Monday, August 15, 2016

Mushroom - Hypomyces lactiflourum (Lobster Mushroom 2016)

The Lobster Mushroom is one of my favorite things to dye with.  It reacts well to a pH change which allows for a beautiful range of colors.  These colors were obtained with an alkaline dye bath.  How I achieved these colors follows.

Every year I have the opportunity to harvest these mushrooms at my daughter and son-in-law's house. The mushrooms begin pushing up out of the ground in mid-late summer, growing in the thick fir needles under their trees.  It is always best to harvest these mushrooms by using a knife and cutting the mushroom just below the ground surface, leaving the bottom stem with all the roots in the ground.  This will assure a crop the following year.  I harvested about a dozen or so of these mushrooms.

Peeling the outer, orange, crusty layer of the mushroom and using those peels in the dye pot will provide the best color.  I discard the inner, white portion of the mushroom.

My husband found an old copper pail at a yard sale and brought it home for me to use as a dye pot.  I had been looking for a large copper pot for some time, so this pail was a wonderful surprise and I couldn't wait to try it out.  I put the mushroom peels in the pail, then covered with boiling water from the tea kettle and let it set.  Later, I set the pail on a trivet in water in another pot and set it on the stove, letting the whole thing simmer for an hour or so.

Next,  I added 1 TBS of washing soda, and brought the pH up from neutral to pH 9.  The color of the dye bath shifted immediately from an orange-y peach color to a wine color, which was exactly what I expected.

The first fibers in the pot were 3 150-yd skeins of a wool, alpaca, silk, bamboo blend yarn pre-mordanted with alum and pre-soaked in warm water.  The fiber went right in the pot along with the mushrooms.  The mushroom bits will shake out later.  This pot simmered for another hour or so until the color in the yarn was a deep raspberry.

Happy with this shade of color, I pulled the skeins out and hung them on a tree branch to dry.

There still being some color in the pot, I put in a small skein of wool that had been pre-mordanted with copper, and a large skein of wool which was a dingy, pale blue obtained from an exhausted indigo vat the previous summer.  I hoped the indigo skein might turn a lavender shade, and was pleased with the lavender-gray that resulted.  The little skein came out a light pink with a hint of peach.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cow Parsnip - Heracleum maxima

Cow Parsnip, Heracleum maxima, takes its genus name from "Hercules" because of the giant size of these plants.  It can grow up to 7 feet tall, and its broad leaves can sometimes measure as much as 16 inches across. Its white flower umbrels are characteristic of the carrot family Apiaceae, which are generally much smaller and more delicate plants with fern-like leaves, such as yarrow, cow parsley or Queen Anne's Lace.
Native Americans found many use for Cow Parsley, including peeling and eating the stalks and young leaves, earning it the name of "Indian Celery" or "Indian Rhubarb.  They often dried the stalks and used them for drinking straws or for making flutes for children.  A mosquito and fly repellent was made from an infusion of the flowers rubbed on the body, and the roots were used to produce a yellow dye.  As it turns out, the flower heads also produce a lovely yellow dye.
My husband and I stopped along this roadside and clipped just the flower tops from enough plants to fill this basket, which in turn, almost filled my dye pot.
After filling the pot with water and simmering for a couple of hours the liquid was a pale yellow, and I wasn't sure there would be much color for the yarn to take up.  
Two 2-ounce skeins of yarn, one mordanted with alum, the other with copper, simmered for an hour or so and yielded these lovely shades of yellow, and golden-yellow.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Heritage Arts and Crafts Days 2016

The Heritage Arts and Crafts Days festival for 2016 was held at the Aberdeen, Washington Museum of History on May 6th and 7th.  This was the 2nd year for this festival, which included craftspeople demonstrating spinning, weaving, natural dyeing, quilting, bobbin lace, doll-making, wood-carving, wood-burning, metal works, tying fishing flies, broom-making, hand-woven rugs, knitted items, hand-built looms and more.  My booth featured natural dyeing, where I had pots of the lichens Lobaria pulmanaria and Umbilicaria torrefacta, as well as a pot of scotchbroom simmering each day.

Twig yarn samples
My twig display caught the eye of many passers-by who stopped to look and inquire about natural dyeing.  Each twig was wrapped with a different shade of natural-dyed yarn, tagged with plant information, and hung on a branch which I suspended across the top of my display board.  For a closer look at the twig samples, just click on the photo.

Natural Dyed Samples 2016
Baskets filled with yarn samples, both mini-skeins and crocheted squares invited visitors to finger through them.  On the left are my plastic, sample cards with yarns showing the varied colors obtained by using different mordants.  Center back is a skein of yarn dyed with Eucalyptus globulus leaves.

Scotchbroom and lichen dyed yarns
Results from the day's dyeing are pictured here.  The olive-green on the left is from the scotchbroom plant,(shown), using both blossoms and stem, with a copper mordant.  The small deep mauve-colored skein in the center front is from Umbilicaria torrefacta, a black, flakey lichen scraped from rocks by a friend while hiking in the Pasayten Wilderness of Washington state.  No mordant was used.  The two brown skeins on the right are from the Lobaria pulmanaria lichen (pictured leaning against the front skein).  The skein in front was from a first bath, no mordant. The skein in back was from the 2nd bath, copper mordant,  along with two iron railroad spikes simmering in the dye pot to help sadden the color.

At the end of the festival there was still some color left in each of the dye pots, so I decided to combine the three, scotchbroom and the two lichens, into one pot.  This skein of yarn had been pre-mordanted with copper.  After simmering for a couple of hours in the combined color pot, this was the resulting color.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Lichen - Usnea

Usnea is a pale gray-green frutcose lichen which looks like a mini-shrub.  It grows prolific on the branches of deciduous trees in the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest.  Because Lichen will not grow in a polluted environment, the presence of lichen is an indication of high quality, clean air. 
Recently, my neighbors pruned their fruit trees and the fallen branches were filled with Usnea.  I gathered enough to fill my dye pot, covered with water and left it to simmer for 3-4 hours.  Then I entered a skein of wet, wool yarn into the dye bath and let it simmer right along with the lichen.  The bits of lichen that mingle with the yarn will shake right out later.  Lichen are rich in tannin, a natural mordant, so no other mordants are needed to ensure a stable color.  Depending on the genus, Usnea has been known to yield orange, yellow, green, and even blue or purple dyes on textiles. After a couple of hours of simmering, my yarn emerged a lovely, rusty shade of orange.
One of the things I love about dyeing with lichen is that they leave a delicate, woodsy odor in the fiber.  The early Harris tweeds of Scotland were known for the distinct lichen odors of the wool fibers woven into the fabric.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Knitting from Nature


When using plants sourced from the environment in which we live, the dye-pot yield will be dependent on the volume of plant material on hand.  Often, I have foraged only a handful, or armful of plant material...sometimes a single, large mushroom!  Some plants yield color liberally, while others seep out barely enough color to dye a single small skein of yarn.   Rarely do I have a dye-pot that will yield enough color to dye the number of skeins (5-6) needed to knit a sweater. This makes for a growing stash of single-color skeins of yarn.  These yarns are great for knitting a stranded-color project like Fair Isle hats, mittens, or sweater yoke, or for knitting small projects that use a skein or less of yarn.

This year, I dug into my stash and knit up some wrist-warmers as gifts for family and some of my fiber-friends,  The pattern is "Staghorn Cable Wrist Warmers," by carriebee; a free pattern found on Ravelry.  It is a quick, easy knit for great last-minute gifts.

From left to right:  Indigo, Tansy over indigo, Madder root,
 Indigo,, Indigo over tan, Indigo 
From left to right:  Brazilwood, Indigo over tan, Tansy over indigo,
Walnut hulls on mink, Fresh-leaf indigo.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

24-Dyepot Workshop with Carol Lee

Carol Lee held her 24-Dyepot Workshop on August 29th and 30th, 2015 at her home and studio in Encampment, Wyoming.  I was fortunate to get to attend.   My husband offered to drive me there from our home on the west coast of Washington state, 1229 miles one way!  We love the Rocky Mountain states and are always up for a road trip, so off we went!

Others came from Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, and Wyoming.  Carol, and her husband, Carl, graciously opened their home and studio to us, inviting all of us to stay with them through the weekend.   Their home is a remodeled school house with numerous bedrooms, 2 kitchens, at least 3 bathrooms, a large living room, a beautiful sun room (perfect for sitting and spinning) with a dining area, and sitting rooms galore.  Bookshelves line the walls of every nook and cranny throughout the house.  Spinning wheels (did Carol really say she has 52 wheels?) are tucked everywhere. Upstairs there is a great room, host to Carol and Carl's many weaving looms.  A rail on the right wall holds numerous, colorful skeins of Carol's hand-dyed yarns for weaving, an absolute delight to behold! This is the place where you will find both Carol and Carl during the winter, weaving rugs which can be purchased on their website:

Downstairs, the kitchen boasts an antique cast iron cookstove, which Carl lit off every morning for us to cook breakfast on.  Carol's extensive collection of cast iron cookware, every size and shape imagineable, hangs from the rafters.  Our meals were potluck.  Everyone brought food and helped with the cooking and cleanup.

Outside was where all the dye fun began.  Carol had already prepared most of the dye pots, some of which had been simmering for a few days, ready to yield rich colors.  The outside fire pit which held the giant indigo vat, the aspen leaf bath, the black walnut, logwood, and sage pots was nothing less than AMAZING!  Every morning, Carl rose early and stoked the fire in the pit.  I could describe everything for you, but pictures will better tell the story.

Indigo vat in back (stainless steel tank on legs);
 Fresh-picked Aspen-leaves in front (stainless steel tub on legs)
Black walnut (iron roaster pot);  Logwood (copper wash boiler);
fresh -picked sage (round copper kettle).
Making up our plastic sample cards for the dye pots.

IN WENT OUR SAMPLE CARDS!  We waited until everyone had their cards ready, then put them all in the pots at the same time so that everyone would get the same depth of color.

Stirring the Black Walnut bath (cast iron roaster).
Stirring the Logwood (copper wash boiler).
Fresh-picked Sage from the hillsides (copper kettle)
Giant Indigo vat with our sample cards.
Eight pots of color were simmering on the picnic table.
Lac in front; Echinodontium tinctorium in back.
Brazilwood in back; Alkanet Root in front.
Inonotus obliques, "clinker."
Hydnum imbricatom
Cochineal pot on the back deck.
Goldenrod, and Osage must have been outside as well, although I didn't get pictures of them.  Besides all of these outside pots, other pots were simmering away in Carol's dye kitchen, a camp trailer set up with big stainless steel sinks, counters, and lots of shelving for storing jugs, pots, and other dye stuffs. Madder root, Avocado, and I believe Cortinarias phoniceus, Hapalopilus nidulans, and Onion skins were all brewing in the dye kitchen.  My gosh, it was HOT in there with all those pots steaming away!  Maybe that is why I didn't stay in there long enough to get any inside pictures. Dog-gone-it! At least there will be pictures of the sample cards from these pots further down in this post.  A few of the pots were divided and the pH changed.  I can't even begin to imagine what colors we might have gotten with more pH changes and with over-dyeing,  With that many pots of color, the possibilities were endless.  But, alas!  Not enough time.


After the sample cards were pulled from the pots, the pots were open for us to dye any of the yarns, fibers, clothing, or other things we had brought with us.  Many of us also bought yarns and fibers from Carol's studio to dye or take home with us.

Carol's cotton table runner just out of the logwood bath.
This is so pretty, we suggested Carol should wear
 this as a shawl or scarf.

Bren's glorious silk yarns!
Alta's gorgeous embroidery threads.
Pallas' wool yarns from left:  madder, logwood, indigo, brazilwood.
Fibers:  mohair-logwood, silk hanky- Inonotus obliquos,
wool/silk blend- madder, silk roving-indigo, silk roving-logwood.
Wool socks-logwood, linen skirt-indigo.


Besides having the opportunity to see and use so many different dye plants at once (some that I may never have an opportunity to harvest), I learned these things:  to get really deep colors, Carol used about 9 parts plant material to fiber, rather than the 2 or 3 to 1 that most of the dye books recommend. More is always better!  Also, you can start simmering your plants days ahead of time.  Bring them to a simmer and let simmer for at least a couple of hours each day before turning the heat off.  This helps to yield more color into the dye bath.  Just be careful not to let things get to a boil, or that may spoil the color.  Carol was still getting great color from her pots and dyeing up fibers 2 weeks after the workshop was over!

THANK YOU Carol, for a WONDERFUL experience, and Ali, for all your help in getting things ready for us.