Dyeing to Create

Debbie Alley | Ethan Smith

Debbie Alley transfers nature to fabric for abstract botanical prints

Where nature and science and art collide is where Debbie Alley’s creations live.

The silk scarves, linen napkins and wall art she makes begin with a walk in the woods or in her West Knoxville backyard. A redbud leaf, a dogwood bloom, maybe a fern or some moss will catch her eye. “I’m a total texture nerd. Details and colors are so engaging to me.”

Once home with her discoveries, she sandwiches them between layers of natural fibers and processes them in a hot water dye bath that contains iron or copper. The process, called eco printing, causes the tannins in the leaves and flowers to react and print on the natural fibers. It’s something she learned through Silk Painters International at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg. Once the images are dried and pressed flat, she scans them to create a digital file suitable for enlargement and printing onto fabric, paper, and other materials. 

Debbie Alley Art

A lifelong artist who got her start sewing at her grandmother’s side, Alley created and sold custom quilts while her two boys were growing up. Later she worked as a graphic artist for Pilot, and then at UT as a human resources consultant before returning full-time to her own artwork about a year ago.

She calls her pieces abstract botanicals. “I love working with redbud leaves; they make a beautiful heart,” she says. “We’re so fortunate here to have so much foliage. I love all the hardwoods: sweet gum, walnut, hickory, sycamore, maple…”

In addition to transferring nature’s bounty, she dyes her fabric, leaning toward pale yellows, pinks and lavenders, ivory and browns. She enjoys treasure hunting for vintage linens at thrift stores to create napkins too pretty to use at the dinner table.

Debbie Alley Art

Her work can be found at the District Gallery and soon at Artisan Woodworking in North Knoxville. She’ll participate in ArtXtravaganza at Webb School in early March and other shows later in the year. Looking ahead, she’d like to move further into home decor. “I would love to see these designs on bedding and lampshades and tabletops. There are so many options with print on demand. Sweet gum and magnolia would make beautiful wallpaper. We’ll see what happens. I went to High Point Market a few years ago. That’s where I want to be.” 

You can learn more about Debbie and her work at www.debbiealley.com.   

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