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.
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.
Thank you, Rachel, for sharing this!
I have some lichen aging in three jars, I think it's umbicilaria, that I foraged last November... and I was wondering if I need to use a mordant or heat when it's done aging.
Thanks for all the great info. I was wondering what books you would suggest for natural dyeing? I have only one in my collection right now and would like to add some more (Harvesting Color). Thanks
Hi and thank you so much for your comments and questions! I'm so happy to share whatever I can:)
Regrading Lichens; When using lichens there is no need for a mordant. I'm going to be dyeing with all my fermented lichens for the first time on Monday and will be posting the tutorial here on Wednesday. Be sure to check back then as I will have a lot of information that won't all fit here:)
I am curious about your lichen though. What color is the liquid in the jar? Is it dark magenta or purple? I've got two jars of umbiicilaria going right now too that I started in September that i collected near Squam lake. Along with golden shield lichens from Ireland and here in Portland and Peaks Island. I also have some interesting orange juicey bath going on from some I collected in Prince Edward Island. I look forward to sharing the experiments next week.
Jamie, regarding your question, I have SO MANY DYE books. I've been collecting them for a while now. I love all of them for different reasons. I do own Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess which is a lovely laid out book. What do you think about?
For me, A really straight forward (visually) is Jenny Dean's Wild Color. I recommend it to all my students when I teach natural dyeing and foraging here in New England. It's just awesome and covers basics while getting very in depth but in a language even I can understand.
Dyer's Garden by Rita Buchanan has been in my library since I started just dreaming about natural dyeing years ago. Focusing more on how to lay out a dye garden, it has an attractive lay out.
If you want to get super intense and scientific, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing by J.N. Liles has an enormous amount of really intense recipes that use a lot of chemicals that I've never heard of or will ever be able to use (because I dye in my kitchen right now) But it has a lot of very interesting and historical information. It's also a book the dyers at Swan's Island Yarn uses.
The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes is also nice. Another beautiful lay out and easy to navigate book.
I have several others, but these are the newest in my stack and I highly recommend them all.
I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.
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