Saturday, June 12, 2010

Natural Dyeing...bloodroot to indigo and the origin of denim

I've always believed that when you start hearing or seeing or feeling the same, out- of-the-blue or obscure, message over and over again from different aspects of your life, you should follow where it know, like the universe is trying to tell you something important.
Of course, I followed such a series of messages once and it led me right out of a cushy, secure and lucrative corporate job and into this LYS venture, so maybe this approach is not always wisest! Still, I like to listen to these hints I pick up...I just don't follow them off a cliff anymore!
For me, it seems that all points lately have been directing me toward natural dyeing.
First, Chloe & I shared one of our favorite walks along the river in Richmond with some friends (if you haven't checked out my friend Kerin's argentium silver jewelry yet, you need's beautiful and you can see it at )and their dogs that had never been there before. The river edges were teeming with big bold beautiful ferns (see photo right) and, out of the foggy blue, I felt an urge to dye with the ferns. Since I've always found natural dyeing with plants to be just too much fuss this took me by surprise. I filed it away, thinking the urge would pass.
But then a huge tree came down in my parking area during the 15 minute gale wind storm we had here last week and when the arborist was here this week to clear it away, his limb walkers stomped all over a big group of bloodroot plants I had growing in a part of the garden beneath the tree. Bloodroot is great for dyeing but I had actually planted it because of its really early, lovely white flower (see photo top left) that is abundant in March and April when little else is blooming. I've never used it for dyeing, because unlike many other dye plants that you can pick the flowers or leaves from for dyeing and still preserve the plant for another year, its the root of the bloodroot plant that makes the there's no way around killing bloodroot to dye with it!

But now, this group is dead anyway and since I now have so many clumps of bloodroot in other parts of the garden, I think the fact that these were tromped upon means I should use them.

Lastly, I've been working on this new product for the store for the fall. The Vermont Yarn CSA. I'm really excited about it. I've got so many lovely Vermont Yarns being spun and that I'm currently dyeing, I thought I could offer a really unique and exciting monthly yarn club for customers. As I was developing the idea and trying to create each month's yarn and project really unique in experience, I came across two old things....both of which related to natural dyeing!
First, I came across an old dyeing notebook of mine that had some really great colors I had dyed one year from plants. In the face of seeing all the beautiful natural colors I had dyed that year, suddenly all the "fuss" of natural dyeing seemed worth the trouble, so I decided to add a naturally dyed yarn to the mix for the Vermont Yarn CSA.
Then I came across a really old newsletter I'd sent out in April 2003 that featured an article on "denim". The word which we now associate with jeans, comes from Nimes, France. In Nimes, indigo was used to dye fabric and so the fabric "of Nimes" (in French that's "de Nimes" and hence denim, referred to indigo dyed blue fabric.
So you see, I need to do some natural dyeing and so I'm heading out to the garden now to dig up the bloodroot roots and start extracting the dye. I'll post some pics next week to share how it's going.