The Heritage Craft Association compiled and published a ‘Red List of Endangered Crafts’. Ranking traditional crafts by ‘the likelihood they would survive to the next generation, based on intangible cultural heritage’. The crafts on this red list have been deemed ‘under threat’.
It now seems imperative that we devise tangible ways of preventing the cultural loss of the death of a craft. The simplest way to keep knowledge alive is to share it, in detail, with as many people as you can.
The Guild Collective was founded by artists and natural dyers Rachel Jones and Ciara Callaghan in 2020 to share and explore the power of natural dyes to connect people to places.
The Guild Collective seeks to question and invert what the role of a Guild is in a contemporary context. Now that many heritage craft skills have become endangered, the role of a Guild should be to share and not guard craft knowledge. If we are to act in the best interest of craft, creating inclusive and accessible craft experiences for all is essential.
This summer, in response to the Milton Keynes Council initiative Reclaim the Redways*, we as the Guild Collective devised our first project, Redways Colourways.
This project documents the colour palette of natural dyes that can be made from plants growing along the Redways network. We ran a series of ten free public workshops through which citizens of Milton Keynes engaged in a re-exploration of their surroundings, turning the Redways into Colourways.
The practice of natural dyeing offers a connection to place and a means of building on local knowledge. Natural dyes can challenge people’s perspective of where they live by taking common plants and uncovering the magic and art that lies just beneath the surface.
The engagement was aimed at local communities who inhabit specific areas along the Redways so participants could arrive by bike, foot or wheelchair. It was important that the participants could be the experts on their own territory, and all we were doing was casting this territory in a new light.
Each of the ten workshops began with a colour walk around the Redways to explore what plants grow there and which have the potential to yield colour. Plants were then collectively foraged to create a dye vat where together we revealed the colours that the plants held by dyeing flags and bags.
The landscape-led colours that were created from these plants are a reflection of local ecology. Plants which can be used to create colour grow everywhere, not only in rural settings. They can be found on the side of the road, on roundabouts, alongside train tracks and behind supermarkets. The plants will be different depending on the location, which creates the specificity of local colour.