The INDIGO vat

Finally, I made an indigo vat a couple of weeks ago.  The weather just wasn’t good for being outside.  Then the sun and warmth arrived, at least for a few days.

The indigo vat in a 5-gallon tub
teal silk ribbon
Experiment with 12 fabrics, same dip, same amount of time, different results
Noren curtain (Japanese style room divider)

This was the first time I made an indigo vat on my own.  My friend, Marilyn, had made the first indigo vat and we had done the dipping and rinsing together.  But I was on my own this time.  I used a kit with natural indigo paste and other substances to make up the vat.  Although the results were good (see below), the vat did not last long.  I am saving it to be rescued after I learn more about “reviving” a spent indigo vat.  Open to recommendations!


Finished Woad Tunic & More Natural Dyeing

Finished woad dyed cotton jersey tunic

I can’t believe the summer has ended, and I feel sorry I did not do more natural dyeing.  However, the dye season is not yet over.

When our silver birch tree was pruned a couple of weeks ago, I asked for the cuttings, which have been drying out in my garage.  This morning, I peeled off some of the bark and started a small dye pot.  Birch will turn a pinky brown, but it is not advised to peel the bark from live trees, as damage to the tree is possible.  So I have been patiently waiting for dropped birch flakes (didn’t happen) or pruning.

I also started a pot of last season’s saved Quebracho red dye exhaust boiling with some pre-mordanted cotton lawn.

Next time, the results.

Quebracho red dye with mordanted cotton
Birch bark steaming in a pot for natural dyeing

Eco-Prints + Fabric Stash = Win/Win

As the new eco-print and natural dyeing season approaches in Chicago, I  have begun to focus on incorporating last season’s eco-printed fabric to my current wardrobe.  One special piece continues to attract my attention. This was a scrap of silk which I eco-dyed with eucalyptus and rose leaves.

I gave serious thought about how I might use this piece to its best advantage.  In the meantime, I remembered I had purchased organic cotton jersey, which I had used to make a few scarves.

This silk scrap seemed to go better with my purchased fabric.  I am thinking of a tunic.  The fabric needs to be washed first.  I also found some naturally-dyed lace from last season, and if I decide to go ultra-feminine, there might be some lace added as well.  Stay tuned!

Natural Dyeing Takes a Winter Break…

Yes, Chicago in the winter is not a good place or time to be natural dyeing.  It’s 17 degrees F today. I use my townhouse deck for storing pots and kettles and freely use the iron balcony bars for dripping and drying my fabric.  When the wooden deck boards get warm in the summer, it’s a quick dry for naturally dyed cloth.

So what do do?  Branch out.  Use pieces you made this past spring, summer and autumn.  Make nine patches.  And embroider.  Did you know that February is National Embroidery Month?  That’s according to DMC, the longtime maker of gorgeous floss and threads for embroidery.

So I grabbed my harvest moons, which I shibori-dyed this past summer, and although I intended to make a 9-patch with them, I discovered I only had 6 moons.  No problem.  Add a previously dyed scrap of the same lightweight cotton batiste.  And add an un-dyed mordanted similar scrap.

Then draw your own design.  But what?  I’ve got my water soluble pen ready.  So stay tuned.  img_3365


Natural Dyes…with a little help from my friends

It’s great to have friends in various regions in the USA so that my natural dyeing can be supplemented by flora and fauna not available to a big city girl.  So recently I received a bounty from friends in Texas and California, namely plum and maple leaves and “balls” from the sweet gum tree (also known as liquidambar).

I could not find any research predicting color from the sweet gum tree balls, but someone in Australia blogged that their gum tree leaves produce good color.  Different species, different part of the plant.  So I decided to experiment with the gum balls by soaking them in plain water and using the liquid to dye a few small pieces:  yarn, hemp/silk fabric scrap, and cotton crochet piece.  The warm brown tones achieved were similar to those I achieved when black walnut dyeing, perhaps a bit lighter.

Naturally dyed with sweet gum tree balls: hemp/silk, wool yarn, cotton crochet
Naturally dyed with sweet gum tree balls: hemp/silk, wool yarn, cotton crochet
Sweet Gum tree balls (liquidambar)
Sweet Gum tree balls (liquidambar)

Next I grabbed three varieties of leaves sent from Texas:  plum, Japanese Red Maple, and Loropetalum (which I believe to be the Chinese fringe flower).  Please keep in mind that I am not a botanist!

I arranged the leaves on a piece of hemp/silk fabric, shiny on one side and flat on the other side.  The leaves were placed in a random pattern, along with a couple of marigold flower heads.  The fabric–and I wish I had more of this lovely stuff–was rolled around a copper pipe and tied with cotton string.  I was very pleased with the results!  Thanks, Marilyn and Elizabeth!


Eco-printing with Leaves in a Pomegranate Dye Pot

So many beautiful summer plants and flowers, so many possibilities for botanical printing!  With my coreopsis in full bloom and a surprise gift of smokebush leaves from a Texan friend, I fired up the dye pot (turned on the gas stove) to experiment with a different kind of dye bath.  Usually I use plain water to allow the plants to bring their own beauty to cloth, but this time I used pomegranate powder with a pinch of iron.

First I arranged a sandwich of cotton sheeting, homespun linen scrap, and a couple of small card stocks.  Wrapped in a square, it was clamped and set in the dye pot.

I  also rolled up a couple of copper pipes with various vintage linens and cloth scraps, using a few coreopsis and pink cosmos flowers, along with rose leaves.  I threw in a couple of smokebush leaves for good measure, rolled with cotton string and added to the dye pot.

After boiling for an hour and letting sit overnight on my deck, I unrolled the next morning to find a variety of effects.  I’m already thinking of the fun I will have with my next brew!

Full view coreopsis and rose leaves on cotton sheeting, eco-print clamped
Full view coreopsis and rose leaves on cotton sheeting, eco-print clamped
Smokebush and rose leaves on card stock
Smokebush and rose leaves on card stock
Coreopsis and rose leaf eco-printed on cotton sheeting
Coreopsis and rose leaf eco-printed on cotton sheeting
Wild rose leaves, coreopsis and cosmos on vintage buck towel
Wild rose leaves, coreopsis and cosmos on vintage cotton Huck towel
Eco-printed cotton sheeting in pomegranate and iron bath
Eco-printed cotton sheeting in pomegranate and iron bath

Natural Dyeing on Cellulose Fibers

I incorporate natural dyeing with plants in many different types of fiber arts.  I use mulberry silk skeins for hand-embroidery, wool roving for felting, silk ribbons and yarn for weaving. But I also enjoy “slow stitching,” and so it’s always good to have a small collection of cotton squares and crochet pieces for incorporating with free-form stitching projects, such as shown in these photos:


Cellulose fibers are treated differently from protein fibers when dyeing with natural plants.  Mordanting involves several different processes, depending on your preferences.  There are 2-step tannin/alum mordanting and 3-step involving tannin/alum and tannin again.  Some folks I know use soda ash or calcium carbonate in their mordanting process.  It all depends on preferences, water quality in your area and the types of dyeing you intend to do.

I experimented with alum acetate and calcium carbonate as mordants in preparation for using a saved madder exhaust bath and a newly prepared pomegranate dye bath.  My intention was to build up a larger collection of hand-dyed pieces for stitching projects, as well as having extras to trade with other fiber artists.

Here are the results of the madder exhaust.  You can see in the photos where the dye “struck” first, leaving a variety of madder shades–from salmon to deep pink–almost red–and a hint of raspberry.  I included cotton scraps as well as vintage cotton crochet pieces from my stash to be dyed.


My second dye pot contained pomegranate, which came out in the photo below a bit lighter than in reality.  These pieces are also cotton, and may be over-dyed later with other plants or perhaps eco-printed as samples in future experiments.


In any case, the pieces are bagged and labeled and ready to be used or traded.