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