Pinks from Second Year Woad

Hello fellow plant dye enthusiasts! I’m here today to tell you about a use for your 2nd year woad leaves (other than waiting for seeds, chicken feed, or compost additive)!

IMG_8342

As we know, woad (Isatis tinctoria) is a rather plain looking plant from Europe that has a long history as a source for blue dye. Think Celts and medieval European tapestries. Only the first year leaves are a good source for blue (usually, unless one is extra lucky), but the plant is a very hardy biennial. (Too hardy sometimes – it is labelled as a pernicious weed in some Western US states). I have grown woad in my Minnesota (zone 4b) garden for the past 4 years, and it reliably overwinters despite cold snaps of -50F. In its second year the plant sends up a flower shoot that will burst into yellow blooms. I’ve heard that the flowers can give a yellow in the dye pot… but to be perfectly honest enough plants will make yellow; I’m after a beautiful, dusty rose type of pink.

IMG_8459

I like to harvest my second year plants before they flower – really anytime after they start growing again which seems to happen as soon as the snow melts. This is a good time to decide which plants get to stay to produce seed and which plants need to go. You really don’t want all of your plants going to seed or you will end up with “woad woes”, to quote Rita Buchanan, writer of the excellent A Dyer’s Garden

So on to the dyeing process itself! I fill up a big stainless steel dye pot with leaves – I take the whole plant from rosette to flower stalk, stuff it in the pot, give it a few snips with the kitchen shears, and fill with water. I don’t tend to weigh the dye stuff here, but as a guess it is about 3ish pounds of leaves per batch? This goes onto heat to simmering (I honestly don’t think a light boil would hurt anything, but I’m a baby and don’t like to boil my dyes) for about 1 hour. Let the leaves sit and steep until you get a nice rich sherry-colored liquid, usually an additional hour. In the meantime you can dig the roots of the harvested woad (I chuck ’em in the compost), and pre-soak your fiber.

 

And here is a cool part of pinks from woad; I have had fantastic success (both depth and longevity of color) on protein fibers WITHOUT mordant. Cotton not so much (needs more experimentation!) but really couldn’t be easier with wool and silk; just make sure it is well cleaned of course. I get reliably pink results using a ratio of about 3:1 fresh plant matter to fiber. Fortunately woad is a bulky, heavy plant so a little goes quite a long way.

 

After you have a nice looking color in the pot and you bath has cooled just a little, strain the leaves (also great for compost!) and add your fibers. Give the whole thing another simmer of about 1 hour and then (this is important) leave them to soak overnight!! In the morning do your typical rinse. I like to use my rain barrel water to cut down on water usage, and perform a final rinse with a wool wash like Eucalan. Spin or squeeze and hang up to dry! You are done!

 

A few random thoughts and notes.

  1. You may be thinking, wait! This is very similar to Jenny Dean’s process for pinks from first year woad leaves that have already had the blue extracted! You would be right – we are just using a previously underused dye potential in second year leaves!
  2. This is a really nice way to scratch the post-winter fresh leaf dye pot itch. It is a great and efficient way to get a double use out of a dye plant and your garden space.
  3. I have not specifically light-tested these fibers, but I do have several skeins that have been in and out of tubs for 3 years that still look great.
  4. Learn more about general woad cultivation HERE, or purchase seeds HERE! Looking for some beautiful pink woad-dyed yarn? Click HERE!
  5. A disclaimer – other than the woad seeds and yarn I do not profit from any links on this page 🙂

And there you have it! Beautiful dusty pinks from second year woad. Any questions? Have you tried this or want to try it? Drop a comment here or come visit me @knittyvet on Instagram or in my Etsy shop! While you are here feel free to check out some of my other dye and dye plant tutorials. Be well!

Like it? Tried it? Pin it!

Woad Pink
How to use second year woad leaves for a beautiful dusty rose pink!

 

Growing Dyer’s Coreopsis

A lovely North American native prairie plant, a bee magnet, and a strong orange in the dye pot – what’s not to love?!

Dyer’s Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) – Click for seeds!

dyers-coreopsis_LRG

A cheerful North American native, this annual plant is easy to grow and will produce hundreds of beautiful little flowers in tufts 2 to 3 feet tall. Also known as Plain’s Coreopsis, each blossom packs a big dye potential and gives gorgeous oranges.

How to grow:

Site Selection: Annual, will grow is dry conditions but flowers more when well watered. Protect from rabbits! Plant in well drained soil. Full sun is preferred.

Start seeds: Direct seed after last frost.

Harvest: Anytime after flowers open. Picking more flowers will lead to more blossoms!

Processing: Gently simmer blossoms or plant tops for a deep orange color. Add soda ash to drop the pH for a deeper color.

Click here to purchase organically grown Coreopsis tinctoria seeds.

 

IMG_8599

Resources:

Growing Coreopsis – Wild Colours

Others dye plants:

Japanese Indigo

Madder

Woad

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth

Grow Dyer's Coreopsis
Grow a beautiful orange dye in your own flower garden.

 

 

 

Growing Japanese Indigo

Here is a quick little growing guide for this great plant!

Japanese Indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) – Click for seeds!

j indigo seeds 2

A member of the knotweed family, this easy to grow annual plant has long been a part of Japanese culture and is used to produce a beautiful blue dye. This dye is present in the leaves, which can be used fresh, dried, or fermented for special indigo pigment extraction.

How to grow:

Site Selection: Rich soil. Full sun is preferred.

Start seeds: Start indoors several weeks before last frost and plant out after all threat of frost has passed. Germination rates can be low, so overseeding is recommended. Place plants about 1’ apart. Click here to purchase organically grown japanese indigo seeds.

Harvest: Harvest the individual leaves all season. The top 1/3 of the plant may be cut, leaves harvested, then allowed to re-root and replanted.

Processing: Use fresh leaves as direct dye for green to aqua, in a reduction or fermented vat for blues, or dry for later dyeing.

Resources:

Growing Japanese Indigo – Ashley Walker

Others dye plants:

Madder

Woad

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth

Want to grow your own dye garden? Try this easy to grow plant, used for centuries to create a beautiful blue natural dye. Japanese Indigo tips and tricks for cultivation as well as seed sources.
Want to grow your own dye garden? Try this easy to grow plant, used for centuries to create a beautiful blue natural dye. Japanese Indigo tips and tricks for cultivation as well as seed sources.

 

 

 

 

Growing Woad

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

Woad (isatis tinctoria) – Click for seeds!

IMG_9010

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.

 

IMG_8673

Resources:

Growing Woad – by Teresinha Roberts

Growing Woad – UK

Woad Control – National Park Service

Others dye plants:

Madder

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth

Japanese Indigo

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

 

Garden Yarn by KnittyVet – Naturally hand-dyed skeins launching soon!

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!

-Kendra

garden yarn pinterest

Flower Eco Printed Cotton Shirt

IMG_8474

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.

July eco print shirt wrappedThen 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!July eco print shirt front

Have you used flowers to contact dye a shirt? How did it go? Any tips or tricks? Share below!

Dye Project #3: Creeping Charlie (part 1/2)

Some folks may have strong feelings about this plant. You’ve been warned.

CCharlie3_300px

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.

IMG_7953

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 IMG_7957removing. 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.

IMG_7979
A collection of some of my dyed samples so far – rhubarb on the top and G. hereacea on the bottom. On the left is a lightfast test that will go on a windowsill.

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.

photo
Dye journal page for creeping charlie

Dye Project #2: Rhubarb Leaves (plus Rhubarb Crisp recipe!)

IMG_7940
Massive rhubarb leaves. 1lb ball of wool for comparison.

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).

farm rhubarb
Be afraid.

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!

IMG_7941I 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 timeIMG_7945 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.

IMG_7958
Left: Undyed roving, Top: Rhubarb yarn, Middle: Rhubarb Roving, Right: Baking Soa Dip

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!

pinterest rhubarb leaf post

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.

IMG_7896

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.