Friday, July 18, 2014

A 10 Pot Dye Day

Dyeing has been on the brain a little more than usual lately. 
I've been preparing for my week at Medomak
where I'll teach a few dye classes including my Foraging for Color class. 

Well, today while taking an impromptu but very necessary trip into town for antibiotics for our ailing kitty, I was very happy that I remembered to pack my scissors and plastic bag into my purse. 
Just in case I felt like foraging, you know.

I collected some chicory Cichorium intybus. Belonging to the Asteraceae Family.
I have been admiring this road side weed ever since I first noticed it in Nova Scotia, 10 years ago. 
At the time, I had picked some, brought it back to my B and B and tried to paint it.
I didn't get very far as the flowers faded and wilted very soon after picking. 
And since I started foraging for dyes back in 2008, I've been meaning to try chicory as it grows in many sidewalk spots here in Portland. 

Lady bug hanging out on queen anne's lace, Daucus carota
Belonging to the Apiaceae Family.

 While making my way back, I spent some time with Rebecca Burgess's Harvesting Color book.
While also sitting in my favorite spot on the ferry. 
I've owned this book for several months now and I am stil going through it. 
I love the lay out and the message it brings to dyeing. 
I've been inspired to collected plants from my yard and do as many as I can stand, beacuse there are so many. That may happen this weekend. 
Also, As I live in a place where I am surrounded by salt water, (I know, poor me), I'm going to (one of these days, collect the sea water to use in my dyeing.  

Once home, I attempted to revive the chicory and queen ann's lace until I needed them. 

I just love the smell of queen ann's lace AND the pink, red, purple, or black spots in the middle. 
Sometimes I just stare at these spots, 
why are they there? 

I want an answer other than 
"it's queen ann's blood".

I noticed a few weeks ago we had some tiger lilies, Hemerocallis fulva.
Belonging to the Xanthorrhoeaceae family.
They grow along the back side of our property. 
I collected the flowers that were just past/ dead heads. 

Popped them in a large glass jar and added water. 
A while later I decided to add more water and 
then noticed this pale moth right on top.
Almost blending in. 
I set it free. 
I'll let the solar bath go till early next week before I decide if I want to add direct heat. 

I also got the idea to use this misfit mint. 
It's been growing out of a broken pot with no bottom. 
I realized I should stop consuming the mint when I remembered the soil right around our house probably still has some lead in it from when the house had lead paint long ago. 
I've since planted 3 other varieties of mint in boxes.
But this misfit mint kept right on growing dispite the fact that I dumped it behind our house. 
I'll also let it go till early next week and then add direct heat. 

Sweat little mushrooms. 
Can never resist little mushrooms. 
I left them on the log and put it back after their photo debut.

 Along with the above mentioned, I also revived 3 pots I had used a month ago. 
Madder, cochineal and onion skins. 
And last but not least, I got to the avocado pits and skins going that I started soaking a month ago. 

Tomorrow morning I'll check on all the pots 
as this is my favorite part!!
The morning after when everything has cooled down and it's all had hours to soak up 
lots of pigment. 

I'll add results in the next post. 

As I set eveything up in my back yard
I moved much slower than usual. 
I think it was partly beacuse it was hot out
but also I was very aware that I had many dye plants I 
wanted to use today.
It felt like the slower I moved the easier it would be for me to remember everything I wanted to do. 

It paid off in the end, though I was very tired and worn out after 3 hours of walking back and forth. 

I got word from my husband who was in town running errands that he'd be home on later boat. 
With it being about dinner time, I went inside to fetch the last slice of our left over pizza
(which I had for lunch too).
I pulled up my stool and stared at the last pot simmering away. 
It was the chicory pot and I was pleasantly surprised at how fast the color seaped out in the small yarn samples and that it looked like light sage green. 
I then turned my stool around to visit with my chickens and was easily amused at their grooming methods. 

I threw bits of pizza crust at them. The little chick curiously pecked at her little bits with calm politness. 
As if she was in a fine restaurant.
While the two older hens dove with wild abandon like they had found nuggets of gold. Then the one who didn't get the piece would give the one who did get it a look like "Hey! That had my name on it!!" While also taking a tiny step forward into the other's bubble of personal chicken space. 

Then, when my back was turned checking my chicory pot for the last name,
I heard a belch. 
From a hen. 
They really love pizza crust.

Till next time- tomorrow will be all about checking out the afterbaths and seeing what's usable again
AND cooking up some lichen pots too
I've got a few pounds of hand spun Irish Texel to dye up!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Peaks Island Plant Dye Workshop Series; Summer 2014

{It's a cutting it a little close} 
But- this Saturday marks the beginning of 
my plant dye workshop series here on Peaks Island!
Just 2 miles out in the Casco Bay from Portland, Maine. 
Ferries run about every hour and it's very easy to get to. 

Join me in my back yard with my chickens and dye pots 
for some dyeing adventures. 
My home and outdoor workshop is just a 5 minute walk from the ferry so no car is needed. 

In each workshop, materials will be provided,
you'll receive 5 hours of instruction
and enjoy a delicious organic home cooked meal from one of my favorite recipes
which we'll enjoy on my porch with a breezy view of the water.
And you'll come away with a ton of skills, knowledge, dyed samples, 
and a full belly.

For further questions or to reserve your spot for any of the workshops
send me an email at:
and I'll send you further info including directions and info about the ferry. 

First up:

:: Under the Rainbow :: 
Saturday July 19th
{ferry from portland-9:15am. ferry from peaks- 5pm}

Plant dying for the true blue beginner. We’ll learn the basics of preparing plant dye pigment powders with safe habits, experiment with color blending, and go over equipment and materials. You’ll come away with a ton of techniques and tricks to apply in your own dyeing. 
Materials and delicious home-cooked lunch included. 


:: Mermaid Threads :: 
Sunday August 10th, 
{ferry from portland-9:15am. ferry from peaks- 5pm}

Plant dyeing for fabric and garments. Bring 3-4 white/ light colored natural fiber garments or fabric bits. We’ll use a variety of plant dyes like indigo, madder root, onion skins, and a few others to add new life to your pieces! We’ll go over equipment, safe practices, where you can purchase dye materials, and how to care for your newly dyed pieces.
Dyes and a delicious home-cooked lunch included. 


:: Foraging for Color :: 
Sunday August 31st 
{ferry from portland-9:15am. ferry from peaks- 5pm}

Have you ever looked at a plant and wondered if a dye lived inside? I’ll get you jump started into the world of exploring your back yard and neighborhood for dyes. We’ll go over foraging within an ecological context, cook up test pots, go over handy equipment, and talk about safety habits. 
Materials and a delicious home-cooked lunch included.


:: Lichen Magic:: 
Sunday September 7th 
{ferry from portland-9:15am. ferry from peaks- 5pm}
 Lichens have been used for their dye properties for thousands of years. The colors that can come from lichens cover the rainbow spectrum! You’ll come away knowing at least 4 different types of dye lichens, a few good reference books to use, pigment testing methods, extraction methods, respectful collection methods, the 3 dye-prep methods, and even a little lichenology.
Materials and a delicious home-cooked lunch included.

Do email me if you have any questions about these workshops.
Hope to see you there!

ox, rachel

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lost in Lichens

I noticed I've been a little absent from this space for several, several weeks. 
With the start of summer, came many other activties 
that have happily kept me from my computer.
But it has been too long. 

I thought some of you might be interested in what I was up to last week 
and what (a lot of the time) occupies so much space in my head!

For a few years I've been experimenting with lichen dyes. 
I've found the more I research lichens the more I want to know. 
And because I use lichens as dyes and have begun to teach lichen dyeing, I thought it a good idea to learn about the ecology of lichens so I could better understand this often misunderstood (they are not mosses) organizism. And then share that information. 

In the natural dyeing community there can be very strong opinions that oppose the use of lichens for dyes. Sometimes these opinon stem from a place which is often taken out of context because of looking at the situation from one angle only AND not really understanding how lichens work. 

Lichens, to me, is such a special item to use for dyes and I use the utmost care and respect when collecting, and dyeing. 

But anyway...

If you'd like to share any of your thoughts or questions regarding lichen dyeing here, please do so. I really enjoy conversing about the subject. 

But for now I'm just going to share some snippets of this very unqiue week I had.

Just recently, I spent a solid week at The Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben, Maine studying 

This week long seminar was not based at all or linked to textiles but solely on the ecology of this organizism.  

It was probably one of the most intense weeks of my life. 
Or at least in a long time. 
The amount of information, words, and terms thrown at us 
had our heads exploding for at least the first few days. 

{teeny tiny mushrooms outside my cabin. I checked on them every day and even looked at one under the mircoscope. Just so beautiful! I tried a spore print which I know came out lemony yellow but also the teeny tiny mushroom shriveled into a dissapearing red speck.}

I still remember the first thought I had when I stepped out of the car once I arrived:
 ** WOW! The air smells just like a balsam pillow! **
{path to the dinning hall.}

Being at a slightly higher altitude than here on Peaks Island
and a just a different air quality. I thought the air here on Peaks was pretty amazing. 
But up there at Eagle Hill, 
it's also pretty special. 

On our first walk, I was introduced to the reindeer lichens.
 The Cladonias 

All sorts of Cladonias where around in cripsy dried puffs coming up from the ground and living 
with mosses. 
Driving home I had this faint memory pop back up of when I was young. In the late summer, our  family had this berry picking tradition of driving from Bowdoinham to Dresden (or Richmond, I don't remember) to pick blueberries down this dirt path that didn't seem to lead anyway except blueberries
and these strange crispy puffs that I always felt bad about stepping on. 

I know I've seen these here or there but not really in the multitude I did this week. 
{Cladonia maxima}

This lichen, Usnea, was hanging in long whispy threads, wrapping around the trees. 

Lobaria, for me, is one of the star lichens. 
It's large and leafy and just so stunning after a rain. 
It changes from a dry brown green to this almost glowing green when wet. 

When we weren't out for a walk collecting specimens, 
we were working in the lab. 

My favorite part about being in the lab was the chemical testing. 
To look at lichens under a microscope is now one of my favorite past times. 
But to add a drop of a certain chemical to see if that speck on the inner part of the lichen will change color, that was my favorite thing about the lab work. 
SO much so, that with each lichen I found, that was the first part I did. Just so I would know what it's potential dye capibiities would be. Also for when I hit that spot in the key work, I would know and could move on instead of stopping the key work to do the chemical test. 

On the first day, we learned how to prepare mini pepets (is this a real word? anyone?) 
It's basicly a long thin hallow glass tube that you melt over a flame just long enough for the middle to melt, pull apart and snap in two. 
You then have two effective tools for drawing up just the tinniest bit of liquid to apply to your lichen where you've also shaved a bit away to expose the inner white medulla (the inner meat).

{my lab space}

I really can't remember what this lichen on the tree was but I know I snapped the picture because 
I got excited that it changed to red/ orange with Chlorine. 
From what I learned about the lichen groups, because you can't easily pick this lichen up, I want to say it's a crustose lichen. 

We discovered this lichen on our first walk on the blue trail at Eagle Hill. Or maybe our second walk...
In any case I remember it being said it was Ghost Antler Lichen; Pseudevernia cladonia... but now I'm wondering was this only mentioned in conversation when we were looking at this lichen or was this indeed the case? With so much knowledge flying every which way between at least 2 experts, it was difficult to keep everything straight much less record! 
I know we didn't collect any of it because of the surprise of seeing it here. 

We took a trip to Pine Hill Preserve on Little Deer Isle. 
It was a wondeful little area to walk around. We hiked up and around this mond of rock to the right. Came down the back, and wandered out to the left. 

{atop pine hill and spotting a group of daisies}

{fern grove}


{insect eggs on usnea}
We looked at these under the microscope it was a wonderful sight.
Iridescence globes with carved lines going from one axis to the opposite.
Like a Christmas ornament.

On another field trip we stopped off on the side of Tunk Road where our instructors knew of 
a particular dye lichen. 
One of my favorites to work with. 
Collecting just a small handfull of these rubbery if wet and crispy when dry lichens have SO MUCH 
dye pigment inside. 
My ears perked up when our instructors mentioned there would be umbilicaria up this steep embankment. 
But what I saw when I looked up almost made me pass out from excitement. 
Rocks and rocks and rocks covered in Umbilicaria mammulata.
Everything that I collected which was more than 20 large pieces bigger than my hand I found on the ground already detatched from their substrate. 
It was a jack pot kind of day indeed. 

{our lichen group}

{smaller umbilicaria}

On our last full day we took a field trip to a beautiful spot which now the name escapes me! 
It was a lovely walk through one of the nicest trails I've been on. The drive to and from had spectacular views, not unlike spots I saw driving the west coast of Ireland with the tiny inlets and sweeping peeks of ocean. 
It was exactly this time last year that we were getting ready to come home from Ireland. 
So that could have been why it was on the brain too. 

{can anyone tell me what blossom this is?}

{more umbilicaria but of a different species. not mammulata. I think I collected some and will add the species here later.}

I'm not really sharing here everything I learned in this past week
beacuse I'm still sorting it out in my head. 

On the last night we were asked what plans we all had for continuing our study of lichens.
A list I had made the night before that included materials to get and 
projects and experiments to conduct continue to fill my head as I catch up on rest. 
Some of which include obtaining a microscope, chemicals, and lichen books. 
And a personal research project I can start here on Peaks Island by taking a survey of lichens present right now. 

I'm so excited about everything I learned! I'm going to continue to research and gather dye lichens in my area and in California's Bay area and the Sierra- Nevada foothills where my in-laws live. And anywhere else I wander into. Oh! Like New Mexico in the fall. See, it never ends:)

I could really go for a jam tart right about now ;)