This year I went wild and dug a lot of the madder patch.
There was the soaking, rinsing, weighing (TWO KILOGRAMS, just quietly) and picking over. There was potting up some plants in case others want some.
There was mordanting (with alum).
There was the grinding up.
Then the heating begins. I am proud to say that for once I did not boil my dye vat. Really, the list of my dyeing crimes is too extensive to list! So I rate this a bit of a triumph.
I must say, that despite the amount of root, and the amount of dyeing (and the difficulty of getting a picture that captures it properly)… there was not actually a lot of red. Grey yarn became terra cotta (not that you can tell in the image), there is a lot of lovely orange, there is fabric that is various orange shades. Red silk embroidery thread and some red fleece. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t quite what I hoped for, either. It may be that it is time for some more research! If more experienced folks have insight to offer, do feel free! This year I really tried for long, slow heating, and came closer to achieving it than previously. But still…
Some time back, I dyed the last of my Tonne of Wool Tasmanian cormo handspun yarn. It is soooo soft I decided to make for the grandbub with it.
And with little knits, there just isn’t a long story to tell! This person now has an 11 cm long foot, bless her. These are the Baby-Hausschuhe from Ines Sttrickt (available for free, and in several languages).
I have now received a video of the grandbub rolling around on the floor with these on her little feet. And I get calls with narration sometimes, like “now she is throwing them in the air”… “now she is banging them together” and “sometimes they stay on for hours!”
I’ve had jars of dye and thread or fabric sitting about outside and on bookshelves for years here–they have been created using India Flint’s Stuff, Steep and Store method. And I’ve been interested to see that I can let them be for years! A stitching friend was keen to start a stitch journal and so I thought I might contribute and made her a parcel… beginning by opening a pile of jars. Some put by in 2014!
For once I took the effort to make sure I could line up labels with contents… and hopefully my friend’s stitch journal will bring her joy. She’s a wonderful sewer and thinker and feminist and all-round, an upwelling of glorious energy and action.
Needless to say all this dyeing excitement led to more jars…. I love this method. I don’t come across jars big enough to use it on huge quantities, but I am blessed with small batch amounts of some dyes, such as flowers, that work really well with this method and I can process seven at a time, saving energy and drama. And it’s pretty!
I’ve been growing madder long enough to have a good big patch now, and so it came to pass before the weather warmed too much, that I dug out an entire kilogramme of fresh madder root (yes, I weighed it once washed clean).
I didn’t dig out the whole patch and I did propagate more plants for the Guild while I was at it… and then came the washing.
It’s pretty exciting to think I can grow red dye in my very own garden!
Next stage, breaking up by hand or with secateurs, and then–
Then the dye bath… my trusty muslin from the ever delivering op shop lets me strain out all that ground up root.
And then… in with some wonderful soft handspun Tasmanian Cormo from the wonderful Kylie Gusset’s Tonne of Wool project.
In the interests of honesty, I confess that I broke all the rules AGAIN and boiled the madder vat AGAIN. And yet, red. My experience suggests that madder is not as fussy as every single dye book suggests. That I am so bad at keeping a dye vat below boiling point that I cannot be trusted. And that with fresh root it is best to dye a small quantity if you want really really red red, and then many exhaust baths will give orange and then coral and then peach if that’s what you’d like to have.
My goal with this–is to knit a beautifully soft and red beanie for one of my special sweethearts. But as knitting is going slowly at present it might be a little while!
I have this blanket. It doesn’t have a family history of emotional attachment; I found it in an op shop. I can’t say what made me bring it home, it’s quite a strong shade of orange which isn’t entirely lovely. It’s not in good repair. It has fade lines from being left out in the sun too long on a washing line. Some of its stitching had come undone when I brought it home. Moths (well, moth larvae) had nibbled on it before it came to my house.
In a way, it is even more odd that I feel driven to mend this thing. The holes are small enough they they will not lead to unravelling or any serious consequence. I want to mend them anyway. My beloved offered me a robust critique of this project one night recently, and there wasn’t a thing she said, that I didn’t accept. Yet, I started mending it in 2015. I notice in that post I think the blanket is rather lovely! Apparently I have been less sure of its loveliness recently… but no less attached to it.
These holidays, I sat the sewing kit on my bed and mended a few more holes each day until I had a big evening session and finally mended all the little holes the moths left. Things I’ve noticed: how lovely it is working with the silk embroidery thread from Beautiful Silks, and in colours I’ve dyed with plants. That I have settled on the number of strands I like using best. That my sense of how to use thread, and how to work with colour, has changed. How comfortable I feel with these odd little grids in mismatched colours sprinkled over my blanket. How confident I feel that this blanket and I will spend many more years together, and maybe in that time, there will be more mends, or simply more stitching. So I guess the reality is that this blanket from the op shop now does hold emotional resonance of some kind, even if it’s hard to say exactly what or why. It’s a blanket, after all. I don’t really feel like there has to be an accounting for these things. Though I like its warmth very much when the season calls for it.
There was a very exciting moment in the garden last week. I was digging out madder roots hoping to create enough space to plant Japanese indigo seedlings (as you do). I found a substantial chrysalis and moved it out of harm’s way. Then a bit later, a movement caught my eye, and a large moth was emerging from the chrysalis right before my eyes. What a privilege! Naturally I wasn’t going to waste the madder root. I had some wool cold mordanting in a bucket, so I processed the roots and created a vat. While I was at it, I did the same with the carrot tops from our farmers’ market.
I ended up with quite a red colour from the first madder bath and two orange shades from the exhaust baths, as well as a nice yellow from the carrot tops.
Plus, the joy of watching the moth emerge. I think it might be a native hawk moth. Back in this post, I found I rather wonderful caterpillar in the madder, and I have found them several times since. I’ve also seen similar chrysalises (?) in the garden. Pisstkitty, a generous and regular reader thought it might be a native hawk moth, Hippotion scrofa, the Coprosma hawk moth. I thought she was right then, and I think this is the moth form of the same creature. Glorious.
A while ago I went to The Drapery to buy zippers, and The Drapery is far more tempting to me than the chain alternatives, so I came away with a fat quarter (or something like that) of Liberty lawn. My Mother-Out-Law loves Liberty prints, so I tried to inhabit her aesthetic and chose this one. She is a rather petite woman, so I made four small handkerchieves and I am reliably informed that she loves them! Naturally (in her case–the other gift she enjoys is stationery) she sent me a lovely card, and observed that only another sewer would recognise the rolled hems as a special achievement. I feel so lucky to have out-laws who are so kind and lovely.
Then there was the very last of these bags.
This time I chose madder and indigo dyed threads.
The madder dyed silk in the centre of this circle was dyed at my house, (the madder and indigo purple by Beautiful Silks), and it is SO red!
There have been other small projects piling up, but there has also been a development. We went to the Royal Show again this year and Suffolks were the featured sheep breed. This beauty evidently didn’t stand still (or perhaps it was me who did the wriggling).
I tried to speak with breeders in hopes of acquiring a fleece and discovered again that I’m really quite shy. My beloved was much better at it. We spoke to breeders from WA and Tasmania who did not bring fleece, and then found one from Kangaroo Island who was happy enough to sell me a fleece if I was sure I wanted to spin from a meat sheep and did I realise this is sold as carpet wool? It’s so sad to think that the long history of this breed as a source of wool for specific uses such as socks, has been all but lost even among lovers of the breed.
Malcolm called me on the weekend and we had a chat. We agreed on one fleece and a price that I thought was too low, and what do you know? I put one and a half times the price in an envelope and he delivered two fleeces, or is it three? He threw in a “black” fleece because these sell for even less than the $3 or $4 per kilo that Malcolm gets for white Suffolk fleece. Last night I skirted it at the Guild Hall and it is grey and dark brown, cream and white (I suspect, under the dirt). I can only confirm that I won’t need another delivery in October: this is a LOT of wool. I’ve never raised a sheep, and it’s entirely possible Malcolm doesn’t know how long it takes to spin sock yarn! However, the fleece I skirted last night is lovely. I’ve had little access to Suffolk to date and spun what I had suspected was poor quality fleece with a very short staple. This has a high crimp staple of at least 8-10 cm in places, and while the coloration lowers its value for industrial processing, for me it is a real asset. I washed a small quantity before work this morning, I’m so keen to get spinning…
We went for a birthday holiday on a house boat on the Mighty Murray River. I’ve never been on a house boat before and it was pretty funny to be in something with six bedrooms, but on the water! We set out on a sunny day and it was just lovely. And then, hours before sunset, the sky turned dark. The river was anything but calm. My capable companions decided it was time to find a mooring, and that the green tinge in the distant clouds was a sign of hail even though it is November. And we moored just in time for powerful winds, amazing rain… the whole thing.
Eventually things calmed down and for those feeling nauseous, that part subsided, and the sun set over beautiful river red gums.
Last week I finally stitched these two little eucalyptus dyed needle books together with madder-dyed thread and they were in my sewing tin along with everything else, so they found new homes among my companions. Here they sit on the obligatory holiday puzzle.
It wasn’t all wild weather… there were naps and songs and stories and birthday cake and lots of delicious food and company, and beautiful views. There were so many birds… cormorants, pelicans, ducks and ducklings, superb blue wrens, raptors of various kinds… fabulous!
On our return we discovered that every single car (and a lot of houseboats) had been hit by hail the size of golf balls. In November. We’d had a summary phoned in on our first night out, but it was quite a sight in person. After a safety check, we drove home slowly, with the light dancing off all the cracks from 17 major hits on the windscreen. Too many dents in the car to count! Just as well there were needle books to keep things a little bit sensible in between times. A person needs evidence of the ordinary in these challenging times.
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.