the new digs

It’s been a very tough 1 month and 22 days since MIL’s passing. Stress, grieving, anger, logistics, managing 2 houses for clearing, cleaning and moving, official paperwork, semi-serious health issues (yeah no cancer in bowels or gastric system!), family dramas (resolved), and just the day to day stuff of a normal life means i have lost 12 pounds (it’s a start…..) and am physically and emotionally depleted. There is light at the end of the tunnel though.

I now have a studio space that is bigger physically, a room that ironically started me on a serious look at textile art (as much as i hated being there with MIL constantly disrespecting boundaries and privacy), and that i have returned to after 10 1/2 years! I *will* miss my big studio window, and have to photograph things in the master bedroom because of the light 🙂 , and no more easy access to plant materials as DogFaced Girl and i got our exercise in lots of green space, (this area is very residential), but i have more wall space, better storage options and even room for a table and 2 chairs should any one ever drop by for a cup of whatever. It’s not a magazine pretty place, but it’s out of the way (basement) and a definite, defined, definitive work area and that’s what i need, especially with the paucity of creativity for the last year or so. (I have never had a “pretty” studio and don’t give a shit about that anyways, so a moot point:) )


HA. I haven’t done anything creative since the end of September, unless digging up rhubarb roots for natural dyeing counts, so i’m itching to get this organized. There are two more of those big wall units to move in here, and a large 4×8′ table to set up. The Rubbermaids  still have to be sorted as to garbage, donate or keep, (with 8 more still at the old place! SORTED! Only 5 full, 3 empty!) but what is left will be stored under the stairs out of the way. I got rid of 4 large plastic bin towers, but somehow “inherited” 2 from MIL that didn’t get tossed, so they will probably go against the same wall. Mostly useless as i found along the way–drawers too small, too many drawers for same thing because of the size, not very stable, not really stackable as the weight presses down and prevents easy opening of drawers below. Fine for small studios with less stuff to store, but ultimately not good for my purposes, and practice! Two though are manageable and will have the tiny stuff no doubt. Or i may just toss/sell after all. The walls have to be patched and repainted, and more lights put in, but it will be functional very soon.



Once the washing machine and TV are out of the way! The space is about 20 x15 in main area, with a little 8×4 alcove.


OOOO, i’ve found a LOT of spruce cones in the immediate area, so i’ll have to give those a go for dyeing with. Might only get tannin results, but wth 🙂 And i have to amend that crossed out line in the first paragraph: we’re within a 25 minute walk to one of the largest urban provincial parks in Canada! Fish Creek Park here i come! I have to respectful though (as i always am when gathering) as it is a protected area, both for plants and wildlife, which means gathering only windfall and invasives. DogFaced Girl will have to stay on leash, not quite as enjoyable for her, but we follow the rules in this regard–and sometimes there are not only deer, porcupines, rabbits, skunks and snakes, but cougars and bears!!! And considering that when i stop to”harvest” she usually (and sometimes annoyingly) lies at my feet, it doesn’t matter that she’ll only be leashed 🙂 (If i could just get her to hold the bags open for my collecting, or carry them after….)

In the flurry of tossing and donating my MIL’s “stuff” (i am SO tired of this), i did exhume some treasure, hidden under enough household linens to wash, dry and bed 5 households (i swear):



Gorgeous pristine white cotton crocheted tablecloths, embroidered and cutwork pieces, battenburg lace, filet lace, small pieces of crochet, needlelace, a few machine embroidered bits, these will be scoured, mordanted and treated to spa days in various dye pots. I’m thinking too of wearable art again as it would be a shame to cut up some of the larger pieces! (Note, these had been “collected” by Jane, as she sadly had neither the talent nor the will to do such work.)

Since i have a rather mundane sewing task today, sewing up privacy curtains for the old house (doing the landlord a favour, because we still love that place!), i’ll be starting the switcheroos down there today. Dig me out in a couple of weeks, would ya?

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 🙂 ):

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.  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…… 🙂 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.

I  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 🙂

EDIT: AS you will see from my next post, Orach is NOT a good textile grade dye!




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 the  lesser known dyes foraged locally by many cultures . (“Petit teints” are  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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂
  • 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. All  tests, information, results will be in the “Alberta dye plants” category, though as i  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 🙂