That morning I pulled up the dead marigolds (bed furthest to right) and orange cosmos (bed furthest to the left).
The woad was up, but something had been nibbling it. I suspect rabbits, but I can’t be sure.
I checked back on things on March 27th. I noticed that one of the woad beds was faring a little better than the other (longer leaves) but was still suffering from some chomping:
Here was the bedraggled stand of amsonia on March 27th:
I didn’t get back over there until March 30th. I cut down the amsonia, which I grow because it is a bast fiber plant. Some years I cut it down earlier in the fall or winter, but this fall I obviously didn’t get around to it. Yay, the Amsonia fit in the back of the car. Barely!
I also cut down the dead bronze fennel, which was not worth saving at that point. Once I cut away the dead stalks and cleared away the fallen leaves, I was excited to see that there was already new growth!
If you bought some of the bronze fennel plants at my plant sale last summer at Sheep and Shawl, check to see if they’re up!
One of the things I love about gardening and dyeing with plants is the way that it requires me to look closely and be attentive. Close up, you can clearly see the new growth. It is eye-poppingly bright and practically shouting its presence. You can also see the architectural ruins of the old stalks, some darker blotches on the fresh fronds, which I think must be frost damage, and so many other intriguing details. At every stage of its growth, the fronds of the bronze fennel are just so soft and feathery.
However, from the view point five feet off the ground, there’s nothing that would catch the eye or demand that you stoop to look more closely:
On that last remaining stalk in the bronze fennel bed, I found an egg case. I think it’s another praying mantis egg case (ootheca!) so I didn’t cut it. Here’s the close up:
Yesterday I ran a woad vat! This is worthy of an exclamation point because all day yesterday, I was sure that it was the latest date I had ever run a woad vat.
Normally by this time of year, all the dye plants have been killed by frost and the gardening season is over.
As I started writing this post, I decided to consult my records regarding late-season woad vats. It turns out I was wrong about the latest date of my woad vats in years past. Here’s the proof:
It turns out that I had run a woad vat on the exact same date in 2011. The two closest contenders for “Latest Woad Vat” were October 29th, 2013 and October 23rd, 2005.
Luckily, I write things down and do not have to depend on my bad memory. It was actually kind of amazing looking through all my dye notebooks to find the “Latest Woad Vat” date. I’ve been dyeing since 2000, and have filled up a lot of notebooks.
Here’s the story about yesterday’s vat. Back in mid-October, we had a warning for a hard frost. Light frost won’t hurt woad, but I wanted to protect it from a heavier frost until I had a chance to harvest and use it. I had planted it really late this year, and it wasn’t even ready to pick until mid-September. I hadn’t had time to use it by the middle of October, but a year without a woad vat is a sad thing, so I covered it up and hoped for the best.
Then we had rain and more rain and many more frosty nights, and my schedule didn’t get less busy. On Friday Nov. 16th, we got 8 inches of snow. I figured the fall was over, and I should just go take off the row covers and admit defeat.
Yesterday I had the day off school, and finally had time to visit the dye plant garden and take off the row covers. To my total surprise, all the snow on that side of the hill had melted. Even more surprising, the woad looked perfectly fine.
Not at all dead. Totally alive. A little bit flat, but very green.
Here was the view in the other direction:
I decided to harvest it and run the vat that afternoon. The weather when I started out was cloudy and about 35 degrees. Over the afternoon the temperature was going to drop, and the low last night was forecasted to be in the single digits, close to zero. Today’s high has not exceeded 18 degrees (I’m writing around 3:30 pm). No time like the relatively-less-frigid present.
Here’s a bed after I harvested all the leaves:
Here’s the bag in which I collected the leaves:
I harvested a little over 3 pounds of woad leaves. They were muddy and mixed with a lot of pine needles and dried tree hardwood leaves, so I rinsed them in warm water:
I tried to separate out as many pine needles and leaves as possible. Here was the muddy rinse water afterwards:
Normally I shred the woad leaves but I was racing to get as much done before dark as possible, so I left the leaves intact:
I poured boiling water to the top of the bucket and pressed on the lid. To keep the vat hot, I did this step in the kitchen. The leaves extracted for one hour.
Then, I took the operation outdoors, where it was getting really cold and windy.
Here was the scene outdoors in our parking lot:
We have had a lot of rain and other precipitation over the recent weeks and months, so the ground is totally saturated. I set out milk crates along the front walk to keep things out of the mud.
I strained out the leaves and squeezed out as much liquid as possible. There was a little blue staining on the lid where the leaves had been pressed at the top of the 5 gallon bucket, which I took to be a good sign:
I added ammonia until the pH was between 9 and 10, then I aerated the vat by pouring it back and forth between two 5-gallon buckets:
The foam on top lightened to a creamy color after a while, so I figured that was sufficient. I sprinkled on one and a half packages of RIT Color Remover (which contains the reducing agent sodium hydrosulfite) and stirred it in to help it dissolve:
I let the vat reduce for 45 minutes. By this time it was dark out and really, really cold. I couldn’t take pictures in the dark. I overdyed some yellow skeins (alpaca and wool dyed with weld and marigold), a woad-dyed cotton t-shirt of Matthew’s, and some woolen woad-blue skeins from 2016.
Did I say it was getting cold? When I set the skeins out on milk crates to oxidize, they froze. When I put Matthew’s t-shirt out on the milk crates, it froze:
Here are the skeins oxidizing in the bathtub this afternoon:
The greens were in the vat for 10 minutes each. I left the darkest blue skein in overnight. I haven’t washed or rinsed them yet.
Around 8 pm I moved the vat into the downstairs bathroom to keep it from freezing:
This has been an extremely prolific year for Queen Anne’s Lace, also known as wild carrot or Daucus carota. It is absolutely everywhere!
Back in July I ran two dyebaths with fresh Queen Anne’s Lace flowers. Since it’s so abundant, I decided to just use the flowers this time, though you can use the whole plant. For the first dyebath, I had no trouble collecting 30 oz. of flowers from various spots around Amherst, including the sides of parking lots, the side of the road, and next to bus stops.
The flowers are incredibly fragrant and sticky, and consequently they host a huge range of insects. When you pick the flowers, all the insects come along, too. This fact gave rise to a new house-hold rule:
I weighed the plant material outdoors! I also made the first dyebath outside on the portable electric stove outdoors. We had some rainy weather after that, so I made the second dyebath indoors using 24 oz. of flowers that I picked in Hadley. Continue reading “Green Yarn”→
Woad is a biennial, which means it flowers and sets seed in the second year of growth. I thought I’d share a little bit about the life cycle of woad and how last year’s plants fared this spring and summer. Here are some photos of the state of things over at the dye and fiber plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm on May 15, 2016.
On July 18th and 19th I ran a woad vat! This is exciting because last summer I planted woad, but didn’t have time to use it for dyeing. That made me sad, and I vowed to rectify that this summer. This summer I planted two beds about a month apart, so that the leaves will mature at different times. I ran this first vat of the summer with much glee and happiness.
I stuck with my tried and true but not truly “sustainable” chemical vat, using ammonia and RIT Color Remover. One of these years I will learn how to precipitate my own woad powder and master a natural fermentation vat (maybe even the urine vat!). Meanwhile I dyed some fiber blue with my own woad and it made me happy. Continue reading “Gleeful Woad Vat”→
It is now mid-July, a time of year which is inevitably humid here in Massachusetts and often rainy. It is also a peak time of year for harvesting many dye plants. The problem is, when it’s humid and/or rainy, where do you hang them up to dry? Not outdoors….
Here are the woad seeds I saved from the dye plant and fiber plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm. This was from just two or three plants, harvested on July 2, 2015. We had been having a dry spell and they had almost entirely dried on the plants before I cut them off. Yes, I do already have a lifetime supply of woad seeds, and yes, they stay viable for a pretty long time. But here’s my crop of woad seeds for 2015. They are very beautiful, in my opinion.
After I wove off that pink warp, dyed with madder, I finally put a new warp on the loom. It’s a blue warp, dyed with woad, for more “Jack Frost” pattern bookmarks. Amazingly enough, the first three came out exactly the same length! This is a feat of consistency of which I am rarely capable, so I was pretty happy. Here they are:
What I have been aiming for in my bookmarks is a woven length of 10 inches, with 1 inch of fringe on each end. This allows them to fit exactly into the stylish wrappers Matthew designed, which are 12 inches long. Continue reading “Bookmark Success!”→
Due to one thing and another, I am not growing a lot of woad this year. I’m a little bit sad about it, but there it is. Nonetheless, I ran my first woad vat of the summer on Friday August 8th and had some interesting results. In the morning I picked 3 and a half pounds of leaves, which I did not expect to make a very strong vat.
Some blue color appeared in the stems as I ripped up the leaves, which was a good sign.
After those intense, vivid colors on 40/2 linen yarns from the first and second weld exhaust baths, I assumed there was still quite a bit of color left in the bath. I thought it would be fun to try a couple experiments. My first experiment was to put a mordanted cotton-linen blend skein in the weld bath overnight, but not to heat it at all.
Why would I even try this? Well, the answer is kind of a long story. Even though my usual method is to apply heat when extracting color and dyeing fiber, I am very aware of the fact that this requires energy. Way back in 2006 I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel to Kyrgyzstan along with feltmaker Karen Page, to work with a group of women in a village who wanted to develop a crafts business. My part of the project was to teach them what I knew about natural dyeing, and Karen’s job was to teach them new felting techniques. Continue reading “Exhausting the Weld Bath Part Two”→
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:
This is always a good sign. Here I am rinsing off the leaves.