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.