I had a query from a lovely reader recently and it caused me to consider what was in my dye garden, which is also the flower and vegie garden, really. So here is a little taking stock. Woad is showing its capacity to self sow. I have gone from struggling to get a seedling out of a hard won pack of seed, to finding I could get it to grow, to this… self sowing in the veggie beds. Let’s see if these plants manage the summer.
The one-year-old-woad is pretty big. Pity I didn’t harvest it at the right time. I still might have another go… but meanwhile some of it is sending up flower heads and the seeds will dye too! This is the woad-and-potato bed beside the peach tree.
This is the woad-greens-rhubarb-you name it bed. Flower heads rising in the middle top of the picture.
The new raised madder bed, with added pansies, evacuated to this spot when their pot fell apart without warning. I think the madder already likes this spot. Californian poppies are doing well in the old one.
Speaking of pansies, I’ve been dead heading these regularly to use India Flint’s ice flower method on them. They are in a yoghurt pot in the freezer, accumulating. I love my pansy dyed thread and have faced the fact that I don’t need kilogrammes of silk thread at this stage and therefore can happily use quite small quantities of dye stuff. I have also been known to deadhead pansies in public plantings. But it goes so much better when I don’t have company, as this kind of weirdness may offend one’s friends. In the top of the picture, the weld. Some of it died months back for no obvious reason–the main stem seemed to rot or be nibbled away. Mysterious!
And there are these pansies too. Only some of them make sense for dye but they are all lovely. I am in favour of loveliness.
Our E Scoparia has made it through the skeletonising caterpillar season and is now my height!
Black hollyhocks old–
Marigold seedlings coming up in a metal tub I salvaged off hard rubbish during winter.
I do use rhubarb leaves to create acidic dye baths, but mostly rhubarb is for eating and not dyeing in our parts! And the rest of my dye garden is out in the suburb and other people’s gardens… I am a dye gleaner.
It’s spring! Well, maybe not where you live. But it is where I live! the first poppy came out!
Bark is peeling…
My part of the country is better known for droughts than flooding rains, but we had a close call and neighbours on our street were flooded. This is just round the corner…
And this is one of my planting sites, with salt bush to the right and water pouring down the bike path to the left!
So I planted out sheoak seed of two kinds.
And the last few months’ collection of E Scoparia seed. I’ve been tucking all the gumnuts I find into this bowl and there is a satisfying drift of tiny seeds at the bottom.
And there were, needless to say, also saltbush seeds involved. And now, we wait!
In not-so-recent dye baths, I included a wool scarf for a friend.
I love the way it turned out. I hope she will too. I bundled up E Scoparia leaves and some windfalls from a tree I think might be E Nicholii. It branches (what I mean is it that it has been brutally pruned) very high so these windfalls gave me leaves to try that I otherwise could never reach.
Love the string resist marks…
Then I returned to the E Cladocalyx bark I harvested weeks back which has been steeping.
Calico mordanted in soy and lots of clamping was the choice of the day.
The wet fabric next day (I know, patience is the dyer’s friend, but my friend was out for the day).
I do especially love the buds!
The overall effect… suggesting my fold-and-clamp technique may require more practice!
Because mending never stops… I have not restricted mine to May. This is a little light darning on some underwear. I know, this is pansy dyed green thread… but this top already has indigo dyed darning (top right) and lots of other mends in all kinds of colours… so when the pansy green took my fancy I didn’t resist.
This, on the other hand, is a pair of jeans. I love seeing people’s glorious sashiko style mending on jeans, but these people have the physique and luck to wear their jeans through on the knees. Not me. And, I think it would be an overstatement of my mending to call it sashiko as well as doing injustice to Japanese sewing traditions…
Anyway… on the outside this is not too obtrusive.
Hopefully good enough to hang together in gardening use, in any case!
I mentioned to my parents that I was trying to grow a quandong (Santalum Acuminatum). This is a native tree that carries edible fruits. It was, and is, known to Indigenous peoples who ate it, and is one of the better known bushfoods. Some non-Indigenous people call it native peach but to me it is more like rhubarb, and yet unlike rhubarb, being its own thing. It is sour and tangy but the texture is quite firm, and softens with cooking. It was one of the special treats of my childhood. Free food was always exciting in my family but some free food was more exciting. Quandongs were especially good, partly because they often led to quandong pie and pie was a rarity. Plus, the fun of cracking the pits to eat the nuts. When we lived in the goldfields in Western Australia we would forage for these fruits, finding the trees because emus left telltale signs they had been eating them. We had a tree in our yard in one mining town we lived in. My grandmother had a tree in her back yard. But these trees turn out to require a symbiotic relationship with another plant/s and they are quite hard to grow in your backyard (depending on where it is). They resist domestication.
My comment to my father resulted in a surprise gift of saved quandong pits. My uncle has a grove of trees at his place further north in our state and preserving them is a huge seasonal task, because the fruits are small (perhaps the size of a hazelnut in its shell–smaller than a walnut in its husk) and the edible part is at best the thickness of orange peel and more often the thickness of mandarin peel around the pit, and about the same texture when raw. My uncle had seeds dating back to 2011, saved with the location of the original tree marked on them (most were from the farm where my aunt grew up). I have no idea if they are viable. But there were kilograms of them! And then there were about 5 fruits saved in an envelope that Dad had saved from a tree he found at a lookout, that he thought would be extra suitable for a dry site.
Well, I took my uncle’s advice–he thinks these are easy to grow but my experience is different–scuffed up the mulch in the front yard where it has taken only 3 years to get our quandong tree to knee height (but the fact it is alive and growing is a triumph), and put them in. I planted lots in the front yard, and then headed out into the neighbourhood planting them in mulched areas all over the place where I presume the chances are slim but success would be awesome! I hope the winter rain and now the spring weather persuades these little pits to seek out the light and a companion plant and all the other necessities of life.
Remember this skein of hand spun sock yarn? Suffolk/mohair/silk, three ply.
It made a perfectly good cake. One day I cast on, on public transport. The train, evidently.
I forgot to take photos for quite some time the next thing you know, here I am ready to graft the toe of the first sock at a conference in Wellington, Aotearoa (New Zealand)!
Did I mention the wonderful beauty of Aotearoa?
And then… suddenly there were two. When I was part way through the second they were lost! Then found again by security and here was a happy reunion a few days later with great relief on my part.
And now I am preparing to make them into a nice little parcel for a friend with popsicle toes. With some hand twined silk string.
The sun is out some days now, and I am well after quite a lot of winter snuffling, so I have been out in the neighbourhood.
I set out with 16 ruby saltbush seedlings. Some went in at the end of a street. First my friend stopped on his way to work and we had a chat about the risks to this patch when the Royal Show opens and pressure for car parking creates all manner of hazards for plants large and small. Their prospects have been much improved since we first put out plant protective bunting. Then I was hailed by a man who lives right at that end of the street. He has concerns about bad treatment of the plants and also about crime and drug taking, and shared them with me. Clearly his interventions have led to some of the recent changes in our area to close off access points to public land where it is clear some people are using after dark. He has been putting stakes beside some of my plantings and they are mostly thriving. So I tried to accentuate the positive and emphasise the long term nature of the project and how much better this part of the neighbourhood looks now than it did in the years before he moved in.
Then I moved around to a nearby reserve and planted the remainder of my seedlings in gaps left as other plants have died. I found a huge grub, something I see seldom these days. I remember as a child how exciting it was when Dad would dig one up, and he would put it on his spade and set it a little way off so that birds could come and eat it. I am glad some beetle will get to live here. I carefully put it back under some mulch out of the sight of passing birds. It looked succulent, even to my unwilling eyes.
But my main task was to tend to the sedges growing in this area.
There are lots of them growing beside a pedestrian and cycle path, but some of them have been faring badly in recent years after having been extremely healthy earlier in life.
Now that I have learned about these plants from the Ngarrindjeri Aunties, I understand that the way the council has treated these plants (a rough haircut 10 cm above ground every year) is probably killing them.
In some sad cases, only the root mass and a lot of dead sedge is left, but in others there is still a little foliage coming on. So I cleared away the dead to make way for the living.
Having had their lesson in how the plants spread I could see that some of the plants that are there now are new plants that have been sent out by some of those that are dead or perhaps dormant. In other cases, I hope that using the Aunties’ wisdom might let the old plant recover. Meantime my little sprouts are coming along and perhaps this is a place they can be planted eventually. Then, some rubbish collection and home again.
This time, a little invitation to come and join me at a skill share where I will be teaching mending this weekend. The event is up on facebook for all comers and runs 11-3 at the Migration Museum in the city. There are lots of people involved including the famous (and fun) Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia. I’ll be teaching mending from 1.45-2.45 and there will also be an informal knitting circle. So much fun to be had. Bring your mending and join me if you fancy it… goodness knows I have more skills in mending than being a grandma, but I am proud to be counted among the grandmas of the world even for a day…
I realised a little late that I should have picked my woad earlier. But decided I had nothing to lose by picking it now.
Then the chopping…
Then the vat. How blue should the froth be, to be blue enough? These are the questions that plague my blue-dyeing!
Eventually, I had a vat. The wool came out the same colour it was when it went in. The second vat had a lot more leaf to the same volume of water.
I ended up with some blue-pale blue-bluish wool.
And some silk thread that is more of a silver grey. I swear it was blue after the second vat, but either subsequent re-dips stripped the colour back out, or it was fugitive. Or I dreamed it. Well, they do say that woad doesn’t bear much indigotin, and harvesting in winter is not ideal. But, am I allowed to be a bit disappointed anyway?
I was so excited by my recent winter wardrobe success, that I decided to go again. So I made another turtleneck using the same pattern from milky merino. This time, I made it longer than required. I’ve had serious shrinkage with this fabric–whether it was my carelessness or the fabric is yet to be clarified. I expect it was my carelessness… This time I used a red zipper from the stash, which looked pretty amazing on the undyed item, but apparently I took no photos. And either I followed the instructions on the pattern (just for something completely different), or perhaps it was luck, but zipper insertion went smoothly.
Then I decided to sort out one of my spencers (long sleeved underwear for warmth). It shrank in dyeing as well as being perhaps a little short to begin with. It rides up, the reverse of what clothing worn for warmth should do. So I added some serious length to it. I love the dyeing on this garment–details here. But it just wasn’t working for its intended purpose.
I went out for a walk and then bundled up.
The bundles came out of the dye pot looking splendid.
The spencer came out a very good length and is much more useable. I did prefer the print before, but this one is pretty lovely too.
Here is the new turtleneck. I like it! If anything it is a little loose.
The red zipper works fine.
E Scoparia is in bud, which also works well.
I tried a different folding strategy. I love the colour and pattern, less sure about the location. And now I am happily wearing my new top for the rest of the cold weather.