Sunday, May 17, 2015

The End Is Nigh

Today’s gardening chores included some actual work in my studio as well as in the dirt outside. I needed plant hangers for my disocactuses so they could enjoy their summer vacation without being chomped to death by slugs and bugs. We bought some hooks from the dollar store and Thom screwed them up to the side of the garage for me. We even bought some new heavy ceramic pots for them. They need heavy pots because when they aren’t hanging up they are really top-heavy and tend to keel over like drunken sailors. I also fill the top of the pots with pretty rocks to help weight them down.

Of course back in the day I learned how to do macramé. Such a ’70’s cliché, huh? But I didn’t want to spend too much time on this project making lots of knots and being precise. I just wanted to get the plants hung up. So I used this online tutorial for a simple version. Yeah, I know the site is in Dutch but the diagrams are annotated in English! And it’s pretty easy to just wing it with the idea. Anyway, I used some hemp string (which is probably not heavy-duty enough so I doubled it for the second hanger) and some of Thom’s lampworked beads for decoration and now the cactuses are happily hanging in the shade:


There’s only one flower bud showing this year. The disos (aka orchid cactus) got pretty badly damaged last summer and sadly I even had to compost the original plant. So I’m not really surprised that they are acting a little peaky this year. The other Christmas and crab cactuses are sitting below on pedestals and I moved the planter out from behind and filled it with begonias for colour. Thom has been decorating with his turned wooden spheres (he put them out after I took the photo) and a little wicker rocking chair. So now the Cactus Patio is ready for the season.

Now there’s only the front garden to finish up and then we’re down to maintenance level for the rest of the summer. Which is a good thing because I’m needing a break from all the heavy work! I’m pretty fit but this marathon over the last few weeks is leaving my back crunchy and my hands achy. I need those hands for other things! And anyway I’m sure you all are tired of hearing about my gardening ups and downs too, right? Moving on to other things.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Take A Load Off, Granny

I’m exhausted! For the last few days we’ve been making a major push to get the majority of the garden dug, weeded, composted, planted and generally readied for summer growth. Thom & I are finally over our recent colds and have our usual amount of stamina back. The weather is perfect: warm and cloudy. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but we both love to garden. It’s creative and satisfying and good exercise as long as you don’t overdo it. Hah.

I think my plants are actually zombies not as badly damaged as I first thought. For the most part they’ve come back from the dead, somewhat the worse for wear thanks to the recent hail storm but recuperating nicely. Sadly the rhubarb in the dye garden is now inedible:


Hopefully it will survive to come back next year and I did get one last harvest from the larger patch in the back garden which is in better shape. The salad greens (and reds) are growing back after I trimmed off the most damaged parts. Here’s the Cimmaron lettuce:


So pretty. Hard to believe it was smooshed into the ground only a short while ago! I worked hard the last few days to get the squashes and cucumbers in and the greenhouse ready for the tomatoes:


Yeah, I tend to overplant them but I try to fertilise enough to make up for that. These are indeterminates (Juliet & Black Cherry) and grow very tall. Soon it’ll resemble a jungle in there!

The “back 40” is looking much better finally:


We really have a plethora of Welsh poppies, don’t we? They aren’t edible or dyeable but Thom likes them for colour. I try to keep them to the edges of the pathways where they won’t be in the way. Too much.

In the dye garden the Japanese indigo is growing back:


You can see the blue in the damaged leaves. Luckily they’re pretty tough little dudes and grow quickly, especially after a drink of fish fertiliser! Yum.

The single woad plant that I left to flower is starting to develop seeds:


They will turn blue-black as they mature. They look like little tongues, don’t they? Pfthhhh… This plant is taller than my head now and the flowers smell really nice. I know it’s considered a noxious weed in many places but mine are well-tamed and quite legal in BC. I’m very fond of my woad! Even if the Japanese indigo does have more blue in it.

So what else is new? I’ve only got about 3 inches left to knit on the Mia Tunic. The rows are really long (nearly 300 stitches around) so it’s taking me awhile. Plus I haven’t had that much time to knit! I also started a tea cosy for my daughter but it’s not easy or relaxing to knit. I don’t dare start anything else yet or I’ll never finish what I’ve already started! The sewing machine is calling me too but it’s not going to happen until the big garden work is done and we’re down to maintenance level. Soon!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Gallery Show

So in all the talk of indigo I forgot to mention the gallery display that Thom & I participated in is on from now until the end of June at the Roundhouse Community Centre in downtown Vancouver. West Coast Synergies: Fibre + Wood + Metal sounds like a really prestigious show, doesn’t it? However, it’s merely a couple of glass cases and a plinth on one wall of an entry to the centre. Not to disparage it at all. There’s some delicious items displayed there! Especially if you can appreciate what went into each collaborative piece.

So if you can’t make it in person, come on the tour with me. The guitar that Thom & I collaborated on kind of stands out, no?


Doesn’t it look like it’s smiling at you? Heh. I won’t try to remember all the participants’ names (since I didn’t write it all down) but clockwise from top-left there’s a woven scarf with a woodturned clasp, the left-handed 4-stringed cigar box guitar with tabletwoven strap and kumihimo braid tie, woven crinkled shawl with a metalworked brooch, felted headpiece with beaded wireworked embellishment, and a woven shawl with enamelled brooch.

And here’s the second case:


Clockwise from top-left: woven shawl with silver buttons, felt head sculpture with metalwork earrings, woven scarf with silver brooch, handspun knitted shawl with more of the woodturned clasps, woodworked box with woven inset top, and woven napkins with copper napkin rings.

The smaller side cases were hard to photograph without glare:

Display case 3a Above: felted headpiece with beaded wireworked embellishment.

Display case 3b

Above: woven shibori shawl with metalworked brooch.


Above: woven leather headpieces with wire and beads.


Above: woven shawl with silver buttons.

And last but not least, a driftwood frame with a wire lace scene:

Display plinth

Some pieces are for sale, some like our guitar are not. And there you go!

We had such a lovely time chatting with participants and friends at the show’s opening last Sunday. It was a lovely day so we were able to walk downtown across the Cambie Bridge. I wore a handwoven hat, dress and scarf (only the latter not woven by me but by a friend) plus handknit socks and even me-made undies – the complete regalia! And no photo. Urp. Bad damselfly.

So now best go do something useful for the rest of this lovely warm day. Back soon!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Blue Fingernails

My two day indigo dyeing marathon went really well. The first day I set up a vat both for practise and to do my own stuff first so I could be available to fetch and carry for my Spectrum Study Group yesterday. I dyed and over-dyed wool yarns, cotton yarn, cotton hankies, a silk/wool scarf and an antique linen damask tablecloth (complete with stains and holes). Nearly a kilo worth of stuff though not everything got a full coverage of dye.

I’m going to give you the full scoop here. Personally I love it when people share information on what works for them! The lye/thiox – properly referred to as sodium hydroxide and thiourea dioxide – vat is a pretty simple one to make. Just 3 ingredients but they have to balance just right. Interestingly I did some research and compared 7 or 8 different recipes and though most of them were pretty similar, one or two were quite different in their specified amounts. Note that in some countries you can’t get thiourea dioxide (aka spectralite) but instead have sodium hydrosulphite (aka sodium dithionite) instead. Just follow the same recipe but substitute hydros at twice the volume of thiox. Naturally in the end I threaded my own path through the conflicting information.

First I wetted out 25g (about 8 tsps.) of natural indigo:

Indigo mix

It smells wonderfully barnyard-ish! I used half and half Earthues and Maiwa’s Pitchi Reddy indigo. (The label is mine. A huge tin was shared among a whole group of dyers.) I’m not sure if either of these products are still available though Maiwa does have good quality natural indigo “from a farm in South India”, so probably the same stuff. The adorable Pitchi Reddy himself is featured in their documentary “Indigo: A World of Blue” which is a wonderful introduction to the subject. (Forgive me if I sound like I’m advertising but they are local and fair trade and I’ve been a customer for just about forever.) But I digress.

I wetted out the indigo powder in a small beaker (which I sadly broke today when putting it away). Then in a quart canning jar partially filled with hot water I carefully mixed in 2 tsps of lye. When that was dissolved I added the indigo, washing out the beaker with hot water into the jar until the beaker was clean and the jar was full. Lastly I sprinkled in 2 tsps of thiox and stirred gently. On went the lid and I popped the jar into a bucket of hot water to keep the temperature around 50C (120F) or a little warmer:

Indigo stock

Then I waited for about 15 minutes until the indigo stock turned greenish. Next I got the vat ready. I filled the tall bucket with hot water (not sure of the volume, I’ll have to measure it sometime) and added a little sprinkle of lye and a tsp of thiox to prep the vat for the introduction of the indigo stock. The fish tank heater keeps the vat at the optimum temperature of 50C (120F). We haven’t kept fish in decades so this heater has been used more in indigo vats! When the stock was ready I lowered the jar into the vat and let the stock out into the water carefully so as not to introduce air bubbles. Then I covered it all up with a couple of towels and left it for a little while to do its magic.

And it worked:


You can’t really see it but under that blue surface is a nice yellowish-green dye vat. It has iridescent coppery bits floating on top. From this vat I got this pile of goodies:


Plus the tablecloth which I didn’t put in the tray. Some things got 1 dip and some things got as many as 4 or 5. The brown yarn (walnut dyed) was only dipped partially in. The dark skein on top of it was dyed over gray. Very successful, I’d say. Plus I was able to keep the vat warm overnight so we could reuse it with fresh indigo stock the next day.

So yesterday we set up two vats: one re-using the vat above but with fresh indigo stock made exactly as before and one ferrous vat (ferrous sulphate, aka iron mordant, and calcium hydroxide, aka hydrated lime). I’d never made this type before but the instructions are here on Maiwa’s website. However do NOT start with “almost-boiling” water because if it’s too hot it will kill the indigo. Ask me how I know! We had to add more indigo before it would work properly. Better at around 60C (140F) or not much higher than that I think. Or you could try dissolving the iron and calx in hotter water and then add to the slightly cooler vat. After the initial start it can cool down to room temperature without losing strength. It can take awhile for this type of vat to get going so don’t be in a hurry for results right away. This one took about an hour or so to really get going. It might even take overnight.

We added some clean rocks to the bottom of the bucket to keep our fibres off the sediment. The ferrous vat looks odd:


The iron makes it not suitable for wool but this vat will last for a long time and won’t “die” like the lye/thiox vat. Believe it or not we got good colours from this one. They matched the other vat even though it didn’t look like it should. Apparently you can whisk air into it when you’re done and pour it on the compost pile.

Everyone worked hard dipping:


We immediately rinse in a bucket of fresh water before hanging things up to oxidise. Here’s the clothesline at one point:


Meanwhile I got time to unfurl my shibori pieces. My wool/silk twill gauze scarf came out lovely:


I’m very pleased. And here’s the 4 shibori hankies:


I learned a lot during our Shibori Study and found that there are some designs that aren’t really hard to accomplish. I just have to finish them!

In other news I promised an update on my garden. It’s not quite the tragedy that I first thought. Some things are starting to grow back. It helps that the weather has been very nice! But the peas are worse off than I thought and I’m not going to get any more rhubarb. It turned out that we are located in a small pocket that got the brunt of the hail storm and so suffered the worst! No wonder the news said there was no damage. Hah! I beg to differ. It just wasn’t very widespread. Only about a square kilometre that really got dumped on. The Eye of the Storm. Alas.

Oh well. Now I have zombie plants! Yes, I’m coping with humour. What else can you do?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Tenth Blogiversary & A Tragedy

Number10 Source

Yes, I have truly been blogging at you for a whole decade now! Who’d a-thunk it, eh? This is Post Number 1532. I think I’ve learned a few things about this medium of expression since I began way back then. At least I hope I have! This here blog is my personal forum for documenting my projects, discussing crafty techniques, sharing my holidays, pondering and musing about things in general, and occasionally whining and whingeing. Thanks so much for sharing all these things with me. And for being unfailingly polite and positive in your comments. I appreciate it. So I don’t have a huge following like some bloggers do but that’s not why I’m here. And of course those of you lovely people who do read my scribblings are the best ever. Even if you never comment, I feel you out there in cyberspace. Big virtual hugs!

Well here it is May 6th already and I haven’t posted since April. Bad 10-year-old blogger! I’ve been quite busy up in the study. I got a bee in my bonnet about cleaning up my library table that serves as a work station in front of the west window. It was piled with junk and hadn’t been sorted for literally years. My actual workspace was shrinking down smaller and smaller and I had to unearth archaeological layers to find anything. The side shelves are also filled with paperback fantasy novels that I was going to get around to reading, ummm… 10 years ago! I’ve obviously been distracted…

So I cleaned it all off, polished the dry wood (solid oak) and only put the good stuff back. I even joined Goodreads so I could keep better track of the books! I still haven’t tackled the little drawer though. I think I’m avoiding it. While I was at it, I also cleaned out the cupboard above my big computer desk. I recycled about 25 years worth of weavers’ guild newsletters (I was the editor for 13 of them) and a whole bunch of conference memorabilia. I saved the binder from HGA Convergence 2002, the one we hosted here in Vancouver, because I was in charge of the publications for it. I figure it’s a part of my history. I never look at the other stuff though so I’m not sad I tossed it all.

Just those two areas took DAYS to sort out. Now the cupboard has room for my projects binders because yes, I save paper printouts of all my project notes. Guess I’m old-fashioned enough not to trust electronic files forever! I have more work to do in this room still: re-sorting books, dusting shelves and generally tidying in, under and around. There are 6 full bookcases in this room as well as the aforementioned library table and cupboard, plus spinning wheels, spinning baskets and a Morris chair that is in desperate need of reupholstering. (I’ve been putting that task off for decades now.) And we aren’t even talking about the other room up here. The studio has been calling me to get back to sewing too. And finishing up the warp still on the loom. Soon. But sometimes you just have to give in to the Cleaning Bug, don’t you? Otherwise we’d be buried in an avalanche of our own possessions.

Meanwhile, I’ve been prepping for indigo vats in the dye studio. My Spectrum Study Group is coming over tomorrow to dip the shibori projects we’ve been stitching on for many a monthly meeting. It’s up to me to make sure the vat goes well, so today I’m going to do a preliminary test run and dye all my own stuff first. Then I’ll make more indigo stock and revive the vat tomorrow. We use the lye/thiox vat because it’s quick and reliable. The drawbacks are that it’s pretty much a one-use vat and it’s hard to get the really deep blues. I have no desire to be responsible for a fermentation vat though. It’s like having a pet that you have to feed and walk! I don’t dye enough to be bothered. However I envy those dyers with the skills and time to maintain what I consider a proper indigo vat. A blue high five to you!

OK. So what’s the tragedy that I referenced in the title? My garden, nearly ALL of my garden has been destroyed! I’m absolutely devastated whilst trying to maintain a zen-like calm. (Not working.) Yesterday we had a huge rain and hail storm that went on for hours! It hailed so hard that bits of gravel from the duroid asphalt roof tiles were washed down and tiny pieces of lichen were torn from the walnut tree branches. It hailed so long that there were drifts of hailstones on my porch at least 4” deep. This was only in the middle of the deluge:


And the veggie garden:


It went on from there twice as deep as this and completely covering the garden beds! It looks like snow but snow would have been kinder. My plants look like someone shot them up with an AK47! A sad muddy crushed salad. I can’t even photograph it close-up for you. Too depressing. A few things are recoverable: the peas, kale, cabbage, asparagus and garlic are scarred but not too broken. Luckily the tomatoes, squashes and cucumbers were in pots in the greenhouse and the basil and coleus were in the house under the lights. There’s a few flower seedlings safely in the greenhouse that I didn’t get a chance to transplant yet. I haven’t planted the beans either. Who knew I’d be glad I procrastinated? But the beautiful rhododendrons and azaleas are shredded, the coreopsis is flattened and my precious Japanese indigo are nothing but leafless sticks. I could cry.

If the roots aren’t damaged some plants may recuperate. I’m hoping so because there’s no point trying to replant most of them. It’s too late in the season for us. I may try again with the Japanese indigo but it needs long enough to make it all the way to seed before frost. The plants are tough and might continue to grow though they are awfully shredded. I’m not terribly enthusiastic about gardening now. Awwwww!!! And it was so beautiful! We were getting daily compliments from passersby. Sigh. Remind me why I bother please.

Oh yeah. Mother Nature tried to make me feel better with this evening sky:


Pretty pink clouds are SO not going to make me any happier!

OK. Enough wallowing in self-pity. I have an indigo vat to make. Onward to blue…

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

More Dye Garden Thoughts

There are three obvious ways to get botanical dyestuff for your dye projects:

  1. Buy your dyes from suppliers, either as dried flowers, leaves, roots, etc. or as extracts.
  2. Pick plants from roadside verges and waste places.
  3. Grow them on your own land.

I live in the city and it’s illegal to pick things in parks or along the roadside. There are a few waste places where you could get away with it of course but I don’t live near them and the plants available are mostly the weeds that are common to our area: Himalayan blackberry, Scotch broom, English ivy, dandelions, and lots of other things that give the usual beige, tan and yellow. Plus I already have my own blackberries and ivy!

We are truly lucky to live within walking distance of Maiwa Handprints which is a fabulous resource for all things dye and surface design related. So I do buy some dyes such as cochineal bugs, “true” indigo, cutch and osage orange extracts, and more madder since I can’t grow enough myself. Other than that my garden suffices for my natural dye needs which aren’t huge. I only dye a couple of pounds of fibres, yarn or fabric in a year anyway. I haven’t even used everything I’ve dyed in the last several years yet! It all takes time. LOTS of time.

I’m also lucky to have a large enough city lot to be able to grow things on it. However, even if you have only a little plot or a planter box you could still grow enough for a dyebath or two if you wanted. I realise not everybody likes gardening as much as I do but it’s a skill like any other. You will improve with experience. I’m not sure I envy those with acreages though – I think I’d go a little nuts with the size and scope of the possibilities! Right now I have just enough garden to keep me (and Thom) pleasantly occupied. I’m definitely not a farmer though I have huge appreciation for those who grow things for us. It’s not an easy job.

OK, on to other things. In knitting news, I ended up going to my LYS (Three Bags Full) to get a longer 3mm Addi circular needle. This time I got a 32” Rocket, which has the sharper tip of the Addi Lace needle but the nickel plating of the Addi Turbo. LOVE! Makes me wonder why they even bothered with the brass Lace needles when they’ve had so much trouble with the finish on them. Personally I’ve had to take 2 pairs back because of flaws that I couldn’t live with. At least Addi honours their lifetime guarantee and it’s easy enough just to take the needles back to the store you bought them from and exchange. 3Bags has been great about this. Tiny shop; great service.

So why did I get a longer needle? I usually use a 24” circular for everything. If I need a different length I use my Addi Lace Clicks – except that they don’t go smaller than 3.5mm. I needed a 3mm, too small for Clicks, and the stitches on my Mia Tunic were very cramped on 24” and getting even more so as I knit. Since this garment is only really costing me the price of a new needle, I didn’t hesitate. My knitting is much happier now:

Mia Tunic prog2

It’s quite a few inches longer than this now. I’m past the short rows and the little gather bit at the back and into the seed stitch tail. I’m quite enjoying the knit because it’s mostly mindless. Unlike other knitters I love acres of stockinette! I can read or watch TV at the same time. That’s always an incentive for me to work on something more often. If I have to concentrate or watch what I’m doing then I don’t find time to do it as much.

Which brings me to my current second knitting project, the Colour Change Scarf. Yes, I know I have no need whatsoever for another scarf. Plus I really prefer triangle or crescent shawlettes instead. However, this one tickled my interest with the colour progressions and the lace grid pattern. And I need a more portable knitting project to counter the definite non-portability of the Mia. Unfortunately, it takes constant watching my stitches to knit it! The lace pattern is easy-peasy, only 2 simple rows easily memorised. But there are no resting rows, just constant decreases and double-yarn overs and knit-knit-knit-purl. I had trouble with the Addi Lace Click needles I was using too. The superfine merino yarn caught on the connector too much so it was a chore to slide stitches forward. Not fun knitting. Which means I will avoid it. And that won’t get the thing done anytime soon.

I tried several different needle options instead. Regular Addi Lace 24” circular: still nearly as much catch when sliding stitches plus the cable is annoyingly longer for an 8” wide scarf. Vintage Aero aluminum long 9” dpns: felt nice to knit on but too heavy for comfort. The needles are not hollow but solid cast aluminum. Equally ancient Aero aluminum 16” circular: horrible stiff cable and lumpy join causing the usual catching issues. Last try – Clover Takumi bamboo 7” dpns: much lighter than aluminum dpns but the tips aren’t quite as pointy. Good points are really helpful with this fine splitty doubled yarn and lots of decreases. Anyway I ran out of options so with rubber point protectors on the ends to stop stitches from sliding off, they will have to do. Not buying any more needles! Carrying on. Slowly.

Don’t think I mentioned that Thom is now sharing my cold. Argh. Took him over a week to catch it from me! I tried to spare him, honest! (Perhaps coughing on him in the middle of the night wasn’t a good thing.) I’m getting better slowly but he’s kind of in the worst of it right now. Unfortunately we need some groceries so for once we’ll be driving in the car to get them. How unusual! The advantage is that we can pick up more things at the supermarket than we can carry including the heavy stuff like laundry detergent. Stocking up. You know, for the Zombie Apocalypse or whatever. Moving right along.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Dye Garden

A commenter recently asked about what I plant in my dye garden. I didn’t forget but this is not going to be quite as elaborate a post as I originally planned. However, since it’s only spring and nothing has been happening in the dyepots recently, this will be but a first instalment. Dyeing with plants is an ongoing experiment anyhow.

So here’s what the dye garden looks like currently:


It’s a long narrow bed dug out of the city boulevard (local term for the space between the side of our property and the street, aka “verge” in British terms). There is no sidewalk on our block though people walk along here on the grass, usually with a dog or several. Our city is very encouraging about planting and caring for common property like this so it’s not a naughty thing to do. Thom mows the grass/moss and carefully digs out the buttercups and dandelions. For all the city cares I could dig the whole thing up and plant potatoes on it! I won’t though. It’s tough enough keeping the dogs out of my garden as it is.

So first up we have rhubarb. Besides eating the stalks, the leaves make a mordant that works best with animal fibres. They contain oxalic acid which is a poison so you must be reasonably cautious when using it. It’s not toxic once the fibre is rinsed though. The leaves have some colour of their own so it will affect the shade you get when dyeing over it. The roots are also a strong warm yellow dye used with a mordant. You can harvest them when you dig up the crowns to divide them every few years. Note that this is not the only rhubarb plant in my garden. We have 3 or 4 more near the veggie patch.

Then there are the coreopsis (tickseed) of which I have 3 varieties. Dyer’s coreopsis is the workhorse, even though it’s an annual and I have to replant every year. I can easily save the seeds so I don’t have to buy any. The flowers with alum mordant and various after-dips give me yellow, gold, orange and rust and they contain a lot of dye for their weight. They’re tedious to pick but they dry easily to save for later. The whole plant has colour so if you want you can chop them up for a dyepot at the end of the season. These little guys are still babies.

Dyers coreopsis

The perennial coreopsis are new to my garden. This one is the threadleaf variety, recently transplanted from my mother-in-law’s garden:

Threadleaf coreopsis

I plan to try the flowers and the leaves for eco-dyeing along with the second perennial variety, grandiflora:

Grandiflora coreopsis

I planted these from seeds last year and so far I haven’t had any flowers to try. We’ll see if they’re worth the space in my garden!

Next we have the baby Japanese indigos:

JapaneseIndigo seedling

I planted a lot of these this year because I’m not growing woad right now, which is my other source for blue. Because my garden is so small I don’t get enough plants to dry the leaves and compost them for proper indigo so I use them fresh instead. (Instruction links are on my new Tutorials page at the top of this blog.) It doesn’t give me quite as dark shades as a normal indigo vat might but I can get a nice medium blue and also overdye for other colours.

Next we have my one last-year’s woad which I’m leaving to flower for fresh seeds:

Woad in flower

The flowers are so pretty and the bees like them a lot. Behind the woad you can see my expanding patch of dyer’s chamomile (aka golden marguerite). It’s an aromatic plant that stays somewhat green all winter here. Sadly this variety is “Sauce Hollandaise” which has white flowers instead of yellow and so isn’t very good for dye. I’ll probably move it somewhere else in the garden eventually.

Behind that are marigolds, which I also grow in other parts of my garden wherever there is space. Marigold flowers with alum mordant and various after-dips give yellow and gold colours and the leaves can give brassy olive shades. I pick the flowers when they are partially spent and freeze them because they don’t dry well for me. I also think they give better colour fresh or frozen than when they are dried. Marigolds are easy to grow or purchase from nurseries and the seeds are very easy to save. Here they are bothered by slugs and snails which can totally decimate a plant if it’s not protected with slug bait. We try to use an organic type.

Beyond the marigolds are more Japanese indigo which I won’t pick so as to let them flower as early as possible. I learned that trick a few years ago and now I get mature seeds before frost kills the plants. As I’ve mentioned before, these seeds are only viable for a short time so saving seed each year is a must. They’re very hard to come by. I usually have extra though so if anyone wants some, contact me. It’s getting pretty late for this year unfortunately.

In between the marigolds and the second patch of indigo is a space where I will plant some baby weld. This needs a second year to mature and is the best source for a colourfast clear yellow with alum. I don’t actually need any weld because I have bagsful of the dried stuff but I do need to refresh my seeds.

Lastly, there is the madder, my only source for reds:


I should have dug them up last fall and divided the crowns but I didn’t. It takes time to grow good-sized roots so I only can get a single madder pot once every two or three years out of a 6-foot patch. I would love to have enough so I could dig 1/3 of the plants up every year but sadly lack the room. These are not pretty plants and are scratchy and sprawling. The upper plant parts have some colour in them as well so conceivably you could harvest the tops before they die back in fall but I’ve never tried it.

So there you have it! Other dye plants on my property include walnut, blackberry, Oregon grape, smoke bush (Cotinus coggygyria), and black-eyed susans. I get browns and tans from the walnut husks and greys from the blackberry shoots but the rest are just more yellows so I don’t really bother with them. I’m sure there’s lots more plants I could grow for colour but I’ve got a pretty nice palette going in the space that I’ve got. Anything else that you think I should consider?