Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bioregional dyeing in Alberta

Lately I've had my nose down, researching what fibres and dyes I can use for my projects that are completely local (I'll save my thoughts on regional fibres for another post.). Although I have used commercially-made acid dyes to dye fabrics in the past, my experience with natural dyes has been limited - so, I'll be blogging about it as I learn. I'd love to grow the dye plants that can be grown here in USDA Zone 3, and also take a bio-regional approach by foraging for dye plants that grow wild here.
rose hips and bark from today's walk
There is basic information about natural dyeing using local plant materials here and here and some inspirational photos here; I'm also now doing more detailed research using the books from this amazing bibliography. Oh, and this link talks about traditional natural dyes used by first nations artisans for porcupine quills, which may provide some more ideas for bioregional dyeing.

My dyeing set-upI'm hoping to work outside when the weather is good, but the ventilation is good in my kitchen when I'm working with nontoxic dyestuffs. I already have pH paper, a big enamel lobster pot, a thrifted glass casserole dish, thrifted canning jars, tongs, a dye measuring spoon, and a set of Majic Carpet acid dyes with formula books in my rug hooking stash. Oh, and a propane camp stove in my backpacking box, and a clothesline that needs to be installed. Yesterday I visited a local art supply shop and added a tjanting tool for batik work and a natural indigo dyeing kit, and ordered some goodies from Maiwa in Vancouver. There may be some additional instuments that are part of the materials for the Surface & Textile Design intensive at the U of A in July (so. very. excited.). I still need to look for second hand: more dye pots, slotted spoons, bowls, and measuring spoons - made of stainless steel or enamel or (if I get lucky) copper - and a kitchen scale and hot plate.

Dye sources I will plant in my new garden (many are also food sources, yay!):
  • Rhubarb leaves (note: poisonous!)
  • Hollyhock 'nigra', for the blossoms
  • Heather
  • Woad (I have ordered seeds from Wearing Woad in BC - a noxious weed here so they *must* be harvested before going to seed)
  • Carrots (I have seeds from Cubits in Ontario)
  • Beets (I have seeds from Cubits) (too highly fugitive)
  • Blueberry
  • Cherry tree and/or pear tree - for the leaves
  • Blackberries - for the leaves, berry dye is fugitive
  • Marigolds, for the blossoms (which coincidentally are our city's official flower - no idea why, since they're not exactly local)
Dye sources to forage locally (many of these are wild or invasive):
  • dandelion
  • goldenrod
  • big basin sagebrush / Artemesia tridentata
  • curly dock / Rumex crispus
  • sheep sorrel / Rumex acetosella (this can give a beautiful green)
  • tansy / Tanacetum vulgare
  • horsetail / Equisetum arvense
  • fennel / Foeniculum vulgare
  • St John's wort / Hypericum perforatum
  • prickly pear fruit
  • elderberry
  • Canada thistle / Cirsium arvense
  • common mullein / Verbascum thapsus
  • prairie sunflower / Helianthus petiolaris
  • rose hips or petals from the wild roses that flourish in the nearby ravine
  • bark from dead lodgepole pine (on a trip to the foothills) or birch
  • fallen leaves from birch or trembling aspen
  • acorns from burr oak (which is planted as a shelterbelt tree on the Prairies)
  • there may be more on the noxious weed list that I can experiment with
  • certain lichens and mosses grow in abundance in the woods near me, so they might also be worth trying
In addition, I can collect wood ash from the weekend bonfires the teenagers have down in the ravine, and dig a little of the red clay that's everywhere here to use as a source of iron. I should also experiment with using our hard local water instead of distilled water to see how it changes the colours I get.

Reference books I am using:
  • Harvesting Color, by Rebecca Burgess (2011) 
  • A Weaver's Garden, by Rita Buchanan (1999)
  • Wild Color (Revised & Updated), by Jenny Dean (2010)
  • Eco Colour, by India Flint (2010)
  • The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing, by Eva Lambert & Tracy Kendall (2010)
  • The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, by Sasha Duerr (2010)
  • Alberta Agriculture's Weeds of the Prairies (2000) for plant identification


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