A Ray of Hope in a Sea of Drab
Well the dye experiments continue. My earlier trials have been with non-native varieties of sunflowers and pear trees, but now I am getting into the native plants.
Here is my dye notebook so far –
A lot of the samples seem to be losing whatever color they had and slowly turning tan. All the modifiers I have tried – copper, ammonia, and vinegar – don’t seem to be doing much, so for now I am just sampling different plants to see what I get.
In Wild Color, Jenny Dean got some amazing pinks from elm bark, so I was excited to try that. I have a lot of Winged Elm.
I let the twigs soak for a week as she advises. Then I put them in the dye pot, heated them to a simmer for an hour or two, added the yarn, and left it in the pot for five days. I got a nice strong russet-tan, but I don’t think I will do this again – it’s a lot of waiting for a pretty ordinary color.
Then I tried this mystery plant. I think it’s in the hawthorn family, but it doesn’t have any thorns. If anyone can tell me what it is, I’d appreciate it. It could be a mayhaw, but it doesn’t bear fruit.
I just put some leaves and twigs in a glass pot, poured boiling water over it, and added yarn mordanted with alum. The color showed up so quickly, I decided to try it in the heated dye pot too. I left the yarn in about 48 hours, and got some very strong yellows.
But here is the best one so far! This is Southern Bayberry –
and I treated it the same way as the mystery plant – just fill a glass jar, pour boiling water on top, and let it sit. The resulting yellows are so clear. Another nice thing about bayberry is that it doesn’t have any thorns. I think it would make a great plant for a dye demonstration, because it’s safe and quick, and it smells beautiful!
It makes a great overdye. Here, on the left, is a dye-only, no-mordant sample from the solar jar. The middle sample was initially one of those nondescript tan colors from the pear leaves dye. I think the bayberry gave it a nice color. On the right is a sample from the sunflower dye – it was partly pinky-tan and partly gray-green. After being in the bayberry solar jar for 24 hours, it is a consistent mushroom brown – it got the same effect as if I had put it in an iron dip, but without the harsh effects of the iron.
We are having some unusually cool weather, so I am working outside a lot. It’s nice to take a little break and check on a dye jar a couple times during the day.
The sunflowers are done for the year. While I was trying to get some final shots of them, I saw this bee. Once I had zoomed in on the computer, I spotted her companion! It’s just another part of the fun of gathering plants for natural dyes!