OH MY GAWDZ, my Indigo suffruticosa is getting flowers!!!!! It’s been under a professional level grow light since Sept 30th, has doubled its size and is looking properly woody shrubs and now there are flower spikes in the leaf axils!!!! I was going to harvest at the end of October, but I want to see now if the flowers go to seed. Hoofies crossed!

dye week again

The shop is empty of fabrics, so it was time to gear up again. I used an old piece from 2009 as a colour inspiration guide!

I do need to revive my indigo vat though for some blues and soft greens, and wind and prep some more thread skeins!


Well, these are a *bit* more vivacious than the “source” πŸ™‚ , but oh oh oh, such eye candy delights. It’s grey and smokey outside, neither summer nor fall, with only a liminal edge that says “day”, so i’m spending a lot of time in the Dye Dungeon. It’s therapy, passion, joy, science and chillin’ out all at once in these times πŸ™‚

Madder, cochineal, onion, marigolds and quebracho rojo on cotton and silk

Listings will start appearing in the shop on Sept 18. Live! Now! πŸ™‚

Sotto voce part 2

After smashing our trusty Nikon D90 last month, i’m still trying to get used to the new Settings and Things on the replacement, a Panasonic Lumix FZ1000. Apparently i need to read the manual, go figure πŸ™‚

The Nikon would allow me on the automatic setting to get the most beautiful daylight shots that showed texture, true colour and fine detail. The Lumix does fantastic close-ups on several settings, but the light effects are not the same. I suppose i should be thankful though that testing it doesn’t ‘waste” film, HA.

So, with 4 different settings (that i of course did not take note of), here’s “Sotto voce” again with different looks. None of them portray it properly, so i guess that’s this evenings reading, and tomorrow’s testingΒ  on the to do list.

And those green dots are coming off, changing to the tawny fox and peachey colours instead. I have a few things more to do to it, and then it gets mounted, hopefully for a virtual exhibit. (If anybody from the fibre group i’m in ever answers my emails and FB questions that is………………………………….)

Indigo in August

Oh my, this particular species (Indigofera Suffruticosa) does NOT like Calgary’s cooler nights! I noticed every time the temperature dips below 15C, it folds its leaves down, almost looking like the old “sensitive plant” mimosa pudica! We haven’t had many “heat waves” this summer either, a phenomenon in Alberta that is called hot when the temp goes to 28-30C (82.4-86F) for 2 days in a row πŸ™‚

OOO, it’s grown a magnificent 3″ since i transplanted the beginning of August. Much sarcastic joy.

But at the rate it’s grown since it was sown in the middle of May, i don’t hold out much hope for a crop beyond a few handfuls. I’ve tried moving it to a pot with richer soil than it had been started in, and have greenhoused it with a plastic bag suspended over a peony cage, with nothing to lose at this point. We’ll see how it does by the end of August. That’s when temps start dropping even more at night, sometimes down to 6C (42.8F). Not knowing either how “mature” a plant needs to be before harvesting also leaves me thinking there will be little indigotin in whatever i do manage to strip off. Deb’s is past the stage of growing, and is now processing hers and using it…..

I doubt i’ll get flowers, and if i do, i doubt even more that they’ll mature enough for me to collect seed for next year. I’ll chance planting next spring the seeds i have leftover from Deb in Texas this year, but since indigo is notorious for needing fresh seed for each year, who knows what the germination rate, if any, will be. I may try a different indigo type next year, as my first grow attempt in 2014, was Polygonum/Persicaria tinctorium which grew to a very leafy 3 foot height before it was destroyed by hail, another Alberta garden fact.

I have also realized that the way our townhouse is situated that it’s unlikely i will ever have a stupendous garden here, even as tiny and easily manageable labour wise as it is. Late May and June’s sunlight was magnificent, but of course as the angle of the earth turns through the seasons, much less full sunlight hits the backyard…… I REALLY miss the daylong full on Southern exposure the Old House had!!!!!!!!!!!!!

madder returns, and baby blue hopes

So………………..this is the culmination of 3 and a half years of growing madder. There were 4 winters in that time span, and the first three i had the good fortune of a large garden, where the huge pot could be heeled in (buried and well covered in other words) for our harsh winters. Not so with the recent move and downsizing though: i kept the pot against our sunny house wall by the heat escape vents, wrapped and covered it well, but no growth at all when spring started. Time to “harvest” roots, regardless, as madder is good to dig up in at least it’s third year (5 is optimum apparently).

I dumped the pot, and pawed through it, working as fast as possible because there was a new ant home in the bottom (i HATE ants: they creep me out, have done since i saw Salvador Dali’s “Un Chien Andalou” when i was 16…..) and was very disappointed. Not only did the roots never get below the depth of half the pot, but they were SMALL, stringy and unfortunately, had started to rot. POOP.

I ended up with 65 grams of “fresh” root, which as i understand means they would dry down to about one sixth of that, not quite 11 GRAMS…… I can see a red tint to them, but am not hopeful for good depth. I will use as soon as i can because they don’t *have* to be dry to use, though it’s suggested that letting them “age” develops more of the alazarin. (Although as i hit “publish” on this post, i note they have been drying now for 32 days, admittedly a far cry from drying for a year πŸ™‚ ) I won’t be trying to grow it again as our new garden space is too tiny to heel anything in, and seriously, the “return” on all the effort was not worth the effort… If i ever win the lottery, and have my big space in the country and a proper greenhouse, well, then we’ll revisit that.

Most of the Indigo suffruticosa seeds i planted did pop up. I lost a couple to drying out, because of the winds we’ve had lately, and due to the fact that Calgary is very dry at the best of times. I’m not assuming these will get as big as they grow in Texas at Deb’s though (SHE”S HARVESTING ALREADY!), because we have a shorter growing season, much cooler nights (due to our altitude) and so far this season not a lot of heat….. They did manage to get through 3 hail storms unscathed, probably because they are so tiny! I’m going to cloche them for awhile, trying to keep some heat in, and hopefully they will get big enough that i can get something. I still have a very tiny harvest from my first indigo Persicaria tinctoria attempts at the old house–a handful stored dry since 2015! (Edit: Even cloching these babies didn’t do much though they did double in size in a week. Still pretty teeny! And i don’t know if a bug/virus got them, or it’s the cold weather, but they are all spotted.)

I’ve decided in future, i won’t be sharing much about the actual process of natural dyeing, just the results. I get a fair number of hits on my “how to/how i did it” posts, but since 99.9% of readers don’t acknowledge even with a simple “thank you”, it seems rather pointless. (I’m sure it also bores the hell out of my readers that don’t care about that part of the process.) I seriously think schools have done a poor job teaching anyone HOW to research correctly, but i ain’t getting into that. All i can say is “just because it’s on the internet, or “popular”, doesn’t make it true”.


This bodes well. I bought Indigo suffruticosa seeds from the vaunted Deb McClintock in Texas, and soaking the seeds yielded what is usually the beginning colour of an actual indigo vat!


Of course, i don’t know if this is actually “normal”, and i don’t know how many will germinate or what success i will actually have at the end of the season, but WHOO HOO anyways πŸ™‚

In Texas, Deb gets these to SEVEN feet tall, where they are also more of a perennial. Mine will certainly not reach that height, and our growing season is shorter, with cooler nights, but i’ma gonna baby these babies as much as i can. Whatever i can harvest is a bonus. I may have to store dried until next year when i have enough, but that’s worth the wait as well. Natural dyeing can be a long slow process, but that’s what it IS all about. I did grow indigo one year in a pot at the old house, but hail and an early frost got it when it was barely 3 feet tall and rather sparse. I still have the dried leaves though!

Hoofies crossed!

EDIT May 20—-15 of the 24 planted have sprouted–WHOOOOOOOOHOO!!!

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™‚

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




in soft fields

Coming, coming, coming, soon i promise! Still fondling and sorting these silk velvets, trying to decide what colours should go together! Tell anyone who says “natural dyes are boring old browny beige blahs” that they are SO wrong I hope to get packs in the shop by Friday evening, and yes, these will be included in the current sale. There may even be some scrap packs of these! SEVEN PACKS NOW LISTEDΒ Β  SOLD OUT