Catching Color in Food Waste

By Amy Adams
By Amy Adams

Onion skins, avocado pits, beet root tops and used coffee grinds — all items many people think have no other use than the compost pile. But food waste can actually have a much longer shelf life, in the form of natural dyes. Natural dyeing can be accomplished through both plant and food waste, and is a sustainable way to add beautiful color to textiles, while helping the  planet at the same time.

To learn more about natural dyeing, we spoke with Chattanooga-based craftswoman and eco-friendly textile artist, Maggie Pate. Maggie’s new book, “The Natural Colors Cookbook”, is coming out in mid-June and we recently spoke with her to discover how food waste and textiles come together beautifully, through the slow craft of natural dyeing.

What sparked your interest in textiles and natural dyeing?

I’ve always been drawn to texture: the patterns in rugs, woven pillows, diaphanous silk paintings. Touch is a huge part of how I experience the world. Often when I am on hikes, I press into the moss or let my fingers trail over bark and leaves. Perhaps that means that textiles are part of me. Natural dyeing became passion of mine because nature and sustainability are part of my moral code and values.

What prompted your move from New York to Chattanooga, TN?

New York was proving to be an emotional struggle for me. I saw myself becoming more closed off from people and from pursuing my passions. Self-promotion and networking aren’t strong characteristics of mine and those seem to be paramount to for success in NYC. I grew up in the South, and when NYC started to eat at my self-worth I decided I need to get back to simpler living.

Tell us about your label and store, NÅDE.

NÅDE has always been dedicated to sustainability and textiles, even though the products have changed over time. NÅDE means “grace” in Danish, and that is the true focus of the brand: to create with grace and respect for your materials and the Earth, to be graceful to yourself in the process. I have seen other artisans work themselves to death and hold their business goals to overwhelming expectations, and I’ve been a victim of that behavior, too.

Right now, I do not have a store for NÅDE because everything’s made to order. But I hope to have a gallery/studio space that is open to the public so I can also teach more natural dyeing and slow craft courses.

When you first started out, what were some of the challenges you faced in capturing color with food waste?

Probably the most problematic part of dyeing with food waste is collecting materials. I reached out to local restaurants and farms to gather food waste, but at first they seemed hesitant. Now I have chefs and restaurants coming to me.

Your new book, “The Natural Colors Cookbook,” is coming out in mid-June. What is it about and what was the impetus for writing it?

“The Natural Colors Cookbook” explores the cross-section where food and slow craft intersect. This book aims to create beautifully crafted textiles using food products and food waste straight from your kitchen, pantry or compost. My hope is that the hues rendered from the food waste will challenge you to experience food in a new way, as well as urge others to reconnect with the narrative of the food, and the history of slow craft textiles.

Tell us about Feed Weave.

Feed Weave is my humanitarian effort in collaboration with the commerce on the NÅDE site. I started out creating custom weavings with food waste-dyed yarn, and when they would sell, 10 percent of the price would be donated to the local community kitchen in Chattanooga to help fight hunger. Now that concept has expanded beyond weavings to ALL the products that are dyed with food waste.

As we continue to focus on our series, “Craftsmanship and The Future of Work,” what advice do you have for someone looking to turn their craft into a sustainable business?

For me, I needed to look beyond commerce. Commerce is certainly an important part of my business and value all the support I have through online sales. But the most rewarding element of my narrative with craftsmanship is that I feel that I am living my values everyday. Also, don’t compare your journey to another makers. You never know what advantages they had (I did that a lot when I started out).

In your opinion, do you think there is a resurgence of craftsmanship going on today? If so, why?

There is a profound resurgence of craftsmanship right now. I hope it keeps gaining momentum. Handcrafted goods and slow craft are educating people on how to live a conscious and more sustainable lifestyle. 

What inspires you?

I was actually discussing this with my friend Phillip the other day. I told him I want my passions to make me a little bit angry because then, whatever I create has a purpose, a voice, and a meaning. So, I guess I am inspired by injustice.

 What is your most prized possession and why?

My animals… I would drop all the things in my house to save my pets!

Make sure to check out Maggie’s Instagram Takeover of The Craftsmanship Initiative’s feed next week starting Monday, June 4th!

Follow Maggie on Instagram @maggie_pate or visit her website at
All images courtesy of Maggie Pate

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