samedi 5 novembre 2011


I've just returned from a family vacation to Corsica.  It was our first trip to the granite isle, and I was dumbstruck by the wild beauty of the island.

A wild olive tree
I'm only sorry that I didn't bring some skeins of wool along for dyeing.  There were dye plants everywhere.  It's a dyers paradise.  I saw mushrooms, lichens, eucalyptus trees, olive leaves, wild fennel, pomegranate trees, Holm oaks, and so many others.

Roccapina Beach

The maquis is a mess of aromatic trees and shrubs.  I'm sure many of them are full of dye color.

The maquis
The only thing I spirited home with me was a small sack of windfall lichens. 

Lobaria Scrobiculata?
 I'm sure this wasn't our last trip to Corsica.  I'm already dreaming of camping on the beach and mordanting yarns with sea water.

mercredi 5 octobre 2011

The Fruits of Fall

I'm always on the lookout for new plants and I often find myself stopping on the side of the road to investigate trees.  I've noticed a few "wild" fruit trees in the area and managed to bring a branch home from one of them.  The fruits are about the size of a crab apple and have a soft red blush on one side.

Service berries
 I've identified the tree as a service berry tree (Cormier, in French).  It is, in fact, not a wild tree.  Someone must have planted it a long time ago.  It's an old fashioned fruit tree.  Most people don't know about it.  It's actually a protected species in certain European countries.  The fruit can be used for jam making, but only after they've been bletted.  I'll go back and pick some before the first frosts.

Service berry leaf.
Most fruit trees give good dye color.  I've noticed that leaves that retain a lot of color after they've been dried are often a good source of dye. 
I decided to do a couple of test pots with some other odds and ends that I'd picked up on a walk with the kids.  The other pots were, Cornelian cherries, laurel leaves, lichen, and the leaves from the service berry tree.

Clockwise starting at top left:Cornelian cherries, laurel leaves, Service berry leaves, lichen "peltigera canina"
The berries stained the wool a nice shade of pink.  I doubt that the color will be light fast, but I do remember reading somewhere that some part of the cornelian cherry was used to dye the traditional Fez, red.  Maybe this was done with the bark or the roots.  The lichen "peltigera canina" didn't produce any color at all, which is odd, because this particular lichen is supposed to produce a yellow tan, possibly a soft pink with ammonia.  Maybe I didn't cook it long enough.  I did send it for a spin in the microwave, but that didn't seem to do anything.

Left to Right:Service berries, Service berry leaf test, laurel leaf test, Cornelian cherry test
The laurel leaves produced a soft yellow, but the service berry leaves dyed the wool a very bright shade of yellow.  The leaves are an interesting shape and should work well for leaf impressions.  I'd like to do a test with my copper pot.  Maybe they'll make a good green.  All of my samples were mordanted with alum and processed in glass jars with tap water.
I'll leave you with a photo that I took of a pear.  The colors reminded me of my test samples.  I'd love to dye a skein of sock wool with these soft Fall colors.

A Fall pear

vendredi 9 septembre 2011

Unexpectedly Green

I've been doing some dyeing this week, and I've had a lot of surprises...some of them better than others.  One of the nice things about natural dyeing is that most natural colors are attractive regardless of whether or not they were the intended result. 
This week I cut down a few of my Hopi black dye sunflowers and prepared a dye bath from the seed heads.  I was expecting a lovely violet color.  I got a deep spruce green. 

Hopi black dye sunflowers in my garden
The lighter skein on the right is the skein from my previous post.  That skein was dyed in a bath made from regular sunflower heads, and a few leaves and petals, in a copper pot. 

I can't tell you why I ended up with green wool.  My hands were stained purple from the seeds as I tore up the seed heads.  The dye bath was a dark purple.  The skein looked purple for the first minute or so and and then it started to shift to green.  The bath was processed in a stainless steel pot, and I'm sure that there was no contamination from iron. 
I think Ph is playing a large part in my unexpected color shift.  The water that I use for dyeing is softened and has a higher Ph as a result.  I've ordered some Ph papers.  I think being able to test the Ph of my dye baths will greatly increase my ability to control my results.  It should also help me in the development of my own dye recipes. 
Here are the five skeins that I dyed for Ambre Danicour.  They're all Maco Merinos wool.  I think I may have to order myself a sweaters worth of this yarn.  It's amazingly soft and takes dye beautifully.  All of the skeins in this post were pre-mordanted with alum.

Left to Right: Onion skins, madder root, Hopi black dye sunflowers, coreopsis tinctoria, madder root

lundi 5 septembre 2011

A Copper Pot

A while back I bought an old hand hammered copper pot.  It was very dirty and, because of that, I managed to get it a good price.  It's been sitting in my fireplace holding dried herbs and waiting for a  scrub.

An old pot on a very modern stove top
Last week I put some serious sweat equity into my copper pot.  There was a horrible smelling layer of burnt crust, which I sanded away.  After the sanding started to take up a bit too much of the copper I asked a friend how best to continue.  She told me to clean the pot using a solution of vinegar and salt. 
1/2 cup salt or more
1/3 cup vinegar
and a little water if you want to use less vinegar

Do your cleaning in a well ventilated area and wear gloves. My hands turned blue and the house smelled like a penny jar. 
The chemical reaction does a lot of the cleaning.  I left my pot to sit over night.  You can prop the pot at different angles in order to avoid using too much vinegar.  I would recommend using large salt as it helps with the scrubbing.  I couldn't get all of the black spots out, but I figured that if I couldn't scrub it off, it probably wasn't going to leave marks on my wool.

A sunflower from my garden
When I'd finished scrubbing I was so eager to use my new (old) pot that I ran out to the garden to find some dye stuffs.  I cut down a few small sunflower heads and chopped them up.  They were old and had lost most of their petals, but the bath did contain a few petals and a couple of leaves.

The sunflower bath
The dye material weighed about 150g. After an hour at a low boil I strained off the dye bath added cold water and poured the whole mixture back into the rinsed out copper pot.  The bath was a striking deep reddish brown.  I added an alum mordanted 100g skein of BFL superwash sock wool to the bath.  I heated this to a low simmer and let it cook for about an hour.  I cut the heat and let the skein sit in the pot overnight. 

The skein before it sat in a bath overnight
Never underestimate the benefits of patience.  I was rewarded with a lovely medium spruce green skein. 

This skein is darker in real life.
It's hard to photograph greens, and these pictures don't do the color justice.   I'm very pleased with the color.  Using a copper pot will open up a whole new world of natural greens.

samedi 3 septembre 2011

More to Come

I've been absent from the blog for a couple of months now.  I wanted to enjoy my summer as much as possible and it's hard to justify hours in front of the internet when I could be swimming or picking blackberries with the boys.

The other reason that I took a break was that Myrtille and I had a falling out.  The division of our business was less than amicable, but I was able to salvage the blog.

I haven't made up my mind yet about whether or not to go forward with a business.  I absolutely love natural dyeing and invested quite a bit in setting up a dye kitchen.  I'm toying with a couple of ideas.  One of the benefits of the dissolution of our partnership is more creative freedom.   

If life has taught me anything, it's to make the best of what I have.  I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures in the dye kitchen with all of you.  I'll keep you posted about any future plans.


samedi 18 juin 2011

1000g of wool

I dyed nine skeins of wool and one 100g hank of roving today. 

Coreopsis tinctoria
 The first three hanks were dyed with various flowers from my dye garden.  I've been cutting and drying them for about two weeks now.  They were a mix of coreopsis tinctoria, yellow and orange marigolds, dyers camomile and a couple of Mexican zinnias.  They were a mix of dried and fresh flowers so weighing them wouldn't have mattered.  I'm guessing that there were about 100g of flowers total.

First and second mixed flower dye extractions

 The first extraction produced a vibrant orange.  Two subsequent baths produced softer and duller peachy oranges. I used the exhaust baths to dye 100g of Shetland roving.
The best surprise of the day was a test I did with some dried chocolate cosmos.  The sample is a deep olive green with warm orange overtones.

Chocolate cosmos test

I made a few more baths with fermented lichen liquors. 

Dyeing with fermented lichen liquor

I saved the leftover lichen for a second fermentation.

The leftover lichen

The last bath was a bit of an experiment.  It was an "ice flower" bath made from dark purple petunias and pansies.  I got the idea from India Flint's book "Eco Colour".  The flowers are frozen and then boiling water is poured over then.  The dye is massaged out and then the skein of wool is added.  It's not a light fast dye, but I though I'd give it a try.  The bath was a bright blue until I added the skein of wool.  Apparently these flower dyes are very sensitive to ph.

Ice flower bath
All of the yarns I dyed today were premordanted with alum.

mardi 7 juin 2011

Weld and Broom

I've been very busy preparing for our very first wool festival here in the Lot.  Thankfully, I've found some time this week for dyeing.  It always helps to have a large stash of mordanted wool just waiting for the pot. 
A few coreopsis flowers drying in a bowl.
 The other day, while on a drive, I saw out of the corner of my eye a large patch of weld growing on the side of the road.  Upon closer inspection I discovered that it was in fact two patches of weld, and so I cut a few stalks and left the rest to reseed itself.  The weld plants were easily taller than I am and my husband laughed as I tried to cram them into our car.
 Weld has long been used by dyers as a reliable source of yellow, and in tandem with woad or indigo to make a bright green.  I cut up my treasure and threw it into a dye pot.  After three extractions I had enough dye liquor to dye about 500g of wool.
The weld bath
It didn't come out quite as expected.  I've never used weld before, but I thought it would give me a good solid yellow with no green undertones, instead I got something closer to celadon than yellow.  It's a lovely color, but there's also a surprising amount of variegation.

The second weld bath

For my second dye pot I chose the use the perfumed yellow pea like flowers of the broom plant.  I gathered about 300g of just the flowers and made up a bath.  The bath didn't look very strong, but it was full of dye.  I dyed a 100g skein of merino silk laceweight. 

A skein dyed with broom drying in the shower
 Then I decided to make a second bath with the same flowers and I added it to the first bath.  I threw in two skeins of bulky weight merino wool.  They came out a bright buttery yellow.  There was obviously still some dye left in the bath so I added two more skeins of wool,  some sport weight merino.  It's already a nice delicate yellow.  I can't believe how much dye I've gotten out of so few flowers.  I'll have to go out and gather more. 
I also managed to find some time to start collecting plant materials to sell. 

Everlasting flowers drying
 The yarrow and the everlasting are both in bloom right now, and they make nice squat aromatic bundles. 

Everlasting in bloom
 My fig was sending up too many suckers, so I hung up a bunch of fig leaves to dry. 

Fig and cardoon leaves drying
My cardoons are about to flower, so It's the perfect time to take a few leaves.  My house is fast turning into an upside down garden. 

samedi 21 mai 2011

Avocado Pits and Skins

I've been very busy getting ready for our big debut at the "Le Lot et La Laine" festival in July.  This hasn't left me with a lot of time to take pictures of my work, but I did manage to snap a few photos of a batch of skeins that I dyed with avocado pits and skins.

The dye kitchen
 Here's my method.  Wash skins and pits carefully.  Chop them up into little pieces and throw them in a zip lock bag in the freezer until you have enough for a dyeing session.  Find a nice large glass jar with a tight fitting lid and fill about one third of the jar with the frozen pits and skins.  Fill the jar up with a mixture of one part ammonia to two parts water.  Shake it up whenever you pass by the jar and let it ferment for at least a couple of days.  I let mine ferment for a week.  Be sure to filter the solution before you use it for dyeing.  I like to use pieces of old cotton bed sheets for filtering.  Coffee filters take too long.

Mohair skeins in the dye bath

Mohair skeins dyed with avocado pits and skins.
  I wasn't very scientific about this particular dye session, but it went very well.  I dyed four 100g skeins of mohair and two 100g skeins of silk merino lace weight with only about 200g of dye stuffs.  The mohair took a long time to absorb the dye.  

Mohair drying on the line.
The silk merino laceweight took the dye beautifully, but did seem to pick up some dark patches.  They might have come from a little bit of residue at the bottom of the pot.  I have another bag of chopped up avocado pits in the freezer right now.  Skins and pits give dusty rose colors.  Pits only give red-oranges.  I'm looking forward to trying the pits on their own. 

jeudi 24 mars 2011

Lichen Troubles

I've just found out, the hard way, that light fastness is a serious issue.  This morning I took a rose pink lichen dyed skein out of the bath and hung it on the line to dry.  I hung it in the shade, but over the course of a couple of hours the sun moved, and my skein changed colors radically.

I'm looking into ways of making the pink light fast.  I hope that I can figure this out.  The original pink was so bright and unusual.  I've never heard of lichens fading this quickly.  The skein was probably only in the sun for an hour.  The pale blue is pretty, but I don't think it's light fast either.  I'll have to do some more tests.

jeudi 17 mars 2011


This is a monster post, but I have so many things to report.  We've had a bit of rainy weather, but that hasn't stopped me from dyeing.  After my day with Myrtille, I managed to get some samples made from our little dye tests.  Here are the samples.

Left to Right: Madder tops and roots, Cornelian cherry branches, Cornelian cherry flowers

I was very happy to have found another good source of yellow dye.  The flowers from the cornelian cherry are beginning to fade, but they'll be a welcome addition to the dye pot next year.  They're one of the first things to flower in our area.   Interestingly, the cornelian cherry is not a true cherry, but rather a member of the dogwood family.  The fruits are edible, but are not very palatable.  I've used them with blackberries to make a good jam.

Sample from cornelian cherry flowers.

The wild madder tops and roots were interesting.  I've got all kinds of ideas about how to make use of this wild plant.  The sample is a lovely orange with a touch of red where the sample was in contact with the roots.

The cornelian cherry bark sample is a weak golden olive color, but bark usually takes a lot longer to give up good color.  I'll try it again some other time.

Today I had one alum mordanted skein sitting in a bucket of rinse water and I thought I'd try a bit of bundling a la India Flint.  I chose oak moss, Holm oak leaves and onion skins.  I didn't want to have trouble picking out the vegetable matter later.  I squeezed the excess water out of the skein, and laid it out on a nonreactive tray. 

It took a little while to layer in all of the leaves, lichen and skins, but it was a lot of fun.

I used a bit of old cotton sheet to hold on a final layer before I tied it all up like a roast.  I put the bundle in a steamer basket and steamed it for about 40 min.  I turned it over once or twice while it was steaming.
The steamed bundle.
I let it cool, and then I unwrapped it.

I think I was supposed to wait a day or two, but I couldn't help myself. 


 It was easy to pick out dye stuffs, even while wet.  There were some very cool colors.  The Holm oak leaves didn't seem to dye at all, but they may have reacted with the onion skins to leave some blue and green marks.  Next time, I'll try freezing them before using them for contact dyeing.

This method was so much fun, and such a great way to get a painted look.  I'm going to make a couple of dye concentrates to finish off this skein.  The next time I do hot bundling, I'll try and leave them rolled up for a couple of days.  Even the little piece of cotton cloth that I used to wrap up the bundle was dyed.

Last but not least, I've taken some pictures of my growing pile of naturally dyed skeins (BFL/nylon sock wool).  They look so pretty all lined up together. 

Left to Right: 2 skeins sage 1st bath, mushrooms, carrot tops 1st and 2nd bath, 2 juniper skeins, 2 skeins sage 2nd bath  
Left to Right: Sage, Mushrooms, Carrot, Carrot 2nd bath

Holm Oak leaves first bath, Hellebore flowers 1st bath
The Holm oak dyed skeins are my favorite. 

Holm oak leaf dyed skein still wet from the bath.

Holm oak leaf skein from the 1st bath.
  The fist bath is a warm chestnut color, and the second bath is almost as intense, but cooler in tone.

Holm oak leaf dyed skeins 1st and second baths.
The first hellebore bath came out just like the sample. 

Hellebore flower dyed skein, 1st bath.
The exhaust bath produced a soft lemony skein.

Skeins drying.  Second bath holm oak leaves and hellebore flowers.
Next week I'll see if I can come up with some good greens.