Dyeing with plants is a lot like magic: you can never really know what colors, what shades exactly will emerge from your dye vat. There are always so many variables — down to the source of the water you use and the minerals in the soil where your particular dye plant grew. For me, it’s that very unpredictability that keeps me hooked to the craft.
This is the kind of magic I practiced this week. I did some dye work in preparation for tomorrow’s Homesteading Festival in Williamston where I will be demonstrating spinning and natural dyeing, as I did last year. Of the three dye plants I used, one came from my garden, the second one from the grocery store, and the third from the online supplier. Yarrow, turmeric, and fusticwood — can you guess which is which? What I didn’t expect is how nicely the colors would all work together: the rich ochres and oranges, the dandelion yellows, the sage greens and pale mint greens are like bright fallen leaves on the forest floor. A perfect fall palette.
I harvested the yarrow from the garden and prepared the dye bath in my outdoor dyeing studio, i.e. our backyard patio. I love to work there because it’s well ventilated — obviously — and I can get the water I use straight from our rain barrels and conveniently dump the used dye plant materials into the compost nearby. The yarrow dye results were more pale than I expected, possibly because I didn’t rinse the yarns after mordanting and so the mordant consumed some of the dye. As I said, the magic lies in the unpredictability.
Turmeric, on the other hand — look at that! Such bold color! All this without any mordanting or heating of the fibers. I simply left the skeins of yarn soaking in the pot of water and turmeric (and yes, that’s the regular turmeric powder you can get at the grocery store) in the sun for a few hours. Strong stuff.
Top row: fusticwood on alum-mordanted yarn with an iron afterbath
Middle row: yarrow on alum-mordanted yarn only; on the same yarn but with an iron afterbath; turmeric on alum-mordanted yarn
Bottom row: fusticwood on chrome-mordanted yarn; fusticwood on alum-mordanted yarn
If you are in upstate South Carolina, come to the Homesteading Festival tomorrow! Admission and classes are free. I’m going to be demonstrating dyeing with Japanese indigo; but I’m also hoping to catch some of the other classes offered — especially Gouda cheese making from sheep’s milk, mushroom growing, and creating food meadows.