Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dyeing to Know

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Lately, I've been thinking a lot about dyeing yarn. Specifically, I've been thinking and reading about dyeing wool with natural dyes. As it turns out, there are all sorts of plants growing in my area -- most of them unwanted weeds -- that produce vibrant dyes.

The problem is that I'm not sure how to collect them. Collecting plant material -- even unwanted weedy plant material -- is strictly forbidden in all East Bay Regional Parks. Oakland City parks are a bit more lenient, as far as I can tell. But I'm not sure I want to have the conversation with the nice ranger or police officer, explaining why I have a couple of grocery bags full of eucalyptus leaves.

So, I'm asking blog readers if they can suggest any places where I might be able to collect large quantities of the following. (Most plant-based dyes need to be at least double the weight of the wool that's being dyed.)



I'm envisioning overgrown areas, near industrial parks. Places that nobody really tends, but where I won't feel like I'm going to get mugged. Do you know of such a place? I've been considering the Albany Bulb, because it's kind of lawless. I've also been thinking about the various warehouse districts, but most of them are in pretty skanky neighborhoods.

If you're about to weed out your back garden, and you're over-run with any of these, do let me know. I'd be happy to help you weed, and would put your unwanted plants to good use.

While I'm asking, I may as well check to see if there are any blog readers in any of there areas where woad is a problem. This European dye plant is listed as a Class A noxious weed (whatever that means) in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, California and Oregon. Anyone want to mail me some? I'll pay for the shipping, and send you something fun in return?

Likewise, if you happen to have access to pounds of onion skins, I'd love to take them off of your hands.

Any thoughts or suggestions, blog friends?

17 comments:

Kaveh said...

Just a word of warning. Whatever you do don't collect Dodder. It is a pernicious parasitic weed that is almost impossible to get rid of. If you accidentally get seed in your yard (very easy to do since the plant is mostly just stems and seed heads) it will take over and you will probably have it forever.

I made the mistake of collecting a sample for a weed ID class I was taking and somehow ended up with it in my old garden where it still resides today despite many attempts to eradicate it.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Good point! I was planning on doing all of the actual dyeing at work, but I might have made the mistake of storing plant material at home.

Stefaneener said...

You can get black walnut hulls from around the nuts in my basement : )

Blackberry in Alameda at Godfrey Park, where I pick berries. Ivy in a couple of places in Alameda, both leaves and the berries.

I used eucalyptus once and made sickly yellow yarn.

It's almost time for me to start marigold and indigo for the spring garden. You might want to talk to Kristine at Verb for Keeping Warm. She and her partner have a pretty cool dye garden out back.

Myrrhia Resneck said...

Lots of empty lots in West Oakland near our place. You could probably find the fennel and eucalyptus, at least. Are you going to use salt water as your mordant? Please avoid those nasty chemicals!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Stefani -- wanna swap persimmons for walnut hulls?

Myrrhia -- I plan to use alum and cream of tartar for mordants. Storing seawater seems like too much of a burden. But, yeah, a lot of the mordants are bad news!

Country Mouse said...

Interesting. I followed up on the legality of roadside gathering (think blackberrying! Everyone does it) and called around - not one local official I talked to had a clue that it was illegal. I talked to nurserypeople. They said "shhh!" So roadsides may be an OK option. Other option of course, people with property where you can gather. We have native blackberry that I cut back annually - no shortage of blackberry wherever you go. We have some huge eucalyptus (unfortunately) but don't know if they're the right kind.
Maybe there's a business here - growing for dyers!

Anonymous said...

when you say broom, do you mean broom corn? (same thing basically) I have been growing it and have seeds and plants from my local PA Dutch neighbors (the broom part). If it has to be gathered fresh you will have to wait to get it from me- if you want some seed from it ( I have red and tan and purple/black) I can send it to you to grow for yourself if that is cool with California law. I got a first prize on my broom corn plants, they are fabulous-

Annalisa

Anonymous said...

The broom in question is Common Broom (Cytisus scoparius) or better yet, Dyer's Broom. It's a flowering shrub with yellow blooms. The broomcorn they make brooms out of is a totally different beast... a sorghum, I think

Stefaneener said...

If it's the invasive broom all over the hillsides, people would probably pay you to gather it. Don't plant it!

And yes, persimmons sound nice. Want to spend an afternoon cracking nuts?

Noreen said...

Interesting. Maybe a must read? (Because even ivy can cause problems to humans). "Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed LIncoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities," by Amy Stewart.

http://www.amystewart.com/wickedplants.html

Rabid Quilter from CA said...

We have 2 pomegranate trees and can't use/give them all away. We have a couple dozen or more left that you may have. We'll be traveling to SF tomorrow or the next day. Can we drop then off where you work? Address?

Barby said...

Another place to try may be around stores. Talk to a manager. Where I live, the store has green property behind it. No one uses it, and it is wildly overgrown. The manager may not have any problem with you snipping a few plat leaves from a place like that.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lisa,

You may want to talk to my friends Cristine and Adrienne who run A Verb for Keeping Warm, which is a yarn store. They make their own yarns and have classes in natural dying. Their shop is on San Pablo Ave in Oakland:

http://www.averbforkeepingwarm.com/

Hope you guys are well.
James

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

We're mostly broom (the French Genista monspessulana), and blackberry around here. Neither of which are in shortage in the Bay Area. I am curious though, as it's winter, have you considered using mushrooms for color? There's certainly no shortage of fungi in this area at the moment!

minnie said...

I was recently at Blake Gardens and they had some gorgeous yarn dyed with plants found on the property. I bet someone there would have advice on local foraging or might let you look around the gardens there.

Brenda said...

I live in Utah and Dyer's Woad is certainly a noxious weed. We pull it in the spring when we are hiking before it has gone to seed to try and stop the growth, they pay Boy Scout's $$ to fill bags of it and turn them in.

I think you would want to seed pods that come out in the summer. This is not the time to harvest it though. Today we have snow and tonight we will have more wind. Yeah! {not}

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

To clarify -- I don't want to grow any of these. But if someone wanted to give me a big box of dye-able weeds, I'd be delighted.

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