With the whirlwind of responsibilities this spring season brings, I made a point tonight of sitting down at my computer and buying woad and japanese indigo seeds. I also bought Amaranth seeds, for good measure.
Woad is a leafy plant that will be in one of the larger containers in my apartment garden. Both woad and indigo are persnickety dye plants, but when they behave they produce a beautiful blue tone. Some fabrics are “blue-faced” which means they are dipped in blue as a preliminary dye, then mordanted and dyed again with the primary color, usually creating rich tonal layers.
I’m still a beginner dyer, but I’m organizing and planting my own dye plant garden this year, so I’m excited! I took Willoc and Al-Jania’s dye classes at the SCA’s Gulf Wars event in Mississippi this past spring break. And even though I didn’t get to spend as much time in their classes, or stirring the dye pots, they sent me home with jars of dye and a spark to experiment and dye my own fibers.
As Willoc says, when someone asks her what a plant does, “Hmm, I’m not sure, throw it in a pot and lets see what happens.” She said, yellow is easily enough to produce, and “almost every plant will produce at least a drab brown.”
The planting jewel of wisdom I took away from discussing dye plants with these two fine ladies was this: Plant dye plants that will produce blues and reds in the garden, they are very hard to find wild among the weeds or along the side of the road when you go foraging. You will always find yellow, brown and orange in some form, but don’t be afraid to experiment.
The second jewel was a Willoc specific note: WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. If your goal is to reproduce a result, you need to weigh the dye stuffs and time how long the fibers are in the dye bath. Also, a candy or meat thermometer is your friend, most dyes should not go above 120ºF, some can stand 140ºF but 150ºF will kill the dye.
And last but not least, if you plan on dyeing stuff on a regular basis, get a separate set of pots and label them as dye pots. Many dyes are toxic and pots cannot be re-used if a dye is soaked in that pot, but there are exceptions, like mordanting with alum, or dyeing with onion skins.
I’ll talk more about that another day, but this post started as a YAY SEEDS! moment and will end with me sipping hot tea while flipping through a few more seed catalogs. 🙂