Germination Test

I harvested seeds from my dye plants last year, for the first time. So instead of just counting on the seeds, I decided to test their germination before spring truly arrives.

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Last year, I harvested seeds of dyer’s coreopsis and woad from the garden, not a big surprise there. Coreopsis is an annual, and will make huge numbers of small seeds. My woad plants were in their second year, so their seeds were also expected.

The surprise was my Japanese indigo. When I harvested my last plants on October 24th last year, several plants were flowering. On a whim, I potted a plant that I had just ripped out of the soil with roots, and brought the pot inside. There, it calmly kept growing, actually until we went to London for Christmas – the plant had died when we came home. When I was going to throw it, I noticed the seed, good numbers, actually. But it did spend the summer outside with the bees.

Japanese indigo seeds.

I tested the germination of all my dye seeds by placing 10 seeds in moist kitchen paper towel in a ziplock bag that I put under the microwave oven where it’s warm and dark. From January 31st, I let the seeds germinate for a week, and got this result:

Coreopsis, harvested September 27th – 5 out of 10.

Coreopsis, harvested October 24th – 6 out of 10.

Woad – 5 out of 10.

Japanese indigo – 9 out of 10.

Not bad! That was on February 7th, so I decided that this was still too early for the coreopsis. Also, I just sewed it directly last year. So I tossed the sprouted coreopsis for now.

The sprouted woad and japanese indigo, on the other hand, went into seed-starting pots where they now grow. Last year, I found that I was too late in the season, and that was with germination beginning on  April 16th. My notes are sporadic, but it seems they grew in the seed-starting pots for about a month, and in larger pots outside for another month before I transferred them to the garden. So that would have been mid-June.

Various sources disagree on when to start seeds indoors, maybe because they are written for different climates? Recommendations range from early May, 2-3 weeks before the last frost to 6-8 weeks before the last frost.

According to (the authoritative?) “Handbook of Natural Colorants” chapter 7, “Indigo – Agricultural Aspects”, Japanese indigo should germinate inside in April and be transferred to open land in June – and that just happens to be what I did last year (although I hadn’t read that chapter yet). The book goes on to conclude that Japanese is a good crop for Central Europe, but not for England and Finland because the growing season is too short.

I imagine that it’s possible to beat the short season by transferring well grown plants, and doing it earlier than June. So that’s why my sprouted indigo is allowed to continue growing indoors, and more seeds are germinating. Even though this is what it looks like outside:

The frozen wasteland…

My Dye Garden

Summer is leaving us, and I feel like summing up my gardening for the year. I had 2. year woad plants, and just a few plants gave me a big pile of seeds. That’s despite the fact that I moved those plants last fall. This is just some of the seeds.

woadseeds2
Lots of woad seeds.

I also grew dyer’s coreopsis, which gave me these lovely orange shades a couple of years ago.

coreopsiswool
Coreopsis orange on wool.

But dyer’s coreopsis is also a pretty bicolor summer flower, and much visited by pollinators:

skonhedsoje16
Coreopsis blooms in red and yellow.

Unfortunately, I was a bit late in harvesting my coreopsis, so I just took a few stalks of the freshest flowers. I left the rest for now, to see if I can get seeds out of them. It make take a while longer, judging from a comparison between my flowers and this excellent overview.

This year, I’m attempting to grow weld for the first time. I expected tall flowers to attract loads of butterflies, but the plants only produced these leaf rosettes. Looks like the stalks will come next year.

vau16
First-year weld rosettes. Can you tell that I weeded around them just before taking the picture?

I’ve also started growing madder for the first time, and my plants are rather scrawny. I hope they’ll do better next year, if they survive winter, that is.

krapplanter16
Madder, not doing that well…

My Japanese indigo, on the other hand, is really having a good time. This year, I’m planning to dry the leaves and try this method.

japindigo16
Japanese indigo, doing really well!

Hados for Everyone

We recently had a heatwave here in Denmark, so the need arose for a project where you don’t have a huge pile of wool on your lap. I ended up knitting Hado by Olga Buraya-Kefelian, and it was so much fun that I knit three of them. The upper one in yellow/green is wool dyed with reed flowers and velvet pax. On the lower left, one with two tones of blue from woad and ordinary tropical (bought) indigo. In the hat on the lower right, woad is accompanied by orange wool, dyed with orange mushrooms of the Cortinarius family.

hado4
If you knit enough of these hats and put them next to each other, they will look like candy.

The picture below shows the different length of the hats. The blue/orange one has 1.5 pattern repeats, the blue/blue one 2, and the yellow/green one 2.5 repeats. But the picture also shows something else, very visibly. All the hats are knit with the same white background, so you can easily tell that the orange color came off.

Last year, when my daughter found these orange mushrooms for me, I was just excited about the huge amount of dye in them. But that color turns out not to be wash fast. So I’m calling this one a failure, although I admit that I would pick these mushrooms again if I found the, so I could experiment some more.

hado_bunke
My hats have different sizes. Try not to notice how the orange mushroom color bled only the white!

The top of the hat as knit in the pattern disturbed my eye, so I had to modify it. I kept knitting the pattern to the top, but omitting the yo’s.

hado2
I modified the crown to visually fit with the main pattern.

Woad – A History of Blue

Finally, the summer holiday is here! I’m going to spend it dyeing (with natural dyes, of course), knitting (with my naturally dyed yarn) and reading (about natural colors, what else??).

I just finished reading the Norwegian book “Vaid – En historie om blått” (Woad – A History of Blue) by Anne Sagberg, a well written and interesting book that contains a lot of information that was new to me. The author obviously did her own research instead of rehashing existing literature on this topic.

The chapters on historical finds of woad dyed Norwegian textiles are especially interesting. Wild-growing woad is found in multiple locations in Norway, including the coast of Nordland (quite far North). It’s unknown if it was previously grown for dyeing, but there are many finds of woad dyed textiles from different eras.

vaidbog
Woad – A A History of Blue, by Anne Sagberg.

The Oseberg Ship was discovered in 1904, and is a ship grave from the year 834. Two women were found in it – one dressed in blue, on in red. The red textile is very fine, probably imported, and the garment is embellished with silk ribbons. The woman in red is referred to as the Oseberg Queen. The blue textile is not as fine, probably a local product, so the woman in blue could be a servant.

Not only was the blue textile dyed with woad, the queen also had a small box of woad seeds with her among the grave gifts. I find this really interesting. We don’t know if the plant was cultivated in Norway at the time, but someone almost 1200 years ago found a small box of woad seeds precious or important enough that it was given to an important woman to bring with her to the afterlife.

I saw the Oseberg Ship, which is found at the Viking Ship House, some years ago. It’s impressive and beautiful, but unfortunately, I don’t remember anything about a box of woad seeds. I didn’t know to look for it at the time, but also, I don’t know if it is displayed.

Osebergskibet, udgravning tv og det istandsatte skib th.
Left: Excavation of the Oseberg ship. Right: After restoration. Photos in the public domain.

The Baldishol Tapestry is a surviving fragment of a once-larger piece – you can tell from its torn edges. Its story is incredible.

In 1879, the old church in Baldishol was torn down, and the neighbors bought some of the objects from the church. Some years later, a Louise Kildal visited from Oslo and took one of the objects home with her – a dirty rag that the organist used to drape over his legs because there was a terrible draft in the old church (!)

Home again, Louise Kildal washed the rag, and what came out? The colorful Baldishol Tapestry, a wowen picture from between 1040 and 1190. The tapestry is kept at Kunstindustrimuseet in Oslo, and next time my path goes near it, I’ll make a point of seeing it.

Meanwhile, I could easily see myself dyeing some yarn to match the tapestry’s colors. It contains several blues, probably from woad. The green color is yellow overdyed with blue, so clearly large amounts of blue went into creating this precious piece. One of the red threads (left over from earlier restorative work) was analyzed in 2013. The analysis showed that the red color comes from a member of the Rubiaceae family (to which madder belongs) but apparently couldn’t tell if the color is indeed from madder or another member of the family. The yellow has not yet been analyzed, but Anne Sagberg tells us that weld was used since early times, and could have been cultivated in Norway or imported.

Af Frode Inge Helland - http://kunsthistorie.com/fagwiki/Fil:BaldisholteppetRepr_1000.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15836282
The Baldishol Tapestry. Photo: Frode Inge Helland

The book covers many more topics than the ones I mention here. Anne Sagberg writes about the excavation of a grave inside the stave church of Uvdal. A young woman was buried there in the latter half of the 14th century, wearing a woad dyed hood, a shape that was very fashionable at the time. Sagberg recounts the problems she encounted trying to recreate the hood (not easy!). A detailed description is also given to three wall hangings, Vossaduken, Huldreduken and Veøyduken. They are from the late 15th century, and all embroidered with geometric patterns that I’d like to knit one day.

Anyone who made it through all this text will have no doubt that I’d like to recommend Sagberg’s book to those able to read Norwegian!

Læs dette indlæg på dansk

Thinking about Woad

Woad is flowering right now, in lovely yellow abundance, and I’m hoping for a good seed harvest.

blomstrendevajd

Seeing the abundance of flowers made me want to knit with my woad dyed yarn from last year, and so, it’s become part of a whole obsessive-compulsive series of hats that I’m knitting these days, following Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Hado pattern. So far, I’m knitting the third one, of course with a lot of mods although the pattern is a good one, and simple, too. The hat below has stripes of woad and poisonous orange mushrooms from last fall.

hado1

The Dye Plants are Sown

Today, I’ve sown some of my dye plant seeds in small pots indoors. The night frost has almost gone, you see…

Last year, I had luck growing Japanese indigo and woad from seeds that I cultivated indoors before planting outside, so I’ll do the same again with Japanese indigo this year. I’m skipping woad because Japanese indigo has a much higher dye content. Also, I have some woad plants growing from last year, so they might flower and produce seeds.

I’m also sowing seeds of weld and madder, and that’s the first time I try those. Weld seeds look like poppy seeds, but the plant is related to cabbage and mustard. It is said to have exceptionally fragrant flowers the second year, so I hope it’ll survive that long!

seeds_txt

Madder seeds are a bit special, angular and sticky

madderseeds

Now, all the seeds are in their little pots. Madder seeds just under the surface, weld and Japanese indigo seeds just on the surface.

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Blue Harvest

This summer, I grew Japanese indigo

japaneseindigoplantsand woad

woadplants

in the garden for the first time. I harvested all of my plants on September 28th (already a long time ago, lots of stuff has been going on here) except the woad plants I left to let them grow a second year in an attempt to get seeds.

After harvest, I had 465 g of Japanese indigo leaves stripped off the stems and 433 g of woad leaves. I’m pleased with this harvest, which came from two rather small patches of land with maybe 12 Japanese indigo plants and a similar number of woad plants.

Following the instructions from “A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan, I poured just-boiled water on the woad leaves (it smelled a bit radish-like) and hot (was 44C) tap water on the indigo leaves, then heated them slowly on a double boiler to 71C. It smelled a bit minty almost.

At that point, you strain the leaves out of the dye bath and add base. I used what I happened to have around the house, which was sodium carbonate (it seems that the actual base used doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you must raise the pH). I added 2 spoonfuls to each dye pot.

Then comes the magic! By pouring the dye bath several times from one container to another, you introduce oxygen, which oxidizes the precursor indican into the blue form of the indigo molecule. During this step, my woad dye bath changed from reddish brown to dark green and developed a blue-green foam, and the Japanese indigo bath changed to a classical indigo blue with this lovely blue foam on top:

oxidizedindigo

After oxidation, I added one spoonful of sodium dithionite (reducing agent) to each dye bath and let them stand undisturbed until they presented the yellow-green tinge that they should, which took about half an hour. Then it was time to dye! I left my yarn in the dye bath for about 2o minutes.

As expected, there was much less color in the woad bath, which I only used for one 100 g skein. The Japanese indigo bath dyed 3 100 g skeins, and the last one was as intensely colored as the woad skein.

I then tried the used leaves of both the woad and Japanese indigo on 10-g test skeins of alum mordanted wool, using a standard dyeing method (so just keeping it hot but not boiling for an hour). And here they all are:

indigowool

Bottom – yellow/green skein is Japanese indigo leaves on alum mordanted wool, the tan/beige one above is woad leaves on alum mordanted wool. Then the 3 skeins dyed with Japanese indigo, the first and darkest one is the lower one. Finally on top, the skein dyed with woad, maybe you can see its slightly green tinge mixed into the blue.

Seeing these colors that I not only just dyed, but also grew in my garden, I feel such a sense of accomplishment!!! And I have a renewed respect for blue. Imagine the trouble people went through in the past to get this color.

Conclusion: I will be growing Japanese indigo again next year for sure. I’m not sure about woad, since the dye content is a lot smaller.

Summer Days Dyeing

Summer finally came roaring with several days of temperatures around 30C (yea, hot for Denmark!). We’ve been outside almost all the time, except the times I’ve had to go into the house and check my dye pot on the stove.

Our garden is wonderful right now, the highlights are Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)

sweetwilliam

flowering thyme with bumblebees

thyme

and elder at its midsummer best – so fragrant

elder

But I also have some potential dyes growing! Here is pot marigold which is growing everywhere in our garden because of extremely efficient self-seeding. It should give a nice yellow at some point

potmarigold

And then there is this. My woad plants. Previous attempts I’ve made were completely unsuccessful, so I’m very pleased that they are growing at all

woad

And finally, Japanese Indigo. I had to put them in a plot of hard and dry soil because we ran out of good spots, so I don’t know how they will grow. I’ve never grown them before!

japaneseindigo

But instead of just waiting around for these plants to grow, I’ve been on several good walks to gather dyestuffs.

On the very last day of June, my daughter and I ventured out to gather some of the bounty of wild growing lupines that have been flowering for the past few weeks. And it was probably good we didn’t wait any more, because most of them had already produced seeds on the lower half. I gathered just the flowers

lupinflower

150 g of purple lupin flowers went into the dye pot, and I waited for my green yarn to finish. Only it wasn’t green, but just one more yellow. A nice dusty baby yellow, but – yellow

lupindyedwool

Feels Like Spring

Over the Easter, we had lots of sunny days, and temperatures around 15C. Over the past few weeks, more and more flowers peek out. It seems that spring is here, and that meant that the entire family could enjoy our Easter flu/stomach flu outside in the sun!

daffodils

This year, I’m making a real attempt to grow some dye plants myself. In the middle of February, I sowed dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria) in pots outside, only to have this happen a couple of days later:

snowpots

I was not thrilled. The seeds of dyer’s greenweed need cold stratification: a period of moist cold to break the seed’s dormancy and let it germinate. But surely this was too much? This scientific article shows that 5C for 3 months improves germination, so this was colder than that. But my seeds actually made it under the snow, and have just grown above soil now

dyersgreenweed

On March 11th, I sowed woad seeds, and they are also just visible now

woad

Maybe not very exciting in the grand scheme of things, I know, but I’m excited because my previous attempts at growing woad were less successful than this! Just in case, I’ve sowed some more woad seeds on April 3rd. Same day, seeds of coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria), St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), and yellow chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) went into the ground. So now it’s just fingers crossed.

In case you’re interested: I bought some of my seeds from Wild Colours and the rest from Urtegartneriet (their seeds are organic).

Planning my Dye Garden

Although I’ve had unsuccessful attempts in the past at growing dye plants myself, I’m determined to try it again this year. But it’s always a good idea with a plan B, and that’s my sister.
Last year, she grew Coreopsis in her garden, and since she is not a dyer herself, she decided to give me the dried plants. I threw them in my dye pot with a 10 g test skein, since the amount of dried plants wasn’t that large
coreopsis

but that was just the first skein of many. In the end, the small amount of plants in the top photo dyed 6 test skeins or 60 g of wool in a range of orange colors.

orange
FACTS – COREOPSIS
Mordant 10% alun
Water Tap
Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g
Yarn:Dyestuff ratio about 1:1 dried plant weight, but I could have used less
Conclusion Excellent dyestuff, contains a lot of color

I hope she grows some more this year – after googling around, I found that some types of coreopsis are annuals, some perennials, and some are annuals that self-seed very easily, but I don’t know which one my sister has. So I’m also going to try. So I have ordered these seeds from www.wildcolours.co.uk (they sent the seeds the same day, and they arrived in my mailbox in Denmark in 3 days). It’s woad, japanese indigo, coreopsis, and dyer’s greenweed.
seeds
And this is what I am going to do with them:
  • Japanese indigo – I’ve read in several places that you have to plant the seeds indoors. The timing depends who you ask, anything from 8 to 2 weeks before the last frost (wildcolours say 2-3 weeks). Here in Denmark, 2-3 weeks before the last chance of frost would be the beginning of May, so that’s my plan
  • Woad – I’ve tried planting woad seeds outside in the past and they didn’t grow. The information you can find online is mixed – some people say plant them inside, some say outside. This time, I’ll follow this and plant them outside in March. We’ve moved since I tried it last, and the old garden was in a very windy and cold spot, so maybe it will work this time
  • Coreopsis – this says you can sow the seeds directly in early spring, so that would probably be March-April around here. It also says it likes a South-facing wall
  • Dyer’s greenweed – this says to sow it outside in the fall, but this says you can also do it in February. Since it is now February and my seeds just arrived, I’m just going to try it now. Both sets of instructions agree that you should soak the seeds in warm water overnight or 24 h before planting, so that’s what I am doing. Then plant them outside in pots – they need cold to break dormancy
Jeg har før prøvet at gro farveplanter, uden succes. Men jeg har nydt godt af min søsters høst af skønhedsøje, som farver kraftig orange. I år prøver jeg igen at få noget til at gro: japansk indigo, vajd, skønhedsøje og farve-visse.

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