A freshly tie-dyed shirt waits to be unbound Thursday afternoon in amateur dyer Wendy Beaufort’s workshop. Beaufort was practicing for this weekend’s Coral Reef Dye-Off craft competition to benefit the Caribbean island’s coral reefs. (photo courtesy of Johann H. Addicks)
Blacktip Island fabric artists will gather at the Blacktip Haven resort this weekend for the inaugural, two-day Coral Reef Dye-Off tie-dye competition to draw attention to the Caribbean island’s ailing coral reefs.
“Our coral’s nowhere near as healthy as it was ten years ago,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “Whether from warmer water, acidic seas, development runoff or a combination, our reefs and our livelihoods are taking a hit.
“This combination juried dying competition and craft show will help combat that,” Havens said. “The competition will draw attention to how hard the coral is fighting to survive, and the proceeds will go to reef preservation efforts. And the shirts, shorts and whatnot are guaranteed to be groovy.”
Some worried the event will do more harm than good.
“Making people aware of the coral’s plight is great, but what happens when all this dye hits the reef? Or the aquifer?” environmental watchdog Wade Soote said. “There’s no telling what the ash and urea that makes the colors bond to fabrics will do once they hit the water table.
“At the very least, there should be an environmental impact study before there’s dozens of people dumping who-knows-what down the drain,” Soote said. “Pretty colors are all well and good, but what if they wipe out the marine park? Elena should know better.”
Organizers say those concerns are unfounded.
“All the used dye will go into a big vat and be neutralized before it’s dumped,” local dyemaster Harry Blenny said. “Also, though store-bought dyes are allowed, we’re encouraging everyone to use all-natural, locally-produced dyes, or even to make their own.
“There’s an art just in making the dyes out of local ingredients,” Blenny said. “Booby poop gives a really bright green you can’t get with a commercial mix. And ground up land crab mixed with balsamic vinegar gives a unique, vivid red.”
Local dye artists are eager to test their techniques against each other.
“You’re never sure exactly how good you are until you go head-to-head against another dyer under time constraints,” Wendy Beaufort said. “There’s lots of unknowns, and the competition should get pretty intense. The non-stop Grateful Dead in the background’ll take some of the edge off that, but still.
“The real challenge will be choice of medium,” Beaufort said. “Most people are sticking with tried-and-true cotton, but a few of us are experimenting with silk. Elena made a whole separate category for that, since the technique’s so different.”
All dyed items will be sold on site, with the winner serving as auctioneer, Havens said.
“We’ll have an auction Sunday evening to raise as much money as we can,” she said. “Hopefully the cash will cover the cost of a new coral nursery. Or snacks for our volunteers.”