Thursday, November 3, 2011

Colors of the Season~~

There are always dye plants to find--even in Winter, but one of my favorite times for dye plants is Autumn! In my shop, I tend to use more standard dyes--ones that I know will last and that are readily available throughout the year, but in the past, I loved to dabble more often with stuff right from the woods or the yard or the side of the road. When I started to run out of my yellows a couple of weeks ago (Osage Orange sawdust from a woodworker in Missouri and dried weld from England), I had to improvise. For weeks I had been driving around enjoying the bright golden yellows of the goldenrod. How lovely! If only I had time to harvest some.....if only I had some fiber to dye. Suddenly, with my standard yellows run out and waiting for more to arrive, I just had to take the chance. "Pull over in that parking lot, please." I asked my husband. He already knew what I was going to do. Grabbing a plastic grocery bag from the car, I walked across the road to a vacant lot behind a local gas station. It was late in the season. Most of the goldenrod blooms were spent. I knew from experience that the earlier blooms can yield an almost neon yellow. I didn't want that bright of a yellow, but had I come too late? Were the remaining blooms still going to give me enough color? Carefully picking through the briers and raspberry canes, I just broke off the freshest looking blooms. As I picked, I thanked the plants and I thanked the earth for these gifts. I wrapped my scarf around my neck to keep warm and keep the scarf from getting caught on the prickers. Later, my daughter and husband who watched from the warm car would comment that wearing my plant dyed scarf, I had blended right in with the flowers and shrubs that had surrounded me. At one point, they even had trouble picking out where I was in the lot. When my bag was full, I headed back to the car.

Later that evening, I pored over several of my dye books. I had some notes from about 12 years ago on goldenrod. I had drawn a yucky face--"early blooms are too neon" was the comment. I checked with a number of sources, and with a bit of renewed confidence, I began my experiment the next morning. I boiled the flowers for several hours--thanking them again before and after boiling. I was pleasantly surprised! I dyed up some Merino rovings. The rovings on the top rack that are green or yellow were done with the goldenrod. I dyed them all yellow first and then gave some of them a dip in the indigo. I plan to use some of these rovings for my Phatfiber samples in November. Can't tell yet--I need to card them up first ;D

So now I'm thinking I need to take a fresh look at new sources. I've already experimented with black beans (great information in the natural dye groups on Ravelry for those interested). I'm going to try and continue to look at the world around me for long lasting dye sources closer to home. Should be fun! Happy Autumn, Y'all!

Friday, October 7, 2011


I love indigo, and lately nothing in my home has been safe. My indigo vats have been particularly strong as of late. As a result, I now have indigo dyed sheets and pillowcases, indigo dyed towels (in gradations of blue), dish towels with shibori designs, and even indigo rugs in the bathroom. I was so enthusiastic that I dyed up a mess of T-shirts for the Pine Lake Lakefest last weekend. We did pretty well. We never sold much plant dyed yarn or felt at Lakefest--just smatterings. Not everyone knows how to knit or crochet or sew. Maybe folks will like T-shirts, I thought. I went to Old Navy and bought the most beautiful white, gauzy blouses on summer clearance. I also bought T-shirts. Old Navy mostly had womens and girls shirts, so my gal and I also went to Walmart. The sturdy, Faded Glory T-shirts were on sale in the boys section. They took the dye so well! I got some mens T-shirts, too.

As I was dyeing the children's shirts, I wondered what I could do to make designs. I was tie dyeing some or making shades of blue, but I wanted to do more than just use rubber bands and marbles. I didn't have time for some fancy kind of resist. Then I spied a bottle of washable Elmer's glue! I drew turtles, flowers, and hearts on shirts. I spelled out Pine Lake. It was great! The glue worked as a resist, but had a soft look to it--not like wax or other resists. When I washed the indigo shirts after dyeing, the glue washed right out. All of these shirts sold! I'm sharing this here because it was such a great technique. If you are nervous about starting your own inidgo vat, the Jacquard Dye Company makes an indigo tie dye kit that is very easy to use. I've used them before when I was doing a summer camp and needed to do a large amount of dyeing.

This is a fun actitivy for families, classes, fund raisers, parties, etc.... The kit, which I got from Binder's Art Store, was easy to use. It comes with pre-reduced indigo which is ready quickly. It's good to have extra rubber gloves on hand.

Another way that I'm trying to spread the indigo love is by making a hat for a special person. This year I've started teaching at LEAD, a homeschool organization in Atlanta. My first Handwork class is very tiny--only four students--but we have a great time! To get to our classroom, we have to walk through a rather large Robotics class. The Robotics teacher has been very tolerant and understanding of our comings and goings. I want to make something for her, and a Robot Hat seems just the thing. Here are some of the yarns I've dyed up for the pattern so far. I'm thinking if I do the robots in bright yellow (weld and osage orange), they will show up well against the variegated indigo background. There's plenty of indigo to go around!

Recently, I was asked to speak at the Chattahoochee Unit of the Herb Society of America at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. For the presentation, I did some more research on the history of indigo. It was a predominant crop in the colonial Southern US, but it's history goes back much, much further. You can find remnants of indigo in Egyptian tombs from thousands of years ago. Thousands of years ago, indigo was used in Central and South America by the Maya. You find it prodigously throughout Asia (India, China, Japan, Indonesia), but some of the most historically compelling roots of Indigo are found in Africa. The Yoruba People of Nigeria developed a complex method of applying cassava flour paste to fabric with chicken feathers. (I'm not mentioning Indigo Ikat or Shibori here because they are more commonly known.) This Nigerian technique is called Adire and is still practiced today. One of the best books on the history of indigo in Nigeria is from the University of Ibidan. The designs often had special meanings. I also found a story from Liberia that tells how the secret of Inidgo was given to a seeress. The story is tragic because it involves the use of tears, urine, ashes, and the death of a child, but the ending is powerful and uplifting. Okay, now I'm just rambling about the history of Indigo.

Indigo is magic. The dye comes from fermented leaves and will only dissolve in an alkali solution (thus the ashes and urine in the story from Liberia). In the past, recipes called for urine from pregnant women or men who drank strong drink. There were probably variations in the metallic salts. The urine had to ferment for about six weeks, and dyers were associated with bad smells. (Now we have easier, less smelly chemicals to use.) When the indigo is dissolved, the solution is a yellow green color. As the oxygen in the air hits the indigo--BAM! the item turns blue right before your eyes--Indigo Magic! I loved doing this with middle schoolers as a chemistry experiment--you could talk about bases and then you could neutralize the base with acetic acid (vinegar) to cause extra indigo to fall out of solution.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this color is amazing to make, very healing to the soul, and pleasing to the eye. You can also just toss shirts and stuff you've dyed with indigo in the washer and dryer with the rest of the laundry--it's lightfast and colorfast. It's accessible and easier to use than you think. Why not give it a try? Bring some fun, amazing, healing blue into your life! A little Indigo goes a long way ;D Happy Dyeing!