As any Midwesterner worth their salt knows, rhubarb is the true sign of spring. Specifically a pie, crisp, or other culinary delight. My family has been blessed by the rhubarb gods – our plants are prolific, massive, and darn near impossible to kill. They may or may not have even emigrated to Utah (shhhh).
In the reading I’ve been doing recently about natural and plant based dyeing, rhubarb has come up more than once. I’ve read the roots offer orange colors while the leaves can be used as a mordant (seriously, gotta do that nomenclature post), and maybe some green/yellow color? I already knew what to do with the stems.
So. Since we had some company visiting I had to be a little sneaky with my dye obsession. I decided to make a rhubarb crisp (scroll down for my favorite recipe!)… and just happened to toss some leaves into the dye pot. Roots would wait for another day!
I ended up with 13 oz of rhubarb leaves completely effortlessly since they are massive. Remember that the leaves are poisonous if eaten due to their high oxalic acid content (nephrotoxic to people, dogs, etc), so usually these guys end up in the compost bin. Today my leaves got roughly chopped and tossed in the dedicated aluminum dye pot (don’t cook and dye in the same pots kids). I low simmered them for 1/2 hour down in the dye lab while I made crisp* in the kitchen (recipe at the end of the post).
It was a busy day and I didn’t get back to my leaves until the next morning. By that time they were a gloppy, gooey, fragrant mess and the water had taken on a golden glow. Because I am never patient enough, I hadn’t yet prepared a whole bunch of fiber. What I had scoured were 2 ounces of Romney/Blackface blend I’d purchased a pound of from eBay… purely for experimenting with in the dye pot and on the wheel. I’d spun 1 ounce into a 2 ply and the other oz was roving. In went the damp wool, simmered low for 30 minutes, then cooled about 4 hours and out.
I also used a 1/2 tsp of baking soda in about 1.5C of dye water to modify a wisp of roving.
I have to say, the results were… underwhelming. Kind of a murky, dull yellow. And the fiber felt harsh and was well on its way to felting – maybe due to the rhubarb leaves, but more likely due to my beginner’s technique. Too much swishing.**
I may try rhubarb leaves again – more as a mordant/pre-dye before working with other dyes. I bet it would look stellar overdyed with indigo! In the meantime I think I’ll stick to alum.
*My Rhubarb Crisp Recipe:
Crust and Topping: 1 1/4 C oatmeal 1 C brown sugar 1/2 tsp salt 1 1/2 C flour (I use whole wheat) 2/3 C soft butter Mix these 5 ingredients together until crumbly. Press 1/2 mixture into 9x13" pan Mix in bowl and add to pan: 4-5 C rhubarb chopped into 1" pieces 1 1/4 C sugar 1/3 C water 2 Tbsp cornstarch 1 tsp vanilla Press remaining 1/2 of topping over the filling. Bake at 350 F for 1 hours or until golden and bubbling in the middle. Best with ice cream!
**As an aside – several dye books I’ve read say to rotate your goods every 10 minutes in the dye bath. What??? How?? All I would have left would be dryer balls! Speaking of that, I know my next 2 steps: 1. Make dryer balls. 2. Buy some superwash wool!