Spring Cleaning

In the summer, when all the plants stand tall, I usually collect good bundles of tansy, yarrow, and other wild dye plants. And they have to go before the next harvest.

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My dyestuff stores from last year contained big bundles of mugwort and tansy, a smaller amount of yarrow, a box full of dry velvet pax, and dry pomegranate shells (among other things).

Spring has shown itself from its worst side this year, but I’ve managed to get outside with my little stove on an extension cord, working to bring down the amount of stored dyestuffs.

First, velvet pax. I found quite a nice harvest of this mushroom last year, more than half of what i found was from driving through a small forest, spotting the mushrooms, and hitting the brake!

I had 190 g of dried mushrooms. On 100 g of wool, that gave a good green (middle skein in photo below) and the afterbath a green-beige (right). I could not capture the color in the photo, but I was pleasantly surprised how well the dried mushrooms retain the color potential, including the green tones. In conclusion, velvet pax is a very good dye mushroom, fresh or dry.

There’s a beige skein on the left in the photo below. That’s 100 g of yarn, dyed with enough dried mugwort to fill a large dye pot completely. I even gave it an iron afterbath. Thinking back, this is actually the second time i get dull beige from dry mugwort, and the conclusion is that it does not dry well. The fresh plant, on the other hand, gives a nice yellow-green.

From left: dried mugwort and iron, dried velvet pax, 1. and 2. bath.

Next up, pomegranate shells. I had saved a very modest amount of shells, from just two fruits, weighing 85 g dry. I followed Jenny Dean’s “Wild Colour” and put the shells in a plastic bag and pounded them with a hammer. To test the new (to me) dyestuff, I wound two 12-gram skeins of Fenris (100% wool) and a small 5-gram skein of Bestla (silk-merino).

The pomegranate shells gave nice yellows on wool and silk. I modified one of the wool skeins with iron, and that gave a darker, greener tone, that actually looks a lot like the color from velvet pax.

Next time people eat pomegranates around here, the shells will be saved. They give a nice color, and they are available during winter, where little else is there in terms of fresh colors.

Pomegranate shells on silk-merino (back) and wool (middle), and modified with iron (front).

Several large bundles of yarrow, tansy, and mugwort turned into the yellow-beige first dye for a new round of matrix dyed yarn for Baby Vindauga kits. The second yellow os weld, and the skeins are overdyed with indigo as usual to produce the 9 different blues and greens.

Matrix dyed wool in blue and green.

And once I got started, a matrix in purple and blue, using cochineal and indigo, also appeared.

Matrix dyed wool in purple and blue.

The matrix skeins turned into contrast colors for new Baby Vindauga Kits, you can see them at my Etsy shop:

Purple-blue Baby Vindauga Kit.
Green-blue Baby Vindauga Kit.

Seasonal Color Variation

An experiment with yellow to green tones of birch leaves over the summer. I didn’t see any difference, but most experiments do have different outcomes than expected.

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A fresh new year calls for a new, big series of dye experiments, but I’m going to begin with an old one that was going on for so long that I never wrote about it.

“Yellow can be many things, so for each plant, I will  specify the particular yellow it gives. There will always be differences, the tone being more green earlier in the year.”

This is what Ester Nielsen writes in her introduction to natural sources of yellow in her book “Farvning med planter” (Dyeing with plants). This Danish book, published 1972, is full of useful information, but such a claim as this is just begging to be tested. I decided to use birch leaves for the test.

Birch leaves. It’s impossible to tell from the outside that they contain a good, warm yellow color.

To test the claim that colors are greener early in the growing season, tending towards yellow later, I made two 10 g test skeins of supersoft wool. I dyed each of them with 40 g of fresh birch leaves, since Ester Nielsen recommends 4 times the weight of fiber in fresh plants (twice the weight of fiber if using dried plants). I picked the first portion of leaves on May 11th, the second on July 4th.

The picture below shows the result. The skein in front is dyed with the leaves from May, the back one with thw leaves from July. They’re almost the same color, so my little experiment didn’t back up Nielsen’s claim…

Wool dyed with fresh birch leaves. The front skein is dyed with leaves picked in May, the back one with leaves picked in July.

To check for other possible differences, I tested the light-fastness of the two skeins. But again, no difference. The only thing worth noting in the light test shown below is a really good light-fastness of both yarns. The test took place over more than a month of summer.

Light test of wool dyed with birch leaves picked in May and July.

My conclusion: the time of harvest does not affect the color achieved with birch leaves. But that may only apply to birch leaves. It is possible that other plants to have a variation from yellow-green to yellow as the summer passes.

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.

Reed Flowers

lakereeds

Reed flowers are in season! I took the photo above on a beautiful August day at the lake. The sound of the wind through the reeds is positively mind-cleansing, which apparently I’m not the only one to think, judging by the number of YouTube videos of just that phenomenon. So now you too can enjoy it, even if you are in a skyscraper somewhere:

But I can promise you there was nothing mind-cleansing about my search for this dyestuff. They often grow a little bit out into the water, in places that are a bit hard to reach. I found a good patch of them growing in shallow water, I just had to cross a small forest. It looked fine, but it was actually a bottomless swamp, which I sank into to mid-thigh. Afterwards, I was a bit shocked, but otherwise fine! And I picked about 100 g of the silky soft, discreetly burgundy colored flowers: reedflowers

I rushed them to the dye pot – you have to use them fresh – and this is what I got on 20 g of supersoft in the first bath, 10 g in the second: first a lovely green, then a cold yellow:

reeddyedwool

FACTS – FRESH REED FLOWERS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 5:1 in first bath, 10:1 in second

Conclusion I love this green color, it’s beautiful and has a good light-fastness

Possible improvements The only one I can really think of is, that reeds should spontaneously grow in places that are easier to reach for the natural dyer

Last summer, I collected reed flowers while on holiday, and brought them home with me. I didn’t know that you have to put them fresh into the dye pot. The results were pleasing enough, although more towards yellow than green.

I have knit with the reed flower dyed wool from last year, and used the remaining scraps for light testing. These were on the windowsill for about a month from mid July to mid August. With this daylight calculator and a simple spreadsheet, I find that the samples for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bath of 2014 reed flowers got 572, 497, and 481 hours of daylight, respectively (since they spent the intervals 9/7-15/8, 10/7-11/8, and 11/7-11/8 on the windowsill). This is what they look like afterwards: the left side of each card has been covered, and the right side exposed:

reedflowerslighttest

A very good result indeed. You can tell that the paper has yellowed slightly from the exposure, but the yarn has only changed very slightly. The change is towards the yellow, so the green component seems to fade, but the color intensity is quite unchanged.

Wild Chervil and Intentionally Wild

The other day, we went for a walk along the road, and found wild chervil growing bountifully, so it’s certainly lucky that I have such a good little helper for these tasks:

pickingwildcarrot

I picked 180 g of stalks with flowers, which I boiled immediately for an hour or so. Next day, when the extract had cooled off, I strained out all the plant material and added a 10 g test skein of alun mordanted wool. The resulting color is very pretty, more yellow than green (yarn in photo, at least on my screen, looks more yellow than it really is).

dyedwildcarrot

FACTS – WILD CHERVIL, FRESH

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:18

Conclusion Nice yellow with green tinge

Possible improvements Looks good to me! But it would be nice to see if a smaller amount of dyestuff will still give good color

So then what remains is to test the light-fastness. If that looks good, I’ll be tempted to dye larger amounts another time. Probably next summer, because by the time I can test it, the plant is gone for the season.

I’m always surprised with the treasures that the roadside has to offer. In terms of plants and the dyes in them, I mean (there’s also a lot of empty beer bottles and candy wrappers to be sure). And now we are getting to the big point that I want to hammer home in this post: roadside biodiversity, and the lack of it!

The top photo of my daughter picking wild chervil looks like it’s been taken in well, nature. In actual fact, it’s in front of a truck terminal, by the side of a busy country road where lots of big tucks pass. Not far away, you find an off ramp from major highway in this area. And just look at the place in the picture. Tall grass. I spotted more that 15 species growing, without even looking.

I am always pleasantly surprised by bits of untamed land like this. The good people in the truck terminal may think that they are just saving a bit of money, but what they are really doing is allowing biodiversity.

The other day, I heard something on the radio about a new project here in Denmark. It’s called “vild med vilje” which translates into “intentionally wild”. It’s a project that promotes urban biodiversity by – here’s the big thing – providing you with a sign that you can place on your wild land. The text reads “vild med vilje”. So now, busy neighbors and other local busybodies can see that this was on purpose, and not somebody who didn’t keep their land “nice”. They may even go check the project website. They may start thinking about biodiversity themselves. They may use less Roundup. The project is still very small, but I do hope it grows! I would love to see more wilderness. It’s good for many species, including the natural dyer.

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Gradient Hat

I’m in hat knitting mode right now! As soon as this hat was finished, I had the next one on the needles. The pattern, a Danish one called “hue 1” (that just means hat 1, the book has more than one hat) really makes my brain go berserk with color scheme after color scheme.

hatfromside

I’ve cheated a bit since I didn’t only use naturally dyed yarns for this project: the black background consists of different commercial yarns from my stash.

FACTS – GRADIENT HAT
Pattern hat 1 by Lone Gissel and Tine Rousing, Nordiske masker
Yarn Supersoft 100% wool 575 m/100 g (plus some commercial stuff)
Needle 4.5 mm
Colors Privet berries (from our garden, winter) Indigo + tansy (bought + collected from the roadside, summer) Reed flowers on grey yarn (collected from the seaside, summer) Yarrow (collected from the roadside, summer) Mixed lichens (collected in the forest – this was bits and pieces I couldn’t type and in the end just swept into the dye pot) Parmelia sulcata (a lichen, collected in the forest) Dyer’s polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) (a mushroom, collected in the forest, fall).
Conclusion Love it! The colors, the fit, the fox fur
hatalone
It’s often been said that any naturally dyed colors fit together, and I do think that is the case. I did take some care lining up colors that blended well one into the other, but they were not very hard to find in my big basket.
Another observation: I think natural dyeing is the best kind of yarn tourism. When I look at the hat and its colors, I’m immediately taken back to the places where I collected the dye stuffs.Well, not so much the privet berries from our garden, but other wonderful places we walked during the nicest months of 2014.Just one example. The reed flowers are from our august summer vacation in the southern part of Denmark, right on the border with Germany. I picked my flowers by the ocean, and I just had some fun trying to find the exact spot on the map. And I did it! The exact coordinates are 54.894576, 9.626491, and you can even see the mass of reed growing there when you use the max zoom of the map… Right next to a tiny harbor where you can stand on the planks and watch crabs hurrying around on the bottom. And when you look over the water, you can see Germany. Imagine, all that worn on a hat in the form of a stripe of yellow-green yarn!
Mønsteret til hatten er er fra Nordiske Masker af Lone Gissel og Tine Rousing, og det mønster bliver ved med at køre rundt i mit hovede i forskellige farvekombinationer! Her har jeg strikket den på en sort baggrund som er fabriksgarn, jeg havde liggende. Regnbuen fra grøn til varm gul er mine egne naturfarvede nøgler.

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Welcome!

I have long been fascinated with the colors that one can achieve using the dyes that nature provides. There is an endless experimentation that can be tried, and to chronicle my many experiments, I’ve decided to start writing about it here. That will also allow myself to keep track!
Over the summer and fall of 2014, I went on MANY walks, collected MANY plants, mushrooms, and lichens, and dyed MANY 10 g test skeins. A peak inside my secret basket:
basket
I wanted to try knitting with my test skeins, to test how the yarn behaves – to check that my mordanting didn’t make it brittle or that I had fulled it by overheating! So I made this Fair Isle hat, and my yarn was very enjoyable to knit with:
hathead
hat
FACTS – OXO HAT
Pattern King Harald Hats by Ann Feitelson, The Art of Fair Isle Knitting
Yarn Supersoft 100% wool 575 m/100 g
Needle 2.5 mm
Colors Madder (bought) Cochineal (bought) Mugwort (collected from the roadside, summer) Boletes (collected from the forest, fall) Dahlias (grown in our garden, collected in fall)

Conclusion The hat is a bit big but the colors really match each other well

yarn
Left to right: beige (boletes) light yellow-green (mugwort) red (madder) brown (dahlias) pink (cochineal) red (madder) yellow-green (mugwort).
Velkommen til Midgaard bloggen – stedet hvor jeg vil skrive om mine mange eksperimenter indenfor naturfarvning. Hatten her har jeg strikket af en god håndfuld af mine mange test-nøgler for at tjekke deres kvalitet efter farvning og for at se hvordan de er at strikke med.

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