I can’t remember where i first stumbled across any notice of this book, though i am glad i did. It is out of print, but a search online reminded me of the Interlibrary Loans program, which kept me with held breath for three weeks. Picked it up Tuesday last week on the way home from the ffFlower Mines, and opened it on the bus!
You know what the best thing about this book is? It gives a detailed list of plant materials that give little or no colour!!! That means less wasted time, fabric, heat and gathering :) Though it’s a bit more geocentric than i thought it would be, given the slightly misleading title (covering mostly what grows in south-central US), a lot of the wild plants mentioned are widespread in North America, even up to Alberta. It does miss out on a few plants in the same species, but given again that it is geo-specific, that may be why–one variety in the species grows there, but not others. It’s also decidedly not a “kitchen scrap” book with claims of blue from elecampene, magenta from dandilion roots, green from spinach and lasting effects from turmeric!!!
No vinegar or salt “fixes” either–really, just go, run down to the corner convenience store, buy a bag of potato chips fer jeebly sakes, if you’ve got a hankering for salt and vinegar, and stop mushing on about how they make berries last longer and stops rust from rusting…….
So what else is in it?
It’s laid out with plant materials grouped by colour results, it has a comprehensive index with the Latin and common name (though the common nomenclature may be regional), there are photos of the plants mentioned. The author speaks of responsible gathering and safe dye practices and it’s not dumbed down or too technical. My only complaint is the prevalent use of tin as mordant in a lot of the dye baths. Even in 2005 (the date this book was published), we knew this type of mordant was dangerous for the dyer, and best not used in the home. There are no “recipes” per se, for the novice, but the more experienced dyer will already know that as with most plant materials, your plant chunks ratio should be at least of the same weight as your fabrics/threads.
There were a few surprises with some of the flora mentioned. Certain plants abound here, and while i’m not going to get too excited about the possibility of using them, it does give me new hope for local colour. Many of them are also though, while “plentiful”, are in our National Parks–and i am never going to scavenge great quantities, because of that, and because they belong where they belong, period. If i find them in a ditch however and if it’s in my immediate environs, and i know it’s considered invasive or noxious, it’s fair game. I recognized a few varieties i had no idea would give any colour at all, but because of my frequent walks with the DogFaced Girl, i know that locally these are very very small ecosystems, and i would feel incredibly guilty if i denuded the area. I am passionately interested in using what i can find, but not at the expense of the primary reason why i do these walks and that is to appreciate what is there, not what can be taken away! You’ll note i did not mention any of these by name—–i don’t want to be blamed by the Cosmos for encouraging somebody sneaky to go and strip their area!
Of course (as with most of my own experiments lately), the preponderance of colour mentioned is yellows and browns :)
One comment on solar dyeing rather confirmed what i had wondered way back in the beginning of my own natural dye adventures–the sun will affect the dye colour—-put away those mason jars, and use a plastic tub, or put those jars under cover: they’re not really “solar”: they’re a form of decomposition dyeing, and no light should enter.
Aug 2010: OH FER CRYIN’ OUT LOUD: LIGHTBULBS JUST EXPLODED OVER MY HEAD.
Solar dyeing? HUH? What does the sun do to fabric, and has always been used to do to the fabric? BLEACHING!
I was out on the patio picking up bits and pieces from the weekend BBQ we had while J was here, and grabbed up a chunk of green polyester we had used as a tablecloth. There are streaks of fading on it. I looked at it, i looked at the solar-dye jar, i looked at the fabric——-well, sweet adeline on a skewer, it’s not the UV we need for solar dyeing, it’s the heat!!! Chemical reactions take place as the plant material stews in the warmth, cools overnight, then repeats the process the next day, and so on, as long as the fabric and potion is left to do its thing!!!!!!!!!!!!! EPIPHANY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And obviously then too, one does not let the fabric dry outside in the sun either…..
So, the marigolds are in an opaque container in the sun today, and i’m sweeping up glass from all the broken lightbulbs.
And ain’t nobody ever going to be able to write ONE book that covers every plant that could possibly give colour……….When i find a copy of this to buy —at a reasonable price, because Amazon don’t go there, too spendy for this!—-it will probably be the last natural dye book i buy. With what i have now, the Stately Barr Manor Library is extensive enough, and i highly doubt anything “new” is going to truly be “new”, but rather just rehashes of the same stuff.
My dye library:
(That big thick leather bound journal is my own dye and ecoprint notes book.)
On a side note, i did some alkanet dyeing mid October, and since then had it in a window for lightfast tests. I knew it was bad, from reading MAIWA’s blog, for fastness, but it’s really really bad as it turns out, and unless i overdye, won’t be using it again:
Above, left was exposed to sun, right covered. Below, overdyed with madder.
Lovely colour changes of brown and gold. From now on for my purples though, i think i’ll stick to the cochineal, and the few good results with lichens!