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”.

first multicoloured naturally dyed embroidery skein

It’s been my goal since the beginning of March to create 5 colour threads, using a minimum of dyes. I know which dyes blended will make certain colours (ie yellows like weld, osage, tansy and blue (indigo) will always make greens though different factors can make many shades, and indigo and madder always make purple and again shades with varying factors), but have been experimenting with other dyes that are less predictable.

I have managed to make my first 4 colour skein (silk/wool blend) using 3 dyes (logwood, osage and quebracho rojo), though it’s just a prototype as the process needs refining. The pink is too weak, the purple and yellow areas too long, and there’s not enough green to really be noticeable. However it does have lavender, pink, purple, yellow, green and coral, and that means it was fiddly work, but i figure practice will make perfect, as with all things πŸ™‚ Still pretty pleased with myself!

My dream/wish/expectation is to make threads with colour breaks like these leaves:

They were done in these piece with “orts”, leftover bits of thread no longer than 3″–i want one thread skeins that look and act like this!

I know there there are dyers using naturals, and dyers using synthetics to make huge multicoloured knitting skeins, but since my focus is embroidery, it’s a bit more precise what i expect the end result to be. I still have to experiment with various post modifiers as well, a lightfast test for that green, and how well the process works on cotton threads.

Studying and “labbing” on!

two and a half weeks of rainbow

I β™₯β™₯β™₯ variegated threads. I used a lot of commercially dyed ones with earlier work ( pre 2017) but when i switched completely to using naturally dyed, there was a dearth of them available anywhere, and i was petrified at the thought of doing threads! I have since refined my use and skill level of natural dyes, and while i had successfully dyed solids, i hadn’t really thought about variegating any, beyond the simple step of post modifying dipped areas.

Last week i had shown photos to an acquaintance who waxed so eloquently rhapsodic about the colour breaks in these little leaves:

 

They aren’t variegated threads however; they were “orts” (scraps, ends) of naturally dyed solids that i couldn’t bear to throw away. Just as i have found a use for one inch squares of naturally dyed velvet, so too do i save bits of thread that are at least 3″ long!

But i started thinking about this. Much of my work is finely detailed and there is no way to get such tiny breaks of colour, unless one becomes really neurotic about the method. (Yeah, yeah, i know: some manyΒ  a few think i AM neurotic but i ain’t that much…) But, never say never. While i will not attempt breaks of 1/2″, i can do 1″. Some of the colour combos too are practically impossible: i’ll never get a half inch of green on a predominantly pink, purple, blue thread, but i can get close in each colourway. And then use 3″ long bits, NARF.

So, for the past two and a half weeks, i have been working with thread instead of fabric, playing and testing, using different combos of 4 dyes (madder, osage, cochineal –that old moldy one STILL!–and indigo) and overdyes, post modifiers and timing and got these results:

The above are two colour breaks, pretty basic, but lovely nonetheless. Obviously, indigo over anything makes magic πŸ™‚

And a mix of the 2 colour variegateds and solids from this work, thrilling to say only 3 dyes, and some indigo :)!

I dyed many of these in larger skeins so i can divvy them up, some for me, and *some* of these for the shop, in 10 yard lengths. All are cotton, except for the three in top photo, the bright red, bright yellow and salmon, towards the right of the photo.

Next i’ll be trying 3 colour skeins and continuing this way, i’m hoping to get to 5 colour breaks, something that my tired brain actually has to draw out to figure the correct sequences.

One thing that made me really happy was that i finally got a lavender/lilac/wisteria/whateverflavour you call it in your palette (centre of bottom photo). This one is NOT going to be anything but what it is, no modifying, no other colour additions. (Until the next time.) Again, from the moldy old cochineal. I’m not saying the mold had anything to do with it, just that there is no reason to waste a dye because it’s gone off, looks funny, or is fuzzy. Yeah, if it was completely foosty, but not as a surface deal πŸ™‚ Obviously, if this happens to you, do some tests first with a small amount, don’t just take my word for it. *Your* mileage vary vary greatly.

I must now get back to a piece that is slated for a show, due March 31st–hurry, hurry, hurry hard!!

 

Caliente! Picoso! Candente!

Very very happy with latest thread colours, a mix of old moldy cochineal (yup, really, astounding colours), madder, osage, marigold, combinations of, and various post modifiers, all 100% cotton.

 

The linen was sunny too! Osage over marigold (Only because the marigold was weak. So weak in fact, that it fainted on the way to the dyebath. Dyeing yellow over yellow for any reason still gives you only yellow πŸ™‚ ), and over madder.

The full Panoply of Sweet Pepper Power:

If you click on the photo below, you can see all the lovely nuances in these lavender ash and grape skeins. YUM.

And i’m hoping when this velvet below is dry, that’s as beautiful as i think it’s going to be!

I have two sets of some of the threads in the shop too πŸ™‚ Edit: one set left!

plugged back in, part time

I’ve been reveling in the colours achieved, now that i “know the waters” here πŸ™‚

(All the purples, greens and reds have already gone to a great home.)

I’m working on a new batch of threads, in various weights and plies, as i am running low myself, and would like to offer them again in the shop.

I rejoined a local fibre group, one that while i really enjoyed on an artistic and intellectual level, felt i never personally “fit” in. To hell with that mind set, i am what i am, and if they look at me like i have a third nostril, so be it. If all goes well, i’ll be joining the group show in April (appropriately, themed “to evoke a sense of community, place-making, inclusivity and intention”) with this from 2011 as a starting point:

HA. Or so i thought. This is the ONE piece i can’t find in ANY box of UFO’s, bits, nada, nuttin’ zip, zero, zilch. I *know* i didn’t throw it out during the move because i still see the potential it has–and yes, i really did toss some unfinished pieces in the trash, because i knew i would NEVER finish them, but this decidedly was not one of them.

SO. The deadline for this show is March 31st. Of course it is, because if i could find the above piece, i’d have somehow been working for a show with a further away deadline. You now how it goes πŸ™‚ (That’s called Magical Thinking.) Because i have to start from scratch, i have 50 days to get cracking, and finish. And there’s no guarantee i will get in either, so it could just be an exercise in time management….

This is my base fabric:

See the face?

This is the sketch i’m working from (OLD and used in many ways since it’s inception in 2014):

These are my colours:

I may switch out the peachy toned one for a duller yellow, a rhubarb root dyed piece.

I know too that the pieces i have of these are not all long enough, so will have to re-invent the wheel maybe to get the effect i need.

 

It’s also going to be a good while until i can show you the “finally” set up studio–we have to re-drywall, move electrical boxes and lights, paint, and figure out storage configuration, so suffice it to say, i have enough room to work, but have to still move piles, or dig to find things.Β  It’s been a lesson in “clean up as you go, and organize as you store”!

 

on fire in the Dye Dungeon

These are the results of my boiled water madder pot. (Note: the water was boiled first, cooled to proper temp, then madder added. Madder does not do well over 180Β°F/82Β°C) I’ve never had such deep reds on silk before, but it *might* be because of the rayon blended in. I don’t honestly know if boiling the water made any difference, except for the removal of chlorine, however i’m not going to complain!!!!!!!!!!!

First extraction/use gave me these:

The second was these:

The top one is mottled because it was on top, and because i didn’t add more (boiled) water, it didn’t have as free movement as it should have. Even so, i love the results, a wonderful mottling!

Linen from the second pot at the same time was a bit disappointing, but still good.

Cellulose fibres like cotton, linen, hemp, rayon etc don’t have as much uptake, but linen is the hardest (in my personal experience) to get deep colour on.

I’m doing a third use with cotton eyelet, but i can see already the pot has had most of its red component used, and has more brown tinge too. Kind of reminds me of an antique coral, so that’s okay too πŸ™‚

My dyeing week is almost over, and next week the plan is to get to some stitching again.

testing new waters

At the old house (and i mean where we lived before *and* the fact that the house was 100+ years), i knew what the water would do to my natural dyes. Turns out it’s a new ballgame in the new place, a totally different ballgame.

A. There’s a LOT of chlorine in our water in this location. We noticed the smell when we moved in, but stoopidly, i forgot that if i want to use it as hard water (’cause hard water is good for certain natural dyes like madder, weld, logwood and brazilwood, and we get hard water because our water is from the mountains) *and* there’s chlorine, you have to let the water sit for awhile so the chlorine off gases (dissipates). Didn’t have to do that at the old house.

Did you know that if you add ferrous sulphate to water with chlorine in it, that it turns the water PINK? Pretty, but the iron didn’t want to do what it was supposed to because the chlorine was being all busybody and getting in the way.

B. I use our filtered osmosis system for a lot of my dyeing. But it doesn’t work well, when apparently the tank membrane broke and is letting things into the tank, like iron and gawdzknows what else…..this also doesn’t work well for natural dyeing. There are a lot of minerals in our water too, but i’m not sure what else there is that isn’t supposed to be “is”…..

On the 14th and 15th i tested some of the Ugandan marigold my son brought back for me. I was shocked at the amount of green instead of yellow i got. My tannin was green as well, not a good sign, but a sure sign that there was a fair amount of what shouldn’t be in there, in there. I *did* get some pretty colours so that’s okay, but.

This means i now have to test all the dyes i work with, checking the new parameters and verifying my normal practices as still viable. It’s a good thing then that with the rhubarb root and quebracho rojo work i did last week i made lots of notes, and because of that, the marigold was documented as well! BUT it’s also weird that the RR and the QR gave me close to the results i was used to, even though i had used the (broken) filtered water.

Interestingly enough, in several natural dye groups, this was posted. I mean, i KNEW water affects the dyes, but wow, what a lesson in my own space.

So, i begin again.

warming the vortex

-40C wind chill today, risk of frostbite in 10 minutes. I ain’t goin’ nowhere this week!

The last week’s results, correctly in dye journal πŸ™‚

I think my soda ash tests needed a fresh mix as well–i adore that orange from the test above, not as apparent in the sample on the bottom of the page below!

Below, the two on the left are linen, quite disappointing! The linen i ordered before Christmas is crappy quality, stiff and feels cheap. I know linen is supposedly harder to dye because of the plant waxes and pectins, but the results were abysmal! I followed all my usual protocols so not sure what the difference was. *Usually* i find rhubarb, whether root or leaves, somewhat inhibits the uptakeΒ  of dyes……… For that reason, i never use the leaves anymore. I think it’s the oxalic acid, but also would suspect the roots have more than the leaves, so it’s a mystery!

A mystery because look at the quebracho rojo on the same linen! I was thrilled to see that once rinsed and dry, it was a definite pink, quite the surprise as usually qr is touted to give only pinky tans and browns on cellulose, and paler in range than protein fibres.

I have a different batch of linen from the same supplier that is supposedly the same thing, but the difference is amazing–full handed, thicker, FEELS like linen, so we’ll see what the results are on it.

And the rest of the qr tests:

It’sΒ  bit hard to photo these correctly: the velvets on the 2 top left are pinker than here, not as orange. (And OH do i love that lavender from the third extraction with an iron post mod!

I’m also testing Ugandan marigolds! My son brought me some when he came back last week (and YES it was all legal, above board and phyto-sanitarily correct, according to customs regulations! I wouldn’t dream of having anyone smuggle or mail un-regulated product to me!)

making it smell like Summer

I can’t pretend Spring is coming with the coming weekend supposed to be in the minus20’s(C), but i can smell Summer right now: I had a pot of rhubarb root simmering, an excellent dye the last time i used some. The fragrance lingers, even to the next day, and always reminds me of alder burning in the old wood stove on Bowen Island. This is a test of sorts too, as the first time was freshly dug and cut up, and this particular bag has been in my cache since October of 2015, so very dry. Some dyes just don’t do well dried! Checking the pot after an hour assured me though: there was LOTS of colour seeping out.

Silly me though! I forgot to weigh the bag and have no idea how much i used. I decided to start a separate note book for my silk work, as it’s a different kettle of canned worms than other fabrics, and the colours are amazing! And guess who didn’t take notes last year when she was doing all this? I mean, i know if i used quebracho rojo, or madder, or osage obviously, but what post mords or post mods did i use? What mixes of dyes did i use to get other colours? How many times did i use that bath? I didn’t even keep swatches!

Rhubarb root has more of an affinity for protein fibres though: all the trials i’ve done on cotton or linen gave at best, a pleasant warm toned pale yellow, and even post modifying doesn’t change much of that. (Except for iron which which pretty much *always” turn any natural dye to shades of charcoal!)

Here’s my array of tests, in order of post-modifier: copper, iron, soda ash and vinegar. (Unfortunately, i threw out the ammonia for some reason, so couldn’t try that…) Again, little change on the linen.

For some reason, there also seems to be little difference in the colour when overdyed with indigo, but my vat may be too strong still. This is the one time i wish for a weaker one! (In *my* experience, a weaker vat gives a better chance for the first colour to influence the outcome.)

So, did i lose you with that highly detailed ireallydon’tgiveashitphotoijustlikecoloursandb? πŸ™‚ (I myself quite like the orangey soda ash results, and the iron.) This is how we roll, us natural dyers!!!! BUT, once we know the general outcome of all those steps, we can play confidently and happily, mixing, mixing more, and mixing again. It’s not just a matter of throwing an avocado in a pot with some pretty muslin πŸ™‚ And more tests will now be done, in overdyeing with *other* dyes: quebracho rojo, cutch, madder, cochineal, etc etc etc.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Speaking of misconceptions about dyes……..this article was brought to the attention of several natural dye groups yesterday. Quite an uproar ensued, because while yes we should be more aware of our purchases and the effects mass consumerism has on the world, we should also not have to, as natural dyers, be misrepresented by an uninformed “trend forecaster” belittling us with comments about natural dyes being “Subdued and melancholic…….”, even if she *is* trying to be “on trend”. Except for aforementioned avocados maybe, HA.

The ennui that rises from this article is a palpable stench. I would guess that’s the subdued and melancholic way of saying “i just don’t give a damn”. But then she of course redeems herself with pithiness because “She is given to issuing prophecies such as: β€œI think we will get very inspired by blouses.” *My* blouses are pretty vivid and lively 🀣(This is as bad an article as one i read by Germaine Greer, who hadn’t a CLUE about textiles, and textile art. I wrote about that on my old blog, here, and here. If you’re going to set yourself as an expert, do some research, for jeebly sakes.)