Designer makes natural dyes for her craft

Elizabeth McTear aims to send a positive message with her goods.

Elizabeth McTear created Honest Alchemy Co. in January 2014. She sells dyed textiles that she makes by hand in her Philadelphia studio on Etsy. | COURTESY Elizabeth McTear
Elizabeth McTear created Honest Alchemy Co. in January 2014. She sells dyed textiles that she makes by hand in her Philadelphia studio on Etsy. | COURTESY Elizabeth McTear

During the day, local artist Elizabeth McTear processes files for a real estate agency.

In her spare time, McTear is busy building a company from the ground up.

What started as an experiment a couple of years ago, evolved into the designer selling her handmade goods under the name of Honest Alchemy Co. in January 2014. Since then, McTear opened an Etsy shop that features a number of textile and dyed products all handmade in her personal studio.

McTear said she attributes the separation of her full-time job from her art as one of the main factors to her having so much success with Honest Alchemy Co.

“I want to be able to call the shots when it comes to my creative work,” McTear said, “and I like having the stability of having a full-time job to re-invest whatever I make in the studio, back into the studio.”

McTear, raised in Audubon, Pennsylvania just outside of Norristown, Pennsylvania, said she can remember being in Center City often as a child. When it came time to apply to college, McTear decided she wanted to stay in the Philadelphia area, leading her to Moore College of Art and Design, where she received her BFA in textile design.

Spending most of her schooling in Philadelphia is why McTear decided to stay in the area and open her studio locally, first having one on Carpenter Street, but now in the process of opening a larger one in her newly purchased home. Even as a local artist, McTear said most of her work is inspired by the time she spent traveling with her family.

“My artwork, especially my earlier artwork, I was doing a lot of pieces that were influenced by Alaskan culture, because that was where my earliest memories were from,” she said.

These memories are apparent in the picturesque nature designs that McTear sketches by hand, with what she calls her signature “tight aesthetic.”

McTear also makes her own natural dying process.

“There is only so much precision and so much control I can have, and that’s what I like about the natural dye,” McTear said. “They’re like these living dyes, and it has personality that I don’t get to have any say over.”

Although the natural dye may be slightly unpredictable in her work, what McTear has done with it has led her to start selling her products wholesale through Etsy, curated most recently by West Elm and the American Museum of Natural History.

This national recognition has brought McTear’s name outside of the confines of Philadelphia, but she said she remains heavily involved with the local creative community. McTear collaborates closely with other artists like her fellow textile designer, Shannon Retseck, and founder of jewelry line King of the Beasts, Jessica Barros Cramer, to bring more diverse pieces to her collection.

McTear said her next goal is to create her own online shop outside of Etsy, and to eventually replace her full-time job with the ownership of the brand. McTear wants to not only expand her product line, but to communicate what Honest Alchemy Co. actually means to a wider audience.

“I try very hard to be transparent in what I do,” McTear said. “I care about sourcing my dyes and materials in a way that is honest, transparent and ethical. … I believe in an honest workforce.”

McTear said because of the collaborative, creative spirit of the artists she’s worked with in Philadelphia, she doesn’t anticipate Honest Alchemy Co. moving to another location anytime soon.

Julianne Springler can be reached at

CORRECTION: In a version of this article that appeared in print, McTear was misidentified to be raised in Audobon, New Jersey and Norristown, Pennsylvania. McTear actually grew up in Audobon, Pennsylvania, just outside of Norristown, Pennsylvania.

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