Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Staff/Personnel
Category: Art and Craft
KATHERINE PETTIT DYE BOOK
The Katherine Pettit Dye Book is a unique manual for creating and using vegetable dyes. Compiled by Helen Wilmer Stone Viner (c. 1891-1978), and H.E. Scrope Viner, her husband following her departure from Pine Mountain Settlement School, the small book is well-known in the weaving literature of the Southern Appalachians. Before her marriage, Helen Wilmer Stone worked at Pine Mountain Settlement School from 1914 to 1922 as a housemother and discovered vegetable dying through Katherine Pettit, one of the co-directors of the School at the time. This small booklet was created in Saluda, North Carolina where Helen Wilmer Stone settled, met and married H.E. Scrope Viner after leaving the School. It is based on Viner’s work at Pine Mountain and is one of the more unique manuals for vegetable dyes in the Southern Appalachians. It was published by Excelsior Printers in Saluda, North Carolina in 1946. Helen Wilmer Stone left Pine Mountain in the same year as her friend Marguerite Butler, another Pine Mountain staff member. Butler left for Brasstown, North Carolina to work with Olive Dame Campbell at the new John C. Campbell Folk School. Both Viner and Butler were graduates of Vasser College in Poughkeepsie, New York and their friendship brought them to Pine Mountain. Helen Wilmer Stone, worked at Pine Mountain during some of its most foundational years when Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long were co-directors.
Following their early work at Pine Mountain, Stone and Butler were both well-seasoned settlement workers and their talents were recognized by Olive Dame Campbell as she struggled to build the new folk school at Brasstown. Butler had traveled to Denmark with Campbell and had been inducted into the Danish folk school ethos. Stone, like Butler, was somewhat conflicted by her departure from Pine Mountain, as the years at Pine Mountain had been good ones. Unlike her friend Butler, she struck out on her own and used the talents she had acquired at Pine Mountain and her contacts in the Saluda area to follow her interests in mountain craft. Her affection for Pine Mountain and for Katherine Pettit is seen in her dedication of this manual of dye processes to Katherine Pettit, Founder and Director of Pine Mountain Settlement School (1913-1930). Pettit, an avid collector of mountain “kivers” and dye craft, no doubt, left her indelible mark on Stone as she did so many others at the School.
“In affection and gratitude this book of vegetable dyes is dedicated to the memory of
Katherine Pettit whose memorial tablet in the Pine Mountain School Chapel reads as follows:
“Katherine Pettit, 1869-1936, pioneer and
trail-breaker. Forty years she spent creating.
opportunity for mountain children here and
elsewhere. In life, she ever refused praise. In
death, she is too great for it.”
The cover of the small booklet shows a tripod iron pot often used for vegetable dying in mountain homes and at the school. Katherine Pettit had a lifetime love of mountain craft and particularly weaving. [See: Katherine Pettit – Weaving] Her large collection of coverlets held by Transylvania University in the Bullock Home and Museum on Gratz Place in Lexington, Kentucky, is remarkable for its breadth and variety of design and technique. Within the collection, the use of “Blue Pot” is repeated frequently in the textiles. “Blue Pot”, is indigo dye, a complicated dye bath used by many mountain dyers and weavers. It was a process that confounded the staff at Pine Mountain. The deep blue produced by the plant indigo is seen throughout the world in many early textiles and prized for its stability and intense shades of blue. An example of the deep blue, almost black, color may be seen above in the weaving sample from Katherine Pettit’s collection. But, the process is not as simple as it may seem. Viner and other staff at Pine Mountain had exceptional difficulty with this particular “vegetable” dye and it is not surprising to see considerable attention paid to its processes in this small booklet.
The use of more common mountain dyes such as walnut and madder provided easier results and often more successful dye batches and was less labor intensive than the Blue Pot. Yet, most of these other colors were fugitive when compared to the infamous Blue Pot which is known around the textile world for its vivid color stability.
The booklet shares many of the eastern Kentucky and Appalachian regional recipes for dyes from flowers, trees, shrubs, vegetables, and other botanical sources. Viner’s compilation of techniques and recipes was a manual of practice that was diligently sought after by serious weavers and dyers for decades but few had access to it as the print run from the private Saluda publisher was small, proprietary and soon ceased disappeared from print. There were earlier “recipe books” including a short one included in the book on mountain craft published by Frances Louisa Goodrich. Her book, Mountain Homespun, published in 1935 and recently re-printed with an introduction by Jan Davidson, director of the John C. Campbell Folk School, has a second appendix of dye plants and a small section (p.13-16) on dyeing that includes useful anecdotal information on the craft.
It is not known whether Wilmer Stone Viner had access to to Goodrich’s writing, but it must certainly have been the case though no direct influence can be seen in her narratives. Allenstand Cottage Industries, Goodrich’s craft enterprise, competed somewhat with Viner’s Saluda business, the Weave Shop and with a growing number of weaving craft shops that sprung up during the craft revival of the 1920s. Many craft businesses sprung up in the southern Appalachians during this time particularly in North Carolina and at Berea in Kentucky. Clemtine Douglas of the Spinning Wheel in Asheville, Edith Matheny and the Matheny Weavers, and Sarah Dougherry and the Shuttle Crafters, to name a few early entrepreneurs featured vegetable dyed weaving. The isolation of Pine Mountain Settlement never allowed ready access to a broad craft market of the touring public, but a brisk mail-order business allowed some income to come to the School. During the years Wilmer Stone was in residence there was a concerted effort to market Pine Mountain craft
The digital age has made access to Pettit’s Book much easier for those interested in vegetable dying and in the many varieties of plants that can be called into use by craftsmen who want to vary the colors of their wools, cottons and flax.The Viner’s work has been greatly extended by access to many of the other early dye books and recipes and later government publications that expanded access to other sources of dyes for weavers. For example, the small government booklet produced by the United States Department of Agriculture, Home Dying with Natural Dyes, authored by Margaret S. Furry and Bess M. Viemont in 1935, provides and expanded list of resources for natural dyes. This booklet which was owned by Katherine Pettit is held by Pine Mountain Settlement School and was used as reference in later efforts to develop dyes at the School.
A second digital copy of the Viner booklet is held by Hunter Library at Western Carolina University and comes from the collections of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. It has a rich commentary accompanying the online version of the manual which describes the relationship of Viner to western North Carolina and to John C. Campbell Folk School. See also the related papers for the Craft Education Project questionnaire prepared for the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild and the Southern Highlanders by Marian Glady Heard with Wilmer S. Viner’s assistance. The project carried forward the emphasis on sustainable craft in the Southern Appalachians and the educational value of such work as weaving and dying, vegetable dyers and weavers. All are available through the Western University, Hunter Library Craft Revival website and digital archive.
Another small booklet gathered in the collections at Pine Mountain Settlement School is a product of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Home Dyeing With Natural Dyes, by Margaret Furry and Bess M. Viemont and published in December of 1935. This publication was most likely consulted by Stone in her compilation of the Pettit dye booklet as there are similarities, but the government manual is more technical in its approach to the process of using natural dyes.
Viner ends her manual with the following recommendation:
Here in this little book we have put down a
few receipts for dyeing wool. From this small
beginning the real dyer can go forward and
have a grand time experimenting, and get his
own palette of colors with which to work. Some
will last forever, and some will fade gradually;
the deeper and richer the shade the more per-
manent the color always.
Not everyone is a dyer; some have success
and some do not, but any one will have an
interesting time. For the colors Blue and Rose,
Indigo and Madder are the best. But for the
other colors the woods, the flower-gardens are
ours to experiment with. There is dye in roots,
barks, flowers, hulls, leaves, and lichens, and
many of these dyes have never been discovered,
nor the mordants with which they are made
fast. The dyer who has a real love of color and
much patience can work all this out for himself.
We hope this book will just be a beginning, and
that you will go ahead and find many more
lovely colors. Anyway we know that is what
Miss Pettit would wish!
Though paginated, the page sequence in this booklet is not reflected in the assigned I.D for the images found below due to several blank pages.
GALLERY – THE KATHERINE PETTIT BOOK OF VEGETABLE DYES