Aleksandar Todorović, wool dyeing

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Aleksandar Todorović is a contemporary “jack of all trades” when it comes to traditional crafts and techniques. He works as a professional conservator-restorer in the Open air Museum “Staro selo” in Sirogojno. His love of nature, local knowledge, and materials, made him one of the only masters of natural dyeing and pigments in Serbia.

Name of Craft in the local language
Bojenje prirodnim pigmnetima, konzervacija i resaturacija
Type of Craft
Dyeing of organic materials (primarily wool) with natural pigments made from earth, various plants, metal oxides originating in nature
Knowledge Holder
Aleksandar Todorović
Location, Website
Solunskih ratnika St., 31230 Arilje, Serbia
Contact
alexandararilje@gmail.com, +381(0)654387976
Year of Establishment
2015
Successors
No

Workshop and sales space
25 m2 (atelier space)
Materials
Wool, plants, earth pigments, metal oxides, ethanoic acid, sodium hydroxide, copper sulfate pentahydrate.
Technology / Tools / Machines
Cutting tools, adjusted conservation table, tweezers, brushes, mortar and pestle, pots, glass containers, cauldron; all conservation and restoration tools, machines, accessories, and materials for dyeing wool: cauldron, fire, pots, wash troughs.
Techniques / Processes
Organic hand-spun wool is dyed in a dye prepared (boiled) from various mixtures, e.g., plants, metal oxides, sodium hydroxide, copper sulfate pentahydrate, 7-10% ethanoic acid, and the like. Wool is then added to the hot (cooked) mixture. Wool can only be dipped or boiled for several hours. Dyeing can also be done by immersing wool in hot dye without cooking, whereby it stays in this dye for several hours (in previous experiments: not longer than 48 hours). The colour gradient is achieved based on the duration of the process and the combination of materials. For example, shades of violet usually come from beet (beta vulgaris), European dwarf elder (danewort, danesblood, walewort, elderwort.../sambucus ebulus) and iron oxides, iron-aluminium and others. The plant known as broćika (sticky willow – galium aparine) is said to dye fabric a fairly intense and permanent red if left to ferment for several years. Aleksandar started the process of fermenting this plant four years ago, and dyeing is to be conducted in 2024.
Members / Employees
1
Education of the Craftsperson
Aleksandar is an academic painter and conservator-restorer. In his conservation work, Aleksandar is dedicated to performing reversible interventions. He learned the craft of dyeing fabric (especially wool) mainly from older women and during field research in the villages of Western Serbia, and he applied it at his workplace in the "Old Village” museum of Sirogojno, where he held workshops for educating museum visitors and teaching students (conservators of the 4th year of high school and conservators of the Faculty of Applied Arts from Belgrade) traditional techniques. He applied this colour during restoration works, reconstructing textile items with authentic and originally coloured materials. The Zlatibor region, in which the museum is located, has a deep connection with wool and wool-based crafts.

Best-selling product
Wool dyed with natural pigments, works of art (paintings, drawings, mosaics…) conservation work (from paintings, through icons, etc. to archaeological material).
Average time of production
Depending on the pigment used and the gradient to be achieved, the dyeing process takes the minimum of 15 minutes. The entire process of preparation and drying takes up to a week.
Average price per item
He does not charge for the dyed wool, or made pigments

Aleksandar organized and held three biannual meetings for wool dyeing in Sirogojno – in 2016, 2018, and 2020, where the development of fabric dyeing was demonstrated and put in practice. The workshops were intended for both children and adults, and based on the principle of intergenerational knowledge transfer. As a result of the meeting, three wool dyeing manuals are made – Reviving the Tradition: Dyeing Wool with Natural Materials, vol. 1 and 2, and Reviving the Tradition: Dyeing Wool with Aniline Dyes.

Aleksandar Todorović is a principal conservator at the “Staro selo” open-air museum in Sirogojno, where the maintaining of buildings and objects is conducted by using traditional and old crafts as much as possible.

His interest in natural dyeing did not come as a surprise as his nurturing nature and enthusiasm for all things natural already found its place in his work. The Zlatibor region, where the museum is located, is deeply connected to the wool crafts that even had a significant role in female emancipation. The generational knowledge of wool processing and dyeing, as well as the community building surrounding the process, served as  fertile learning ground.

Through comprehensive field research and learning from women in the area, Aleksandar mastered the craft of wool dyeing. He systematized the knowledge of local materials and practices into an educational format of manuals, creating the possibility of making the traditional craft contemporary and in accordance with the changed surroundings. 

 

 

The spaces he works in remind of a Wunderkammer of all things natural, from pigments and resin to the motives of his artwork and plants .

The habitus of a true Renaissance man!

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Natural wool dyeing is based on the knowledge of pigments derived from the surroundings, from plants to soil, and on experimentation with their mixtures when “cooked.”

The process begins with the preparation of wool, which needs to be washed, dried, spun, rolled into hanks and bleached before dyeing. Wool is added to the previously prepared dye when it boils. Depending on the gradient of colour that is to be achieved, the dyeing process can take up to two days. When the wanted shade is achieved, wool is placed to be air-dried.

Traditional dyeing of natural wool requires working over an open fire, as the cauldrons are heated with it, and air drying is seen as the best way for finalizing the process.

 

As for the pigments used for various types of dyeing, such as wool dyeing, ethyl alcohol is added to fine-grained earth pigments to make them easier to dissolve. The colour shade is based on the mixture and the amount of added pigments and other chemicals.

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Creating natural pigments and resin is conducted within his atelier spaces in Arilje and at the Open air museum "Start selo" Sirogojno.

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The naturally dyed wool that is made by Aleksandar in repeating traditional techniques and experimenting with new materials comes in shades of green, brown, yellow, red, violet, ochre, orange, etc., with usually distinct pastel quality to it. As the region is known for its production of wool and knitted garments, the quality of the used wool is high, and the final product is always made by hand. Currently, the largest amount of wool dyed in the traditional way is exhibited in the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade.

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