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!