Thursday, November 20, 2014


 This is the time of year I find myself knitting and knitting and knitting for craft shows. My goal is to have ten pairs of fingerless gloves on my table, among other things like hats and spinning kits and yarn. I just finished these gloves last night. They're extra long and all handspun. I'm tempted to keep them for myself, I like them so much. But then I'd have to make one more pair to meet my self-imposed quota. Meh.
 I decided to try and overwiner our tuscan blue rosemary. I'm not sure if it could have hacked the minus whatever-it-gets-to-here nights. It's flowering now and that generally makes me wonder if I'm making it happy or stressing out so bad that its making itself pretty in a desperate attempt at reproducing before it dies on me. I might try cutting it back a bit and making starts from the cuttings. I got the idea from this Juniper Moon Farms blog post.

 I've been making time to play with natural dyes lately, too. I'm brushing up because I'm teaching a yarn dyeing workshop with the Living Arts School on December 7th. The focus is on locally available dyestuffs, plants you could find growing wild plus a few you could easily incorporate in your own garden here in Colorado. I'll have a mix of prepared and whole plants and go over the various ways to tweak a dye bath to get more than one color/shade from each plant.

By way of example, here are some examples of a few of the dyes we'll be playing with. The browns are from black walnut hulls gathered in Wash Park in Denver. From left to right its been dyed onto tussah silk, hemp and alpaca. The pink(hemp) and orange(silk) are from the same bath of safflower petals. You can get a yellow from the same dye pot, too. The nice thing about safflower is that you can do the whole process cold.

This is from an indigo vat I've stashed in a corner by the stove. The fiber is silk that has been sitting in situ as the vat ferments and the gray-blue color has touches of red where the madder root took hold of the fiber, too. It's back in the vat and hopefully it'll get blue-er. I like the storm cloud quality of this stage too, though. The blue we will explore in the class will be more traditional, from woad and should produce a truer blue than this one.

 The jar is full of alkanet root that's been soaking in some Everclear that I found in the cupboard when we moved in. Alkanet isn't water soluble but alcohol will draw it out and create a deep purple/red color. This one doesn't exactly fit into the "local" rubric, but I'll probably bring some to the class anyway in case someone wants to try it. It gets used in natural cosmetics commercially and grows wild in Europe. It's a lot harder to find seeds for it here but I've seen them on Etsy now and again. This batch is currently evaporating out as I add snow to it so I can dye fiber in it without turning it into alkanet flambe.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

black walnut

     I've got things in the works. Namely, a dye class in the first week of December and a craft show during the second, plus stocking up for Christmas Market in Georgetown. Which also means I have a whole lot of spinning and knitting and dyeing ahead of me.  Adding NaNiWriMo to all that was an awesome idea, too, right? It hasn't been all that difficult actually. It helps that I've been doing research for it for years now. And 1,700 words per day is not as impossible to get through as it seemed. My main concern is what happens when I run out of things to write about. Hopeful that won't happen before I get to 50,000.

     In between all the hands one stuff I have to get done I've added a few vats to work themselves out in the background. Here's a shot of the black walnut. It's as smelly as it looks. All those bubbles mean its fermenting which hopefully means its releasing a lot of dye compounds, too. Although with black walnut, I hear, a little goes a long way.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

more tea, please

 I've got whatever sinus business that's been going around so this will be a less than ambitious Wednesday post.

These drop spindles have been selling better than anything I have ever put on Etsy before. It makes me wish they weren't a limited run. But I can't find any more of the painted filagree disks. Which probably means I'll just have to find a way to manufacture my own...

A few weekends ago I signed up to do NaNoWriMo. I heard some ladies talk about at a writing retreat a few years ago and put it in the back of my head to try out someday. Well, someday is in a few days and I may have only the barest scratch of an outline but I sure do have a purdy cover. That would be the S.S. Bill Murray in all his vintage glory right there. And yes, he will be an antagonist of sorts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

aspen & nettle

     The dye vats were calling to me after I finally finished a pair of custom gloves I've been sloooowly working on for the past few weeks.  I can't wait to show them to the person who asked for them. They're a longer version of the striped gloves I usually make for craft shows, but the requested yarn is also bulkier. This made them much warmer and makes me think more of hiking/biking than typing but they turned out beautifully all the same.
     The vats of aspen and nettle I have going are not beautiful. I let them ferment as they cold-process, leaving the dyestuffs in for as long as my nose can stand it. They've reached peak smelliness with that scuzzy mold on top. The nettle is the primary offender. The word putrid comes to mind before I even lift the lid. While that sucks for air quality in my kitchen, it also means that the pigments and the fiber are getting along famously. I finally cracked and cycled the first round of fiber out of the nettle and aspen this morning.

     I worked outside on the porch to minimize any lingering zombie stench, not to mention the mess. These chickadees were hanging out with me the whole time. Well, they were mostly hanging out in the aspen trees and the bird feeder. But, when I stopped for a bit to watch them one did get curious enough to investigate my shoes.

     Specific fibers interact with natural dyes in differing ways for lots of reasons. One thing I've noticed is that silk will take up color with vibrancy while wool is more subdued. This batch was a good illustration of that general rule. The silk and alpaca came out of the aspen bath dyed a bright acidy yellow and the hampshire wool came out of the nettle a pale sort of greenish yellow. There was still one more step. I started bottles of copper and iron tea last fall for afterbaths and mordanting.  This was my first opportunity to play with them. On the aspen-dyed silk and with the copper, at least, the effect was pretty magical. It went from that acid yellow to deep green. The It was a deeper, kaiser green last year but then I also pretty much forgot about it for a month or two, leaving it in the closet. And I used scottish blackface wool, which takes up dye almost as greedily as silk does. Maybe I'll try that for round two.

From left to right, the aspen-dyed alpaca and silk with alum moradant, then iron afterbath and copper afterbath. The next photo is the nettle-dyed hampshire wool with the same progression: alum, iron afterbath, copper afterbath.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

a field full of ferrets and flowers

     All I can seem to do today is look out the window and stuff black licorice in my face. I've got plenty on my list of things to do, like turn these skeins of yarn into a pair of gloves. But some days end up becoming devoted to daydreaming and roving around in the yard planning my next move there.

     My mom bought me some flower bulbs and some garlic to plant. They're in the mail now and I'm pretty sure its not too late to put in the ground up here. Its not like the ground is frozen or anything. It's just so much more fall-y up here than most places right now. I was down in Boulder yesterday and there are so many trees with green leaves, it seemed unfair. But, on the other hand, we have a longer growing season up here at 9200' than I thought we would. A permacultural set-up isn't going to be an impossible dream, there are plenty of fruit tree varietals that will make it and with a greenhouse even tomatoes should be attainable.
     There are just so many things to build and get going to get there. I finally rallied and spent part of today scattering flower seeds I had been collecting in random spots in the front and back yard, then cultivating some of the prairie dog mounds out back with rye. Neither of these tasks is sure to result in either flowers for the table or grain for bread/beer but I'm more than willing to experiment a little with the year's leftover seeds. Especially if they do take and it means self-perpetuating soul food in the form of poppies and calendula and bachelor buttons and a less violent means of giving the white-tailed ferret food the boot. Oh, how I would have loved to sponsor a few black-footed ferrets on our property. But you have to have thousands of acres for that, not slightly less than one. A girl can dream though.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


We went to visit family last weekend and brought home what's become a regular assortment of veg and dyestuffs. There were even a few immature cotton bolls to play with and a surprise patch of japanese indigo. The kids splashed around in the ditch and picked popcorn and ran around with the dog. Most of what came home has been eaten or processed by now. The tomatoes were roasted and canned up, the green beans were munched like edamame with leftover ham the first night we got home. There was even a baby ladybug that hitched a ride in the squash and got transplanted to an aphid-ridden artichoke I'm attempting to overwinter.


The dyestuffs have been put to work now, too. All of these are hanging out in various canning pots and those giant pails you use for beer brewing, tucked into a corner of the kitchen to ferment and soak up the color. Some were heated beforehand to draw out the dye, some were not and some don't even have fiber in them yet because I haven't quite made it to that step. I'll get there...eventually. The only plant I haven't harvested yet is rabbitbrush. I'm not sure what I'd put it in, I seem to be out of large pots. Maybe I'll skip it this year, unless I run into a good patch of it out there. There's no shortage of it, but sometime soon it'll all have gone brown for the year. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

backyard wildcrafting

  Before the wind and frost take them all away I recruited the kids to help me gather up some of the aspen leaves. They have a little grove of quakies that surrounds a digging spot of their's and last week it practically glowed yellow. It didn't take long before they found other games to play but there were so many leaves on the ground that it only took a few minutes for us to fill the pot.

 Given a bit of heat and then some time to ferment, I've found that aspen gives up a yellow almost as bright as the leaves are right now. (That and an afterbath in iron tea will tip it over to green.) I plan on making up a few vats before the cold sets in and dyeing some alpaca and tussah I have on hand. Having our own yard now makes this plant dyeing stuff so much more convenient. Last year's aspen leaves were gleaned from the old Georgetown Cemetery.
I had a late start this year, but as of right now there is a vat of white sage hanging out on the back porch (soon to be brought in from the cold) and I have some nettle to harvest before it freezes. It probably won't give up as much color as it would have when the weather was still warm. But I bet I can still coax a pale Kaiser green out if it.