Monday, August 11, 2014

Dyeing with plants on Manitoulin Island

Over the summer I have been harvesting and processing natural dyes from local plants.
The cloth I am using is blanket weight wool sourced from rug hooking supply houses.
As I connect with this ancient skill, I notice the abundant plants that grow wild here.   
I trust others who have made records, but this year I am not afraid to experiment.
golden rod before it flowered - just the leaves made a clear yellow
roadside willow - the leaves made  warm rusty tans
queen anne's lace, the entire plant top chopped gave me green-yellows

I have to dye in the summer.
That's when the plants are here.
Dried plants also work well if one is over whelmed with the abundance.
Above, dried St. John's wort without flowers. 
Below, blackberry vine gathered in 2012 and kept dried in a paper bag until this summer.
Beautiful cool greys come from blackberry when iron mordant is added to the bath.

Usually the aroma of these plants while they simmer is very sensuous.
Blackberry vine smells like jam, dried horsetail smells like mown hay.
Connecting with the inner workings of the natural world.
Above, some of the wool cloth I've dyed this summer.

golden rod
queen anne's lace
st. john's wort
onion saddened with iron
willow saddened with iron
golden rod saddened with iron
horse tail
(the list does not relate to the photo)
Careful to treat the plant with respect,
I only take 10-20% in any given area and leave 80-90% behind.
Continuing to learn,  I keep notes of everything I've done.

I count on advice from Rebecca Burgess, Jenny Dean, Judy McGrath, Sasha Duerr and India Flint.
Tip for today:  allow the plant matter to steep.

In the above photo:
top shelf - indigo (most left from April's wedding cloths)
middle shelf - variety of silk and wool fabrics dyed with local plants over the past two years.  
bottom shelf - the blanket weight wool that I have been dyeing this summer.
I think my colours are getting richer, don't you?
second tip:  learn to love brown and grey.


  1. color is getting richer in every sense. you are, too.

  2. love the subtle colors on wool. Yum!

  3. Beautiful colors, warm and relaxing!

  4. Wow! The soft yellow looks soothing right now. Aroma of blackberry...

    Blessings to you & yours

  5. "learn to love brown and grey"..yes.

  6. I may try to dye things next summer while I am in Italy. Do you know they have Eucaliptus trees where I am in the south? I was surprised.
    Dyeing, like cooking, helps teach patience. I love your line about learning to love brown..I was so disappointed with that colour when I took dyeing classes a few years ago.

  7. It's quite funny that people think that natural dyeing using local wild growth is a SLOW thing to do. I find it quite urgent.

    The season is so short and there is such an abundance, I have to make choices on which plant to gather, and have had to allow several of my harvests dry out on the deck before I can get around to processing them.

    Each plant takes two to three days to go through the complete process of soaking, heating, steeping, straining, re-heating with the fibres in , steeping, cooling, hanging on the line to allow it to rest, washing gently in delicate cycle, hanging to dry again. Sheesh - A lot of labour and time goes into the fabrics and this before they have any stitching.

    I've started to ask myself why I am attracted to artwork that I know will occupy me for years.



  8. Hi Judy,
    I was never very interested in naturally dyed cloth ... mostly because of the wishy-washy colours ... and because I am extremely lazy.
    Your comment just reaffirms the work involved and my steadfast resolve to paint the exact colours I need and use.

    But, saying all that, I have much appreciation for some rather boring brown, potassium permanganate- dyed samples from a wisp. a few years ago ... sometimes that colour is just exactly right and so exciting in the right mixed media pieces ! I still have a few scraps left ;)

    Your perseverance and notes have produced some very beautiful
    colours ... I know you will get to use all of your stash in some amazing embroideries !

  9. You've been very busy when I see your dyed fabrics ....
    A lovely stash to dive into for some new project (I bet it's already brooding somewhere in your head ;-) !!!)


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx