local plant dye tests, Orach, part 2

Nope. Not even going to bother with light fastness tests with these!

Funny that after half an hour, a test pull had strong colours (strong being relative, as these are not exactly strong πŸ™‚ ):

After 34 hours:

And rinsed:


I wanted do an iron dip to see if there was any tannin, always a useful thing to know,but could do that only on the silks, as the cotton and linen pieces of course had been premordanted with tannin.

Though these are still wet, i can tell you the tannin in this plant is negligible. There are much better local plants if i do want tannin, like oak!

The dyepot also started fermenting after 24 hours, probably due to the freshness and any alien life forms that live on these. Because there are no other elements in these but orach and water though, i’m going to dump in my garden. (Edit: My neighbour was intensely curious what i was watering my patio pots with after–ALL of the deep pink was still in the water!)

I’ve realized too that many posts about local plants are going to bore you, even if a Die Hard Dyer, so will limit those to the end results, multiple plants per post. I know a lot of you have wandered off in the last year anyways!


local plant dye tests, Orach, part 1

I’m taking several approaches here with foraged plants, so what works for me might not work for you, depending on where your plant material is growing, and it’s growth habits/requirements. There are many variables in natural dyeing, from that fact of plant biome, to water factors such as Ph, soft vs hard, city tap vs well, seasonal factors like heat, rain and soil composition and hell, just plain “luck of the draw” and magic. (Despite my crusty, abrupt, oft irked attitude, i DO love Nature and believe there IS magic afoot there.) There *are* actual credited dye plants in my area, but i’m also experimenting with either lesser known, or new to me possibilities.

Red Orach, introduced to the neighbourhood as a garden “green” by my immediate neighbour, is prolifically self seeding and will grow ANYWHERE, as i’ve found it everywhere from our lush back meadow, to the neighbour’s sterile little golf green lawn, the rough berm across the road, and down on the riverbank. (Our soil here is river sediment/clay based.) I initially thought it was in the Rumex family, but it is in fact Atriplex hortensis, part of the Amaranthaceae classification. And yes, i AM drawn to it by the very fact too that it is red–i *know* plants like this are full of anthocyanins, a fugitive colourant that neither lasts in light (or dark, and why would you keep beet/bean/berry/red cabbage stained cloth/es in the dark if the dye is that bad????) or through washing. But, maybe i’ll get a different yellow than the other mostly yellow colouring plants i intend to try? BWAHAHAHA. As i’ve said before, most “local” plants give a range of yellow, yellow, yellow or yellow……. But i *might* get pink, peach, coral with the right post mordant/modifier treatments, on different fibres. (This worked well, back in the day, with rhubarb root.)



I thought i’d do the first test with our filtered water, as our tap water is very very hard, and loaded with iron as well, and truthfully there are few dyes that do well in hard water. I’m also simmering, not boiling, as most dyes shouldn’t go above 180 degrees F/80 degrees C.Β  A total of maybe 600grams?

After 20 minutes, the water did start turning pink, no surprise actually, because this plant is used also for food colouring, and the neighbours noted their kids wouldn’t eat an omelette after the addition of the leaves turned the eggs pink…… πŸ™‚ Reminds me of when i was a kid and the family was camping. Late one night, supper, only food left eggs and strawberries. Dad threw them together, result pink puke that no one would touch. Ah, memories.

At 40 minutes:

Simmered for an hour, then cooled for another hour, i then strained all the plant material out (and the bugs…..i did rinse everything first, but there were Klingons apparently.) Because these are an edible, they will go right into the compost bin in the back40.

IΒ  leave the whole bath letting it cool on the burner, my usual method. In it, i threw premordanted according to fibre type pieces of silk velvet, silk habotai, cotton swiss dot and a tannined, but not yet alum treated linen. (I can post mordant that one.) There is a BIG caveat here: the colour you see in a dye pot, is not always what you get on the fibre! (That’s why too many artily staged IG photos are just plain fraudulent.) I will leave all of these chunks in the pot for 2 days, occasionally raising the temp to prevent mold and alien lifeforms, as normally this is how i dye, leaving the fibres in anywhere from 8-36 hours, depending on how busy i am or if i forget!). Too, protein and cellulose fibres should actually be dyed separately as protein is greedier and grabs more of the dye, so cellulose results may be weaker. Whatever. It’s a test.

This is half an hour in the pot, again not very indicative of what the end results will be, but interesting in terms of chemistry, just a pull to see if anything is happening. These are unsqueezed, unrinsed, so keep that in mind!

On the weekend, i will do some post mods and mords, then start lightfast tests. I don’t expect miracles, but the hoofies are crossed anyways, in the spirit of admiring Nature’s magic.

I am drying another 600 grams or so. If the above test doesn’t really work as a dye, well, the dried may be added to something else as a weak tannin, or slightly acid something or other. Or tossed πŸ™‚




gathering (sort of a book review too, “Spectrum: Dye Plants of Ontario”)

Though i love my “Grand teints” ( classically proven dyes like madder, indigo, etc) natural dyes very much, and disdain the current trend of throwing any and all “food waste” materials in a pot to use as a “dye”, there are also theΒ  lesser known dyes foraged locally by many cultures . (“Petit teints” areΒ  the non fast/fugitive dyes such as red cabbage, most red/purple/pink/blue berries, most red/purple/pink/blue flowers, black beans, beets, etc.)

Yes, some *will* fade, some are rather anecdotal and some are still being promoted but are folklore with no actual extant or provable results, and there are some that while they may not last as long as the classics, they are still viable dyes.

To that end, i bought a copy of the much vaunted “Spectrum: Dye Plants of Ontario”, reasoning that much of what grows in Ontario, grows also where i am (Alberta), so that it’s worth exploring. I *do* want to use local plants, whether grown in my garden, or foraged on walks and day trips. I have an older book that is dedicated to Canadian dye plants, written in ’78, and at best a good laugh, and at worst very confusing if you don’t have any experience at all, but i’ve heard much good spoken of this Ontario volume. There’s also a classic book, out of print now, “Dyes from Lichens and Plants: A Canadian Dyer’s Guide” by Judy Waldner McGrath, 1977, which is more geocentric as it covers mostly plant materials above the 55th parallel! Even though Canada is so large and we do have some vastly different grow zones, many “weeds” flourish in all or most of our varied climes πŸ™‚ Indeed, many of these plants may be in most of North America, at least the northern zones of the US.


There are 300 plants identified. I question some of them, though helpfully, some are referred to in other dye books, included in the bibliography for cross checking. (Again though, some still questionable….) I highly recommend again using a good clearly photographed plant ID book, as all illustrations are pen and ink drawings, better than the ’78 book mentioned above, but still, not drawn by qualified botanists…. (Forget the damn “plant app” nonsense–most of the results with those are too vague, and possibly dangerous if a poisonous hemlock is identified as Queen Anne’s Lace!)

Being so late in the year at this time, i will have to either immediately use what i find, or chance drying it and using it through the winter. Some dye stuffs locally foraged will not give as good results when dried : solidago is notorious for poor colour when stored, for instance, though tansy is just as good in my books dried as fresh. Too, let’s face it, most dye plants give yellow, yellow, yellow or yellow πŸ™‚ Different mordants and/or modifiers may give different hues, and sometimes there’s a real difference between “commercial” dyes like osage overdyed with indigo as opposed to tansy overdyed with indigo, so it is still a valuable colour library.

There are no colour photos in this book, so though the results are described, perceptions may vary on the difference between “old gold” and “brassy gold”! Obviously if you’re interested enough in the potential of each plant, you’d do your own tests and quantify those descriptors with photos πŸ™‚ Results are described with alum, chrome (A BIG BIG NO NON NO, mentioned IN the book now as a black hand (literally) over each entry), tin, copper and iron. CAVEAT: ALL FIBRES USED WERE WOOL.

So, my dried materials gathered this fall will be chosen firstly because i *know* people have had reasonable outcome with them , and secondly because they are in my immediate environs (few day trips left in the year now due to weather, season and work schedules).

  • Rumex Crispus –tested before with poor results, possibly due to season
  • Arctium minus –tested before with poor results due to small amount gathered
  • Artemisia –not sure which species we have, but there are several, and HIGHLY invasive/spreading
  • Equisetum –must be aware of where gathering as chemicals are heavily sprayed where i have gathered before
  • Tanacetum vulgaris and Solidago spp–used many times but still want to work with more
  • Cornus stolonifera–craploads by the river πŸ™‚
  • Geranium maculatum—in my garden for years
  • Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus—who knew?
  • Malus–might as well use the leaves and bark from the broken apple tree–more good than taken away, chipped and sold to rich ladies who want “artisanal” mulch—– BWAHAHAHAAHHAHHA
  • Well, etc etc etc! (All Latin you notice: THAT is how you identify plants correctly with good plant ID books


PS There are also “stand by’s” in this book: coreopsis, dahlia, eupatorium, solidago, tansy, and more.

I have dried already some tansy, artemisia and yarrow. With the recent e-garbage run (old electronics), there’s plenty of room down in the Dye Dungeon now for storing dried materials in bags and boxes. AllΒ  tests, information, results will be in the “Alberta dye plants” category, though as iΒ  mentioned, many of these are not as geocentric as just Alberta.

Off now to gather what from a distance looks a huge expanse of Rumex!

DogFaced Girl loves these expeditions, so no complaint there πŸ™‚






sometimes a week has a lot of days to deal with


The weight of the apples this year was too much. Picking before this happened would sadly have not prevented this: the big branches are thoroughly rotten inside where they “attached” to the tree…… And of course, this was the best year yet for the fruit. Golfball sized and rosy, they make an astonishingly deep pinkycoral sauce that needs no sweetener–but does necessitate hours of cutting up hundreds of them for a score of 3 litres of sauce.

The whole thing may have to come down, a very sad heartbreak. It’s 90 years old we bet, and if/when it’s gone, there will be no shade, no explosive mass of blossoms and bees, no woodpeckers or porcupines or deer visiting, and another part of this house’s history gone…..

There’s a new “baby” who has joined the family.

This is Sally, as sweet as her name. From the face, you’d think she was a grey tabby, but stretched out full, she’s a “torty” with tab markings. Sally belonged to my departed MIL, and it’s a good thing we rescued her when we did, the night before MIL passed away (Aug 30), because apparently after a death, only the executor of the estate is allowed to enter the home until everything has been inventoried. (We know they would have fed her, BUT they are still in a foreign country far away, and not back until Sunday night of this coming weekend! Try changing a whole family’s tickets for an early return–3times the price of the original airfare return!!!!!!!!!! She’s have been one very hungry and dehydrated kitty!)

We have wanted this girl for a long time. She lived under MIL’s bed for the most part as she was petrified anytime someone came in the house. We figured cleaning staff may be responsible for this and are so pleased, that while still skittish, she makes herself at home every night on my bed, with plenty of purrs, head butts and long luxurious stretches. She is HOME. Slapshot and Nessie are really not interested, except for the extra “Fud” being doled out πŸ™‚ The family will blend well once again.

I am still trying to decide which natural dye i will use to transform the white swiss dotted cotton to the body of a dress.

I did two little tests (to the right) with quebracho rojo “leftovers”, the paler almost brown an exhausted bath, the pinker an alcohol extraction, less used. I’m leaning towards them with an overdye of tansy, to get the coral i want, but may slip some madder dips on some areas for a slight ombre effect.

I’ve also been working when i can on the new hexes for Samara.

They’ll replace the original ones cut from the background, which will also be embroidered this way and re-attached.

We’re just taking each day as it comes, slow, doing what we can as we can.






an interim

My Greyman’s mother passed away this morning, with him and his niece at her side. Old readers will know i did not have a good relationship, or even much of a relationship with her, but i grieve for him, and his loss.

The next month will be tied up with arrangements for funeral, her belongings dispersal and disposal, deciding whether or not to keep or sell the home and sitting with the family.

progress on second Suzani, and more importantly, Samara too!

I’m trying to spend less time on line, and more in the studio….ha.

Samara’s body is almost done. Her wings are pretty much done, if not in execution, but in idea. (You know that one: in your mind it’s done because you know what you are going to do to finish that section, and can “see” it done πŸ™‚ ). I decided to change up the hexes along the right side though: the recent naturally dyed velvets are perfect to tie in with the areas around the wings. I’ll still use the cotton “solids” that were originally slated for there, and treat the stitching the same way.

I added another greenblue thread as well:

Same type of stitch in think as “Original Truths” was done with; i do like that organic root/branch/path idea:

I was looking at older work photo files again, puzzling over how to treat that big area of red background, and found progress shots of “Strange Soul Take Flight” (2013), a continuation and expansion of the root idea:

I need more threads in the blue/green range as that is what’s going to tie it all together. I may combine some cutch or quebracho rojo with the tansy and indigo: i don’t want this idea to fight with the hexes.


Now known as “Harlequin”, i could also jog the suzani part into ‘soupzani”……… I threw a bit too much at it, but i’m just going to go with it. It’s joyful, it’s fun to work on, and what the hell: whose rules anyways?


I know already that the edges will be bound with indigo, whether in silk velvet or cotton, solid or eyelet (?)


And the dress fabric from the previous post is now being mordanted πŸ™‚

do something ya haven’t done in awhile

I used to support myself and my young son with my wearable art business, through the 90’s and early 2000’s. I haven’t done any serious sewing clothing wise in a long time, beyond the also long ago SCA garb (15 years?) , and the occasional pair of boxers for the Greyman. I had bought a Tina Givens pattern in May of last year and it has been sitting on my worktable, waiting for the perfect fabric toΒ  make it in.

I found it. This beautiful, soft pure white swiss dotted cotton is semi sheer, but since it will be worn over a fitted top of some sort and some tights, that’s okay. But it won’t be white when i’m done with it.

The madder dyed pieces of silk, silk velvet and vintage lace have me planning on dyeing with either madder or quebracho rojo (or combining) or tansy with madder to get a medium coral shade. Since i had planned on a Summer Madder Project Project πŸ™‚ last year as a wearable, well, good things come to those who wait!

PS That gorgeous lace is a piece sent by the ever generous Mo, a “present” from the end of the “Love is the Answer” project.