Category Archives: garden dye plants

happily ensconced in the dye dungeon





NOTE: some of those above are overdyed or post modified, something i’m not about to share, not because it’s a secret, but because there are so many variables it would get ridiculous. (“Noblick tannin and Retooty acetate premordants, dyed with SuperPow pink, post modified with dog spit, overdye dip one end in Prang yellow, other in Choplitz blue, post mordanted AND modified with Ogden iron”…well, ya get the picture ๐Ÿ™‚ ) What a range and hard to believe too that these are not synthetic dyes–who says natural colours are dull??????

I made myself a form of Niddy Noddy to wind skeins on, and happily wound 31 before realizing that my measurement made it necessary to do 40 winds to get 20 yards–i ended up with 10 yard skeins because i counted to 20……..ah well, that means when packaging, there will be two of those per card then, as i intend to keep the offerings to 20 yard lengths. You’ll note too, that most of these are on cotton: i do love the wool (which i am now out of) and the silk/wool blend that arrived rather snarled from the supplier, but the strands are so tangled that i’m having the devil of a time winding skeins. Have to figure out some sort of hanging apparatus so i can wind, untwangle and skein, without major body english and copious swearing. My rudimentary engineering and building skills are getting a work out also!

I’m spending most of my time this month dyeing threads and little bits of fabric (can you say mm–mm packs going into the shop soon?), while in the evening trying to get some stitching in. The naturally dyed moon is coming along nicely, but i’m not ready to share it yet.


Good thing too, that i am happily engaged. A typical fall week here: winter on Monday the 2nd and back to summer on Thursday the 5th, and now back to “seasonal”! (Thankfully, i dealt with the madder pot heeling in already!)


seeing red

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Muchly great large happie fantabulous hugormous exultations this morning from the Dye Dungeon. I’m seeing RED because i FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY got madder to work properly.

Yes, there’s a faint cast of l’orange, and yes, some look “vintage”, but i can live with all of that because “Look! I have made Fire!”

Photographed dry, ’cause i hate that wet expectation ๐Ÿ™‚ (Everything always dries lighter.)

And yes, this is a stupendous result for me. Yeah yeah, madder is supposed to give red under Best Practices, but look at what i always got before:

Pretty, but i was always madder after using Madder previous to this eek’s results. I was even ready to give the damn stuff away–and of course now after all the failed bits, i have little left out of a kilo of Maiwa……………………..Obviously time to restock.

And apparently i got rid of ALL my old embroidery bobbin cards, time to re-order those as well.



Posted by on October 3, 2017 in Dyeing, Ecoprints and Natural Dyes, madder


heeling in

In a big way…

I have first year madder growing in a large pot, and it’s done rather well this first season. This is the hottest and sunniest spot for pots: our patio gets foot blistering hot and has full and /or reflected sun for at least 8-10 hours a day through the summer. (I watered thoroughly almost every day.) A bit frost tinged, as we had our first frost on Sept 16, it’s still growing and green, so it’s still alive.

HOWEVER, Calgary’s cold cold winters, heavy frosts and possible large dumps of snow mean that i either bring it in to overwinter–and where the hell do i put a pot that size where it can get decent light and warm-ish temps (ALL windows in the house are already, and always, glutted with plants)—–or mulch and insulate it like crazy, as pots freeze first, fast and heavily.


There *is* a plant planting procedure called “heeling in”. I’m just doing it with a pot, rather than bare roots. I can’t plant the root ball in the ground by itself, as madder roots spread (optimally!), and i want to be able to harvest them easily (see my Gallium post for reasons why that CAN be a good thing or not, even if the roots are a decent size), and also because our ground freezes HARD for quite a depth. That’s a BIG hole though, because the pot is 13″ deep and 14″ across.

A kind person in a FB group suggested this, and that’s what i’ma gonna do. I need to collect some insulating material still, for around the pot, and to mulch over it, but i’m keeping my hoofies crossed that this does the trick.

I won’t know until April probably if this works………………praying to the Dye Plant Gawdzesses, that this will blessedly show new growth then.

For the record, i bought these madder seeds from a Canadian company, Salt Spring Island Seeds. While i appreciate being able to get them, i don’t appreciate companies that have NO information on actually growing and caring for them–WTF??????–an email to them resulted in basically “we don’t know” (anything about them)…………… Of course, this company also sells Elecampane seeds, touting them as a source for blue dye from the roots…….PUH leez…..


i have to laugh: local/wild dye plants, Gallium sp

OH DEAR GAWDZ. I swear no one in their right mind could possibly have gathered enough of this from the wild, to make any sort of dye pot. There is no way in hell there could conceivably be enough time, patience, gatherers, large areas with dense root that a. could be identified easily after the flowers have gone, because in my experience, the surrounding plants dwarf, hide and smother and b. that it could be dug up easily in the hard soil it usually grows in, or without breaking from the pressure and entwanglement of other plants roots, or c. that there was such a hard-on for red, that anyone, even in groups, would bother…………….Even if it were cultivated deliberately, it’d be a Ass Slapping Hair Pulling Bitch.

But i had to try it. I nurtured these plants for 3 years, keeping them in a separate pot with nothing else in it, (because i knew the roots would be impossible to detwangle from anything else) and decided today that (since the nurturing apparently ended mid July when i totally forgot about it, and haven’t watered it once after that…), that i might as well just dig up the darn things and separate out those roots.

WHAT A JOKE. It took me an hour to pry (GENTLY) the few “large” roots out, as most of it is a mass of finer than spider silk networks. And i say “large” with a very large grain of very salty sarcasm salt, because none of them are any bigger than a skinny pencil lead, and no longer than a generous 3 inches…….ha.

I rinsed them off in a bucket of tepid water, and this munificence, this haul, these absolute treasures, this splendid pile, these riches is the result:

Yes, more very large grains of very salty sarcasm salt here…………i can’t even get all the soil out, so these are gonna be either strange marks, or just plain dirty.

*&^% and *&(^%$# ย  )(#$ย  ^%#*.

I didn’t plan on using it as a dye however (small mercies in planning *that* ahead), but as an ecoprint material. I’ve seen some stunning examples of madder root used, and one sample with these roots, and thought loftily, why not. Well, that was the plan, and as They say “The best laid plans of dyers and artists often go awry.” Loosely paraphrased, of course.

So…………..these are currently bundled in silk, awaiting a hot bath in the pot, and we will see what we will see. No doubt there will be absolutely stunningly FABulous results.

Very large grains, etc………….

I’ll still plant again next year though, because i do love their pretty little flowers.

&*^% the roots, i say, *&#@ ’em.

(Gallium boreale sp)


so save the soy

Following a second extraction of dye liquid from the logwood pretty much solidifies my thought that soy mordanting does not work with some dyes. I’m not going to waste perfectly good dye baths! They will be used now with only the tried and trues, the soy cloth will be reserved for the indigo vats–or maybe i’ll just wash the shit out out of them, and be done with it, re-mordanting with something else!

Top is the first extraction, bottom is the second extraction as a new dyebath. Both were pre-mordanted with gallnut and alum, and there is definite colour uptake. Not like this crap from the first pot below!

All the osage dyeing is predictable and lovely:

After the logwood/soy debacle, that soy stuff ain’t going anywhere near my pots! Both above were again with gallnut and alum. See Maiwa’s instructions for mordanting cellulose fabrics(scroll down on the PDF), and also this clear Turkey Red article as well. I’m not going to waste time, effort, money or materials ever again, by not doing it right from the start!

And why am i finally going the proper mordant route? Because these below, done in 2010 with hollyhock and NO mordanting, are now greige and beige…..i was a hurrying novice, excited about the “potions”, and that stash paid for it ๐Ÿ™‚

And now it’s time to fire up the cochineal pot, and try some combinations of dye colour as well.

What kind of frosts my cookies though is that when i worked in plant stores many years ago, i remember scraping the damn bug things off cactiโ€“and eeeeuuwing about the gory red gunk i ended up with on fingers and toolsโ€“if i had only known!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There’s honestly not much stitch going on right now–i’m busy winding skeins, mordanting fabrics and building a stash for winter work. Lots of ideas going into the sketchbooks though, and maybe i’ll share some of that.



sometimes you just get what you get

Well, how about that. Acidity, alkalinity, science, weird science, real science. It was mentioned to me that perhaps the soy pre-mordant was too acid? On the advice of a friend, i hucked in some soda ash, to “blue” it up a bit–after all, nothing to lose at this point! Edit: it did change the colour to a more blue-purple, but the bath had already exhausted, so i got minimal colour— so weak that the poor babies shouldn’t have been taken away from their mommies! (Is logwood supposed to exhaust that fast????)

So, the next pot will be using the reverse osmosis filtered water, and NO soy pre-mordanted fabrics (i’ll save them for the indigo).

I want to use these colours together, in some new work, logwood top, bottom 2 potassium permanganates:

The logwood in proper light is definitely a red-violet, not a blued shade, but i’m starting to like all the variations. I may not get the results that everyone else gets, but that’s kind of the point for my purposes. I want to follow the tried and true METHODS, but i’m happy to get different colours, as long as they are not weak and namby-pamby!

The Osage dyepot was predictable (WHEW), with no surprises there ๐Ÿ™‚ Warm yellows with a hint of orange, like a summer sunrise. I might throw some narrow slices of that too in the mix of fabrics in the above photo.

I’ve been collecting the blooms from my “black” Chater’s Double hollyhock all summer, and with only a few more blooms left on the plant, this is the sum total:

Left below, the Chater’s and right, my single deep red and burgundy–they don’t look that different dried, except for their size, but i’m still hoping the colour will be richer and deeper.

Of course, there’s only enough to do a couple of skeins of thread, but that’s part of the game as well ๐Ÿ™‚




string theory in the hollyhock bed

In physics, string theory is a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings. It describes how these strings propagate through space and interact with each other. Here’s my version ๐Ÿ™‚ Let’s see how one dimensional my threads are after they propagate with dyes, mordants and modifiers, and how they interact with a needle and cloth!

I’ve collected hollyhock blooms ever since i realized they could be used to dye with (2010). “Amassing” is not really a word i’d apply to this practice though: in the beginning i had huge swathes of them growing beside the house, but as the years went by, rust disease and aphids took their toll.

Above, this is what it looked like when we moved into this house in 2009.

And now……

very sad in comparison, but there is hope, because last year it looked like this:


These were the darkest i’ve had before:

I have maybe 8 plants now, only 4 of which are any good for dyeing with. One of my summer morning rituals is to go with coffee in hand, and collect the finished blooms from all the dark flowering specimens. The pale pinks give barely any results, and anything in any other colour family yields nothing. Each plant gives up maybe 30-50 blooms each *over the season*, so there’s not a lot of frenzied picking activity! Patience and anticipation are the key words ๐Ÿ™‚

This year i have this beauty in the side bed:

Darker than any i’ve had before, and with a huge bloom, i’m keeping them separate from the others, curious to see if there is a difference.

These are the wool threads i did with the smaller blooms collected from previous years:

I’ll have to wait probably until the end of August to have enough of the new darker blooms to work with though!

I have a fermentation hollyhock bath going as well, and will decant that when i can stand waiting no longer.



Posted by on August 2, 2017 in garden dye plants, hollyhock