A Summer of Dye Plants

Sep 23, 2012 by

My dyework is mostly done on this 1940s-vintage Wedgewood stove. I feel very fortunate to have this workhorse of a propane stove, capable of a low simmer, as well as that big iron cauldron.

The summer has just flown by this year, as I try and balance both running the dye CSA and working full-time at a new job. I have been thrilled and delighted by how prolific my black hollyhocks, marigolds and zinnias have been producing, and also managed to gather up yarrow, Vulpina Letharia lichen, tansy, bronze fennel, lodgepole pine bark and other plants over the warm months. I also managed to plant a large bed of Japanese Indigo, although these sweet, tender plants are hard to start in my climate, even under lights. Once in the ground, they took off in the early summer heat waves, and I made my first cutting.

Just-planted Japanese Indigo

Now, the Autumnal Equinox is here and the days are dramatically shorter. The first shipment went out, and a second is in preparation for early October. It is the harvest, the gathering-in time, and so my two CSA helpers, Linda and Stephanie, came over today to both process dried comfrey roots for packaging, and learn the basics of dye work.

Linda and Stephanie clean and break apart comfrey roots to package for shipping.

We mordanted some skeins in alum, and cut French broom, growing across the road from my farm… an invasive in California getting put to good use. The broom went into the iron pot to simmer for a lovely medium-olive green – OD to some, while we added black hollyhock flowers to the alum pot. The hollyhock recipe we used came from Harvesting Color, Rebecca Burgess’ book, which can be purchased from The Fibershed Project website, and is a slow, low simmer for a few hours, so we set up another pot with weld, a gift from a friend. I hadn’t planted weld this year, but we were so pleased with the cool, ‘spring’ yellow that we obtained, I decided to put it on the list for next season. There are so many plants that provide yellow dyes, and I already am planning to harvest and dye with aspen again this year, but each have different qualities of color.. the beauty of natural dyes!

Evening arrived with wools drying on the rack, and the hollyhock bath cooling and steeping overnight. Here’s a few photos of the hollyhock yarn… a surprise from what we expected. It is a lovely lavender!

Look at that beautiful color!

Our almost-finished yarns, dyed a beautiful lavender from black hollyhocks.

Related Posts


Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *