So after beading buddies left on Saturday and I took a long nap :), I did some digging around online for information about how to dye with milkweed. There's lots out there. (I'm of the generation that still marvels on a nearly daily basis about the internet and the easy and equitable access to information it allows. I remember many a teenage vist to the card catalog section of the college library near my childhood home and to my local public library and am astounded at how much easier it is today to learn all kinds of things!)
On Monday morning, armed with all I'd learned from the very informative blog WildBlessings.com (especially the July 28, 2012 post "Throw Me in That Milkweed Patch!"), I happily yanked up the 10-12 milkweed plants that had unexpectedly sprung up in our front yard gardens this year. Fortunately they're quite easy to pull, and I'm sure there will be more back next year!
Here's my bounty (above). I think the tallest plants were close to six feet high! You may also have noticed my new favorite hoodie in this picture, which says: "I Like Big Mutts and I cannot lie." I do have a big mutt whom I adore, and I've also spent much of the past 16+ years watching a lot of animated movies with my family, so when I saw this shirt at The End of the Leash pet store in Mukwonago, WI (www.endoftheleash.com) I couldn't go home without it. (To fully appreciate the shirt it helps to have watched the movie Shrek, especially the dance party at the end. ;) While at The End of the Leash I also picked up an "Alpa Dog: Lead by Example" t-shirt for my wonderful and very alpha-ish daughter. She loves it and wears it to her job on an organic farm at least once a week. :)
For now my kitchen is also my dye studio, so I'm being particularly careful about the kinds of plants and chemicals I bring into the room (I do use pots specifically designated for dyeing). The pictures above and below show my before-dyeing supplies--milkweed plants, four pieces of wool fabric and some wool and silk yarns, and my trusty "Wild Color" book by Jenny Dean.
I followed the WildBlessings.com recommendations regarding using all parts of the milkweed plants (except the roots). The pods went in whole, but I cut up the stems and leaves and put them in the biggest of three dye pots on extended loan from my fiber friend Susan. The fabrics and yarns were washed and then mordanted with alum and cream of tartar from my kitchen pantry based on Jenny Dean's recommendations.
The milkweed boiled for an hour, and I just stirred occasionally during that time. It's always amazing to see how much plant material shrinks with cooking. The pods also turned a distinctly more yellow color. Fortunately the boiling plants didn't give off much of an odor, and the odor present wasn't bad. Nothing like indigo--ugh! (Although I love what indigo does so much that I know I want to keep using it.)
Straining the plant material is always fun, especially when the dye pot is hot and there are about four gallons of water in it. I do love the yellowish color of the newly-created dye water. (In this picture you can also get a peek out the window at the bushes I mention along with the last picture in this post.)
Look how yellow the fabrics are already after just a few minutes in the dye pot! WildBlessings recommended adding 1/4 cup of clear amonia to the dye bath before adding the dye material. So I did. The fabrics and yarns simmered 45 minutes, with some gentle periodic stirring.
Summer alchemy! These two wools (below) are each paired, with an undyed "before" piece on the left and an "after" piece on the right. I really wanted to dye some of each of these wools that I bought by the yard at Ye Olde Schoolhouse quilt shop in Cedarburg, WI. One has a coarser weave and a heathered-oatmeal color; the other is a finer weave in a brighter cream color. I really love how both took the dye and love the two yellows together too.
The three fabrics on the right (below) were also interesting. The far right is a small piece of blue wool I had cut out of a larger fat-quarter of hand-dyed wool I'd purchased a while back (the rest of the piece is part of a quilt in progress). I wasn't sure if dyeing yellow over blue would work, but it did. Before dyeing this piece I made some quick shibori/tie-dye areas with rubber bands and pebbles from the Lake Superior shore. I love the effect. The yellow piece of wool second from the right is an overdye of part of the blue-and-white wool to its left (from Mill House Quilts in Waunakee, WI). It was mostly white with just a few blue spots, and I'm please with the results on this too.
I'm thrilled with the fabrics, but I've had a lot less success with my wool and silk yarns. I'm beginning to wonder if they were treated before purchase in some way that makes them less dye-able. I included the results from my dandelion dye day in the picture below. All of the yarns are very muted. Hmmmm... I'll keep trying. Maybe I need to scour them more extensively before dyeing?
So what's next? The prolific and entirely volunteer elderberry bushes in our north-facing side yard (below) produce huge clusters of small white flowers in the spring that turn to green berries in the summer and deep purple berries in the fall. Apparently the fall berries make great dyestuff! And better yet, the berries can be used fresh or frozen for dye. So I plan to dye some fabric and embroidery thread this fall with some of the berries and to freeze the rest of the berries for another dye day. Once the berries are ready to be made into dye I'll be sure to blog about that process as well. Stay tuned! And send me your thoughts and suggestions too.
This summer of natural-dye experimentation has brought to mind fond memories of two linguistic inventions my son made as a toddler. The first is "summering"--not as in "summering in the Hamptons" (although that would be lovely ;), but as in activities that we do that are distinctly summer activities. So I am having a lovely time summering with fabric, yarn, and natural dyes. The other wonderful word he coined back then is "lasterday" as in something in the recent by unspecified past. I can already tell that my memory isn't what it used to be, and I think that as my memory inevitably slips even more, "lasterday" will become increasingly useful for me. "Lisa, when did you dye that gorgeous yellow wool? Oh that, why I dyed it lasterday." ;)