dandilion delight

We had a long long hot hot summer last year, and it looks like it’s going to be another one, so what better way to mark it than by celebrating the dandilion?

Our back 40 is rather lush (in the spring, but dried out by August’s end!), and the dandilions are plentiful, bee feeders and happydays harbingers, but a bone of contention with the neighbours.

I figured though that beheading them (the dandilions, not the neighbours), would keep the snarking at bay for awhile, and threw some in a dyepot.

The first look was Meh. Yeah, it’s yellow, but barely worth the effort. (Though using dandilions is one of the EASIEST ways to get colour. But no, the roots will NOT give you any GD magenta, ever, ever. EVER.) Then i threw in a pinch of soda ash–BOOM. YELLOW. DANDILION YELLOW. Wowzers, it’s neon, electric, it’s definitely a Spring colour. (Paler yellow wool yarn at top is without the soda ash.)

So, do i add yet another yellow dyed silk to the stash and wonder why i do so much yellow and never use it? Nah. Let’s use it. I’m betting it would make wonderful dandilions πŸ™‚


A side note to my fellow natural dyers and ecoprinters: apparently some person in the US has made it her mission to prevent teachers from other countries coming to the US to share their skills and techniques with students, reporting “potentially un-work-visa’d travellers” to immigration and customs! Can you imagine any other art field professional doing this?Β  And while there *are* divided camps about the “purity” of the technique with those who decry the use of ANY “chemical” or any use of plastic, and those who use anything they can experiment with, and a fiercely competitive attitude amongst some on both sides, this is going too far! It deprives students of learning, workshops and their facilitators of making money to bring other teachers in, no matter what technique or field, and is so narrow minded and malicious, that it just blows me away. Just goes to show you, that not all earthgoddessy-natural-eco-mothers are altruistic sharing sweethearts…………






summer study

I’ve decided since i am much a gadfly these past few months with everything but dyeing, that the summer is going to be devoted to studying madder.

Previous to October of last year, my results were weak, embarrassing forays into pale pinks and peaches, ordinary orange, and unenthusiastic brawny beiges when the pot gave out . (HA, that was supposed to be “browny” not “brawny, but some of them were rather beefy! πŸ˜‰ ) Somehow the magic clicked on October 3 and i finally got RED, red in all its permutations. Though i previously kept notes, i’m not sure why it hadn’t worked until that magic day–heat? Amount/WOF? Improper mordanting? Dunno, don’t care, because whatever it is i’m doing now is working.

I’ve run out of my Maiwa kilo of madder, but managed to scrounge around the Dye Dungeon and found this:

An extremely fine powder, probably due to its age, i encased it in a nylon pantyhose foot. It’s not only a pain in the bazotski shaking powder out of threads and yarns, but it wastes the bits as well, which may still have some colour left.

Alas,Β  Wide World of Herbs Ltd was dissolved in 1985, long before the web was prevalent, so there’s NOTHING about them, their products or where this madder actually came from. I would like to have supported them, as they were based in Montreal, Quebec (yes, that is SO in Canada πŸ™‚ ). Next best thing, THE best thing now is to buy from Maiwa. (Ordered this morning!)

(In one or two years, i can harvest roots from my own “home grown”.)

I do love red. Before i got into using natural dyes, ecoprinting and rust, which resulted in a lot of earthy neutrals and vintage-y colours, i used a LOT of red in my work. It was unconscious (subconscious?), because i always thought i loved orange. I still do, but in smaller slices and dibs! Red evokes so much to so many, everywhere in the world, politically, spiritually, emotionally, artistically.

Now this isn’t meaning that *i* am going to discover a New madder colour. Look at all of them! There are many more experienced dyers, researchers, scientists and hobbyists who get these results, than this one little personal Dye Dungeon. I however want to know what *i* will get, in my “conditions”–water, heat, the madder i use, the methods i use.

I’d rather be doing something, than the whole lot of nothing that has been going on!

Galium results

Well, there *is* colour, but it’s weak, probably because of the amount of root i had, maybe 40 scant grams, dirt included. I used Jenny Dean’s method of soaking the roots overnight, pouring off the first water, then slow simmering with a Tums tablet (calcium carbonate) for two subsequent baths that were saved and combined. (A third simmer had no colour at all, and was discarded with the roots, in the garden as no adjunct chemicals were added.) Both fibre types were properly scoured and pre-mordanted also, according to their requirements.

Wet, silk top, cotton bottom, after 24 hour soak in dyepot:

Technically, i should have decanted into two pots, and dyed separately, as cotton (cellulose) and silk (protein) have different uptakes.


Soft, but not terribly exciting, again most likely due to the amount of root gathered.

Some modifying/post mordanting on small strips:

Pretty much insignificant changes with (L to R) above, vinegar no change/possible “bleaching effect”, soda ash marginal pink activation

and above (L to R) copper minimal change and possible miniscule yellowing, ferrous sulphate the most dramatic change (might just do this to the remaining pieces and use that way!). (This could also be due to any residual tannins. I used an incredibly SMALL amount of ferrous sulphate, as the stuff is quite strong, maybe a few grains.)

I’m also thinking that because there is so little colour on these, that they are NOT going to be terribly light OR wash fast……BIG sigh of “WhatEVER” πŸ™‚ Still goes in the dye annals though πŸ™‚ I’m sticking to actual madder from now on.


So, was it worth the effort? Yes, in a way, because i learned it is possible to grow, harvest and use a plant material that can and does grow here. And no, because i learned the amount of time to grow (3 years to wait to harvest), time to harvest (ridiculously small amount for the work it took) and use (weak, because time and harvest took too much and amount gathered was too small) was not worth the experiment. Then again, maybe ***this variety of Galium has very little dye material in it. BUT, obviously someone with patience, a larger pot/plot might want to try this so they could say they use “local”, if that’s their Thing.

I’m rather sure too, that if i had just ecoprinted with these, instead of using as a dye material, the results would have been negligible, as there’s little alizarin/purpurin in these roots, probably due more to their size, than the quantity gathered. (Again, or the variety is pathetic in the dye substance department.) I highly doubt that the roots get very big at all, even after years, as that’s not their nature. It would also take masses and masses of them to get a decent quantity, a problematic exercise, also due to the way they grow.

So, have on, some brave soul: i’ve lived and learned, and the lesson is filed! (If you are interested in how i got to this point, this will take you to all of the Galium posts previous.) (And yes, i misspelled it in the archives–gallium with 2 l’s is actually a chemical element.)

Erratum: The Galium species most prevalent here is Galium boreale, which is what i used, not Galium verum as previously stated. There are ***6oo species of Galium, and some have no alizarin at all, but do have pur purin and pseudopurpurin. I’m also certain that some have little to no use whatsoever as a dye plant. I found this article, and they do mention that some of these plants have little to no madder-like characteristics.

galium, part two

Sad, veryΒ  very sad.

Granted, i had a really small amount of roots, but i’m not sure (yet) that this was worth it! This “red” has a quite brown tone to it, but of course, the proof will be in using it. I’m still waiting for pre-mordanted fabrics to be finished πŸ™‚

I’m thinking however, that whatever results i get, this was a valuable experiment in growing my own dye, processing it, and using it. You don’t know if you don’t try!

red from bedstraw (Galium species)

Welllll, maybe…..

Mine is Galium verum, a type that grows wild here, though i bought my seeds locally, as i was unable to either gather seeds, or dig up roots. Also known as Cleavers, Northern Bedstraw and a host of other nastier names because it’s invasive, and because the tiny seed burs and clutchy hooky barbed stems (also a characteristic of madder) stick to everything, including skin.

As per Jenny Dean’s advice, i soaked it overnight.

You can certainly see the red in the root above. (Go ahead, click on it to enlarge.) Didn’t look promising to begin with. My little pile of skinny weeny roots was full of dirt i couldn’t rinse off, so i filtered the mess through some haremcloth (cheesecloth is too porous for dirt), and got what i could off the roots. I had MAYBE a scant 40 grams, counting the dirt that wouldn’t let go πŸ™‚ I’m working on a rather laissez-faire attitude here with that–perhaps the minerals in the dirt will leach out and help the colour somehow, though i doubt it……. (I don’t subscribe to the “pot as mordant” theory–unless it’s a really rusty iron pot, or a pure copper one that things have been sitting in for weeks………MORDANT PROPERLY TO BEGIN WITH. Save yourself the grief.)

First soaking poured off–possibly the browns and yellows inherent with red dye roots, possibly the dirt factor:

I refilled the dye pot using our tap water, which is hard, being from the Alberta Rockies, but did throw in a Tums as well, as that has really helped my madder along.

So, there is *definitely* colour in these pathetic sorry little excuses for roots, but as to whether there will be any good results ON cloth or threads will be the real test.

But, i have to do some more pre-mordanting of fabrics and threads, as i seem to be out! Stay tuned!


it might “madder” that i grow my own :)

We gardeners in harder zones have a tough time growing certain things. If you’re a gardener who wants to grow your own dye plants, it’s even tougher! If you’re a Calgary gardener who wants these, it’s even more more tougher! Our growing season is shorter, and while we get intensely sunny days, due to our altitude, we also get much cooler nights–no steamy evenings here (at least, not in the garden πŸ™‚ )

Last spring i planted madder seeds in a big black pot, containing it because madder is notorious for sneaking everywhere with the root system, and this makes it easier to harvest when the time comes (usually after 3 years), but also because my Zone 3 garden is clay based, due to being only a few 100 yards from an old (still quite active) river. I used a mix of “garden soil” i’d had delivered, some actual garden soil from the extant garden, a bit of sand and then amended it weakly with some lime.

It grew to about 3.5 feet last year, and survived the first 3 frosts, before i heeled it into the garden in October. That means, i dug a hole deep enough for the pot, sank it to its rim, then mulched with newspaper, garden debris and it’s own stalks. (I also removed the trellis obelisk, as metal conducts cold and i didn’t want the roots “injected” with -20 to -40 temperatures!)

I pulled it out of its hole onΒ  the 27th of April, and was about to PULL all the old growth off, when i realized i didn’t know if it would grow new branches, or start from the old ones. Good thing i stopped and really looked, because the old growth base is precisely where the new growth starts! If you click on the photo below, you can see the new growth.

While it may not look terribly exciting to some, it IS. IT’S VERY VERY VERY EXCITING, because that means at the end of next year, i can be using my own home grown madder for dyeing with! Madder roots are best used in year 3, or 4 if you can wait that long πŸ™‚ The big deal also is the fact that we had one of our harshest winters in a long time, and it still survived being buried under 3 feet of ****ing cold and snow for 5 and a half months. It was also a LONG winter, with snow still happening until mid April…………..

It didn’t flower last year, though that again is not that much of a disappointment, but i’m hoping because it has a much earlier “start” this year IN it’s growing conditions (ie no indoor starting, coddling and having to harden off), that it will—–because it also occurred to me this morning, that if it does flower, seeds from it would already be on their start to being a Zone 3 hardy dye plant!

I’ll continue to use “commercial” madder until then, but i can’t wait to see the results of true “slow dyeing” πŸ™‚

Which reminds me…….last year i harvested the third year roots of gallium, a more “local” dye plant that gives red from the root also. (Gallium grows almost everywhere in the world so i call it “local” because *i* *can* harvest it locally if i had the patience. I grew mine from locally sourced seeds though, as the wild areas are too dense with roots to find any easy to dig out. And Conservation Officers would nail me, if i got caught. And i’m not about to dig in a wild area like that, to that extent, because ya just DON’T!) I did wrap it in silk at the time, ready to throw in a pot and use as an ecoprint material, but never got to it, and just added it back to the pile collected. Today i will try using it!

a natural moon

I’ve been slowly (and not so diligently, as other pursuits in the studio have “interfered”) working on this indigo moon, using my newly dyed naturally dyed threads. This is a lesson in itself, as the indigo i’m working on is strong enough to overshadow certain colours, necessitating some more neutral backgrounds for future plans/use.


The moon is worked with cotton, silk, silk/wool blend and wool threads in cochineal, osage, logwood, and privet berries, with the brown of the seeds coming from potassium permanganate (actually an inorganic compound). I found a walnut bath i had stored several years ago, when i was setting up in the basement, and shall test to see if it’s still “live”, for some of my browns in future, though i do love all the permutations the PP gave on the skein of cotton. On the background surround, in cotton, silk, wool and silk/wool, the colours i used are privet berry, cochineal, brazilwood, rhubarb root, hollyhock (and that’s where the “oh-oh” happened, as some of the colours are so soft, they are barely discernible), osage, logwood, and sandalwood. Using pre-mordanting (VERY important), and post modifying methods, changes the colours to a wide range. (Ha, just realized i used none of the wonderful madder results!)

I have two other moons still in the finishing stages, and hope to get them done soon too! All will be in the shop.