Dyeing with plant colors has been a solitary craft for me until now. I taught myself through books and online tutorials, and then went on to learn more at the great school of trial and error during many, many sessions of stirring dye pots at home. Both the hard work and the thrills of new colors have been mine alone…
…until now. My friend Barbara and I got together for a weekend dyeing extravaganza at my place. Barbara is a skilled spinner, textile artist, angora rabbit owner and book maker, and has studied natural dyeing before at the John C. Campbell Folk School. She had a dye kit from Carol Leigh’s Hillcreek Fiber Studio she had ordered some time ago, and suggested that we get together to do all the dyes in the box — all seven of them: brazilwood, logwood, cutch, osage orange, madder root, cochineal, and indigo. You can guess that she didn’t need to twist my arm. Especially as three of those dyes — cutch, osage orange, and cochineal — were ones I had not tried before.
Saturday and Sunday were a mad circus of enormous simmering pots, billowing clouds of unspun fiber of different kinds, careful weighing and measuring, checking temperatures, pulling out colors — some expected and some unexpected — out of the vats, spinning and carding while waiting, splashing and rinsing and hanging to dry. We did the dyeing mostly outside in my backyard using hot plates, and using the laundry line and an old screen door to dry the finished yarns, unspun fibers, and silk cloth. I’m stunned by how much I still learn every single time I do dyeing work. The difference that all these variables make: time, temperature, modifying mineral salts, quality of fiber, even the water we use!
Of course, everything took longer than we had expected, especially since most fibers needed to be mordanted as well. So we didn’t get to cochineal and indigo yet, but you’ve got to leave something for later, right? In any case, I’m sure there are more fiber fests to come. Our new friend Caroline stopped by to check out what we were doing, and shared beautiful images from her shibori dyeing course in Japan that made me want to learn so much more about that unique technique.
This morning, I stepped outside to a perfect fall day in my backyard and to the radiant colors drying in the crisp air. This moment always makes it all worthwhile: