the dye that keeps on giving, Quebracho Rojo

My previous results with a fresh pot were in the pink and purple range.

This dye/tannin was definitely worth the expense. I’ve had a pot sitting for two weeks in the back room, where it’s quite cold in the winter. No mold grew, no funny smells, no questionable sludge, so i decided to throw a few odd bits in to see what colours i’d end up with. (I know there’s still a lot of colour in the pot, as an experienced eye can tell when a pot is exhausted and when there’s still dye stuff left.)

A few scrappy bits of sheer silk chiffon from 8 years ago (the original hollyhock had completely faded: no mordant!), i love the purple/pink cast to this brown. The cotton lace was a surprise as well. (Note none of these were premordanted, in this case because QR is also a tannin, which can be a mordant. Normally i would have premordanted, even old scraps.)

Since most of the cottons i had done before were not terribly exciting with the QR, this bodes well.


The gold in the photo below, to the right, was an errant piece of previously ecoprinted POLYESTER, that had snuck into the pot long ago. GOLD? All right!

But that deep reddish brown on the osage (yellow) silk velvet–OOOOOOOOOOOOO!

So, the Quebracho Rojo has gone from giving striking pinks and purples to rich warm browns., money well spent.


I’m going to burn in hell

If you don’t give a flying youknowwhat about natural dyeing, move on, friend.

Beets, beans, olives, mint, spinach, blackberries,  carrots, cherries, raspberries, red cabbage,. Yum, but not dyes. Really. They are not dyes. Even so called “reputable”, “popular” authors are buggering about now with these. PLEASE please please PLEASE, if you must include these in your book, make sure it is OBVIOUS that these are fugitive/bad/stains only/pointless for using on fabric. Maybe write a book on how to dye Easter eggs instead. Or salt and flour playdough for kids.


I’m not aware of any field of craft anywhere else as “natural dyeing” that advocates the use of bad practice as “play”. Since so many espouse “ecological awareness and sustainability”, how does that balance with the waste of time, resources (water and electricity), materials (cloth and thread) and plant materials? Granted some of these plant materials *are* “waste”, but they’d be better in your compost then, so that you could then grow healthy plants that *do* actually dye. The approach too that “if it fades, it can still be pretty, or dyed again” does no service to the natural dyers who pride themselves on products done well to begin with, that do not need overdyeing after a month, and who have customers who spending their money, expect a little more than “well, i can re-do it when that purple turns to washed out beige”.  (Assuming the customer is able to get the product back to them, WANTS to get it back to them, and then can pick it up again….) And is that customer going to trust that the product WILL last this time? Even if you are not selling the item, how many times has the family member/friend worn that spinach dyed toque? Or have they “donated” it to the local charity, or tossed it in a garbage bag going to the landfill, saying “oh so sorry, i lost it”? MORE waste.

When learning to play with different mordants and modifiers, why not use an accredited dye that will actually teach you something about natural dyeing? Just because mint/blackberries/beets react with these chemicals, doesn’t mean a real dye is going to act the same way. Just because a plant is “readily available” does not make it a dye plant. Where is the historically relevant data, where are the extant samples, the light and colour fastness tests results? Artfully staged photos are not “proof”.

Because you can bet if i styled a cantaloupe with some coral silk, or an eggplant with artistically draped purple wool gauze, someone would automatically wax rhapsodic about the beauty and depth of colour, and accept it at face value… I’ve seen it too many times on FB, Instagram and on blogs. Liars.

The claim that natural dyes are “expensive” is specious as well. At the very least, many reputable dye houses sell mixed packs that can give even a novice good results. There’s a system of Cost per Wear, that says if i buy a dress for 200 and wear it once, it cost me 200 that is now gone: if i wear that dress 20 times, it cost me 10 per wear, and i didn’t have to buy a dress to replace it. If i use water, electricity, cloth and beets (for $10 for enough to “dye” with), and the colour washes/fades out, i now add the cost of the water, the electricity, the cloth, the time and the damn beets and it probably comes out to more than 10, that is now GONE. AND i have to redye it or the cloth itself is now wasted. This is “sustainable? This is ecologically responsible?

Is this the “if it’s on the internet, it must be true” mentality? Books can be as bad for information, given the spate of vanity/self publishing now, or from publishers/editors who really don’t know the field, and who don’t care as long as the book sells. Even authors with years of experience and actual research will advise that something didn’t work after all, that the information was erroneous to begin with. (Jenny Dean admits hollyhocks do NOT work as a supportable dye.) And if you’re going to teach, or are avid about less waste, and more responsibility in the textile field, why not promote something that does last, that is proven to be viable. The number of books a person publishes, or what position she/he holds has nothing to do with veracity. (Look at Dr Oz……….) Obviously too, “facts” can be tailored for books, not presenting the whole picture.

We have this little Cult of Personality too, where no one is willing to speak up, to give honest opinions, to present true facts. This means the book/blog/website/class/workshop is free to promulgate more disinformation/folklore/slanted views, and now it’s the Bible, and if you disagree, you are a heretic.

Burn baby, burn. Guess that’s me.


OOOOyeah, and shop update

After auditioning fabrics for the areas behind the wings, i was inspired enough to finish the second one in two days. Admittedly smaller, but the idea of the velvet really got me going! The first one is finished and attached to its backing.

OMG i love this.

Because the velvet itself is so tactile, and the colouring from the osage and quebracho rojo so gorgeous, i decided to keep the stitch there as simple as possible. No point in hiding all that beauty! This velvet, though lush as silk velvet is, was easy enough to do without having to lay any stabilizer to stitch over, but the stitches still had to be solid enough not to sink in, so i stuck to a whipped backstitch–i love the line effect of this on any fabric.

And Borgles. Gotta have Borgles, one of the FrankenStitch mainstays. Picking one out to redo though, and have to add one more small one.

Thought i’d share my results too with the Quebracho Rojo: obviously not a winner for saturation on cotton (cellulose), but it sure is on silk (protein)!  The description on the website is a bit confusing, i think: “Quebracho is suitable for dyeing cellulose fibers and also performs well on silks and wool, and yields a lovely pinkish peach to brown rose color.” It’s obvious that the silk is INCREDIBLE, and look at those distinctly explicitly PINK shades! Wasn’t impressed with the uptake on the wool (first photo left top), but perhaps it was the pomegranate it had been premordanted with…. However, some post modifying, and some overdyeing with osage did give me a wonderful range of colours.

Do i know what i’m doing with natural dyes? I do, confidently, correctly from first step to last.

And i am willing to share the current silk velvet bounty 🙂 Small packs in the shop! You’ll LOVE Making with it, stitching on it, fondling it!

winging it

Because this is a large work, it’s a bit problematic sometimes to work AS a large piece: you have to shuffle around the whole thing, pinning it into folds so you can have access to the area you’re working on, making sure you don’t stitch one section to another, or to your pants, dragging cat and dog hair into the mix, and having room to manouevre it. On the other hand, cut up like this (because i wanted different effects with the natural dyes for each area), it flops around loosely, and the tension is hard to maintain.

This means both wings and the figure have to be finished, and then attached to the backing fabric they’re going on, and then *that* has to be attached to the rest of the floppy piece. I auditioned several fabrics to be the backing fabric, and because none are big enough for the whole area behind the wings and the figure–and i didn’t want all the sections that show to be the same anyways, i’ll have to do more stitching on those thin visible slices as well, to “blend” the joins. EDIT: i just realized i can back the wings and figure as one piece, work the “background” large area, THEN attach all the parts together.

I auditioned several fabrics: Indigo–WHOA, lovely but too bright–and i don’t have enough for both wings, even pieced behind where you can’t see the joins. It also wastes this indigo piece, as most of the patterning on it would be hidden. If i was going to use indigo then, i would have chosen a more solid dye job.


“Filler” cloth, deliberately designed for backgrounds or  for “fussy cutting”. Nope. Motifs too small, too scattered, too much white.

Rust, maybe too “linear”, too “white”.

Velvets naturally dyed in the last week. Too much?

Nope, as in NOT “too much”, YES as in WOW. Admittedly since dyeing these velvets, i’ve been aching to use them, but honestly i do think this really warms up the whole piece.

Though this is very haphazardly pinned on my design wall, i can really see where she’s going now. Warmer coloured threads for the paler surround are now a possibility also.

It’s been worth the 2+ years to get her going!!!!!!

wing update

One almost done!

Shooting photos in my studio at dawn makes for moody presentations, but here it is really:

Despite the flurry around the dyepots again this week, i have been stitching as much as i can. That distraction resulted in not a week of stitch, but two, though the second one will take less time due to less surface area! I’m at the point too where i can start thinking about what will be behind the wing. It can’t fight, but it can’t “disappear” either.


working up some courage

Natural dyes and silk velvet have an affinity for each other, like a love poem whispered into a breeze, like feather soft caresses, cool water on hot naked skin, sensual and earthy, sharing the privacy of deep emotion and quiet solitude.

I’ve always had a secret love affair with velvet, coveting the “lavender panne velvet pant” described in a 1972 Vogue magazine ( i was all of 15 years old and it was certainly not either in my world of farm town, or in my 60cents an hour babysitting budget…) , but never really comfortable wearing any as i got older, feeling slightly fraudulent and as if i was demanding attention i didn’t deserve. But oh the slither of it, the voluptuous animalistic tactility, in the hand, on the back of the neck, under the legs…………

Ahem. Mystery and imagination, in deed, and in thought! Sometimes it’s sexy, too often it’s overblown and tawdry—what’s the expression? “Mutton dressed as lamb”?

Down to earth now. It’s also A BITCH to sew, by hand or by machine, so i’ve stayed far away from it, though once in awhile i pull out a chunk of rayon velvet i dyed some 25 years ago, when all i knew about was Rit. Odd bits of it have shown up in wearable art i made in the 90’s, some Hoodoo work when we first moved to Calgary and i was so enamoured of the spectacular rock formations in and near Drumheller, a few Christmas bits, but nothing really serious.

BUT, these from the last 4 days:

HOW could i not try again?

EDIT: Nov 21, i forgot to mention this is primarily using Quebracho Rojo extract (with the exception of the 2 greys/greygreens which are on osage), and are mordanted and modified with a few different processes. So all these colours from 2 dyes, and 5 mordants/modifiers!!!!!!!!

Now to dig through old sketchbooks.