Growing Hopi Red Dye Amaranth

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth – buy seeds here!

 

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A gorgeous annual 4 to 6 feet tall with long, draping flower heads, this amaranth is a stunner in the garden and has so many uses! Find organically grown seeds here!

How to grow:

Site Selection: Annual, support of mature plants may be necessary. Plant in well drained soil. Full sun is preferred.

Start seeds: Sow 4-6 weeks before the last frost indoors. Barely cover seed. Bottom water or mist to avoid covering seeds with displaced soil. Transplant outside after last frost. Or, direct seed after last frost, sow thinly, barely covering the seed. When seedlings have first true leaves, thin to 12-15″ apart. I like growing as a border, or intermixed with taller sunflowers (like Hope Black Dye).

Harvest: Anytime after flowers open.

Processing: Soak entire seed head, stem and leaves in warm to cool water immediately to extract color. I plan on writing a blog post details how I’ve gotten GREAT, lasting color from this plant! Can also be multipurpose; eat young leaves, eat seeds or pop like popcorn!

 

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Additional Sources:

Smart Gardener: Growing Amaranth

MN Weaver’s Guild: Amaranth Overview

Other dye plants:

Woad

Madder

A gorgeous annual 4 to 6 feet tall with long, draping flower heads, this amaranth is a stunner in the garden and has so many uses!
A gorgeous annual 4 to 6 feet tall with long, draping flower heads, this amaranth is a stunner in the garden and has so many uses!

Growing Madder

Madder (Rubia tinctorum) – buy seeds here!

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Native to the Mediterranean and a member of the coffee family, madder is a hardy perennial grown for its red dye. The roots of this plant have been used for centuries to make a bright, lightfast dye on both protein and cellulose fibers. Second and third year roots give better color, although the older the plant the more intense the dye, so plan your planting accordingly.

How to grow:

Site Selection: Zone 5-9 (although grows fine for me in zone 4b with winter mulch), sandy to loamy soil, neutral to alkaline. Full sun is preferred. Plan for a plant to send out runners, so grow in buried containers or beds. Click here for madder seeds!

Start seeds: Start indoors several weeks before last frost and plant out after all threat of frost has passed.

Harvest: Harvest the roots of 2 to 3 year old plants in the fall after the tops have dyed back, or wait additional years for even more dye potential. Harvesting areas of madder sequentially while replanting in the current beds will provide a constant supply of madder.

Processing: Rinse the roots with cold water, cut into small pieces and allow to dry completely (unless using fresh). Store in a dry, cool place.

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Additional Sources:

Gardening Know How: Madder Plant Care

Ecotone Threads: Planting Madder

Other dye plants:

Woad

Want your own dye garden? Madder has been THE source for a lightfast red dye since ancient times.
Want your own dye garden? Madder has been THE source for a lightfast red dye since ancient times.

Growing Woad

A quick post for those of you interested in growing a plant to produce blue dye!

Woad (isatis tinctoria) – Click for seeds!

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A member of the mustard family, woad has been used since ancient times to produce a beautiful blue dye. It is an easy to grow hardy biennial, but is classified as an invasive weed in some of the Western, dryer parts of the United States (check your local guidelines before planting). The blue dye is present in the first year leaves – only let grow into the second year if you wish to collect seeds.

How to grow:

Site Selection: Zone 4-8, rich loamy alkaline soil. Full sun is preferred. Rotate planting areas yearly and fertilize with nitrogen.

Start seeds: Start indoors several weeks before last frost and plant out after all threat of frost has passed, or direct seed into garden at about the time of the last frost about ¼” deep, 4” apart. Thin to 1’ between plants. Click here to buy organic woad seeds.

Harvest: Harvest the leaves from midsummer to before the first frost. Plants will re-grow leaves to allow a second or even third harvest. Only first year leaves produce blue pigment.

Processing: Rinse the leaves and use immediately in a vat for dye extraction.

 

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Resources:

Growing Woad – by Teresinha Roberts

Growing Woad – UK

Woad Control – National Park Service

Others dye plants:

Madder

Want to grow your own dye garden? Try this classic plant, used since ancient times to create a beautiful blue natural dye. Woad tips and tricks for cultivation as well as seed sources.
Want to grow your own dye garden? Try this classic plant, used since ancient times to create a beautiful blue natural dye. Woad tips and tricks for cultivation as well as seed sources.

 

 

 

 

 

Natural Dye: Berry Pinks

Ok, I know I’m a little late for Valentine’s Day, but I just stumbled into the most glorious pink dye (or perhaps stain – more on that later) using some past-their-prime berries. Below is the long version – scroll down for the quick and dirty! Or find a recipe for natural yellow dye HERE.

 

I had about 6 oz of cranberries (a few were getting mushy, they may have been left over from the holidays, this is a judgement free zone) and about the same amount of frozen raspberries. From 2015. As the label proclaims. ANYWAY. I dumped these fine specimens into my stainless steel dye pot (different pots for dyes and food always, even when the dye was previously known as food) with a little water, and simmered for about 45 minutes, or until the berries had lost their shape and the water was a beautiful cherry red. Some mashing with a potato masher helped this process along. Next step was straining the ruby liquid into a separate bowel, then returning it to the pot. Careful, this is hot stuff! (Or you could wait until it cools. Your choice.)

IMG_0130So, at this point I added my pre-soaked (warm water with just a drop of dish soap) fiber. I didn’t put in a lot since this was really just an experiment not a serious dyeing sesh. I had a little hank of alum mordanted single ply wool, a snippet of superwash fingering merino (both non and alum mordanted), and 1/2 oz of non-mordanted BFL top. They all went in with enough extra hot water to cover, then were heated to just under a simmer for 30 minutes.

 

Oh yeah, I also put in some tired bamboo needles. I’m impulsive like that.

Once off heat, everything sat in the dye solution overnight before rinsing the next morning and hanging to dry. I am super pleased to report that the color came out a gorgeous plummy pink.

Wool naturally dyed with cranberries and raspberries
From top to bottom: Cranberry dyed bamboo needles, BFL top (no mordant), SW merino/nylon sock yarn (no mordant), worsted weight wool (alum mordant)

Alas, now it is time for REAL TALK. Berry dyes are famously fugitive – that means they tend to fade pretty quickly. So I don’t know if this lovely pink will last… or be a beautiful but brief shade. I’ll get back to you in the future with that, but for now I’m pretty happy. I plan on spinning a little of the BFL fiber and share that here as well.

What do you think about this DIY process? Pretty easy, right? Will you try it? Any questions? Ask below!

And the “quick” recipe for Berry Pink dye on Wool:

Ingredients: 6oz each of cranberries and raspberries, 1/2 that amount of wool (can scale up).

Process: Lightly simmer berries 45 min, mashing to combine. Strain out solids. Add wool and heat to just below simmer 30 min, then off heat and rest overnight. Drain, rinse and dry!

See my other blog posts about natural dyes – (Coneflower dyeing, Eco Printed Shirt, Creeping Charlie, Rhubarb, Marigold), or join me at the Facebook Group bit.ly/GardenYarn or at the KnittyVet Instagram for more! I also have finished naturally dyed yarns available at www.knittyvet.etsy.com

Wool naturally dyed with cranberries and raspberries

 

Dye Project #1: Red Onion Skins on 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.

IMG_7984My 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: IMG_7885

  1. Cream Paton’s Classic Wool (0.2 oz)
  2. White Angora Roving (0.1 oz)
  3. Natural Country Roving from Briggs and Little(0.8 oz)

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.

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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!

red onion skins aluminum pot

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 think I want to Dye (Fiber. Naturally.)…

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).

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P.S. “doors and corners” from the second sentence in this post is an “Expanse” reference. See what I did there? Never stop nerding. 😉