• A scarf that has been dyed with natural plants by Kay Lee Williams (Kay Lee Williams)Source: Kay Lee Williams
Kamilaroi women Kay Lee Williams dyes textiles with natural colours that create art works that are one of a kind. NITV spoke with her about the eco-dyeing process and how it connects her to country.
Karina Marlow

NITV, Homeground Festival
19 Nov 2015 - 11:16 PM  UPDATED 20 Nov 2015 - 3:25 PM

NITV: You've been working on textiles, including scarves, for several years. How long have you been creating these scarves?

Kay Lee Williams: I’ve been doing scarves since around 2012, so not long really. Unfortunately I work full time, so at times don't get a lot of time to do as much as I would like.

Where did you find out about eco-dyeing?

Initially my niece showed me how to eco dye. Since then I've done several workshops on eco dyeing which has been an evolutionary journey.

It's interesting how different tutors show various methods, but I adjust and am always experimenting.  Recently I used ochre, which I used to draw on the fabric and then dyed over it with plants and leaves.

What plants do you use for the dyeing process?

I use a variety of gum tree leaves among other flowers and their leaves such as grevilleas, roses, kangaroo paw. Mostly I enjoy using leaves as they tend to print well onto the fabrics, and you get a variety of shapes and colours. 

Some come out red, green, spotted black, and it always amazes me the various shades I get. Recently I found some bark from a tree which left stains on the road. This turned out a lovely rust colour.

What is the gathering process like?

It's exciting and rewarding, especially when I am using new plants and trying different methods. There is also a lot of research involved but at times some materials are not available in Australia.

I'm very happy to travel interstate to gather, and am looking forward to heading out to Kamilaroi country sometime soon.

How does the process connect you to your heritage?  

I find that eco dyeing connects to my Aboriginal heritage through the gathering process as our people are hunters and gatherers, and also to the land where I collect materials. 

I tend to always stick to a theme when making scarves, and not mixing the materials from different areas.

I'm from Kamilaroi but didn't grow up there, and now live on Bundjalung country where I have been for over 20 years. I grew up in Sydney and really want to acknowledge my father as he has raised me from 17 years old when we lost my mum. 

They both put me into Aboriginal painting classes in Babinda near Cairns, which was really my first connection to my Aboriginal culture.  Since then, way back in 1983 I worked, studied, completed a visual arts degree, but haven't really explored or continued my art practice. Therefore when the opportunity to learn or connect comes along, I grab it.

Indigenous art: More than just a canvas
Indigenous artworks are rich and varied, portraying everything from community and culture to lifestyle and rights-based activism. This incredible wealth of artistic diversity will be showcased at the Homeground Arts Market in Sydney this weekend.

Congratulations on having your scarves displayed at the Lismore Thread fashion show. What was it like seeing your products on the runway?

It was an experience and I was quiet nervous at first. I really enjoyed the experience and I found it very interesting in the way the models wore my scarves, and it really opened my eyes to the scope and range of ways to wear the various fabrics.

To find out more about Kay Lee Williams and her designs visit her website. The Arts Market will run this weekend at the FREE Homeground Festival which celebrates First Nations music, dance and culture at the Sydney Opera House.