Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dye, Weeds, Dye!

I've been really distressed by the state of American politics.  It seems to me that the current administration is intent on destroying everything, either out of greed or spite.  I'm particularly appalled by the idea that they're about to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency and get rid of the Endangered Species Act.  Once they've ruined our wild places and the things that live there, those things will be gone forever.

But since nothing changes if we sit on the couch and fret, I decided to go do some hard work for the environment.  There's a group in my neighborhood, the Friends of Sausal Creek, who work to restore the wild lands in the Sausal Creek watershed.  I wrote to them last week, and got myself on a work crew, restoring the land around one of the East Bay's rarest plants, the Pallid Manzanita.

The Pallid Manzanita is incredibly rare.  It occurs only in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in Northern California.

This plant is being crowded out by other plants, mostly non-natives such as eucalyptus and French broom.

I've been thinking a lot about invasive species and native plants, and how they are a metaphor for the current issues surrounding refugees and immigrants here and around the world.  

I've been wanting to do a textile project with non-native plants, so when I offered to help remove weeds, I asked if I could take away some of the plants we'd cleared from the site.   I was pleasantly surprised when the folks on the project met my query with enthusiasm.  I wielded a wicked-looking weed extractor for several hours, and left with a car full of French broom.

I harvested the leaves and tender shoots, taking care not to spread any seeds in my back yard. (To be honest, there were very few seeds.  The team was pulling out these plants before most of them had set seed.)

I harvested two pounds of plant matter, and put it into a dye-pot.  I'd previously mordanted my yarn with alum and cream of tartar.  After I'd simmered the French broom for several hours (on the hottest weekend of the entire summer), I strained out most of the plants and added the yarn.  I then let the yarn simmer in dye for about an hour.

The French broom dyed my yarn a pale, slightly greenish yellow.  Very nice.

This weekend, I divided the yarn into thirds,  and enhanced the color with some simple after-baths.  The skein on the left was "saddened" in a bath of water that had a splash of rusty-nail-water added.  The skein in the middle was dipped in water that had a few glugs of ammonia.  The skein on the right was not altered after its initial dyeing.

I find it truly remarkable how much color variations can be obtained from one plant.  Especially a plant that is considered a real pest to the environment.

If you're interested in reading what other folks are doing in their gardens, check out the weekly blog-fest at Our Happy Acres.


Dave @ OurHappyAcres said...

Those dyed yarns are beautiful. I love the natural dyes, unpredictable though they may be. My wife dyes fabric with indigo and it's always fun to see things come out of the dye pot and into the air.

Phuong said...

Very interesting seeing the product of natural dye, the colors are very beautiful. The process itself is very alluring as well.

Sue Garrett said...

When I was at college we used to make natural dyes. One day I was stewing onion skins and everyone's mouths were watering thinking tha5 I was cooking a casserole.

Kathy said...

Those wools are such beautiful colours, and it was really interesting to see how the final colour can be varied like that. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Mary Hysong said...

We could have s long discussion about the invasive thing but I'll keep it to this. A plant can only become invasive in a disturbed environment. When the Eco system is intact it takes care of itself and outsiders can't get a foot hold. Love the yarn colors. I've gotten similar shades from a variety of plants and mordants.

cath said...

Very cool--lovely colors. Having only done Kool-Aid dyeing myself, I'm curious how you dispose of the the dye once you are done?

Susie said...

What a wonderful use of a "weed". Lovely colours for the yarn and what a great cause you are helping with!

ellen kirkendall said...

Lovely results. Well done!


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