Winter Dyeing- Dying for Spring


With no Saturday market to prepare for each week, our dye activity experienced a bit of a (well deserved) lull in the months of December and January. But we made up for our relative inactivity in February and March which saw a frenzy of thrift store sweater-recycling, mordanting and dyeing of left over yarn and dye-stuff.  

Native plants offer just a sliver of the color range available in the spring and summer. But a few young shoots braved late-winter soil to flaunt their soft spiny leaves: namely, Stinging Nettles. We found swaths of them carpeting portions of our new dye garden (before we tilled it) and just couldn't let such an abundance go to waste. Emily and I harvested a few pounds worth, simmered them down into an earthy and green smelling tea and supplemented a bit of iron to dye our wool a lovely sage green.

20140308_155544 Nettle shoots are rather tender so we only simmered them 20-30 minutes (after that they seem to turn into green sludge which is hard to strain out).

20140307_142459Next we immersed wet, pre-mordanted wool in the nettle tea and let it simmer slowly for about an hour. We found that without iron, the nettles dyed an unremarkable brownish yellow with a whisper of green (generally not an attractive combination). However with a glug of iron solution, the tea developed into a rich, if slightly dulled green. Many dye-books document iron's effect on a natural dye as "saddening" a color- often yielding lovely results.

Aside from helping us use up our Nettle spoils, our stove has been busy simmering dye plants we were able to preserve from the summer and fall:



-dried Marigold and Coreopsis flowers


- frozen and dry Salal berries (the dry berries offer only a cool light-to-medium grey)


- ammonia soaked lichen: Usnea (featured above) is just one of many which were historically used as dye plants.


- onion skins courtesy of Laughing Crow Farm's bounty


- frozen Dunkelfelder grapes (left over from Bainbridge Vineyard's Rose wine)

The option of preserving our summer crop of dye plants makes this fiber and dye business a wonderful asset to Emily as a farmer and shepherd. Emily works 12 hour a days most days a week April through September. But November, December and January feel startlingly calm in comparison. With all of our dry and frozen vegetation, we could (theoretically) be busy all year round! If this summer's dye garden doesn't fail miserably, we will have a dramatically larger and more diverse crop of color to occupy us for the coming year. Not to mention all the local volunteers that send up their shoots around now... Equisetum or Horsetail is just one of the many spring shoots I'm looking forward to cooking up! More about that in the coming month.

ps. the plant drawings above are featured as little tags on each skein of yarn we dye- elucidating the source of the color with which you're working. :)