Land & People | Interventions

Natural Dye: Organic Farming Trials

Mel Sweetnam


Mel Sweetnam is a natural dye educator. Through her business, Mamie’s Schoolhouse, she teaches various natural dye techniques, with a focus on ecology. She is admin of the global Natural Dye Education Facebook group (over 4,000 members), founder of the Cape Breton Fibre Trail, President of the Victoria County Arts Council. Mel is a juried member of the Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design. Prior to moving to Cape Breton to commit full-time to her life long fibre arts practice, Mel worked for over 20 years in public science policy senior management with the Ontario and New Zealand governments, and with a range of non-governmental organizations. Her BSc and Masters studies are in biology.


My presentation, while centered on the commercial natural dye farming trials we conducted recently on Cape Breton Island, addresses the whole product development and commercialization value chain. There are enormous obstacles (and opportunities) at the processing, quality control, marketing, and industry collaboration end of the value chain that often go unconsidered, yet are key to the success of a regional natural dye industry.