Monday, December 19, 2011

New blog sites that are great!

I stumbled on two new blogs today while searching for eco-printing on paper.  I'm having a little difficulty attaching them to my blog list, but I don't want you to miss them.  Wendy Felberg at and Casandra Tondro at  They are two really fine artists, and both have contributed information that I had not run across before in our field.  Take a few minutes to check them out.  It will be well worth your time.  Some of you already are familiar with them and their works, but for those of you who aren't, don't miss them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Loving Autumn's Bounty!

This is a wonderful time of the year for dyers.  There is such a huge collection of things to choose from to make colors and prints with.  On the left is a photograph of 3 silk scarves that were all dyed/printed with Autumn leaves, bits of metal and cooked in an iron pot for an hour.  The left scarf is a combination of wild cherry and maple leaves combined with rectangles of steel mesh used in stucco and plaster work.  It almost looks reptilian.
The middle scarf is all maple leaves.  This scarf barely showed any color or print at all until I dipped it in vinegar after dyeing.  Then the leaf shapes and even some red color came up.  The right scarf is maple and persimmon leaves folded into a long rectangle, then the rectangle was folded into triangles (like folding a flag) then clamped with steel binder clips on all edges before dyeing.   These scarves were all simmered for an hour.  They were placed in Ziplock bags immediately after removing from the pot and allowed to sit for 5 days.  It is best to wait longer, but when using iron or steel metal parts, best to check after 3 days to make sure the reaction is not eating holes in your fabric.  Five days seemed to be the max I would risk, so I took the bundles to a Natural Dye class I was teaching at the Pioneer Florida Museum, and I let the students open the bundles at the very beginning of class to show them where we were headed.  They were thrilled, and I was very pleased with the results.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Wonders of Nature!

There is a chill n the air, but the days are still dry and beautiful.  I have seen some unusual Autumn sights this year. I wonder what they portend?  At least they are giving me a wonderful selection of materials to dye with.
The wild cherry trees in my yard usually drop yellow leaves that turn brown quickly and only in small amounts.  This year the treas have had brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves and have dropped most of their leaves over a three day period.  This afforded me a great opportunity to gather some of each color to dye a silk scarf.  I had gone to the river to renew my supply of river water heavy in tannic acid.  While at the river, I found about 30 beer bottle caps in different states of rusting.  I picked them up, brought them home and rinsed them.  I put them in a cup of water with some vinegar to encourage more rusting overnight.  The next morning  I gathered a great selection of Wild Cherry leaves and along with the bottle caps, I wrapped them in a silk habotai scarf around a Jacaranda stick, bound them with rubber bands and put them in the rice cooker with 3 cups of water to steam for an hour.  When they were steamed, I took them out and put the bundle in a ziplock bag and set it aside for 4 days.  When I opened the bundle, hung it to dry and then photographed it.  See photo on left.  I called the scarf Cherry Liquer.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Autumn Bounty

It is a wonderful time of the year.  Colors are changing, leaves are falling. There is a chill in the air that urges us to hurry before it is all gone.  I have been gathering acorns, hickory nuts, goldenrod, beautifully colored leaves of Dogwood and Wild Cherry, a few Oak leaves and red maple.
I went out to the river again and found a bounty of bottle caps to use in rusting.  I also found some beautiful red American Creeper Vine leaves.
I discovered there is quite a difference in the color achieved when dyeing with Goldenrod (Solidago) in different stages of maturity.  The young fresh flowers gave me a beautiful brilliant yellow and the older more mature goldenrod after being dried for storage gave a deep gold.  The same dyebath of young goldenrod when left to sit in the pot for 5 days, gave a lovely golden tan on silk that I had twisted and tied in a shibori fashion.  I will post those photos so you can see the difference.
Don't forget to gather sumac and Beautyberries, and there is still time to gather a few sunflowers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wabi Sabi

Sometimes we are presented a gift that takes your breath away.  Today I was a fortunate recipient of such a gift.  As I walked along the pathway of our local wilderness park.  A gentle breeze ruffled the trees and a solitary leaf fell and landed in the grass along the trail.  At that moment a cloud moved and the sunlight poured through,  accenting the Autumn colors in the leaf.  What a beautiful sight!  I was so fortunate to have brought my camera and was able to capture that image just at that moment.  The photo on the right entitled Wabi Sabi is the result.

The silent fall
To rest on strands of green,
The light a lovely accent,
My heart sang.

Natural dyeing is more that taking plant color and transferring it to fabric.  It is also appreciating the Art that is in Nature.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rust Dyeing 101

One of my dyeing friends asked about rusting.  I will try to explain the method I use.  It is by no means the only method, but it has been successful for me.
First a word of warning.  Dry rust can cause problems for some people.  It can mess up your hemoglobin if you handle it to much with your bare hands.  Be safe, wear gloves when handling rusty objects.  Wet pieces do not seem to cause this problem, but play it safe anyway.
I usually start by laying down a piece of plastic.  I place a piece of fabric that has been well-soaked in vinegar on the plastic and arrange my pieces of metal on top in a design that pleases me.  Then I take a spray bottle of water and spritz over the entire piece to thoroughly wet the metal.  You can either place another piece of vinegar soaked fabric on top or just lay another piece of plastic over your design.  The fabric will pick up a mirrored image of your design if you place a little weight on top.  The top of the pile is always another piece of plastic.  This piece of plastic is there to slow the evaporation of the moisture in the pile.  Air must be able to enter in order for rust to form, so do not try to make it airtight.  Leave for 24 hrs, then remove the plastic and check your design.  If it needs more moisture, spritz again with water and recover for a few more hours.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Change is Coming!

I walked outside this morning and immediately felt the change in the air.  The weather was cool and crisp.  A dense fog hovered just above the ground in the field.  The sun had that lovely glow that only an early fall morning can reveal.  I saw several wild cherry leaves on the ground as I stepped off the back porch.  Bright yellow and some were spattered with red or brown.  Somewhere in the neighborhood some one was burning leaves and wood.  The faintest whisper of smoke was on the air.  Even the dog notices the change.  It will not last long.  By nine it will be in the 80's or higher, and summer will continue.
I have been gathering acorns all week.  I have separated the caps from the nuts.  Yesterday I made my first acorn dyes.  I made one from 4 ounces of caps and a half-gallon of tap water.  The other one was 4 ounces of the nuts in their hulls and also in a half-gallon of tap water.  Each were boiled for 1/2 hour in an aluminum pot. The dye bath made from caps only looked dark brown.  The dye bath made from the whole nuts looked almost black.  I simmered bleached cotton in the dye baths for 20 minutes.  The results may be seen in the photo Nuts! on this page.
The results were surprising.  I expected much darker color from both.  I added another piece of muslin with a RR spike rolled up inside the cloth and added it to the pot of dye made from caps only.  After 20 minutes, I could see a change in the color of the bath and some black peeking through the fabric.  The acid and the tannins reacted with the iron and created the gray-black.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We are Growing!

We natural dyers are attracting more and more people every day.  I am so happy to see the new faces that join the group and that are learning to create beautiful fabrics and fibers in such a sustainable fashion.  The other amazing part of this group is that we come from all parts of the World.  Even though our languages are different, our plant varieties different, we somehow manage to communicate the processes of dyeing with plant materials so that everyone understands them.  With so many wonderful blogs being added around the world, even those not subscribing to Facebook can get the information they need.  I have found the natural and eco dyers to be open and willing to share any and all tricks of the trade they have.  By sharing the skills, we share the joy of what we do.  When we share photos, they say so much more than do the words.
I encourage all of you who read my blog to participate as much as you can with your fellow dyers.  Freely exchange information and your own work will improve from that exchange.  Share photos when you can, you don't need to be a fancy photographer either.  Ask questions.  After all, we are all here for the same reason.  We love to dye naturally, we are all learning and even if we have been doing this for many years, there is always something more to learn.  Enjoy the day.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Coming Back Soon!

I have been so tied up getting ready for the Pioneer Days at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village that I haven't had much time to work on my blog.  I had such huge interest in my natural dyeing that I have been asked to hold classes at the Museum for people to learn to dye in traditional ways and in eco-dyeing.  This is great news!  It means people really are interested in getting away from the use of chemical dyes and really enjoy the colors that Mother Nature provides us.  I'm really looking forward to my talk at the Pasco County Historical Society on natural dyeing on the 16th of September.
The acorns are beginning to fall and I am collecting them as fast as I can.  I want a good supply to experiment with when fall really arrives.  The leaves of the dogwood trees are turning some beautiful colors.  Now that Pioneer Days are over, I hope to get some dye prints from them.
My Hairy Indigo (Indigofera hirsuta) is just breaking into bloom, it is time to harvest and ferment.  I don't expect a dark indigo color from this plant, but it would be nice to get a light blue.  I will report on my progress.  I also found a creeping Indigofera.  I haven't identified the species yet, but I will photo and post as soon as I have.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Harvest Time!

This is becoming my favorite time of the year.  Not only is summer coming to a close, but that means that cooler weather will bring changing leaf colors, fruits ripen for harvest, Mother Nature will put on her finest and give use a hand shopping for dyestuffs.  It is a marvelous time of the year.  I have been granted a boon, in a sense.  This is the year when the local electric company trimmed their rights-of-way and the new sprouts are shooting up all over.  That means I get to pick and choose the colors of foliage I want to work with.  It is also much lower and I can reach it better.  This also means that I can pick up firewood that they have cut down for me.  All you have to do is ask and they will let you take away some branches. It means they don't have to shred them or haul them away. Oak trees here in Florida are already dropping acorns.  The live oaks and certain white oaks have  a good crop on them.  Gathering them only takes a few minutes and they store well for dyeing with later.  I had another stroke of luck thanks to Hurricane Irene.  The winds she brought to my area shook down a whole lot of hickory nuts.   I picked up 20 lbs. in about 15 minutes.  I will begin extracting them tomorrow.  Today I stopped where a road crew was cutting goat willow alongside the road and they gave me about 15 branches.  I have a pot of willow dye on now.  I will dry some of the branches for dyeing with later in the fall.  It makes a beautiful yellow color, and is very versatile.  I have been asked to give a talk at our local Historical Society about natural dyeing the way the early pioneers did.  I will be making several batches of dye to show the dye color and the finished fabric.  I'm really looking forward to it.  I think I will try some mud dyeing also.  We have some beautiful red clay type soil in my area and I think I can get a successful dye from it.  If I do, I will post photos on the blog.
I hope everyone is enjoying this blog.  Please feel free to post comments or suggestions.  Don't be bashful.  just click on "comments" at the end of each blog, and add yours.      Be back in a little while.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Here I Am Again!

Well, I'm finally back.  My silk order came in and I had to play a bit.  In between, 2 more of my cousins died, one 89 and one 36.  It's been a tough month on the Dennisons.  Ma is still hanging in there (she's 95) and is still in good spirits.  She is fascinated by my dye experiments, and she tells me stories about the old days when her grandmother would dye clothes before handing them down to the next user.  Ma has got a lot of common sense, and can make some good suggestions.  By the time you reach 95, you've tried most things and learned a bit about the right way to approach them.  If I listen to her advice, I figure it will save me a lot of trouble.  I thought she would bust a gut though when I told her about getting fabric rusty on purpose and burying it in the compost pile.  But after she thought about for a while, it seemed to make sense and she started making suggestions on things to try.  I told her about a friend printing with cut up avocado pits, and she said she wanted to see one.  So I did one.  A photo of it will be on the left side of this page, entitled Avocado Pinwheel.  She has a big old Podocarpus tree and I told her I picked some berries from it to dye with and she wasn't sure the berries would do much as they had never stained her clothes.  Well, the print turned out kind of nice.  It is on the left also, entitled PodoBerries.

Monday, August 8, 2011


I think I  am going to jump ahead a little.  I was going to talk about dyeing with simple things.  Instead, I am going to show you my latest adventure of dyeing my first silk scarf with simple things.  In one photo you will see the little 8"x54" white silk scarf after it had been bundled with Eucalyptus (euca) leaves, euca bark, willow leaves, yellow onion skins then boiled for 1 Hr. in a pokeberry dyebath.  Right here let me say that the pokeberry plant (Phytolaca) is toxic.  Birds eat the berries without ill effect because the tiny seeds containing the toxins pass right through.  The rest of the plant is unusable.  DO NOT cook the plant stems, leaves and especially the roots! Handle the berries with gloves, not because of the toxins, but because they will stain your hands dark purple.  I put one gallon of water in an enameled kettle, and brought the water to a boil.  I added the pokeberries and as they simmered, I mashed them against the walls of the kettle. I bundled the scarf with its contents around a wooden spoon and tied it with string.  I then immersed the bundle in the kettle and weighted it down with a small glass jar that I had slid sideways into the kettle so the inside and outside would be the same temperature.  When the kettle returned to the boil, I let it boil for one Hr., turned the burner off and let the bundle cool in the dyebath.  About 5 hrs. later the dyebath was cool.  I took the bundle out, opened it gently and hung it on  the clothesline to dry. (to be continued).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What Do I Dye With?

Where does the color come from?  It's all around you.  First let's get some terminology settled.  I will use the term natural  for things found in their natural state.  Flowers, leaves, scrap metal, sticks, bark, mud, etc.  I will use the term eco for natural things that we find around us, provided for the most part by Nature, used with the least "processed" methods possible, (i.e.:  Solar heating, cooking, composting, rusting, etc.)  I am not a purist.  There is beauty in everything around us if we only take the time to look, and look closely.  If you are a fiber artist, you will revel in the detail that Mother Nature provides us with; color texture, line.  On the left I have provided a couple of photos to show you lovely color obtained without synthesized chemicals on simple unbleached muslin and cotton scrim.  We have already discussed re-purposing.  In the photos you can see a few things with iron added to the dyebath. That iron came from boiling 2 Railroad spikes that I found during a walk along the railroad tracks.  I could have laid the spikes directly on the fabric and wet it , then let it rust as another technique.  But I was a beginning dyer who was anxious to get the "show on the road" as you must be.  I did make a gallon of iron extract from boiling the RR  spikes, and still use it in some dyebaths.  As you can see, iron can really darken your colors.  Don't be afraid to use it though.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sorry for the delay.

I had a death in my family and will not be able to post again until tomorrow.  Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What are we going to Dye!

You have your water, your pots or jars so now you need something to dye.  For practice you can try anything, but better to start with scraps of protein fibers (wool or silk) or cellulose fibers (cotton rayon or bamboo).  This is about re-purposing, so think about using some of your old cotton T shirts, pillowcases or sheets.  If you have silk undies you don't mind trying that's great.  Me, I'm not fortunate enough to wear silk undies!  But if you DO have them, maybe you want to see if you can change them.  Also, if you have wool fabric or roving or just clipped wool then you have stuff to dye with.
Some fabrics will have to be prepared for dyeing(PFD).  All fabrics should be washed and rinsed well.  Maybe put through a second rinse.  If you are going to dye these fabrics right away, no need to put in a dryer because wet fabric should be placed in the dyebath, not dry.  It will start to absorb color right away and usually will not give you that blotchy effect.  If that blotchy effect is what you want, however, use dry fabric.  Silk and wool generally don't need anything else done to them before dyeing.  If you plan to try eco printing, there are a couple of things you need to do before putting your fabric in the dye.  We will get to that next.

Now that we are all wet, what's next?

With all of this water we've been talking about, we are going to need something to put it in and use it.  Fortunately the art of eco dyeing exists in a world just made for re-purposing (recycling if you like).  Many items you have lying around can suddenly find a new life and uses in eco dyeing.  Whether it is an old enameled canning kettle, a cast iron cauldron formerly used for washing clothes or scalding hogs, or one gallon glass jars that used to hold pickles; all of these things find their place in this wonderful form of natural dyeing.  Let your imagination run free in trying to re-purpose items around you.
Some of the things that you use to make dyes will need to be cooked using a heat source.  Some of them can be Solar cooked.  You may want to dye large amounts of fabric or just make a test sample.  There are everyday things just waiting to be re-used for these purposes.
If you do not have a collection of these items on hand, there is no need to rush out and buy expensive pots or kettles.  Visit your local thrift or charity store.  You can find many treasures and help a worthy cause at the same time.  Canning jars, flower vases, crockery, mixing bowls all become your helpers in eco dyeing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Getting ready to dye naturally

Might as well get the basics down for those of you who are new or relatively new to natural dyeing.  There is not a lot you need to begin, and experimenting on your own is as lot of fun; but if you are wanting results that you can begin to predict a little and possibly see again and again, there are some things to know up front.
I has been raining heavily over the last week.  If you are an outdoor person, this would sound horrible.  If you are a dye person however, this is a great thing!  Rainwater and more rainwater.  This is truly a Godsend for the natural dyer.  Water plays a very important role in the dye process.  The ph (acidity or alkalinity) of your water can change your dye colors drastically.  Many flower dyebaths are acid.  If you dye a fabric in the acid dyebath, you may change that color by dipping the fabric in an alkaline solution after dyeing (i. e.: baking soda solution, or an alkaline soap).  Most rain waters are in the neutral zone on the ph scale, depending on where you live and what the rainwater passes through on it's way from the sky.  If you live in an area like Los Angeles, your rainwater will pick up all kinds of particles from automobile exhaust fumes that change the acidity of the rainwater.  If you live in the Serengeti (and are lucky enough to get rain), it would be less acid.  So water is your first need in natural dyeing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Welcome to my blog spot.  I'm am totally new at this so please bear with me.  I am a new dye person.  My interests are quite varied, but dyeing is the link that joins them all.  I keep a Dye Photos album on Facebook under the name James Dennison.  I hope we can all share ideas and techniques here.  Welcome again.