Category Archives: media experiments

book review: Dyes from American Native Plants

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!

dyes from american native plants book cover

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…….

The only true problem with this book, is that it doesn’t give any indication of what is light or wash fast. It does tell you *how* to do that, but there are no notes with plants what is worth the effort, and what is a waste of time, effort and resources. I truly believe too, that testing for these should be an INTEGRAL part of the dyeing process. Maybe then we’d see less of the Beet Brigade posting their results for the GaGa newbies……………

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.


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:

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:

alkanet light test resultsAbove, left was exposed to sun, right covered. Below, overdyed with madder.

alkanet overdyed with madderLovely 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!


Posted by on November 30, 2015 in dye experiments, lessons to learn, media experiments


river poetry, the stitching commences

I have started the sampling for a big planned submission/project. I used to just rely on the sketches and notes to work up a piece, but am finding i can “out” more bugs this way! Nothing wrong with working “intuitively”, and that does still come into play, but with specific requirements needed, i need to test weight/dimension (especially the weight!) and if the idea will work as planned on a larger scale.

river poetryThis is far away still from the end look/result, but i am enjoying the steps.

This was the original layout for the sampling:

layout 1 sampling bThe strips are laid out over a background of rhubarb and (failed) madder overdye. The ecoprint on the right has been taken out of the equation, and the background may end up being an indigo piece instead. I also switched out the more yellow strips for a richer coral and yellow, also rhubarb (modified on the end in a dip).

I’m loving the contrast of the indigo dyed thread on these colours. The words are legible, but maybe not enough–i could whip the stitches to make a more stable, solid line, but i’m not sure with the intent, that it is necessary.

detail river poetryThen again, the concept is important, so i might have to–because this is a working sample, i could do a little test.

(The redder strips are brazilwood/madder over the rhubarb root.)

In the end though, this is a different colourway than the actual project will be!



not just another pretty yellow

Rhubarb results on cotton (first strip only) and silk, MORDANTED with the rhubarb root (which is also a substantive dye in itself), and MODIFIED with soda ash and ammonia (separately)–nice range of colours!!!!!!!!!

Photographed over white (top) and grey (bottom) to show value/colour depth changes.

rhubarb results with modifiers

 1.cotton first dip with bottom modified with soda ash dip

2. 12mm silk hab rhubarb dip only (both this silk and the lone cotton strip were from the first bath dips)

3.third (silk) strip shows how fast the bath exhausts

4. the first silk dip with the first soda ash modify

5. silk dyed in apparently exhausted bath, modified with ammonia dyed in apparently exhausted bath, modified with soda ash

7 silk from exhausted bath with soda ash dip

8 is an 8mm silk hab, being tested for future work) from exhausted bath and ammonia dip

The rhubarb root bath obviously exhausts fast, though i really only used a small amount of water and root in the first pot.  I won’t use cotton again as the results are minimal and weak, not worth the effort for good colour, though the soda ash did make it pinker rather than browner as the silks did. #4 had some migration of colour and a tiny haloing spot, i think because i did not rinse well, or lay flat when drying! Could exploit this i suppose.

I still have three cups of drying root, but i can see that for what i want to do, i am going to have to experiment with dock as well. It grows everywhere here and the Ninja Gardener will have to make an appearance. I need enough dye bath for silk that measures 144″x22.5″, and the amount of rhubarb root reserved is not going to be enough apparently.

Played a bit too with tying:

tie dye rr and sa silk

Meh, from second or third dip, so again pooped out pot.

And the first sampling for the project i actually have in mind for the Big Project on tap right now:

sa over rr and wal silkSoda ash over rhubarb root, with walnut.


Posted by on October 20, 2015 in dye experiments, media experiments



Honestly, i am not getting a lot of stoodio time, or having the inclination to do much in there–it’s been unseasonably hot here and the garden demands all my attention! It’s been in the mid to upper 30’s (Celsius), and the stoodio faces south so you can guess the temp in there! I’ve also moved some of the stoodio jungle out under the apple tree, so the light is blinding as well. Fortunately it’s cooler and we expect rain this week–but please NO HAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve mostly been pulling weeds, thinning seedlings (great in salads, from beet greens and bok choy to quinoa and kale) and moving the remainder of the “yard of dirt”. My digging leg and hip are killing me, my hands are sore from gripping the shovel and my shoulders are sunburnt. I’m not complaining though–part and parcel of summer and wanting a decent food garden!

I feel the need to be doing something during the downtime though, and pulled out the “circle a day” project (started last year, shame on me…)  The first two here are scraps of indigo dyed nylon lace from an old shower curtain i scored at the local “Emporium”:



Of course, they’re not really circles anymore, but still are within the 4″ size i set myself.

The third was a sample i did in the “Girl” days. I stitched around the edges, started some running stitch and laced running stitch and hated it. Boring, uninspired, not really me anymore. What do you do when a sketch displeases you and you’re frustrated with it? Scribble on it, X it out. Garbage. But now i like the not liking.


Small things right now are better than just thinking. I have two shows to do that for, and the ol’ vasty head is taking its time.





Posted by on June 29, 2015 in Jam Days, media experiments


i am curious (yellow), and blue

Those old enough may remember a certain risque movie of a similar name 😉

We have had the most luscious Solidago at the fffflower mines the last two weeks, a thickly flowered, long breaked, juicy specimen. I brought home one stem, hoping to get seed as it’s a self fertile plant (doesn’t need pollinators or intervention), and yesterday was able to grab the old pieces from arrangements we replace every week at a senior’s residence. I’m curious to see if the age of them will still result in some colour, and if it will be more vibrant than the usual specimens i can pick locally.

004most beautiful solidago can i save the seedsI’m going to solar dye as i am running out of pots for dyebaths!

solidago blooms

As to the blue, well, i am thrilled my new old vat is working so beautifully. Here’s the first dip, with a second and a third, showing the colour build:

dips progression


And the large piece that i let rest for 24 hours, though i’m not sure it really did make a difference. (Rinsed and dried, but not ironed!) I may let some do this in future, and rinse some right away, depending on the need for them.

euc overdye

euc overdye b

This one had been ecoprinted (not terribly succcessfully- it’s one of my first pieces back in 2010, saved in the “FAIL” box) with eucalyptus. I’ve seen so many gorgeous overdyes in the last year, notably Irit Dulman and her students, that i just had to try.

My first experiment with this was in Yoshiko Wada’a workshop last year, and it was an amazing result. Torn, i left the larger piece as a control to compare; i had used oak, maple, rowan and osier, and was excited to see the reaction of the indigo on each print.

indigo overdyed ecoprint

I’ll try ecoprinting over half of the Big Blue again to see what happens.



flow slow 2

I mentioned at the end of March that as much as i enjoyed making the Mister Finch bulbs, i wanted to do other things that were more original and personal. These aren’t meant to replace actual work i am doing in the Stoodio, but little bits to develop ideas, stitch strategies and spatial forms. (And my fingers need rest from rust!)

pitcher plant inspiration

It took me three hours of sketching, swearing, redrafting and re-sewing test pattern pieces. I hope the end result will be as wonderfully whacko. I’m using Deb Lacativa’s delicious hand dyed cottons again.


I have also fired up Lalage. Recent advice from a friend, as i noted in a previous post, has me doing some R&D with no fixed results in mind. I haven’t done a lot of this for too long now, instead myopically working on pieces that “have” to be completed. It’s wonderful to be able to DO the serious stuff, not have it lost in a UFO pile, but part of stoodio life is some playing too, yes? Tying in with the previous post, i am working with text again, in my own egocentric way!



And by the way, that dear friend (Karin Millson) and i will be teaching again in September, in Regina, Saskatchewan. This time we will be “abusing” our machines with Karin’s extreme tips, and then doing some ecoprinting! I will post details as i get them–we are still “formatting” and working out details, so stay tuned 🙂



Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Jam Days, media experiments



Sifting through the fast and dirty sketches, new and old. Small samplings on cloth, rudimentary so far. (Have to figure out how to make the join on the pekinese stitch invisible when doing in a circle!)

test 1 paint and stitch C

test 2 paint and stitch C

test 2 paint 1 C

test 2 stitch C

Thinking of different shapes though rather than rectangles, or some of the softer edged pieces i have been doing.

(sketch studies and experimentation from PC:BT time)

weave 1 C

Manipulating stitch by machine—the darning stitch is fascinating and i want to distort more with this:

darn 1

darn 2 C

darn 3 CAbove, all old work studies. Never throw the notes out!

And again, the “inspiration”:

leighton batik 1 back

leighton batik 1c

And working from the first sketches, i had thought there was red in this piece. ( i knew there was no pink 😉 ). Memory has one way of looking at things, the eyes and photos another.

Much to do, lots of time, but no wasting of it!