nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘natural dyes

harvesting colour – drop spin

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drop spindle

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spin turned maple between

fingers, draft roving to

the texture of cobweb

the wool ravels, the twist

travels the line to the pinch

of thumb and forefinger

fibres teased to almost

breaking, then spun strong

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park and draft, and colour thickens

energy builds, the spindle

muddles air and the twist

travels between hand and whorl

where fibres embrace one

another, fatten the cop

build a kitten-worthy

ball of yarn

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Previously published as ‘drop spindle’ Canadian Stories 17 (99),October/November 2014

Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

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Written by jane tims

October 20, 2014 at 7:09 am

harvesting colour – the poems

with 10 comments

After six months of work, I am nearing the ‘end’ of my project ‘harvesting colour’.  Although the main product of all my work sometimes seems to be my basket of hand-dyed and hand-spun wool, the actual goal of my plant dyeing adventures is a manuscript of poems.

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in background, alum-treated wool dyed with rose hips; in the foreground, spun wool dyed with lichen, beet leaves and alder bark

in background, alum-treated wool dyed with rose hips; in the foreground, spun wool dyed with lichen, beet leaves and alder bark

 

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I have not shared many of these poems here, since I want to publish as many as possible in literary magazines.  This will increase my chances of publishing a book of poems.  Most publishers consider poems presented on-line to be already published and will not consider them for their magazines.

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wool simmering in the orange alder water - looks like sky and clouds are in there too!

wool simmering in dyestuff of alder bark

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At this point I have completed enough poems to be considered a ‘manuscript’.  Although I may write more in the coming month, the core of my manuscript will be these 58 poems (60 pages).  The poems are included in four sections:

  • the imprint of toadflax – 11 poems about the stains left in our lives: the red of cranberries on the tablecloth, grass stains on children’s knees
  • take comfort in brown – 12 poems about specific plants and their use as dyestuff
  • simmer, never boil – 10 poems about the home-dyeing process: mordanting, dyestuff simmering in the pot, the chemistry of dyeing.
  • all the colours of columbines – 10 poems about how the colour of plants intersects with our daily lives – the colour of petals in a bouquet, the relationship between mothers and daughters, unexpected outcomes.  In this set are two poems dedicated to my Great-aunt who made her living as a seamstress and my Great-grandmother who used home-dyed fabrics in her hooked rugs.
  • the twist travels the line – 15 poems about dyers, spinners and weavers who use natural plant dyes.  Some of the poems are about dyers I have met through their blogs.

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pink wool dyed with blackberries is front and center ... other wools are dyed with (clockwise) oak, meadowsweet, bugleweed, tansy, lily-of-the-valley, beet root, and in the center, carrot tops

pink wool dyed with blackberries is front and center … other wools are dyed with (clockwise) oak, meadowsweet, bugleweed, tansy, lily-of-the-valley, beet root, and in the center, carrot tops

 

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One of the purposes of making this manuscript is certainly to improve my writing and my poems.  I have deliberately tried to do two things with these poems:

1. pay attention to line lengths.  In most of the poems, I have counted the syllables, using this as a method of improving the rhythm and suggesting new ways of ordering words.  I have also considered various ways of ending lines, looking for ways to emphasise the multiple meanings of some words.

2. make the ideas understandable.  I have a background in science and I love to use the words of chemistry and biology in poems.  Sometimes this makes the poems hard to understand.  I am trying to reconcile the two poets within me – one who wants to explore the technical and the other who wants to understand the everyday.

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I hope I have been able to accomplish these objectives in my poems.  The poems are full of gathering and boiling and simmering and I hope these poems feel familiar to dyers and craftspeople, and honor their work.  I also want the poems to to be relevant and healing for those who have never stirred a pot of dyestuff.

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olfactory memory

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wool from the drying rack pale, new

lifted from the vat, well water

and blackberries, dim burgundy

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the draft of the fibre, the twist

of the spindle, release scent

from the berry patch, the curved space

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beneath the bend of primocane

floricane drowsy with berries

black and thorn, crisp calyx and leaves

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drenched bramble, sweet notes and a lilt

dark against palate, the scramble

for a berry, dropped between stems

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barbed, at the rim

of purple

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Copyright  2014   Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

October 8, 2014 at 7:04 am

harvesting colour – mail order weld and woad

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The final manuscript of poetry from my ‘harvesting colour’ project is due at the end of October.  However, I don’t think these adventures with using natural dyes are ending.  I have enjoyed this project so much and I am so proud of my basket of home-dyed, hand spun yarns.

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some of my balls of hand dyed wool

some of my balls of hand dyed wool

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balls of hand-dyed wool

 

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I took a step towards next year’s batch of yarn by thinking about starting a dyer’s garden  (so many of the interesting plants I have read about are not available locally).  I would love to try growing some of those traditional medieval-sounding plants in my dyeing.  Weld, Woad and Woadwaxen – don’t they sound almost magical?  Most of the plants used through the ages for dyeing have the species name of tinctoria, tinctorius, tinctorium, or tinctorum (from the Latin tingo, tingere – to dip, to soak, to dye).

Examples of plants with ‘Dyer’s’ in the common name or ‘tinct‘ in the species name are:

  • Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) – flowers give pink or yellow
  • Dyer’s Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria (L.) Tausch) – roots give purple-grey
  • Dyer’s Chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria L.) – flowers or leaves give a greeny-yellow
  • Dyer’s Mulberry, Fustic (Chlorophora tinctoria (L.) Gaudich.) – wood gives a greeny-yellow
  • Dyer’s Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria Nutt.) – flowers give an orange or brown
  • Dyer’s Greenwood, Woadwaxen (Genista tinctoria L.) – plant tops give a pale green or yellow
  • Dyer’s Woad, Woad (Isatis tinctoria L.) – leaves give blue
  • Weld or Dyer’s Rocket (Reseda luteola L.) – plants tops give yellow
  • Madder (Rubia tinctorum L.) – roots give red
  • Dyer’s Knotweed, Japanese Indigo (Polygonum tinctorium Aiton) – leaves give blue

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To begin with, I sent to Richters Herb Specialists ( https://www.richters.com/ ) in Goodwood, Ontario for Weld and Woad.  And I have Rita Buchanan’s book A Dyer’s Garden to help me get the best results.

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packets of seed for planting next spring

packets of seed for planting next spring

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Well, the seeds have now arrived.  Next spring I’ll find a sheltered spot with the right conditions and try to grow these two.  I listen to the tiny seeds shaking in their packets and wish for May.

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

October 3, 2014 at 7:09 am

harvesting colour – rose hips

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All summer, I watched the rose hips ‘developing’ on our bush and wondered if they would provide colour to my dye pot.  The roses are pink in late spring and produce elliptical rose hips, bright orange.

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September 22, 2013  'red rose hips from pink roses'   Jane Tims

September 22, 2013 ‘red rose hips from pink roses’ Jane Tims

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Last week, I finally harvested the rose berries.  I used scissors to avoid the springiness of the bush and the danger of getting smacked with those thorny branches.

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rose hips from my rose bush

rose hips from my rose bush, September 2014

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The hips, boiled in water for a couple of hours, created a cloudy orange dye.  And the alum-treated wool?  A pale pinkish-brown.

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in background, alum-treated wool dyed with rose hips; in the foreground, spun wool dyed with lichen, beet leaves and alder bark

in background, alum-treated wool dyed with rose hips; in the foreground, spun wool dyed with lichen, beet leaves and alder bark

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I have so many shades of brown wool after all my dyeing adventures, this brings into question the idea of ‘best use’ – rose hips are valuable as a source of Vitamin C, can be used in jams, teas and other beverages, and have a potential use in reducing the pain of arthritis.  And I apologize to the Chickadees who were so obviously upset as I picked the bright red berries.

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

October 1, 2014 at 7:29 am

harvesting colour – blackberry red and pink

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Autumn is officially here; summer up and left last week.  My complaints are suddenly of chilly evenings, not too-warm nights!  But with this season comes a series of dyeing projects I have been looking forward to – dyeing with berries and autumn leaves.

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berries harvested at our cabin in 2013

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At our summer property, we have blackberries in profusion.  They ripen slowly over a period of three weeks and we eat our fill.  This year I decided to sacrifice a few for the dye pot.

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Dyeing with berries is easy.  I brought three cups of berries to a simmer in three liters of water for about an hour.  The strained liquid was a bright red, the colour of ripe cranberries …

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dye from blackberries

dye from blackberries

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I dyed alum-treated wool with a slow simmer and an overnight soak.  The result was a pale pink, a welcome addition to my collection of ‘mostly brown’ …

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pink wool dyed with blackberries is front and center ... other wools are dyed with (clockwise) oak, meadowsweet, bugleweed, tansy, lily-of-the-valley, beet root, and in the center, carrot tops

pink wool dyed with blackberries is front and center … other wools are dyed with (clockwise) oak (dark brown), meadowsweet (orange), bugleweed (brown), tansy (gold), lily-of-the-valley (grey), and beet root (deep pink), and in the center, carrot tops (green)

 

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I also tried dying linen and cotton with the blackberry dye, and these gave me the burgundy I had hoped for …

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back left to front: wool, linen, cotton and another cotton, dyed with blackberries

back left to front: wool, linen, cotton and another cotton, dyed with blackberries

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I think I will be using the pink/burgundy cotton as the backing for the small ‘harvesting colour’ quilt I plan to make.  I’ll hem the linen and use it in my kitchen.

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March 18, 2012 ‘blackberries’ Jane Tims

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Copyright 2014  Jane Tims

 

Written by jane tims

September 24, 2014 at 7:32 am

harvesting colour – oak and iron

with 4 comments

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As autumn approaches, I intend to shift my ‘harvesting colour’ experiments to ‘fall themes’.  I want to colour wool with ripe berries, autumn leaves and acorns.  I decided to begin with oak leaves.  They are still green here in New Brunswick, but I associate the oak tree, strong and ‘knowing’, with the maturity of fall.  I picked leaves from the Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) by our garage, a tree begun naturally, probably from an acorn buried by our squirrel population.

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The dye in the pot was pale brown … I was certain the wool would be another shade of brown.  Hoping for variety, I added a liter of my iron acetate (horseshoe, nail and vinegar mix) and left the wool to simmer.  I forgot it on the stove, running to save it after a couple of hours.  And what I pulled from the dye water was amazing, a dark brown, almost black, length of wool roving.

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dark brown, almost black, wool, alum treated and simmered with oak leaf dye and iron acetate

dark brown, almost black, wool, alum treated and simmered with oak leaf dye and iron acetate

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Spun, it makes a lovely counterpoint to my yellow and light brown wools.

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spun wool, dyed with Goldenrod (yellow), Meadowsweet (peach) and Oak leaves/iron modifier (dark brown)

spun wool, dyed with Goldenrod (yellow), Meadowsweet (peach) and Oak leaves/iron modifier (dark brown)

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I am almost ready for my weaving project.  I have decided to arrange the bands of colour in alphabetical order so, in future, I will be able to better recall the plants used to make the dye.   When I look at the woven runner, I will remember harvesting the oak leaves from our tree and the excitement of seeing the dark wool lift from the pot.

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

September 10, 2014 at 7:03 am

harvesting colour – saddening the colour

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Most of my experiments with natural dyes have been straightforward – collect the dyestuff, extract the dye with heat and water, and simmer the fibres in the dye.  I have used alum as a mordent to make the dye more permanent, but until now,  I have not used modifiers to change the colour of the dye.  Modifiers include various substances added to modify the chemistry of the dye solution and change the colours obtained.  Iron is one of the most commonly used modifiers.

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To modify colour with iron, the dyer can use ferrous sulfate as a powder.  Or rusty iron can be used to make an iron acetate solution.  To make my iron modifier, I put an old horseshoe, a square nail and a rail spike in a pot, added some vinegar, and soaked the metal in rainwater for a month.

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bits of iron to make an iron modifier

bits of iron to make an iron modifier

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Simmering the wool roving with water and dyestuff of Meadowsweet gave the wool an apricot colour.  Then I added a couple of liters of my iron mixture to the dye pot and a new length of wool roving.  The second lot of wool turned out darker than the first.  Dyers refer to this as ‘saddening’ the colour.  The wool was also more coarse and after I had spun the wool, my hands were stained with a reddish rust.

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saddening the colour: on the left, alum-treated wool dyed with Meadowsweet; on the right, the same with added iron

saddening the colour: on the left, alum-treated wool dyed with Meadowsweet; on the right, the same with added iron

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Next post, I will show you the surprising results when I add my iron modifier to dyestuff of oak leaves!

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

September 3, 2014 at 7:13 am

harvesting colour – Meadowsweet

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Last week, we finished installing the new gate at our cabin.  To make our leveling easier, we had to cut some of the Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) growing in profusion along the road.   And into the dye pot it went!

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Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet

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My botany skills are showing their age.  When I learned my plants, we called Meadowsweet Spirea ulmaria.  But times have changed and so has the name for the genus (it will take me a while to get used to Filipendula!).  Other common names for Meadowsweet are Queen of the Meadow, Lady of the Meadow, Mead Wort, and Brideswort.

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Meadowsweet is a fragrant plant.  The scent of its flowers is reminiscent of roses – it belongs to the same family as the rose.  But the stem has a faint smell of wintergreen or almonds.

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Meadowsweet has a long history of use.  The chemical in Aspirin was first discovered in its leaves and named from the old generic name Spirea.  In past centuries, Meadowsweet was used as a ‘strewing herb’ to cover floors because its fragrance underfoot disguised less pleasant smells.  The Druids considered it sacred, along with Watermint and Vervain.  Across the internet, Meadowsweet is famed for being included as one of many ingredients in ‘save’, a medieval drink mentioned in Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale.   I have taken the time to read The Knight’s Tale and found the reference is not to Meadowsweet but Sage:

line 2713:  ‘Fermacies of herbes, and eek save’ (middle English)

‘Medicines made of herbs, and also of sage’  (modern English translation)  (see http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/kt-par0.htm )

I will continue to look for an ingredient list for this mysterious drink.

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The obsolete name for Meadowsweet (Mead Wort) is mentioned in Book II, Canto viii of Spenser’s Faerie Queen, referring to the making of Merlin’s sword:

‘The metall first he mixt with Medawart,   That no enchauntment from his dint might saue;’  (see http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/queene2.html#Cant.%20VIII. )

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Boiling the chopped leaves and flowers in water for one hour gave me an amber dye.

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amber dye from Meadowsweet

amber dye from Meadowsweet

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Wool roving, treated with alum and simmered in the dye for an hour turned pale yellow-brown, almost apricot in some light.

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wool roving dyed with Meadowsweet

wool roving dyed with Meadowsweet

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

 

Written by jane tims

September 1, 2014 at 7:02 am

harvesting yellow … yes, yellow!

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After so many lovely browns in my palette of natural dyes, I have despaired of seeing anything but brown when I lift my wool roving from the dye pot.   A friend suggested I try Goldenrod (Solidago sp.).   Goldenrod, in a variety of species, is plentiful along the roads this time of year.  So, this week, on a drive to see our newly opened section of Route 8, we stopped long enough to collect a bag of Goldenrod.

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Goldenrod along the new highway

Goldenrod along the new highway

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Collecting Goldenrod is new to me.  I am always worried it may cause hay-fever, but I learned during my fact-finding – Goldenrod is rarely responsible for triggering allergies.  Its pollen is large and heavy and transported by insects and not the wind.  Ragweed is the real culprit, according to my reading.

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a glory of Solidago

a glory of Solidago

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I also took a crash course in Goldenrod identification – Goldenrods have always stayed on my ‘refuse to identify’ list.  They are actually quite easy to distinguish in our area.  There are only 14 common species in New Brunswick and identification points include the size and number of basal leaves, leaf venation, the degree of stem hairiness and the general shape of the inflorescence.  It was easy to discover the name of the species I collected – Downy Goldenrod (Solidago puberula Nutt.)

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a bag of Goldenrod took no time at all to collect

a bag of Goldenrod took no time at all to collect

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The collecting experience?  Bright and very aromatic.  Smelling Goldenrod is like stuffing your nose in a dandelion.

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I had lots of material to work with, so preparing the pot of dyestuff was enjoyable too.  And the smell as it boiled – very sweet.  Most of the plants I’ve used for dyestuff have an unpleasant smell like boiling cabbage.

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Goldenrod added to the dyepot

Goldenrod added to the dye pot

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The result was a yellow dye.

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the yellow dye of Solidago

the yellow dye of Solidago

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But since the colour of the dye seems unrelated to the resulting colour of the wool, my expectations were low.  Imagine my joy when the wool emerged from the dye-bath a beautiful lemony yellow!

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wool roving, treated with alum and simmered for an hour in Goldenrod dye

wool roving, treated with alum and simmered for an hour in Goldenrod dye

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Yellow!  Sigh.

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 29, 2014 at 7:08 am

harvesting colour – berries of Daphne

with 4 comments

With the help of a friend, I have been able to add Daphne berries to my growing list of plant dye experiments.  She invited me to harvest some of the berries from her Daphne bushes, before the birds ate them all.  We spent an hour picking berries and catching up with one another.  I went home with enough berries for my dye pot and some of her excellent photos of the Daphne berries.

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red berries on the bush (photo by L. Cogswell)

red berries on the bush (photo by L. Cogswell)

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closeup of Daphne berries (photo by L. Cogswell)

close-up of Daphne berries (photo by L. Cogswell)

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Daphne’s beautiful crimson berries are poisonous, although the birds love to eat them.  I was anxious to see what colour they would bring to my growing collection of home-dyed wool.  I know from reading that the leaves and twigs of Daphne produce a yellow dye.

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In the dye-vat, the berries quickly lost their colour to the boiling water, making a pale rose-coloured dye.

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And the colour of the wool roving after an hour’s simmer in the pot?  A lovely yellowish brown …

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pretty side of poison

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exotic, elliptic

berries among laurel

leaves droop vermillion

toxic pills, birds immune

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spirit of bubbling wells

and water-springs, Daphne

drupes in rainwater seethe

and berries leach rosy

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waters blush at this strange

use of poison, tint the

roving, wool lifts yellow

brown dye from the kettle

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scarlet Daphne berries

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 22, 2014 at 6:58 am

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