Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cranberries; a dye tutorial

Like my blueberry experiment this past October, I thought I'd give these freezer burned cranberries a go. I had some hunches about how colors might turn out in regards to my blueberry results. Though with the cranberries, I was pleasantly surprised. 

1st dye bath:
to start, I had 13oz of cranberries
9 grams of 100% wool yarn in the form of 3 tiny skeins. 
1 skein with no mordant
1 skein with alum
1 skein with vinegar

This first picture is the non mordanted yarn half way through the dyeing cycle. I'm checking the yarn. I gave it a few squeezes to check the color-- because I'm impatient. 
Sometimes I'll reach into the pot & tug on the yarn a little, drying it with the corner of a dish towel to check the color. 

Later, to let it cool off gradually while I used the other cranberries for more experiments, I moved this first skein into a jar. The wool darken over time in the bath- which is a good sign. 

Left- vinegar only
Right- alum only

from bottom (darkest) to top: no mordant, alum, vinegar. 

All the skeins reached a heat of about 160-180 over the course of about an hour. 

The next morning a dyed with a 2nd cycle or dye bath. Leaving the cranberries in the whole time, thinking that creating a contact dye might give me bester results.... 

The tiny ball of yarn is a kid mohair silk blend- sitting on a vintage silk hankie. 

I was impressed with the no mordant color from that first yarn- but I also really like the alum yarn as it was a bit brighter. That's what I used for this kid silk yarn & hankie- alum. 

I think cream of tartar would have a place here with cranberries as well as it acts as a brightener. 

What do you think? Have you dyed with cranberries? 

This would be a great activity to try with your children as well. If your concerned about heat or alum (for those that have wondered- alum is also used in our water supply for cleansing purposes. BUT WITH THAT SAID- YOU SHOULD STILL ALWAYS KEEP YOUR FOOD COOKING POTS AND UTENSILS SEPERATE FROM ALL YOUR DYE POTS AND UTENSILS. 

For another experiment- not something I've tried yet- try soaking the cranberries for a few days to extract color- add a natural fiber of any form & let sit in the sun in your home or outside. I wonder if you'll get some dye action this way? If you try it, let me know. 

If you've dyed with cranberries or if you have any questions- leave me a comment. I'd love to hear from you! 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Unexpected; Dyeing with Beets.

A few days ago as I was mentally gearing up for my dye day, we had roasted beets with our dinner. Now I think I've tried beets, both pickled and roasted about 7 times. Each time really wanting to like them. Each time, I just couldn't do it. it's like I'm eating rainy dirt. However this time as they came out of the oven I was so determined to like them enough to allow their beneficial nutrients to do their thing. As it turned out, I did like them! They were cooked with a nice amount of oil, salt and pepper. It seems that cooking them a touch longer is the key too. 

I noticed the pile of beet scraps sitting in a bowl for the chickens and I decided to take advantage of them. 

About 2 years ago I tried dyeing with a ton of tiny beets but the color just washed out. Many people have asked me at my workshops, "Can you dye with beets?" The question could be changed to "what happens when you dye with beets?" Because, we CAN dye with anything we want :) I know that beets are often used for naturally coloring food, which I love. 

So far, this is what I've done and found. 

Before I chopped them up further in my tiny food processor, I weighed the scraps. 1/2 an ounce.

As soon as water hit the beets, the color bleeds out and is fantastically magenta. As my yarn skein was only 3 grams, I only used a very small amount of alum. Like 1/4 t.

Kicking myself for not getting a better picture of the yarn in the bath after the first 15 minutes because it changed dramatically after that. It was first a pale pink. 
But then I let it cook for about an hour at about 150-160 f. 

Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. I like Yellow. Yellow is fine. 

Here are my thoughts for what I'll do differently next time:
Use beet scraps again and process in the same way. Infuse with water and let sit for a few hours to a day. Strain out the beet pieces. Let yarn soak in a cold bath. I'll use both an un mordanted skein and an alum pre-mordanted skein. I'll also do this same process exactly with heat. I'm wondering if it's the interaction with the beet pieces or the heat or both that turns the yarn yellow. Or the alum. I also played with the ph and added first vinegar and then soda ash. The ph changed but no different in color. 

Very curious indeed. 

If you've dyed with beets, please share your info. Would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Madder Root :: Chasing Orange

Back in October I was walking to the ferry on the Peaks side. The weather turned crisp and wood-smoke smells were in the air. I spotted a flash of earthy, rustic bright orange bobbing down the hill to the ferry. My eyes latched onto the flash of color and I followed it as far as I could on the ferry. I went to bed that night dreaming, processing, planning just how to use my natural dyes to get that color. I’ll dye with cochineal, then fustic, then maybe a dip in black walnut…. I wanted just the right shade of orange. I drifted off to sleep.  

Three months later I’m planning a dyeing day for when I finally dye small samples of the lichens I’ve collected, which you can read more about here. Remembering I have 10 ounces in the form of four skeins I spun of the P.E.I. wool I'd brought home, and thinking about the shortage of hand-spun/plant-dyed yarns I have in my shop, I plan on using madder root powdered extract to spice up the color range in the shop. 

In preparation for dyeing, I cleaned the kitchen and got it ready for dyeing: choosing the pot and utensils, and reading up about madder root in my books. I have an extensive collection of dye books, about 20. None of them talk about dyeing with madder root extract. Processing the plant, yes, but not using the extract. What I was looking for were the amounts of extract to use for a certain tone. Last year, while in one of my dyeing frenzies, I dyed an enormous amount of madder on loose fleece. I ended up with a gorgeous color, bright brick red, but paid for it as it all croaked on my hands -- something that can happen with natural dyes, especially indigo. This, though, was a bit much. A sweet lady at the camp where I'd been teaching bought a skein of hand-spun island wool, madder-dyed. She asked for an exchange, as the red was getting over everything. Mortified, I knew I needed to do something different next time. So here I was determined to more carefully review measurements. In a very old copy of an earth hues manual, which runs just a few pages, I found a small chart. Excited about the brick red, I made notes, then noticed that on the madder root page it said: orange with cream of tartar. I thought about it for a few minutes and thought, well, that’s curious, as I hadn't heard of or experimented with this yet. I changed my plans. It also stated that when dissolving the extract to use 160F water. The dye molecules can be destroyed if the water runs any hotter. With the entire process I kept everything precisely measured. It wasn’t until the yarns were cooking that I realized I'd found that orange I was searching for!

Here is the recipe and procedure I used. 

Items I used:

Stainless steel pot
10oz hand-spun P.E.I. wool
wooden skewer for mixing extract
large stainless-steel spoon for checking yarns and turning yarn over
17g (which is 6% WOG) cream of tartar
17g (same as above, 6% WOG) aluminum sulfate
digital kitchen scale
plastic wrap
small stainless-steel measuring spoons
glass mason jar
kettle for boiling water
Orvus paste- link
3T (for a medium shade) extract of madder root  The suggested amount for a medium shade for a lb of fiber is 4T. Because I had 10oz of fiber I made an educated guess and dropped it to 3T. 

Scour: wash your fiber.

The previous night I cleaned my sink and filled it with room-temperature water. I checked this by holding the underside of my wrist under the faucet, adjusting the temperature until I couldn't feel the water because it felt about the same as the air. This is important -- use room-temperature water so you don't shock your wool. Doing so will compromise the integrity of the wool, possibly making it sticky or scratchy and generally less soft. I used maybe a teaspoon of Orvus paste. This is important, as it’s a pH neutral soap and will not change the pH of your fiber. I let the soap dissolve without the water running, so not to make suds. In went the wool. I let it sit overnight -- not necessary as about an hour will do fine, too, but I really wanted to be as thorough as I possibly could (not my usual technique). Also, scouring your fiber before dyeing will remove any access oils or chemicals from mills (lanolin will remain). This will help with even dyeing. 

The next morning, setting the faucet to the same temperature as the bath that had been sitting overnight, I rinsed the yarn under the tap, then drew a second bath in the sink.

Prepare Dye Bath
I then got to work making the dye bath. I filled the pot with water. The amount of water does not affect the color, but you want plenty to let your fiber swim freely for an even dyeing. 

When I dye, I always mordant and dye the fiber in the same bath. It’s a wonderful time saver and does not affect the results.

I have a handy battery-powered digital kitchen scale. I realized for the first time this morning that in ounces, it is not exact, as it will weigh in fractions, i.e. it will read 2 3/8 oz. Too much for my brain, so I switched it to read in grams, which is more exact anyway, then used a handy app on my phone to convert the units for me. So I apologize for measurements being in three different units!

A trick my friend Bristol taught me, way back when she was teaching me how to dye with acid dyes at the Portland Fiber Gallery, is to use a small amount of plastic wrap, fold it into a 5x5-inch square, and you have a little plate to set your powders on the scale.

Weighing Alum, Cream of Tartar, and Madder
After calculating that 17grams was 6% of 10ounces, I weighed out the alum, poured it in a glass mason jar and with the water that just boiled in the kettle, filled the jar and stirred with the wooden skewer, You could also use stainless steel. Neither give a chance of altering your final colors. The difference could be finite but since I was trying my best here, I thought I’d go the whole way. Good habits to get into anyway. Once the alum was dissolved I poured it into the pot. Next came the cream of tarter. 17grams is a lot. I realized I need to get my hands of this stuff in bulk. I followed through with the same procedure as the alum, dissolving it in hot water and then pouring it into the pot. Next was the madder. I measured out 3 Tablespoons into the jar and in a separate jar, tested the temp of the water making sure it was not over 160f. Once it hit I poured it over the powered extract and mixed with the skewer until dissolved. Then poured into pot 

I gently put in one skein at a time and set the burner to medium, as I wanted this to heat up slowly. I monitored the heat for two hours, making sure it did not go over 180F. It reached 150F or so…. about every half hour I checked to make sure the pot wasn’t boiling, and to turn its entire contents. At the bottom it’s the hottest, and unless the pot is stirred, the fiber at the bottom will dye a deeper color, making your entire piece dye unevenly. I also kept the top on the pot to minimize vapors into the air -- though I’m not too worried about madder-root extract, alum, or cream of tartar. And as always, once in the liquid state, toxicity is next to nothing, if I can call it that. I do, however, leave the fan on high the entire time for ventilation. If it were the warmer season I’d have windows open or even be doing this outside on the porch with my electric burner. 

After about two hours, I simply turned off the burner and left the pot for several more hours, letting the temperature climb down very gently. Before I went to bed I put the pot on the floor. The next morning, I brought the cooled pot to the sink and gently lifted out one skein at a time hanging them on the handy old metal swing-arm towel rack that has been installed over our sink since the mists of time. I love this thing. I took an empty smaller pot and let the yarn drip into this pot so I could add it back into the dye bath later. Saving drippings like this is a thoughtful way to preserve as much of the dye as possible. There were many hands involved in the growing and processing of this dye material, and it’s very important to me not to waste any of it.

Another important note for best and most color absorption, leave your fiber in the dye bath over night to cool naturally. Trust me, I know how tempting it is to pull everything out after an hour or two, rinse, and let dry. With this cooling over night method, though yes, so much longer, it really is the best way to go in insure a few things- your fiber stays in tact in terms of structure, the fiber absorbs as much pigment as it's going to in that dye pot, and you won't burn your hands getting all excited about your fiber. Just let it be. Get on with your life and in the morning, you have something to look forward to.  

I was so happy with the color.

The next morning I restarted the process. This time, gathering a smattering of fibers from my studio to be scoured first and then dyed in the 2nd dye bath. 

2nd dye bath. From Top left to right; vintage doily, silk square shibori prepared, strip of lace, a funny gathering of various fabrics I sewed together a few weeks before. The shiny orange is from my flower girl dress's made from rayon I think. A nuno felted piece, a skein of mohair, small vintage doily. 

Three clumps of Irish Texel and Maine Island wool. I love how everything dyed up in this 2nd bath. SO much dye left. 

Dyeing with left over baths is a lot of fun because you get more varying colors and which are often surprises. It's also less wasteful. As I said before, so much energy was put into the preparing of this extract. It's best to use up every last droplet of pigment. 

3rd dye bath; A set of 4 damask napkins and a small table cloth. I think I may embroider on them all for a set this summer. I love the coral color that came out. 

4th dye bath; clumps of washed Irish Texel and Maine Finn wool. Drying over the fire right now. I'll use the texel for needle felting and the Finn for spinning. I'm really excited to hand card these fibers. 

What's in the 5th dye bath right now? A square of cotton for a future embroidery project, a square of silk for testing, and a really beautiful vintage linen poach of some kind. I have no idea what it was used for. I'll add pictures here once dried. 

This may be the last bath. Because the pigment will be all used up and because alum is also what is used in our water supply to help keep it clean, when done, I'll pour it down the drain, which is completely safe. 

I have had so much fun discovering the varying depths of this color. Taking my time choosing fibers and fabrics and the general patience that needs to happen while I wait for the dye pot to do it's magic. 

If you have any questions or things to add or other discoveries you've had with this extract, I'd love to hear about them. Leave me a comment and share. 

Blessings and happy dyeing,


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Story of 3 Lichens; a tutorial in lichen dye experimentation

“I find myself inspecting little granules as it were on the bark of trees little shields or apothecia springing from a thallus such is the mood of my mind and I call it studying…"

I’m not sure when I first fell in love with lichens. Not just an appreciation for these tiny leafy growths, but a deep curiosity that has lead me down a path of reverence for what lichens are, how they grow, how they contribute to our planet, and the secrets they hold inside their thin layers. Through this investigative process of finding the pinks, reds and purple that some lichens hold, it has been an adventure like no other. 

One day in my studio apartment where I lived in Portland's East End, I had a small bag of branches I found with leafy lichens attached. I took the lichen off the branch, popped them into my vintage crock pot, and covered with water. I turned it on high and let it cook away for over two hours. The smell was like the best woodsy smell I remembered from my childhood springs. The color was that of root beer. I strained out the lichens and saved the bath. I slipped in some pre-wetted wool and let it cook away some more. The resulting color was a lovely soft brown, like a nuthatch. And the smell… smelled like a man who spent his days chopping wood in the forest. He probably wore a red and black wool plaid shirt and a soft leather brown belt. A very powerful musk that had me daydreaming — I was single at the time. I dubbed this smell The Woodsy Man Smell. Socks I knitted with that wool dyed lichen, three years ago and through many washes, still have this smell. Since then I’ve been determined to find these colorful pigments, and I started to explore the world of lichens, learning about many species. 

The color purple has been obtained through dyeing with lichens for thousands of years. Some of these lichens include Ochrolechia, Lasallia, and Umbilicaria dating back to the Bronze and Iron age.  Harris Tweeds, a very established and well known Scottish textile company still in business today used (uses still?) Lichens in their famous tweeds. 

What are lichens? They are a mutualistic symbiosis. The plant body (or thallus) consists of two quite different organisms together in an intimate association; a fungus and a microscopic green plant (an alga). The fungus makes up the bulk of the thallus and the algal cells are buried with in it. Or rather, imagine the fungus saying the to alga, if you provide me with food, I’ll provide you with shelter.

Do lichens need a mordant for dyeing?
Lichen dyes are substantive, meaning no mordant is needed. All Lichens contain acids that hold precursors of colors. Some lichens have certain acids that give more dramatic colors than others. But all can be used for dyeing and none need a mordant. However, a number of additives can be used to shift the pH to achieve a different color. These include, but aren’t limited to: chalk, vinegar, ammonia, urine, washing soda, iron, onion skins, rhubarb leaves, copper pennies. Experiment and see what happens. 

When collecting lichens, please be mindful. Lichens take a very long time to grow. Two things to remember; Collect from a spot where there is a plentiful amount. And only collect the lichen when it already separated from its substrate.

Dyeing methods
For dyeing with lichens, three different methods are used according to the desired color: 

BWM- simply means “boil water method”. Throw some lichens in a pot and boil away. A method I’ve used many times. Maybe add fiber with the lichens, maybe strain off to use later. The range of colors will be browns, yellows, oranges, and rust.

AM- “ammonia method.” This is key for the pinks, reds, purples and blues. There are certain lichens containing these colors that will yield these colors when fermented for three or more months with a 1:2 ammonia and water ratio.

POD Through reading, it is my understand that the letters POD stand for “Photo Oxidizing Dyes”. In Casselman’s research, she has traced their use back to the 18th century. But what happens with these POD dyes? What I’ve read in a few places, is to collect a common orange/ yellow lichen such as Xanthoria, found near the sea on rocks, preparing the same way as for AM by making a fermentation vat and let sit for the same length of time. Here’s the fun part: it reacts similarly to indigo in that when you pull the fiber out of the bath, it will be purple or pink. Expose it to sunlight and it will turn blue. And here’s the other similarity to indigo: return it to the bath for another 30 minutes or so, for a deeper pink or purple to return, then expose it to sunlight again and the blue will deepen. 

Some more detailed info on Xanthoria parietina: The fungus protects the green alga from the harsh UV rays and drought. In return, the alga provides nutrients to the fungus through photosynthesis. I know that lichens are made up of a symbiotic relationship, but is this situation with photosynthesis and UV rays unique to Xanthoria? Possibly, because this is the only lichen species that I know of where dyed colors change with sunlight. 

The Bleach Test
Not sure if what you’ve spotted or collected has red, pink, purple, or blue potential? Take a very small piece of the lichen and scrape or tear across the piece to expose the inner white flesh. Carefully pour bleach into the cap on the bottle, then dip the exposed lichen edge in the bleach. If it turns pink or purple or red, it contains the acids to yield these colors.

Prepare Fermentation Vats (AM & POD)
Collect a few tablespoons of lichens such as Evernria, Umilicaria, Xanthoria. Put lichens into a glass mason jar with an airtight lid. Have the ammonia ready — household or industrial-strength ammonia is fine, as long as it’s non-sudsy (I’m not sure why.) 
Fill the jar a third full with ammonia on top on the lichens. Close the top and shake. Open back up and fill with 2 parts water, leaving space at the top for aeration. If you tolerate ammonia, use 1 part ammonia and 1 part water, making a 50/50 solution. Close the lid and shake vigorously. Within minutes you’ll see the color shift. Shake the jar every day for at least three months. If you think of it, take the jar outside, remove the top and expose the jar to air. It will help to develop the color. However, if it is Xanthoria, do not expose to sunlight as it may shift the vat color. Put a label on the jar with the date, location collected and the species. 

For the dye experiment I conducted on Monday, the lichens I used were:
Lobaria pulmonaria. Also known as Tree Lungwort, favors oaks but could be found on a beech tree if near water, and growing on the south side of the tree. At one time this lichen was prepared as a jelly and given medicinally to those suffering from pulmonary affections (liver infections). It has been used in England, Scotland and Ireland as a dye to achieve yellows and auburns. The acid found in Lobaria is Lobaric acid. I collected a small amount of this lichen while in Prince Edward Island this past November. I set up the fermentation vat, although I had done my bleach test and no color appeared. I wasn’t convinced, and thought I’d try this anyway. Judging by the results of the pale apricot, I should have stuck with the simple BWM. However, I found the vat exciting and promising.

Umbilicaria pustulata  also known as rock tripe. Grows on rocks in upland areas in high altitudes. It contains gyrophotic acid. It has been used as a purple and red dye for thousands of years, mainly in the northern hemisphere. I first gathered a small amount from a boulder on Squam Lake last September. where I had been teaching foraging and natural dyeing with the Taproot Gathering. After a lively lichen conversation with Stephanie Pearl McPhee on the first night, she encouraged me to look for Umbilicaria pustulata, calling it black potato chips growing on rocks. I then knew I had also seen it on a trail near Bethel, Maine, one of my favorite spots. When I got home, I prepared the vat, and it’s fermented since September. 

Photo below: preparing the dye bath, I poured off a small amount from the fermentation vat into a clean jar.

Xanthoria parietina also known as Golden Shield or common golden lichen. I’ve read in a few places that it’s a weedy lichen as it’s so common. But still, I feel it should be collected with reverence as with all lichens. It contains the acid parietin. I first collected this lichen while in Ireland last spring and summer. My husband and I were on our honeymoon and we travelled to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. We wandered off the beaten path to get a closer look at the water and to daydream of Finn McCool outwitting the Scottish giant, Benandonner and meeting up in the waters between Ireland and Scotland. There, I noticed boulders covered in a thick bright orange and yellow lichen. I collected about a tablespoon, sticking the loose yellow flakes in the pocket of my trousers. Several days later at our rented cottage, I tried the ammonia method for the first time. I grabbed an empty jam jar and the ammonia we bought at a garden store in town and prepared my first fermented lichen jar. Within minutes, the liquid inside the jar went from clear to pink, and deepened as the days went by, appearing like red Kool-Aid. As I waited for the color to shift I went outside to look out over the huge expanse that was our neighboring peat bog. I breathed the air and could smell the bog, lichens, and the rich freshness that Irish air is. I stepped back inside to look at my jar and I felt the familiar but rare sensation of sparkly sprinkles dashing across the top of my head. It's a feeling I've been experiencing for years when life lines up perfectly and I feel I'm smack dab in the middle of a magical energy.  

I’d read that I should open it up every day outside to aerate it so the color would develop. I also stuck a piece of hand-spun wool inside to just sit for a while. It dyed the wool pink without any heat, but eventually the color in the bath changed to brown. I was disappointed, but knew I couldn't keep the vat forever as we were returning soon to the US. 

Then we took a short trip to Inis MeĆ”in, the middle of the three Aran islands off western Ireland. We had a glorious time! I found more lichen to collect in an unexpected spot. This time I kept it wrapped in a handkerchief to be prepared when we had reentered our US lives at the end of that month. 

Once prepared, that lichen fermented the longest. I then noticed we have the same-looking lichen here on Peaks and in Portland. I collected about a teaspoon near the Portland ferry landing, on the Eastern Prom, and also at a cemetery on Peaks, where I had a pleasant conversation with the groundskeeper about lichens. He was delighted to hear that I wanted scrape lichen from the headstones, because every year he, along with many others, uses a certain treatment to clean off the headstones to preserve legibility. Imagine a family member who wanted to locate an ancestor but couldn’t recognize the headstone because it’s covered in moss and lichens. However, on the flip-side of this, Lichenologists have been working to preserve cemeteries where lichens grow so as to keep the headstones from being cleaned as it offers a valuable resource in studying these delicate microsystems. A fellow natural dyer just sent me this link on the subject. Thank you Alissa!

By the end of the summer I had prepared about 4 very small glass jars containing all the same lichens from various Maine (and one Ireland) locations.

Let’s get dyeing!
You’ve prepared your vats (fermenting jars) and they’ve been ripening for months and you’re ready for this next step in discovering the world of colors that lichens keep. 

I strongly suggest you use a very small amount of fiber for the strongest color, an ounce of less of whatever you like: wool, silk, alpaca, etc, to start. 

This is really important: pour off only about a cup’s worth of the liquid pigment. Then pour that cup into whatever dye vessel you’ll use. If I’m dyeing a small sample, I create a double-boiler method with a mason jar in a larger pot. The pigments that come from lichens go such a long way — you do not need to dye with your entire fermented jar at once. If you did, it would be very wasteful. In the beginning when you collected your small tablespoons and you prepared your fermented vat, it wasn’t very much, was it? Perhaps you wondered what you could dye with only that amount of liquid? Well, the good news is that with lichen dyes, the pigment stretches wonderfully. 

Put in your scoured and pre-wetted fiber in the pigment and cover generally with water so that your fiber can swim freely.

Heat slowly and watch the temp so that it doesn’t get hotter than 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat for 1 to 2 hours, then turn off the heat and let cool slowly. 

Xanthoria fresh out of the jar, I brought it outside in the sun to let the UV rays (though very weak this time of year) do their magic in turning this pinky purple blue with photo oxidizing.  


However after almost an hour nothing happened. 

I set it in the window for an entire day and nothing changed... 
The light yellow/ apricot is from the Lobaria. 
The middle pink purple is Xanthoria after a day in sunlight. 
The garnet/ wine color is Umbilicaria.
Each small skein is wrapped with a strip of silk I also dyed in the jar. 

The second day I dropped in another sample skein into the Xanthoria and Umbilicaria jars for another go. The top two skeins are from day 1. The bottom two skeins are from day 2. Surprised to see the Xanthoria even deeper. Maybe come summer with stronger UV rays, the skeins will shift to blue? 

I did not wash any of these skeins or even rinse them. Washing with soap can alter and shift colors because of the ph levels in whatever soap used.

I had such a fun time with these experiments and will of course be going further. Later on in the year as I travel to other parts of the country, I'll be collecting lichens where ever I go. This has turned out to be one of my favorite parts about traveling to new places. It's also a great way to explore a new place and create memories.

Wanting to understand lichen ecology, I'll be attending a seminar later on this summer where I'll be using a microscope, small knife and going on walks. I couldn't imagine a more exciting way to spend a week in Down East Maine in June. I look forward to using what I learn that week in future foraging and dye classes. 

Recommended reading list:  
The Observer’s Book of Lichens by K.A. Kershaw & K.L. Alvin. England 1963. For me an amusing little book. A bit out-dated as sometimes species are renamed. I found this in my favorite bookstore, Charlie Byrne's in Galway City, Ireland last spring. I’ve been visiting this bookshop on every trip I make to Ireland. My favorite lichen, Xanthoria parietina, is on the cover of this book. And I enjoy reading it with a 70 year old British male voice in my head. 

Lichens for Vegetable Dyeing by Eileen Bolton, England 1960. A gift from a fellow fiber enthusiast and student I’ve had in a few dye classes. She rescued the book from a rubbish pile. I was delighted to be the new recipient. It has a few beautiful plates and is an easy read. 

Lichen Dyes: The New Source Book by Karen Diadick Casselman, 1996. This book is what I’ve been using the most, and what I highly recommend —mainly because it’s one of the only ones out there that I know of. In the book, Casselman answers all the questions about lichen collecting, from ethics to colorfastness. 

Casselman also published a document in regards to dyeing with lichens and mollusks called The Politics of Purple. 

If you have any questions, of what to share your results, I'd love to hear from you,  leave me a comment:)

Happy experimenting!

ox, r

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Apple Barks; a foraging and dyeing tutorial

I’m very excited and pleased to be starting off the New Year with a weekly foraging and natural dyeing tutorial to share with you. This first post focuses on foraging downed apple limbs from an organic apple orchard here in Maine. Back in October, we took a day trip out to Raven Hill Orchard. I mention the outing here

Using barks from downed limbs is a very easy way to both forage and store until your ready to begin the process. I began the process here. To get the most color out of the barks, they need to soak for at least one week in water. It was October when I began the process, so I left my pots on the porch, though a bit longer than I anticipated. 

A great way to start is to identify what you’ve foraged. If you don’t know, take the time to research it on line or with any nature books you may have around the house. Or ask someone else what they think. Once you know, make a note of what it is. If you have a kitchen scale (which I highly recommend), weigh your foraged materials and make a note of that as well. I’ve tried to remember before- but it never works. I’m so thankful now when I take the time to make these notes. Plus, (i think) it’s really fun to know exactly how much of what you started with. Also, note the location collected and date. Once all this is done, get your barks crumpled into the pots. Cover with water, it doesn’t matter how much, and let soak for at least a week. This long soaking will enable the pigments to be released when heated later, more easily. 

So, I set up my pots outside and then sort of forgot about them. Or rather, every day I thought about them and then got very busy with something else. Exactly two months later, and frozen solid, I couldn’t take the guilt anymore. Mild guilt. And I began the process of dyeing. I did think it pretty neat that they froze solid in the pot. My pots were fine as they are made of stainless steel. My husband kindly brought them inside for me and they thawed. Freezing doesn't do anything different to the materials, other than preserve it. 

I soaked various sample skeins in room temperature water. Actually these weren’t true sample skeins as they were full skeins. A wool alpaca silk blend. 

I placed the two pots on the stove and it wasn’t until after the yarns were soaked through- an hour or more, I added them to the pots. One pot being Hudson Golden Gem and the other being Black Oxford. 

They simmered for roughly two hours. I then turned off the heat and let both pots cool over night into the morning. Then I removed the skeins and hung them over the sink so they could drip. 

I had been soaking 4 other skeins, and added those in the same manner as the day before. I wanted to see what the yarns would pick up from the 1st after bath. I did weigh out each skein but as each one was so light weight, all just under an once, I did not make a note of it. If I had been dyeing a large amount of loose fiber or fabric, I would have written this down. 

After about two hours of simmering (forgot to mention- left the barks swimming free in the bath with the yarns) I then turned off the heat and again let cool over night into morning. Once cooled I hung to dry. 

Here is the fruit itself with the bark. Black Oxford variety. I only processed and dyed using the barks of both apple types. I did not dye with the apples themselves.

Black Oxford barks. The single skein at the top of the picture was from the first dye bath. Dyed over a wool/alpaca/ silk blend. The two skeins on the bottom are actually from the second dye bath (1st after bath). The skein on the left is alpaca/silk blend. The yarn on the right is the same yarn as the top. A slight difference in color. But what a surprising difference with the second blend in that second bath is. Probably the biggest surprise of the whole experiment. 

Here is the Hudson Golden Gem variety. 

Here is the same set up at the first picture. Only difference is the yarn on the left is same as the top, and the yarn on the right is a wool/alpaca blend. All in all, with each skein just a few degrees in color difference. 

And here they are all together. Hudson on the left, oxford on the right. Subtleties... I live for those too. 

When it comes to barks, you do not need a mordant such as alum to make the pigment stay as barks have tanins which is like a natural mordant. Same as in lichens, teas, and coffees. You could certainly experiment with mordants for color variations. This is something I enjoyed about the barks as it’s so simple, one less thing to remember, and except for always needing to be mindful around heat, relatively safe. Also, if cooking dye stuffs in your home, always think about proper ventilation. I keep my oven hood fan on high and when able (like not during a rare polar vortex) I crack the kitchen window. 

For those of you who are really into the science aspect of dyeing, you may find this article interesting. I wanted to enter a link for tanins and found this. Here is another very interesting link - tanins as ink. I'll be combing over these shortly.

I am endlessly fascinated with huge groupings of plant life that hold pigments. Lichens, flowers, tree leaves, tree barks, and mushrooms. And then there are bugs and shellfish...

If you have any questions regarding this post, natural dyeing, or would like to share what you foraged and cooked up, I'd love to hear from you, leave a comment below:)

Wishing you all warmth and light during this polar vortex.

ox, r

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wintery Foraging Walk

On my way to the post office this morning, I noticed this: 

I kicked myself for not having my phone to take some snaps but decided to come back out after I got home. This here scene and the post office are a stone's throw from my front door. 

Walking back outside to get my snaps I was reminded once again, and finally accepted I think, that I am made for this weather. I will take a day like this over a hot steamy humid one any time. I do love the sun, just not beaming directly on me for longer than 15 minutes or I fry up and sizzle. Not pretty and neither is my disposition after I've been in the sun for that long. 

But this weather, seeing the snow and mist roll over the water, snow flying, my cheeks soaking up the fresh zingy air, I LOVE. 

Walking back up to the house I realized, what a perfect time to take a little jaunt and poke around in our yard. I then remembered with a flood of fondness for my childhood in Bowdoinham when I loved to spend time outside in the snow. The world around me always changing and discovering new developments in all the nooks and crannies that was our yard on the Old Post Road. Those times in my childhood where I could wander free and just stare at tree bark, the snow flakes delicate glitterings, and spotting a flash of a red cardinal against the snow are some of my most dear and early memories. 

Our yard here on Peaks Island has it's interesting quirks. And the shape of our yard is kind of neat, I think. It's maybe 3/4 of an acre, I can never remember. And though we have a lot of lawn, there is also woodland. 

This some what blurry picture of all these branches is our lilacs that hug the edge of our "driveway". Or rather the grassy spot where we park the car when we bring it over on the ferry during parking bans (which we are waiting to hear if there will be one tonight or not) and when we bring something large home. Like a dresser. 

But if you look closely, you'll see dark purpley brown buds? Do you see them? To me, when I saw them I was struck by the promise of spring and growth and newness. That's why I love this time of year. It can seem dark and endless and cold because of the short days. But it's also the beginning of a new and fresh cycle for E V E R Y T H I N G. 

This red out building is our very very soon to be painting studio. It was a garden shed that Jubal used for years before I came on the scene. When we first got engaged back in April of 2011 and where making plans to move me here, he came up with the idea to turn it into a studio for us both. Jubal, though he doesn't talk about it much, if at all, is an amazing artist, drawing a lot as a kid and took a few art courses in college. I look forward to seeing him in here when he takes breaks from his computer work. And I also look forward to letting the paints fly and the color splashing everywhere and getting covered in finding my way back to my oils. 

So here's the part that inspired my curiosities for the walk and what I found in the end. Something about talking walks, even for 10 minutes can do such a world of good for my soul. Now to look at this piece of property that is behind the studio, you may not think it looks like much. A lot of brush and ugly gnarly looking vines, shrubs, logs, and what nots. But to really look closer, so much more is discovered. Also, this was the first time I have been back there since it snowed and my goal was to discover what berries lay about as they really stand out against the snow.

The first twig on the left I picked because the leaves looked very rosy. The plant itself looked forlorn, forgotten, and sad. Jubal confirmed it's a sad old sea rose bush. I got really excited and he said, we can plant a new one because this one was small and crazy looking and far off in the waste land of our back yard near a drainage ditch. I told him, no, this one is here and I love the idea of coaxing it back to life and maybe making a small woodland garden right around that rose bush. I'll let you know how it turns out this summer. 

The second twig is barberry Berberis canadensis. I popped a berry between my fingers and the color was so bright red. I discovered quite a good amount for collecting later. 

And the third twig is black night shade Solanum americanum. I popped this berry between my fingers and a very dark but bright purple was the color. I also found a ton of it up in the woody hill. Maybe I'll name this piece of property, Lilac Hill instead. It sounds nicer. 

So that was my foraging walk. I hear it's suppose to warm up on Sunday. I'll go back out then and collect these berries and do a dye experiment with sample yarns. Will post a tutorial later. Until then, starting next week, I'll be posting a dye tutorial at least once a week. First up being apple barks. 

My wish for you, think about this New Year. What does this time of year mean for you? Talk a walk outside a choose a path to meander around in that you don't normally tread. And notice the newness of a space that is always there and let it uplift you and bring freshness into your mind. And if you want to share your walk, or what you love about your yard or neighborhood, consider posting it here. I would love to hear from you. 

ox, r