beauty is… (and a shop update)

…in the eye–and in camera in this instance–of the beholder!

Here’s another thing i love about natural dyes: NUANCE. These two photos are of the same pack of goodies! Taken at different times of the day, the light conditions really show the subtlety of the colour components that make up each dye. Below, these are mixed batches of cochineal, madder and solidago. HOT CRAYONS!

I can “replicate” these in a sense, knowing what’s in the pot, but when you use “leftovers”, you can’t be sure of the proportions. Just/trust letting the pots do what they will, is much more satisfying. Oh sure, there have been a few Muddyduds along the way, but hey, overdye to the rescue!

One of the other delights of these deep colours is that they will last longer. I cringe when i see some of the weak pale colours that are an IG “standard”. Some of them *are* pretty, but they’re NOT going to last–to me it’s like putting 1/16 of a tsp of cinnamon in the cinnamon rolls–it’s discernible, but barely. Are people not aware of WOF, or are they being too cheap with it, or do they think it makes their pound of madder last longer which cuts their costs??? Here’s a perfect example, “madder dyed”:

How long is this going to last, under ordinary conditions of wear and light exposure, even under following “special care instructions”? I’ve seen clothing lines blithely calling this (and that photo specifically!) naturally dyed, and then producing multiples of the garment–that to me IS cheapness of production. Ever noticed that samples from extant collections are (for the most part) still VIBRANT, or at least very indicative of the original colour?

And yes, i DO sell softer colours, but they are NEVER as insipid as the above! There’s still a good percentage of WOF in my work ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyhoo, that’s my two cents. I have other offerings in the shop as well, if you care to peruse them, and thank you again to all the Lovely Blossoms who have the faith and trust to support my small endeavours.


beautiful mistakes

When chemistry has its own way.

I bet i couldn’t replicate this if i tried…..I had used this tannin bath already twice, and it was filtered water, but the tannin had started to oxidize, and it also showed me that either my filtered water system leaves some iron in, or that the original scouring had left a residual, BUT it’s the most gorgeous silver and fawn i’ve ever seen. The right side is actually the bottom edges, and the left is the middle where it was folded over a rod to hang to dry. The iron migrated then to the bottoms so it was still pretty “loose”.

I’m hoping that after a good rinse, it’s much the same. (Silk velvet)

“Ain’t no sunshine”

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long
Anytime she goes away
Wonder this time where she’s gone
Wonder if she’s gone to stay
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And this house just ain’t no home
Anytime she goes away
None here, because there’s so much smoke again from BC and California!!!!!!
Normally at this time of year, i’d be using tansy or goldenrod, gathered locally, for base yellows, but for whatever reason, this season again, the tansy gave very poor results, and the goldenrod is so stingy mingy stunted in our climate that i always feel guilty gathering any. I miss the big beautiful bounteous ones from Ontario and the East!
So, since the objective was to make some gold for making green ๐Ÿ™‚ , i dug out the Osage and had some sun fun with it.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine….”

going deep, back to ecoprints

I stopped doing ecoprints a few years back. Honestly, it had started to bore me, as i *did* get “predictable” results, knowing what local plants did print, and the effects i could get. Then i was quite frankly, COWED by all the splendid, wonderful experimenting and marvellous, amazing results that others were getting! I couldn’t figure out how people were doing what they were doing, and at the time, it seemed to me that only people with a lot of discretionary cash could afford the goods, dye materials, travelling to classes and workshops, and free time, perhaps a sour grape reflection, but “valid” at the time, for me…

Methods and materials were being closely guarded–and i DO understand the point that teachers make a living from teaching these with their years of experience and skill level, and should be recompensed, so don’t think i’m kvetching because the process was only being taught in paid for classes. (I would KILL, i WOULD kill,ย  to take a class with premier ecoprint teacher Irit Dulman.) I too have been in that position, as a student, and as a teacher. I never asked anyone who had done the classes to break the chain by giving me for free what the teacher had been paid for, so tried to puzzle it out.

I tried a few things that i thought were the process, but didn’t have a lot of success. It wasn’t that i was stupid, or unwilling to experiment: things just didn’t WORK. But i was “sloppy” in a sense. Now that i’ve learned properly how to prepare fabrics and threads and then dye with natural materials, that knowledge, based on historically accurate, well researched and proven methods, can be applied to ecoprints. (I’m still not a perfect dyer/mad textile scientist, but i’m improving every day ๐Ÿ™‚ ) If however, i see ONE more post about vinegar or soymilk as “MORDANT”, i will puke a twice iron dipped catalpa leaf, with a nice frothy TO chaser…………….

Recently i joined a group that is big on sharing method, without spilling teacher secrets, or fighting about who “owns” the process, something that was nastily prevalent in the beginning. (I’ve never seen such an insidiously/assiduously “policed”–sometimes quite maliciously– practice before, as ecoprinting, contact printing, leaf printing, whatever term makes your boat float without “offending” anyone…) The people in this group share generously, indeed that is the POINT of the group, to SHARE the knowledge, the experimenting, processes, thoughts, ethics etc. Oh sure, there are still divisors between the purists, and the “anything that works” camps, but it’s reasonably civil, as the admins do a fantastic job. (It also helps that you can turn off commenting as an admin, or on your own posts ๐Ÿ™‚ ) (I tend to do that when people go waaay off topic, or give me the same answer over and over, or just didn’t read the actual post and are tossing in two cents that makes no sense…)

I have a few ideas i explored before and want to return to them with the ecoprinting. They were successes at the time, and nope, i didn’t share the process at the time, and won’t now either ๐Ÿ™‚ because as a talented friend once said when i asked something specific about her work : “Every dyer has her secrets”. THAT is valid too.

I have bags of premordanted fabrics ready, from the basic tannin/alum, to rhubarb leaf, titanium oxalate, iron, soda ash, alum alone, combinations thereof of whatever, all suited to the type of fibre (cellulose vs protein) and on the stove is a batch of pomegranate readying for use.ย  I’m still doing the Summer of Madder (Study) and its adjunct project, but the ecoprinting will be incorporated into that as well.

And since DogFaced Girl and i have got so lazy and so fat over the last year, it’s a perfect time for walks to gather materials, relish the summer, and enjoy the short Calgary summer as best we can. Exercise, fresh air, science and joy at their finest!

And here’s a funny little one, tossed into the current almost exhausted madder pot:

Iron turned the colours pink and purple!




The Dye Dungeon Openeth Again

BANG. “Shit”, pause, “Sorry!” BANG. “Fuck”, pause, “Sorry!” BANG. “dammit”, pause, “Sorry!” The poor water heater man was in the basement, fixing things, and that’s what i kept hearing. Our basement is low ceilinged after all, being in a 107 year old house. You *can* walk upright (unless you’re 6′ plus, in which case you will be grazing the first floor bracing beams), but there are areas where furnace ducts are low, and both Greyman and i regularly bash our heads on them. When my hair was long and i wore it pinned up, it would be a common part of the experience, catching that full tilt on the top of the head……….I finally had to tell that poor workman to stop apologizing, and just get on with. I’ve heard all those words before, so whatever ๐Ÿ™‚

And yes, our basement is slightly creepy. The house is after all Old, and there are parts behind walls down there that are the original stonework and earth dug-outs. It doesnโ€™t smell musty or moldy, just old, no strange growths anywhere or slithering whatthehellisthats, one of the benefits of Calgaryโ€™s dry climate, even with us being beside the river and probably not that far above the natural water table. (Actually after the 2013 Calgary flood, we *know* it’s not far above, but we do know we also have the only self draining house on the block!) You can stand up in it, something not said about a lot of 107 year old basements, itโ€™s floored with concrete and mostly painted white. We donโ€™t use it for much beyond storage and it occurred to me yesterday that it was largely being wasted.

Itโ€™s divided into 4 strange little rooms, evidence of the original size and shape of the house, documenting add-ons and renovations. Thereโ€™s actually no basement below the teeny back bedroom, laundry room, kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom, unless you count the old stone and earth part (!), but itโ€™s still big enough for a lot of uses. Dyeing space immediately comes to mind through the winter. The garage is uninsulated and too far from the house in terms of -30c weather, so why not just descend to the depths?

That’s where the Dye Dungeon is again, in the back part near what is the old cistern, long boarded and bricked up, and containing we are sure, a body or two…..There’s a tiny backroom with lots of old wood shelves for all my dye supplies, natural and un-natural chemical/synthetic, plenty of old pull string lights, and a concrete floor. Nothing fancy down there at all, just space where the dog never goes (she’s afraid of the creepy old narrow stairs down), and the cat rarely, as “it’s boring, so boring”. (You know how cats are.) I *did* have it set up 7 years ago, but admittedly didn’t do as much then as i had thought i would.ย I’m afraid right now if i keep using the studio, that the mess will become a wet one, with pots and jars all over, and inquisitive studio assistants, Slapshot (official studio cat) and Nessie the DogFaced Girl (resident i-go-everywhere-Mom-is dog).

(I’ll post pics in another entry ๐Ÿ™‚ )

And the first cochineal results are in, and i am very very quite happy ๐Ÿ™‚ These are dry too, so none of that misleading wet photograph stuff–we all know wet is more intense looking than dry!

Same threads, different light, to show their beauty, all on wool or a silk/wool blend, different mordants and modifiers.

I have cotton threads as well now, dried after a long soak in the dye bath, and oh i am thrilled with the results!

So, in the last two weeks, with experimenting and testing that i am doing things correctly, behold my new stash!!!!!!!!!

As soon as i can plan for being more productive, quantity wise, i really would like to be offering these in the shop. Stay tuned ๐Ÿ™‚




dramatic cochineal

One of THE easiest dyes to use! Yes, it’s expensive, but not with Cost of Wear, known in the dye biz as WOF, the measurement used to calculate how much dyestuff to fabric. Yes, it’s dead bugs, so if your sensitivities include no “animal” products, don’t use it. (And don’t lecture me either.)

Basically, the bugs are scraped off cacti, dried, sold whole, and ground down to a powder with a mortar and pestle for use, cooked, and decanted 3 or 4 times, and pre-mordanted fibres are thrown into the resulting dye bath. Mordants and modifiers can shift the colours from oranges, to fuschias and reds to deepest purples with every flame colour in between. Very versatile but because of these colour variations, in use after, Ph neutral care is important, though wash and lightfastness are excellent.

Tip o’ the Day: do not be making grape jelly at the sameย  time: the colour is the same ๐Ÿ™‚

Since my practice is to leave things in dyebaths at least overnight, you won’t see the results just yet ๐Ÿ™‚ And BEST practice with all natural dyes, is to let the fibres dry, then let “em “cure” for at least a week before rinsing any excess out, so you’re still not going to see them until the 13th earliest. I’m gonna be biting my nails in anticipation.


I intend to do cloth as well as threads, testing all the colour permutations possible, with mordants and modifiers. And overdyes as well–indigo yields another purple over top, and osage would warm it beautifully also, i’m sure.

I threw some of the wool thread in the 2nd extraction logwood bath–yum.

However, i know logwood is not as lightfast as other dyes, so this will be overdyed, or post-mordanted with some iron, which apparently will help with that factor.



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™‚



making my own rules, potassium permanganate

I really like the effects i get with potassium permanganate, but there’s not a lot of info available, online, or in old books, when it comes to using it with cloth. Most sites tell you how to get rid of the “stains” when you are working with it, in either metal or wood applications, but not how to keep it! I *think* we might have done something with it in the textile arts program in the early 90’s at Capilano College, but if we did, i either took few notes (usually when i wasn’t that interested!), or i threw them out in a long ago purge…….

First of all, this stuff is actually Scarey Dangerous. Yes, very, no exaggeration, in application, storage and with other chemicals. It can be explosive, toxic, mutagenic, corrosive. I cringe when i see people sticking their hands in vats with no protection, but this one in particular made me yell at someone during res who did just that. But it’s also used as an anti-fungal, an antiseptic, water purification, in garden applications, for livestock use, and in science labs for staining specimens and slides.

(Ignore the “antidote” notes on the above, and check the MSDS for the real deal.)

It’s not a “natural dye”: it’s a chemical compound. So why use it if it’s so freekybeaky? Because i like the warm browns it can give, i like the way it chases (discharges, technically) indigo, i love the effects with rust and ecoprints. Respect for what we use as dyers, whether chemical or natural, can go a long way though and i have always stressed safety first in any of my own work, and certainly when i have taught classes. So i will use it, and with pleasure! (The few sites that have had any information make me shake my head too, as they blithely swish things around with bare hands……..)

I know brown is not an exciting colour to most people, and most natural dyers are going to use walnuts, chestnut, cutch or sequoia, or combine different dyebaths with various mordants and modifiers to get brown when they do want it ๐Ÿ™‚ (And i have, and do that as well. ) You’re not going to find potassium permanganate for sale on any dye house sites though, chemical or natural. I searched through chemical suppliers, university science sites, and finally water purification shops, and bought mine at a local supplier forย  “HVAC, Water Treatment, Fluid Handling and Conservation Industries .”ย  (I’ve heard it also referred to as “Condy’s Crystals”, an archaic name for it, and supposedly available at pharmacies/”chemists”, though i suspect that’s more in the UK than anywhere nearby!) And i asked for and got the 6 page MSDS that should go with ALL chemical use. (See that first link in this post.)

Initially, it’s expensive. I just about had a bird when i called and asked about the size they had on the website (10lbs)–$169.00!!!! The gentleman on the phone said though that they did have smaller 5 lb packages, at slightly less than half of that amount. In use though, it’s cheap, cheap, CHEAP. At 1/4 to 1 TSP per litre of water, it’s going to last a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time, great Cost Per Wear!

(HA. When i picked it up, he said someone else had just called and wanted that smaller size too, something he hasn’t sold much of in a good while. Maybe another dyer?)


ALL “mixing” of this will be done outside in a corner of the back40, wearing gloves, respirator and safety glasses. And lest anyone think i am totally looneytunes using this potentially bombwhacko product, a lot of textile program school scenarios have a vat of it in the wet studio, and no one has reported any Incidents. ALL dyeing should be handled with respect, safety and care.

I remember there are a few other things i can do with “potperm” and cloth, so am off to refresh my memory, and make my own (SAFE) rules for use.