After a glorious and fairly mild autumn, the colder weather arrived about a week and a half or two weeks ago. We have had at- or below-freezing temperatures every night since then. Fortunately it’s been warm and sunny in the day times, so the ground isn’t frozen. It has also been very dry, so the soil isn’t wet or heavy. Perfect weather for digging up the madder bed in my fiber and dye plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm. So, on Saturday I headed over there in the morning… a bright but cold and windy day. Continue reading “Digging up Madder Roots”
This summer I have spent most of my time and energy on weaving, but I didn’t want to let the summer end without at least a little bit of dyeing. So, last Friday I ran a woad vat, following my usual routine based on Rita Buchanan’s directions in A Dyer’s Garden and A Weaver’s Garden. The woad plants in the bed that self-sowed, and the transplants from that bed, were still pretty small. I lost about half of the plants in the bed affected by club root, which left one short bed with decent-sized (though a bit moth-eaten) leaves. I picked from all the beds, and collected two and a half pounds of leaves. I was worried that there wouldn’t be much color in the leaves yet because they were still small, but you can see the “breaking blue” as it oxidizes here on the cut stems:
After I finished the lichen-dyed rya the other day, I was close to the end of the warp. What to do? Plan a small project to make use of it? Cut it off? I had a similar problem earlier in the spring (see my “Too Short Warp” post). At that time I planned out a small project with green and yellow yarns, but I was ultimately stymied and I didn’t end up weaving it. I cut off the warp regretfully, since 8/4 linen warp isn’t cheap and I hate to waste linen because I know what goes into creating it. Continue reading “Green and Yellow Rya”
I finished a new rya. Here it is:
Back in September, I finished a custom order of 8 books, which was very satisfying. I used only naturally-dyed pattern weft, in linen, cottolin, and cotton (the warp and tabby wefts were commercial). I had a variety of weld-dyed yellow, madder-dyed pink and terra-cotta, and woad-dyed blue yarns to work with. They were all woven in an overshot pattern called Young Lovers Knot, which I have been using for my book cloth for about a year now.
You may recall my frustration earlier in the spring when I was weaving the cloth, and I was bored of weaving the same pattern over and over again. I complained about it at the time, and then got re-inspired when I bought some new tabby weft colors. I also switched from weaving the design star fashion, which creates boxes and distinct diagonal lines as you weave, to weaving rose fashion, which makes the motifs rounded and gives a sense of concentric circles rippling outward. Continue reading “Recent Books”
I recently heard a little rhyme about the growth habits of perennials that I couldn’t believe I had never heard before: Sleep, creep, leap. This year my yarrow finally got to the “leap” stage. Yarrow, of course, grows wild all over the place and there isn’t necessarily any need to cultivate it. I have only seen it as a white-blooming wildflower (Achillea millefolium, I believe) which sometimes has a purplish or pinkish tinge. It is beautifully frothy and creamy looking. But I do cultivate it because it comes in such beautiful colors, and I have tried several varieties in the garden over the years. For some reason, the red, yellow, and orange ones have not survived, but this year my pink-flowering ones were lush and tall and bloomed in abundance.
Here is a young little yarrow plant early in the spring. It is feathery and burly at the same time. It looks a little bit like Queen Anne’s Lace when it’s young, and they often grow in similar places. But yarrow is fuzzier, almost furry, and more dense.
This is what my pink-flowering type looks like in full bloom. It’s cheery, and I find it kind of humorous. The shade of pink is so bright that it entirely over-rides the feathery, lacy quality of the foliage. Continue reading “Yarrow (Achillea)”
Since Queen Anne’s Lace has been so abundant this year, I wanted to experiment with using the entire plant, roots and all, for dyeing. Quite a lot of plants needed to be weeded out of our garden plot, so on August 2nd I decided to try it. I was pretty certain it would make yellow, which is the most common color from wildflowers, but you never know until you try.
When I am dyeing, I often think of Jill Goodwin’s summary of her dyeing philosophy in her introduction to A Dyer’s Manual. I find two of her points especially comforting and motivational:
- “Only use the results of other people as a rough guide, for their conditions will not be the same as your own. Prove everything by your own efforts.”
- “Persevere with each problem, for sometimes after years of thought the solution will become clear.”
So, I do try to prove everything with my own efforts. And I try to persevere with each problem. Hopefully over the years I solve some of them.
I pulled up many plants and chopped them up with pruning shears. I got 4 lbs. 8 oz. of plant material. I liked the cauldron-esque look of the dye pots with stems, leaves, flowers, and especially the roots. Whereas the flowers alone smell lemony and sweet while they are simmering, the whole plant smells a bit more like carrots, as you might imagine. Lemony carrots. Continue reading “More Queen Anne’s Lace”
Supposedly this blog is about dyeing. Even though I don’t seem to write about it very often, I do sometimes actually dye things. This week I had great success with woolen yarns using Queen Anne’s Lace flowers. Plus I managed a successful woad vat, aerated and everything. Here are the lovely yellows, greens, and blues hanging on the line to dry in the back yard (each skein is about 4 ounces).
My woad beds are looking fantastic! I am very pleased about this. For the past couple summers, the woad plants at Amethyst Brook have been small and feeble compared to the woad I grew up at the dye- and fiber-plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm. This year that garden at Bramble Hill has been sadly neglected (well, I’ve been distracted by multiple flax plots), so the community garden is my sole source of woad. Consequently, I made an extra effort to add plenty of composted manure before planting this year. And ta-da, success. Here is one bed before I weeded it the other day:
On Thursday, May 17th, our flax and linen study group met at the lab of one of our members to look at flax fibers under a microscope (and cotton and wool, for comparison). It was so incredibly fun!
Here are the tools and equipment we used to make slides.
We used tweezers to position our samples and to pull them apart a little to separate the fibers so the light could pass through. We put our samples on a slide (in the square boxes on the right), and added a drop of the mounting adhesive on top (from the little bottle in the blue box). Then we dropped on a small glass cover and used tweezers to press out the air bubbles and get the adhesive to spread evenly between the slide and the cover (small glass covers are in the orange box). Sharpies are for labeling slides. The pink yarn in back is madder-dyed 40/2 linen. Scissors and razor blades are for cutting. Because the samples were dry, we could make permanent mounts.
Folks brought in a range of flax in various stages of processing: dried but un-retted, retted but unbroken, and retted and broken but not scutched (or hetcheled), and fully processed strick, both old and recent. We looked at flax in several different stages including some of my naturally dyed yarn.
Here is the microscope.
We took a lot of very beautiful photos. Here are a few highlights. This image shows the tips of two flax cells overlapping. You can see it in the upper-most edge of the large central bundle, just to the right of the less-in-focus strand that’s crossing diagonally in the left hand corner. Those two greyish-colored pointy tips are the ends of two fiber cells.
This image shows cotton fibers for comparison. Cotton fibers are flat and ribbon-like in structure, and they twist, whereas flax fibers are rounded or tubular.
There is some twist in the structure of flax fibers, also. The image below shows this twisting (in a greenish color in the thin strand in the center). One important thing I learned on Thursday is that the flax fibers we use for spinning and weaving are not the fibers from the circulatory system of the plant (xylem and phloem), which I had previously believed. In fact, they are the structures that give the plant strength and rigidity. They are associated with the vascular cells but are different.
The two images below show strick fibers (fully processed and ready to spin) from the Zinzendorf brothers in Pennsylvania. The flax was grown and processed on their farm. In the top photo, the center-most green, translucent strand shows the horizontal bars that are typical of flax fibers. In the upper left hand corner you can also see some brown decayed plant matter that is still sticking to the fibers. Click on the images to see a larger view.
On slide below we used a stain that shows lignin (the woody material that makes the fibers strong and rigid) in blue and pectin (the starchy glue that holds cells together) in pink. This is a piece of water-retted flax fiber. In the process of water retting, bacteria consume the pectins and allow the fibers inside the plant stalk to separate from the woody core and the outside “skin” of the stalk. If you let the retting continue until all the pectins are eaten, then the individual cells separate also, and you don’t get long fibers to spin. You just get a hairy mess. So, since these fibers are still holding together, there is still pectin present. We think the blue made the pink hard to see. You can see the tubular structure of the flax fibers and the horizontal bars very clearly.
The photos below show pale pink madder-dyed 40/2 linen. I used alum acetate for the mordant. I was amazed at how the color sticks to the fibers in clumps. I wonder if yarns with a darker color would show the color adhering more evenly.