There are so many ways to dye fabric and yarn these days, that it can be overwhelming in picking any one method. My preference is to handle as few noxious agents as possible. And sometimes that is close to impossible or improbable, even when studying methods from the old days of yore, since where there is dye, there must be an agent to make that dye stick. When the opportunity popped up to take a natural dye class with Ric Rao of Las Cruces, New Mexico, I jumped on the chance and was absolutely enthralled with the process as well as the results.
Ric is always searching out natural dye sources, and also has an extensive dye garden in Las Cruces. The first day of class we used Black Walnuts, Brazilwood, Chamisa (Rabbitbrush), Cochineal, Cota (Navajo Tea), Logwood, Osage Orange, and Snakeweed (with and without Iron). On the second day we used plants exclusively from Ric’s garden – Cosmos (Yellow and Orange), Hibiscus flowers, Hollyhocks, Madder, Indigo, Marigolds, Pecan and Goldenrod.
It was hot work, but very rewarding. Checking on the boiling pots, checking the process, straining the “brew” and adding the fiber to the pot – lots of heat! I usually do pretty well when I am dying “under supervision”. On my own I tend to overthink the process and get into all sorts of problems. But at this point the lightbulb has illuminated – I have a focus on the type of fiber that I am going to be experimenting on in my weaving. Also, I really want to focus on the desert palate because it is so amazingly versatile with so many options.
Another intriguing aspect of the day was observing the differences in how the dye took to the sample cards that Ric created for us from each pot compared to the variety of yarns each one of us added to the same pot. Since I knew that I had used different tannins for the cellulose-based fibers, I could see the impact of modifying that step of the process. This can be a never-ending science project! I can really appreciate the effort it takes for people who need to replicate colors consistently. Now I am convinced that it is a black art – even something as unassuming as the type of water or humidity level can change the outcome.
So now I have an amazing desert palate, documented in my notebook for reference when preparing future dye sessions. I hope to be able to resurrect my favorite outcomes – the Black Walnut, Pecan and Snakeweed with Iron – so I can work those colors into a cool weaving project!
Hi Claudia – thanks so much for describing and documenting our great dye day with Ric. I still have my skeins hanging all over the house and I’m enjoying the splashes of color that they bring. It was a successful day partly, because Ric is such an expert in both the topic of natural dyes as well as lots of the history involved with the process in the southwest. But it was also a success because of the way you kept track of the pots and skeins and made sure they were stirred enough to take the dye evenly. While most of us sat in the shade of the patio and let the pots bubble on their own, you went out and did the extra work to make sure it all went well. The venue at Ann’s house was also perfect. Thanks – and let’s do it again.
I was pretty intent on learning the process – it certainly was fun, despite the heat!
I spent most of the day today washing all the yarn from the dye day along with a couple more that I did here with the samples I brought home. I was surprised at how much color came out. They’re still beautiful colors however. Now I have to decide what to do with them.
I had some color run out, mostly on the cochineal and logwood. I am going to make a scarf with all the cellulose colors, and then one with the wool colors.
I’ll probably do scarves too. But first I have to finish playing with the crimp class warp on the little loom. And then I should work a little on the warp on the big AVL. Then scarves.