Hey all! I hope you’ve been having a stellar season – here in the Northern Hemisphere I’ve been making the most of a beautiful summer and dyeing lots of yarn with the plants and flowers from my garden. I’ve been sharing my progress online and due to popular demand have decided to offer a limited number of hand dyed skeins for sale! I’m still building up some inventory (everything comes from my garden or is locally foraged, so this takes a while!), but my naturally dyed yarns will be hitting the KnittyVet Etsy store soon. There will mostly be sock/shawl fingering weight yarns to start out, but I’m hoping to expand into other yarn weights and types.
For now – head over to the new Garden Yarn Facebook Group or join me on Instagram to stay in the loop. Once these yarns are available they won’t last long and each will be one of a kind! Those two group will be getting first dibs on all available colors.
Thanks for joining me in this creative journey. I really feel like I’ve found my niche!
For the 4th of July this year we decided to start a little project with some of the fresh flowers in our yard and a cotton t-shirt. I had previously prepared the shirt by following the directions for mordanting cotton with alum outlined in Wild Colors by Jenny Dean. Despite some excitement over the sumac tannin solution turning blue, that went well enough, and I’ll blog about that process at some other point.
We started with our prepared shirt, pre-soaked in cool water. Next came a garden raid, picking flowers and leaves. What all did we pick? Yellow prairie coneflower, roses, yarrow, strawberry leaves, hardy geranium leaves, calendula, yellow cosmos, zinnia, jewelweed, geranium blooms, mint, and bee balm oh MY!
I had read that you should cover about 50% of the space with dye materials but, well, we got carried away. The next step was tightly rolling the shirt and plants onto a stick, then tying in place. We used an un-treated cotton string.
We popped the shirt-on-a-stick into the steamer for about 2 hours.
Then came the hardest part – waiting while everything dried and set. We made it about 2 days before we couldn’t stand it anymore and unrolled the shirt. The flowers had mostly faded, imparting amazing colors and patterns onto our cotton. We waited just a little more for the whole thing to dry completely, then held our breath and rinsed in cool water. There was less color leakage than I’d expected, and the patterns were still fantastic. We were amazed by the wide range of colors from our mix of flowers, especially some dots of blue. I’m still not sure what gave that fantastic blue. I think some of the iris stayed blue?? Anyhow, E loves her shirt, and proudly exclaims that she made it herself to anyone who asks. Three more cotton shirts… we can’t wait!
Have you used flowers to contact dye a shirt? How did it go? Any tips or tricks? Share below!
Some folks may have strong feelings about this plant. You’ve been warned.
Creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea) is a fast spreading perennial ground cover in the mint family. According to Wikipedia it is also know poetically as”ground ivy”, “alehoof”, or “run-away-robin”. As anyone who has experienced its growth in their own yard, that last name is particularly apt. I try to have an easygoing relationship with plants in my yard but this one has tested me a little. I try to work with them or utilize them in some way as opposed to scorched earth tactics. Ours is the yard blooming with dandelions and violets… but hey, we can play in it, pick it, and feed it to the chickens and guinea pig without fear. I’ll take that trade.
In the case of creeping charlie, it now grows as sort of a green mulch in between my garden beds. We’ve come to an understanding of sorts. I whack it down now and then with the weed whip and correct it when it (inevitably) starts to creep INTO the raised beds, but otherwise we coexist quite peacefully. I also have decided it smells nice and minty, but milage may vary on this.
I was looking around in the first days of spring for something to try in the dyepot. Creeping charlie gets an early start… basically before the snow even melts. I’d read that mint does some decent dyeing, and then I came across Lil Fish Studios and her blog about dyeing with the plant! Good enough for me.
I picked a little over 2 ounces of greens leaves and stems – either flowering or just about to flower. I used a stainless steel pot to simmer covered in water for 1/2 hour, then let sit for about 5 hours. The most lovely green developed in the pot and I was cautiously optimistic.
I had an old 2 oz skein of Contempo Wool Bulky (Textile Garage Sale find – whooo!) that I’d previously mordanted (but not rinsed) with 10% alum and 5% cream of tartar. That went into the dye pot, simmered (about 175 F) for 1/2 hour, then rested about 6 before removing. I got a nice, light yellow-green, which I of course failed to catch on camera out of the dye bath before rushing on to modifiers.
I stuck one little snip in a baking soda/dye mixture (turned into a light yellow), and draped the rest of the skein into a separate dye bath I’d poured off and combined with a few splashes of iron water. Fifteen minutes later the yarn had turned a lovely olive green. Less of a gradient showed up than I was expecting, but it still looked really nice.
Hanging to dry – undyed skein on the right
I really love the way this skein turned out, and now I’m having THOUGHTS about what to do next with this super abundant dye source. I want to try some different types of wool, let some be without modifying, and maybe try some painted roving. Stay tuned for this post!!
Let me know below if you are battling creeping charlie in your yard. Maybe divert some to the dye pot for a more positive experience! Share your results with me – I’d love to see.
Our baby chicks have been growing like weeds. They will be 6 weeks old soon and they just moved out into their own house… messy little ladies needed their own space.
They started out like this:
Just look at those adorable little faces! From left to right we have; Moonblack (a Black Australorp), Goldie (an Isa Brown), Donnie (a Buff Polish Laced), and Chippie (an Americana)… proudly named by the dear child. In our chicken catalog (everyone should have a chicken catalog- ours is from Hoover’s Hatchery), these breeds are supposed to be good egg layers and friendly with kids. Although to be honest we got Donnie mostly for her bouffant. Check out what she’ll look like when mature, and no prizes for guessing why Donnie is her name.
They stayed in a toasty room in our house for a few weeks… starting to get their real feathers and imprinting on the dear child. She is 100% their mother now. They did a great job eating chick starter, but loved treats like grass, peas, and spaghetti. The spaghetti party got wild with yelling, running, and literally tug of warring over noodles.
They all have their own personalities. Chippie is a wild child. Donnie is fearless and inquisitive. Goldie is a good jumper. Moonblack is calm and snuggly. They are also all messy to heck. With warmer weather and the final coat of paint on our “Chateau Poulet” we were ready to move outside!
Now they have a light for warmth on chilly spring nights and they get to have outings in the garden during the day. Lucky chickies!
I’ll keep you posted on our grand chicken experiment… and I’ve been pulling some fun colors out of the dye pot I need to post about too. The weather has just been too gorgeous for sitting at the computer.
What about you? Have a small flock of chickens? What are your favorite breeds? Any burning chicken questions? I’ll do my best to answer!
Reading: Lately I’ve been rereading and referring to Michael Judd’s book, Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist. My parents have a plot that needs amending and we’ve been talking raised beds, lasagna gardening, and Hugelkultur – basically burying a bunch of wood in a super raised bed that will turn into rich soil! And the word is really fun to say…
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
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!
After my recent natural dye apostrophe epiphany as described in this post, I couldn’t wait to get started. Specialized equipment? Nah. Mordants? What are those? I have some cream colored yarn that will surely take up some dye. LET’S GET GOING!
Ahem. Friend google helped me find the perfect first project. A food-safe, kitchen worthy, substantive – meaning no mordant needed (that word again!), easy peasy dye source I already had in the house. Yep, onion skins were the clear winner, as Suzie from It’s a Stitch Up clearly spells out in this excellent tutorial.
My onions from last summer are getting a little long in the tooth, but that doesn’t matter a bit for this project. I scrounged through the bin and found a decent amount of red onion peels. I think these were the Red Wing variety if memory (and the Territorial Seeds website) serves.
I ended up with about 0.3 oz… Not that much but in onion skins I’ve read a little can go a long way… and being super impatient to get started I didn’t feel like waiting around. I grabbed some fibers to dye and stuck them in cool water to soak. In order in the photo:
I figured this would be enough to get me started… a ratio of about 1:4 onion skins to yarn.
While the yarn soaked I tossed the onion skins in an aluminum pot (I had already decided that this was going to be a dye pot, and I figured the aluminum wouldn’t hurt in this case – might even improve the take of the dye), covered with 5 C of our suburban tap water, and simmered for 1/2 hour.
Just look at that glorious color creeping up the sides of the dye pot! Off heat, 1/2 hour to cool, then the onion skins were strained out and in went the yarn.
I kept it at not quite a simmer – maybe too low? I didn’t use a thermometer during this adventure (I will in the future). Anyhow the yarn got warm in the dye bath for 1/2, then off heat for 1 hour. I kept gazing at the pretty yarn in the bath because I am weird like that.
Finally I pulled out my fiber, rinsed in tepid water, salad spun (that salad spinner is now my dyeing secret weapon) and hung up the fiber to dry. I got the most amazing golden yellow color – I really couldn’t tell you if it was the aluminum pot, cool temps, or low skin to fiber ratio, but whatever it was I’ll take it!
The angora did not take up as much dye as the wool. From what I read it should be a decent fiber for dye, but perhaps I didn’t soak this sample long enough? Once I get that angora rabbit I’ve been yearning for I’ll be able to experiment some more. Wink wink.
The two loops of yarn on the bottom were dyed in afterbaths… Ah, I have so much to learn!
So as a first natural dye project onion skins were pretty much ideal – easy to acquire, no extensive prep of the fiber needed, and food-safe to boot. I’ll keep you posted on the color fastness of these fibers as they get used in various projects.
I’m planning a post with some dyeing terms and definitions – when I first started reading about natural dyes it was a little like learning a second language… or being in vet school! I also need to write an update about our chickie girls – they are growing so fast.
Let me know what you think about this post – any idea why I got gold and not beige or brown (like I’ve read about for red onion skins)? Have you tried dyeing with onion skins, or do you want to try? Tell me about it in the comments!
Reading: I’ve been haunting a few blogs related to natural dying and all things fiber, and I have to say that I greatly enjoy Fran Rushworth’s excellent and highly readable blog Wool – Tribulations of Hand Spinning and Herbal Dying. I love her creative ideas and fiber creations as well as her offbeat sense of humor (daffodil dye! flower printing! a sassy talking stuffed sheep named Elinor!). Check it out for some real inspiration and entertainment.
I would describe my recent obsession as starting with an epiphany, but that wouldn’t be quite correct. It more snuck up behind me, tapping my shoulder and peeking around doors and corners (especially as I learned to spin from some fabulous hand-dyed roving) until one day I smacked my forehead and wondered why I had never thought such an obvious thought before.
If you click about on this website you’ll see that I love gardening, cooking/baking/preserving, and playing with fiber – all colors of fiber. I actually can’t believe it took me 36 years to realize I need to start using plant dyes to create colorful new wools! It is hard to explain exactly how excited I am to embark on this journey – one which apparently rewards dabblers and experimenters (hey, that’s me!).
Once my “oh, duh!” moment arrived, I couldn’t wait to get started. What was easy, could be done safely in vessels I use for cooking, and used materials I had on hand? Google helped me find the website of It’s a Stitch Up and the next moment found me scrounging in the onion bin. Stay tuned for the results from my very first foray into natural dyes!
A few inspirational books I’ve been looking through:
Mostly I’ve learned from these books that there are certain guidelines and rules of thumb for natural dyes… but that really you can play and experiment and go pretty wild. Love it!
I’ve decided to add a new little section to the end of my posts – a listening/watching/reading segment to share some of the things I have found entertaining.
Watching: The husband and I just finished the final episode in Season 2 of The Expanse. If you wonder where all the good sci fi went, get yourself on over to this show and prepare to have your socks blown off. It airs on Sy Fy (I know, I know), but we streamed from Amazon… This show is so good I don’t knit or spin while I’m watching. And if THAT isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is!! (Also I now have a minor obsession with the source material book series by James S.A. Corey (follow on Twitter for a good time!), but that is a different post).
P.S. “doors and corners” from the second sentence in this post is an “Expanse” reference. See what I did there? Never stop nerding. 😉
So. I’m going to try to get back into posting here regularly – I have so many projects and suburban homesteading adventures and I feel like we should keep track of them someplace. First of all, let’s start with an update.
We have baby chicks! This is our newest, arguably biggest, adventure this spring. We have 4 sweet little chickies (the legal limit for our suburb of St. Paul); an Isa Brown, an Americana, a Black Australorp, and a Polish Buff Laced. Just look at that magnificent poof of hair. Photo courtesy of Hoover’s Hatchery, where our chicks hail from. So far all appear happy and healthy – they celebrated their 1 week birthday this past Sunday and the child is in love!
2. We have a newly built chicken coop and garden storage shed. I’ll post about that separately, but for now suffice to say that we’ve been painting and preparing the place to host our ladies.
3. I’m finishing up a hand spinning class hosted by the wonderful Weaver’s Guild of Minnesota at the Textile Center of Minnesota. Our last class tomorrow is on plying our yarn but I couldn’t wait and cheated with you tube. I’m sure I’m picking up lots of bad habits I’ll have to kick later, but hot damn, I’m making yarn! I’m hooked.
4. The garden is going in. It has grown since last year. The husband calls it garden creep and he isn’t wrong.
5. I think I want to (learn to) dye? With plants? I dunno, that would be cool.
Hopefully I will follow through with details and some fun times with all these endeavors… but you never know, I might not?? I will try 🙂
Last time I shared the first few samplers knit for decorating your walls. Since then I’ve been experimenting with colors, style, and size. We are getting closer to launch, and I won’t have many on hand, so be sure to sign up now for notification!
Well, in the post-holiday haze I’ve been having some fun with my wool and pointy sticks. So far several samplers have been finished, but the eventual goal is a variety of styles with some larger pieces as well. I’ve found inspiration in Mid Century Modern to Boho Chic to Farmhouse styles of decor, all adding up to a textured, tactile wall textile. If you are interested in joining the mailing list for the launch of these little beauties please drop your email here and I’ll make sure you’ll be the first to know when the project is live through KnittyVet Etsy.