Spring Green

May 31, 2009

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These may be the only shoes that balance so well on a kale leaf- and they look right at home doing so. These Coyote Brush Booties were made for a little one in Manhattan Kansas. I believe he is either just arrived, or immediately on the way. These booties were dyed in coyote brush, and also in my fermentation indigo vat. They are made of Tussah silk, and organic cotton and hemp fleece. The green obtained from this combination of plant dyes, fits in just perfectly the prolific variety of greens in the garden. We are growing a bed of black Tuscan kale in our spring stirfry bed. It is a delectable heirloom variety I began from seed in the mid-winter, seed can be purchased from J.L. Hudson seed catalog, it is an easy variety to grow. It has been adapting well to the warmer temperatures.


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These are our little kale seedlings almost ready for the ground. We have been eating greens happily now for over a month. I find them so tender, I can even eat them raw, with a bit of lemon juice and salt.

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The Native Colors

May 28, 2009

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This was a class with 22 women. I taught native plant natural dyes, at the California School of Herbal Studies. What an amazing group of healers, artists, activists, all of whom are aspiring herbalists. I was honored to meet each of them. We had a lively group discussion, where we discussed our local and global environment.

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Our conversation was of the following-Organic local fiber, and natural dye production and use, need a movement of scale supporting their growth and development. Just like the movement for local organic food production. After discussing the Industrialization of ‘color’, it was clear how many similarities there were between industrial food based agriculture, and the industrialization of the dying process. Many small farmers were moved off the land when synthetic dyes supplanted the roots, and leaves of traditional domestic crops such as madder, and Indigo. Synthetic dyes received another boost when the distillation of petroleum was invented. As did industrial agriculture; when a host of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer were created, to ‘boost’ production of mono-crops. By-products of the distillation process are used in synthetic dyes, along with a host of heavy metals. The effluent from the industrial textile dying process goes into municipal water treatment plants, (at best), and then out into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. The chemicals are not extruded, only diluted. The list of carcinogens in this process is quite long. (The list is the same for ‘low-impact’ or ‘eco-dyes’).

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‘Air emissions from the distillation of crude oil into its counter parts (used for synthetic dyes), includes nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide (leading to acid rain), carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane, water emissions including benzene, naphthalene, and toluene (known carcinogens), solid wastes such as uranium and other heavy metals, land and water spills. It took 400 lbs. of coal to create one ounce of the original Mauvine by William Perkin – the man attributed with inventing the first synthetic dye. And currently, coal is the leading cause of global warming.’ -Rachel Stone, Masters Thesis, UC Davis 2008.

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It is time for us to support local organic fiber producers, and purchase organic un-dyed or naturally dyed clothing, bedding, and linens. The risks to our own bodies with contact to the fiber reactive dyes is a concern, the bigger risks to our air, water, and soils is of huge concern. The up side, is that we have the option of supporting organic producers, and we can purchase un-dyed clothing. Naturally dyed clothing is just beginning to become available, and will require our support to keep it thriving.

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Escapades with Poke

May 19, 2009

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Pokeberry is a native to the Northeast of the United States. It is, for most land tenders- a most easy plant to grow. Here in California, I found one good source of Pokeberry at the California School of Herbal Studies. Last July, I scooped up all the berries I could, and brought them home to make dye. I got a range of extraordinary oranges in a mid-summer dye vat. I saved hundreds of seeds from this vat, and planted them in the fall in small peat pots. I waited, and waited. Nothing. I tried again, and planted many more seeds, and waited and waited. After researching numerous protocols- I found out, one must poke pokeberry seeds, with a needle or pin, prior to planting.  I sat down, attempting to get my needle through the slick and rounded hard shells of the 2mm length seeds, they shot themselves all over the floor.  I did have several successes.  And, now- in the heart of May, I’m admiring my baby Pokeberrie plants, adorning my outdoor sewing studio.  I am looking forward to this years dye vat. 

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Pokeberry from last summer’s berry vat. on corriedale cross roving from West Marin, and two-ply organic yarn from the same ranch.

Indigo, one of two plant species I know of that can create rich blues, unlike any blues I know, other than those hues I see in the sky and sea. In my garden there is a a 10ft. long mound of rich soil, covered in rice straw, that now houses the Indigo starts.  They’ve made there way to the outside, now that the risk of frost has past.  

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This crop should provide several dye vats this summer.  I will likely use a fermentation vat, as I have in the past.  A traditional recipe, that can last for many months of dyeing. Japanese Indigo while native to Japan, seems to be enjoying the misty Spring we are having.  The humidity of recent weather, has sent large leaves into the sky, and a few pink flowers are beginning to emerge.

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The organic wool for these skeins, is from West Marin.  The raw wool was dyed in fermentation indigo, and some of it overdyed in the native coyote brush.  The blend that I spun together, reminds me of the changing blues and greens of Tomales Bay.  I call this set of skeins, Natural Sea.  

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Indigo applied to animal fibers is exquisite.  Wool and silk, are both accepting takers of the plant dye.  These silk kimono booties, were made with peace silk from India, and then dyed in my fermentation indigo vat.  This silk is created from the cocoons of silk worms that have been allowed to escape.  Traditional silk practice is to boil the cocoon with the worm still alive. These booties are lined with an organic hemp and cotton fleece.

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