local plant dye tests, Orach, part 1

I’m taking several approaches here with foraged plants, so what works for me might not work for you, depending on where your plant material is growing, and it’s growth habits/requirements. There are many variables in natural dyeing, from that fact of plant biome, to water factors such as Ph, soft vs hard, city tap vs well, seasonal factors like heat, rain and soil composition and hell, just plain “luck of the draw” and magic. (Despite my crusty, abrupt, oft irked attitude, i DO love Nature and believe there IS magic afoot there.) There *are* actual credited dye plants in my area, but i’m also experimenting with either lesser known, or new to me possibilities.

Red Orach, introduced to the neighbourhood as a garden “green” by my immediate neighbour, is prolifically self seeding and will grow ANYWHERE, as i’ve found it everywhere from our lush back meadow, to the neighbour’s sterile little golf green lawn, the rough berm across the road, and down on the riverbank. (Our soil here is river sediment/clay based.) I initially thought it was in the Rumex family, but it is in fact Atriplex hortensis, part of the Amaranthaceae classification. And yes, i AM drawn to it by the very fact too that it is red–i *know* plants like this are full of anthocyanins, a fugitive colourant that neither lasts in light (or dark, and why would you keep beet/bean/berry/red cabbage stained cloth/es in the dark if the dye is that bad????) or through washing. But, maybe i’ll get a different yellow than the other mostly yellow colouring plants i intend to try? BWAHAHAHA. As i’ve said before, most “local” plants give a range of yellow, yellow, yellow or yellow……. But i *might* get pink, peach, coral with the right post mordant/modifier treatments, on different fibres. (This worked well, back in the day, with rhubarb root.)



I thought i’d do the first test with our filtered water, as our tap water is very very hard, and loaded with iron as well, and truthfully there are few dyes that do well in hard water. I’m also simmering, not boiling, as most dyes shouldn’t go above 180 degrees F/80 degrees C.Ā  A total of maybe 600grams?

After 20 minutes, the water did start turning pink, no surprise actually, because this plant is used also for food colouring, and the neighbours noted their kids wouldn’t eat an omelette after the addition of the leaves turned the eggs pink…… šŸ™‚ Reminds me of when i was a kid and the family was camping. Late one night, supper, only food left eggs and strawberries. Dad threw them together, result pink puke that no one would touch. Ah, memories.

At 40 minutes:

Simmered for an hour, then cooled for another hour, i then strained all the plant material out (and the bugs…..i did rinse everything first, but there were Klingons apparently.) Because these are an edible, they will go right into the compost bin in the back40.

IĀ  leave the whole bath letting it cool on the burner, my usual method. In it, i threw premordanted according to fibre type pieces of silk velvet, silk habotai, cotton swiss dot and a tannined, but not yet alum treated linen. (I can post mordant that one.) There is a BIG caveat here: the colour you see in a dye pot, is not always what you get on the fibre! (That’s why too many artily staged IG photos are just plain fraudulent.) I will leave all of these chunks in the pot for 2 days, occasionally raising the temp to prevent mold and alien lifeforms, as normally this is how i dye, leaving the fibres in anywhere from 8-36 hours, depending on how busy i am or if i forget!). Too, protein and cellulose fibres should actually be dyed separately as protein is greedier and grabs more of the dye, so cellulose results may be weaker. Whatever. It’s a test.

This is half an hour in the pot, again not very indicative of what the end results will be, but interesting in terms of chemistry, just a pull to see if anything is happening. These are unsqueezed, unrinsed, so keep that in mind!

On the weekend, i will do some post mods and mords, then start lightfast tests. I don’t expect miracles, but the hoofies are crossed anyways, in the spirit of admiring Nature’s magic.

I am drying another 600 grams or so. If the above test doesn’t really work as a dye, well, the dried may be added to something else as a weak tannin, or slightly acid something or other. Or tossed šŸ™‚





sometimes a week has a lot of days to deal with


The weight of the apples this year was too much. Picking before this happened would sadly have not prevented this: the big branches are thoroughly rotten inside where they “attached” to the tree…… And of course, this was the best year yet for the fruit. Golfball sized and rosy, they make an astonishingly deep pinkycoral sauce that needs no sweetener–but does necessitate hours of cutting up hundreds of them for a score of 3 litres of sauce.

The whole thing may have to come down, a very sad heartbreak. It’s 90 years old we bet, and if/when it’s gone, there will be no shade, no explosive mass of blossoms and bees, no woodpeckers or porcupines or deer visiting, and another part of this house’s history gone…..

There’s a new “baby” who has joined the family.

This is Sally, as sweet as her name. From the face, you’d think she was a grey tabby, but stretched out full, she’s a “torty” with tab markings. Sally belonged to my departed MIL, and it’s a good thing we rescued her when we did, the night before MIL passed away (Aug 30), because apparently after a death, only the executor of the estate is allowed to enter the home until everything has been inventoried. (We know they would have fed her, BUT they are still in a foreign country far away, and not back until Sunday night of this coming weekend! Try changing a whole family’s tickets for an early return–3times the price of the original airfare return!!!!!!!!!! She’s have been one very hungry and dehydrated kitty!)

We have wanted this girl for a long time. She lived under MIL’s bed for the most part as she was petrified anytime someone came in the house. We figured cleaning staff may be responsible for this and are so pleased, that while still skittish, she makes herself at home every night on my bed, with plenty of purrs, head butts and long luxurious stretches. She is HOME. Slapshot and Nessie are really not interested, except for the extra “Fud” being doled out šŸ™‚ The family will blend well once again.

I am still trying to decide which natural dye i will use to transform the white swiss dotted cotton to the body of a dress.

I did two little tests (to the right) with quebracho rojo “leftovers”, the paler almost brown an exhausted bath, the pinker an alcohol extraction, less used. I’m leaning towards them with an overdye of tansy, to get the coral i want, but may slip some madder dips on some areas for a slight ombre effect.

I’ve also been working when i can on the new hexes for Samara.

They’ll replace the original ones cut from the background, which will also be embroidered this way and re-attached.

We’re just taking each day as it comes, slow, doing what we can as we can.






an interim

My Greyman’s mother passed away this morning, with him and his niece at her side. Old readers will know i did not have a good relationship, or even much of a relationship with her, but i grieve for him, and his loss.

The next month will be tied up with arrangements for funeral, her belongings dispersal and disposal, deciding whether or not to keep or sell the home and sitting with the family.

the greens of summer

Above, that’s actually a photo from 2010. “There was a gigormous patch of it by the tracks so i headed there eagerly. Just as i got to the edge of the embankment, i heard a train and caught out of the corner of my eye one of the machines they use to keep track (narf) of the rails and trespassers, coming around the corner. Guess who was trespassing actually? Guess who fortunately (?) was so startled that she fell down the embankment into a tansy forest????? They never saw me, even backing up and looking while i flattened myself out on the ground down the edge. I felt guilty and silly at the same time, elated too šŸ™‚ I snuck the camera out of my bag in case one tromped over and asked what the hell this middle aged frazzle haired freakwoman was doing lying on her face on CPR property in the weeds. Umm, taking pictures because iā€™m a botany specialist? HA! Got a BIG bag of tansy after they toodled back the way they came.”

As much as i love the results i’ve got with “traditional” natural dyes (ie the ones i have to buy, like madder–still waiting till the fall to harvest mine, indigo, cutch, osage, logwood etc), i love a good walk, with the DogFaced Girl of course :), to forage what i know are proven dye plants in my area.

My last big excursion with local plants for natural dye was a couple of years ago, and the results weren’t great. I was never sure if it was because the tansy was picked from a site that had previously been a (probably) highly contaminated ground for a gas station, or if it was just a bad year for colour. This year though there’s ACRES of the darn stuff, a highly invasive plant in the neighbourhood. I decided to try again, and my first excursion yielded the picking of 3.2 kilos (7.05lbs), barely a drop in the bucket even in my immediate area! I’ll be picking more, as there’s probably 1000 times that, no exaggeration, within the 3 block radius i pick in! It can be dried, but sometimes the shades are browner or weaker. That being said, it’s a good base to overdye with other colours: indigo for the most spectacular greens, madders for warmer yellow tones, or oranges and corals, and who knows what with quebracho rojo or cutch? I’ll be testing those as well.

When the flowers are gone, picked or naturally drying/dying on the plant, i can collect the leaves for greener yellows too.

I seriously upped the WOF this year as well, using twice the amount of plant matter per weight of cloth. YUM. This is YELLOW, a cool one, unlike the warmth of osage, but i do love the various shades with different yellow plants. When foraging locally too, the likelihood is that most plants are going to give yellows or greens, but post mods and other dyes can really extend the colour range. I can’t gather enough Solidago (Goldenrod), as the varieties that grow here are really mingy stunted little varieties. Ah, i miss the Ontario ones for colour, and beauty! (Not that i knew that when i lived there, oh so many many years ago…..)


Amazing what one plant, some pre and post mods, and 1 overdye colour can do. Note: these are all silk velvet, with tests to come on cotton and silk habotai.


Samara coming sooner-ish

The colours of naturally dyed velvet lately are starting to show on Samara, apt because while she represents Autumn in all its glory, these colours too are part of harvests and landscapes. (Click on her for a close-up.)

I’m fondling these as well, with ideas percolating. Velvet is a bit tricky, requiring more patience to stitch, but simple shapes and manipulation techniques might work. Maybe a sister to Samara? (As long as she doesn’t take coming up 3+ years to create….)

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)

cutchy cutchy coo, and fabric woes and lows

Every dyer knows about walnuts for deep browns. Walnuts don’t grow in Alberta. I have some frozen ones still, sent by a generous friend in Ontario, and intend to dig them out, but needed some browns *now*.

Cutch yields chocolate, toffee, cinnamon, clove, mocha—mm, all delicious sounding šŸ™‚ I’ve wanted to try it since i started noticing it in my “ethnic” embroidery research (India and the Mid/Central Asian regions), and for Mother’s Day, my darling son ordered me some (cutch extract) from Maiwa!

Cutch is a tannin and a dye, much like walnuts, quebracho rojo, or pomegranate. (Most of my fibres are previously mordanted though, as i like having them ready to go when the dyeing mood strikes. Pieces i want to overdye after the cutch, are already then tannined, in fact double tannined :).) I wasn’t impressed at first with the action in the dyepot, seeing a “nice” brown with distinctly pink overtones, but since it has to simmer for 2 hours, cool overnight, and there are many ways to shift the colour, i just let it be.

Recommended WOF being 20 to 50%, i used 30%. These fibres have been previously mordanted, with the exception of the lace far right.

I’d call most of these “mocha”, maybe even “mocha coral” :), vintagey, homey, warm and soft. The silk velvet obviously did the best at uptake, a rich foxy shade.


That cotton lace is a dense, heavily “woven” chunk.Ā  And when i say “woven”, yes i am aware that lace is more a thread manipulating process than weaving. I’d love to see the machines that wind these threads into these patterns! BUT, yesterday when i took the darkest piece out in the sun to check the actual colour, WHOA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, this is 100% cotton—except for the trapped fibres of plastic/synthetic in it: see the shiny bits, especially at left and top? Plastic is SO prevalent and polluting in our world, and we tend to take for granted that when we buy cotton, it will be uncontaminated by synthetics, but i’m guessing this place either makes synthetic laces as well, or fibres from plastic packaging of the original cotton getting trapped in the machine. Perhaps we should ask now for labels that say “made in a facility where nuts, gluten, what, soy and plastics are also used/manufactured….”



The newest “trend” in fabrics is abhorrent: hyberole and gimmick, targeting and misconception/deception are really heavy in these so called “organic” fabrics.Ā  I don’t care if it’s made from rose petals/rose waste, white pine, eucalyptus, bamboo, oranges or frickin fairy wings; it’s viscose/rayon, a fibre made from MANY different cellulose fibres (all plants are cellulose!), and the process is shockingly chemical laden, severely toxic and horrendously polluting. If i put a random pile of rayon fabrics in front of you, you would not be able to tell what was made from rose petals, or rotten rare spotted himalayan feather orchids…..I find it quite disgusting any company calling these sustainable, organic, vegan or eco-conscious, and just as disturbing that uninformed buyers clear this stuff out like it’s made from gossamer wings and moonbeams.Ā  I made the decision a long time ago to not buy or use rayon, as it’s nasty stuff period. There’s no such thing as “good quality” rayon, and even if there were, it ain’t coming in my studio!Ā  Don’t fall for makers that tell you these products are leaving no toxic footprint, educate them, but don’t don’t don’t buy.