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™‚

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”.

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

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!

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!


I SWEAR that i looked everywhere for the fabric i wanted to use for a new big work. Potassium permanganate dyed, it was a substantial piece of yardage, and i could not for the life of me figure out where the damn thing went, and finally surmised i must have cut it up. I had scoured bins, boxes, bags of fails, scrap debris in the dye dungeon and the usual odd places where something goes to be “kept safe”.

Yesterday i was going through a stack in the studio, pulling out chunks to be redyed, admiring or not in new separate piles πŸ™‚ , refolding, and hanging larger pieces over the back of the chairs, and

WHAT????!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had just refolded the piece i was looking for all along.

So, i redyed it in the PP vat, as the original bath it had at the summer res was weak and old, resulting in a negligible beige blandness, and have now a warm deep milk-chocolate-verging-on-dark-chocolate chunk. I’m going to introduce it to both logwood cloth (cotton and silk) and madder, osage and logwood (cotton) threads.

See how much darker the silk is? Technically this is why protein and cellulose fibres shouldn’t be in the same pot, as proteins uptake faster and deeper. (I should have divided the bath and done separate soaks.)Β  The logwood threads were done by themselves in the first new pot, and the colour uptake was phenomenal. (The silks and cotton fabrics were done in subsequent soaks in the same pot, in two sessions.) Of course, that’s because i accidentally dumped in what was left in the jar, instead of actually measuring!

I am perfectly happy with the results though, even if the cottons are quite mottled (due to sitting in a pot all day while i was at the DayJob and unable to stir once in awhile), and will use it all anyways. I still however have to do a post mordant/modify with iron, so expect these to become somewhat darker. Again, going with the flow, and happy the work is working!

And there’s still some dye left in the bath, so am scrounging up some more protein fibres: a lone piece of linen, maybe some wool threads and a bit more silk. I expect they will be not as deep a shade, but can always build on them in other dyes, such as cochineal, madder or the old stand by, indigo.

HOWEVER, since i have been lazy/uninspired/busy for at least a month and a half, i am keeping all my notes in the 2018 file. I have 3 small moons to finish, and will not allow myself to start major new work, while dibbly bits are still hanging around waiting for their turn. I WILL get to new work before the end of the year, but the luxury of starting will be only when the UFO’s are gone!

more boring thread results, shop update

I say “boring” as in not many are truly interested in the subject! I however ❀ these πŸ™‚ Madder, madder with cochineal and madder with sandalwood:

All on cotton, some of which will stay in my stash, and some into the shop (limited quantities!). There are also a few others listed, and these will be the last listings for awhile.


While i *am* working on Samara’s wings and my small all naturally dyed moon, i’ve plans for lots of potassium permanganate dyed pieces as well. I’ve been taking my sketchbook to work, as it’s been rather quiet lately, and am ruminating on where to start. Big work again, and frames will have to be built for some because of the size and orientation.

I’ve had my dyeing “binge”, the way i do everything really, and am ready to get back to stitching. My stash is nicely built, and it’s time to get serious with studio time.

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 πŸ™‚ ) 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 πŸ™‚ (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.