regeneration process.
BOGSTAR: What grows on the bog, in particular sphagnum moss.
Morag's artist in residency is funded by Peatland Connections (a Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded project) and Creative Scotland.