Friday, May 30

dying to dye

The last week or so has been full of work. The play that I'm workshopping culminates with two presentations/performances on Sunday and Monday, and my free time has been spent sewing storage pouches for the props and organizing what else needs to be done. This morning I'll be sewing a baby, something that feels more real and has more weight than the bundle of fabric the actress has been using until now. I'm pretty excited about having a craft project. It's fun to figure out how to make these things. (If only I had more time in my life to sew for myself as well as knit and spin!)

But my mind has been scheming. As we have for the past few years (and my whole life really), in August we're going to spend a week at my parents' house in Maine. As is typical, I have starting thinking longingly for it. I want to bring my wheel this year and spin tons of fiber. I want to lie on the grass and just listen to the wind in the trees. I want to visit the Hope Spinnery (which I've only just heard of but is very close).

And I want to dye. A few years ago, back when I was in my first year of grad school (1999) and doing research on the colors of natural dyes (which is very important if you are designing costumes for a play set anytime before 1856) my mother gave me a book that she had: The Dyer's Garden, by Rita Buchanan. I am not really sure why my mother had the book, but it's been on my shelves since then. Until this week, when I transferred it to my purse and have been reading it whenever I can.

At first I thought I'd just gather what I needed when I got there. Goldenrod (yellow) and Black Eyed Susans (blackish green) grow wild all over my parents' property, so I could just wait till I get there, harvest a bunch and get to work. But then I started to really read the book, and discovered that St John's Wort has some really interesting dye qualities (the color changes drastically depending on very small variations). And, well, I'd like some other colors besides yellow and blackish green.

I'm a little lucky because my father is currently in Maine putting in their vegetable garden, opening up the house and more or less feeding the black flies. I'm also lucky because I am not such a great gardener, and in this case if the plants can be planted in Maine I don't have to deal with keeping them alive. (Witness my window herb garden, which is all dried up)this was basil

So, yesterday I got on the Fedco Seed site and ordered purple basil (purple), woad (blue), dyer's coreopsis (goldish browns, orange), St. John's wort (brown, orange, green) and bronze fennel (yellow, brown, black). I also ordered parsley, cilantro and beets, but those are my contribution to the vegetable garden.

I called my father to tell him to expect some random seeds in the mail, and said that some of them were for dyeing, and I hoped they wouldn't eat the basil (especially when you need 18 plants to dye 4 oz of wool). I wasn't so assured when he was genuinely excited that I'd ordered purple basil seeds (bad sign) but then, with 7 plants to dye from over the course of a week, it might be alright if one of them isn't available. Right?


mary jane said...

Yay! You're coming to Maine. You must look me up! I sometimes meet a friend at Hope General for a little knitting.
I did some natural dying back in the day. There is lichen that grows on Mt.Battie (Camden) that yields a purple dye. And onion skins, seemingly boring and not very adventurous make such a nice yellow with the proper mordant. I've always wanted to grow woad, you know the early Britons would dye their skin with it. My work # is 236-7900. Call!

Mz Kwooz said...

hmmm. Maine...I love Maine. Though I haven't been there nearly enough. I just tagged you for a meme on my blog, by the way!