Building a Natural Dye Reference Library, Part 4 (and part 1 of 2)

dyes from nature bookAfter reading– poring over, really– A Dyer’s Garden by Rita Buchanan, I used her name as a search word on Amazon, which brought up the above gem, Dyes From Nature, by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, published in 1990, with Rita Buchanan as the guest editor. (I have two more booklets by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which I’ll talk about in the next library post.) Whereas the two other booklets I have are mainly black and white (published earlier), Dyes From Nature is gloriously colorful. It’s also packed with information.

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Miriam Rice was the first in the world to publish a book on the subject of mushroom dyes. Her research inspired the formation of International Fibre and Fungi Symposia, which convenes every two years in different countries, drawing participants from all over the world, as well as being instrumental in forming the International Mushroom Dye Institute. Dyeing with mushrooms fascinates me, and one day I will take a class on it! Rice’s article is a mini-instruction manual on dyeing with mushrooms, giving directions– and results- on dyeing with 3 different types of mushrooms.

dyes from nature 3Anne Bliss, who I’ve wrote about in this post, also has an article in here, on dyeing with– what else—weeds! She’s really made me love dyeing with weeds. She focuses on ten different weeds here, and the different colors you can get with them by varying mordants and additives.

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One of the most poignant articles in here is on Mexican Indigo. The author visited the Niltepec village, which was apparently the only place indigo (Indigofera suffructicosa) was still grown…and that there was a single family producing and selling the indigo. However, there was a drought the year the author visited, and they produced a tenth of what they normally produced, making the family decide to switch to cattle ranching. However, a master weaver begged the family to continue making the indigo; the weavers would pay whatever was necessary.

These are only a handful of the riches contained within this slight paperback; there are articles written by names you will recognize: Rita Buchanan, Miriam Rice, Jim Liles, Trudy van Stralen and Anne Bliss, amongst several more. The articles range from the above to ones such as “Dyemaking with Eucalypts in Australia” and “Traditional Plant Dyes in Japan”. While looking through it to write this blog post, I am reminded that I need to sit down and really read it thoroughly again. There’s just so much to learn.

The Weld in Lamb’s Quarters

A couple of months ago, I planted some weld seeds in the single plot of dirt we have in our cement jungle front yard. I don’t think that dirt had been touched in years. Rocky, weedy, dry, clay-ey– I took off a layer of topsoil and worked some compost plus new soil into it. Pretty soon, little sprouts were showing up where I had planted the weld seeds. Excellent! they were growing enthusiastically, so I made sure to give them some water and love on a regular basis. A couple plants were sprouting on other areas of the plot, (which is like 5 ft by 2 ft) which I thought was weird, but I blamed the cats.

I posted this photo on my Instagram feed, and enthused about how well my weld was growing! “That doesn’t look like weld”, someone commented, and then Carrie of Alpenglow Yarns, who I’d gotten one of my packets of weld seeds from, confirmed…I had been carefully nursing along weeds. Lambsquarters, to be exact. Apparently they are quite nutritious. Apparently none of my weld seeds had taken.

Sadly, I pulled them all out of the ground (they’re actually also growing enthusiastically on the side of our compost heap), but decided that I’d cook them up anyways, and see what color they gave me. At first, when I took out the skein, it was almost a light chartreuse, but once dry, it was a pale butter yellow, as seen in the first photo.

Ah well. I’ve ordered some more weld seeds, and will try again.

By the way, if you’ve not checked out the lovely naturally dyed yarns on offer on the website, do so– I’ve added quite a few recently. (the lambsquarters dyed skein shown here is just a wee test skein and not for sale, however.)

Inspirations: nido

I love Pinterest, but realized lately that I just keep pinning and pinning…and not really looking at all the other pins I’ve made, especially to my board Knitting Inspiration. Which is silly, because there’s some seriously inspiring images there.

It was on Pinterest that I first came across images pinned from nido, beautifully simple knitwear, rustic in a sophisticated way. From the About page: “Knit accessories woven with sheep wool from Argentina handspan and dyed with natural products as peppermint, carob tree bark, and eucalyptus leaves. To create the dyes we use what we have close with responsibility, to not harm nature.” and “The quality of the materials we choose to use and respect to production processes are our core values.”

510dce689a7f93204b60b6ce828c3d4cI want that wool!

Their tumblr is full of even more inspiring images, including garments.

2ee0a58699386115956601cb2c32e5b4I love the simplicity of these– they really showcase the wool, and makes me want to go straight to my spinning wheel! Once again I am reminded that I need to knit what I like to wear– simple, clean lines.

Building A Natural Dye Reference Library, Part Three: Past and Present

Processed with VSCOcam with 5 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with 5 presetBoth of the above books, Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess and Nature’s Color: Dyes From Plants by Ida Grae, are proving to become staples in the studio. There seems to have been a renaissance of natural dyeing and fiber arts in the seventies– so many wonderful books were written then! The past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in natural dyes and sustainability, and Harvesting Color is a fabulous example of this.

If you look online, you can find much better views of the amazing photography by Paige Green in Harvesting Color– the above top left photo I see around Pinterest all the time. These photos I took myself with my iPhone, so they’re not the most awesome.

Although these books were written about forty or so years apart, the emphasis on working with local plants rings clear throughout both books. Both authors work with plants found around Northern California; Rebecca Burgess’s hometown is Shasta, and Ida Grae was writing from Mill Valley. As I live in the East Bay Area in California, the information contained within these books is continually relevant.

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I especially love the above comments on fennel— it does indeed seem as though it could take over everything! Everywhere I look right now the feathery fronds of it are growing.

Ida Grae’s book is explorative and exhaustive– she has more than 200 recipes in her book! She also gives thorough information on mordanting (although, chrome again!) and various methods of dyeing: “Primitive Dyeing Methods: Steeping, Natural Mordants, and Vat Dyeing”

One recipe that I found most intriguing was the above indigo vat recipe, which bears an eerie resemblance to the Michel Garcia vats.

The recipes are divided up into various categories: Lichen Recipes, Wild Flower and Weed Recipes, Garden Flower Recipes, Wild Shrub Recipes, Garden Shrub Recipes, Tree Recipes, and Food and Food-Related Plant Recipes, often giving more than one recipe for a single dyestuff. It was the recipes from this book that led to me adding a pinch of tin to the salvia dye pot in my recent salvia blossom dyeing experiments. (Green is still going strong, large lavender skein hasn’t gone gray yet, although has faded a little)

Processed with VSCOcam with s2 presetRebecca Burgess also gives an indigo vat recipe (two, actually, a one day one and a fermentation vat recipe). One of the fantastic things about Harvesting Color is that it talks about actually growing native plants (well, and indigo) besides foraging for them. The recipes are divided up into seasons, each section having recipes that  use plants that are naturally available at that time. For example, recipes for zinnias, coyote brush, and ironweed (besides much more) are in the Summer section, while

spring has Monkeyflower (above left) and Cota (above right) as well as fennel— and much more as well! I have to admit the monkey flower photo makes me a little sad, as the plant I bought at the Tilden regional botanical garden plant sale died. It was doing so well before I planted it! I’ve sowed cota seeds, but am waiting for them to sprout– apparently they take a long time to germinate. Rebecca’s book has certainly made me see my surroundings with a different perspective.

While the tone of Ida Grae’s book is really sheer exploration, Harvesting Color has a much more didactic tone that can, to some people, be irritating. I actually love this book, and am able to get past the mildly didactic tone and see the value of the emphasis on sustainability and keeping in harmony with nature, but appreciate the more conversational tone and wider view (and wider range of mordants, with the exception of chrome) of Nature’s Colors. A valuable aspect of Harvesting Color, though, is how both mordanted and unmordanted dyed yarn is shown for almost every plant.

Harvesting Color is a beautiful book, and I’ve spent many an hour poring over it– the benefit of publishing today is all the marvellous color photography available! Ida Grae’s book, lacking such photos, since it was published much earlier, is fascinating, but I do see it as truly a reference book, while Rebecca Burgess’s book feels almost like a companion. I’m certainly not saying one is better than the other; they are both wonderful books of their time, and both are valuable — and well used– additions to my library. The emphasis on place makes them especially valuable additions to any dyer in Northern California, although dyers all over can benefit from the information contained in these books.

Those of you who have these books– what is your opinion about them? have you found them useful as well?

All The Shades of Fennel, Saxon Blue, and Osage Orange

The range of color you can get from any dye is fascinating in itself, but when you throw in natural dyes, it gets even better.

The above skeins were dyed using locally foraged fennel, Saxon Blue, and Osage Orange– but they are all so wonderfully different, due to the variables introduced. (Actually, I think a bit of sweetgum seed pod dye bath snuck in there somewhere, but I can’t be sure)

I find that I approach working with natural dyes the same way I approach working with acid dyes– with an open mind and a lot of “what if?”s. One color is built on another, and so forth; as the bath gets exhausted or a color is added I am able to get multiple, individual colors; using modifiers extends the variety even more.

I’d love to tell you what the combination/exhaust bath/modifiers are for all these skeins….but I can’t. I’m not very fond of the phrase “In the moment”, but that does seem to be an appropriate description to how I currently work with natural dyes, especially since I am not looking to replicate colors currently. Exploring all the “what if”s. That said…I must try to keep better notes!

These four skeins are available in the shop right now, but if you want one, you should hurry, since there is only one skein of each color…and won’t be made again! They are truly unique colors. The base I used is American Sock.

A quick update on the salvia blossom dyed yarns: as I predicted, the lavender blue hues have rapidly faded; both the small skeins are now a blue-tinged gray. The larger skein has retained quite a bit of its original lavender hue, but it has faded somewhat, and I think will fade more. I’ll keep an eye on it. The green skein is doing fine, but it hasn’t been exposed to a lot of daylight yet.

Salvia Surprises

There’s a lot of salvia that grows around my neighborhood, and the ones that have long purple stems of velvety flowers are probably the most ubiquitous. A neighbor had been doing some strenuous weeding and pruning, so the green bins were filled to the brim; I carried armfuls home.

I stripped off the flowers (the rest of the plant is destined for the dye pot but is now drying out in my front yard) and put them into the pot

Then added yarn and water and simmered the whole thing for a bit. The yarn began to turn green, which wasn’t that surprising– it’s the skein on the left in the first photo. I took that skein out and hung it to dry

then added a pinch of tin and more yarn. Almost immediately the water turned purple with the addition of the tin, which I hadn’t expected. It’s not quite as reddish as the photo looks; the color was more of a lavender. I let it sit in there for about a day, then hung the yarn to dry. At first, the yarn was definitely purple, but the next day had already turned to a blue, and was starting to get a grayish tint. Still pretty, but different. I’m guessing the color will probably fade more, probably like red cabbage, but am interested to see what happens. The color didn’t rinse out. We’ll see!