Medicine Bow

August 30, 2009


Returning from a four day journey into the expansive lands surrounding Encampment Wyoming.  A landscape dotted with lodgepole pines, cedar, aspen, cascading into sagebrush country- the home of grouse, prairie dog, moose, elk, pronghorn antelope, and bear.  We were in search of the plants that yield the colors of the mountains, and surrounding prairies.  Our guide and teacher, was an incredibly passionate and dedicated natural dyer of 35 years.  She, and her husband and grand-daughter generously shared their home, and lives  with us for the duration of our visit.


This is pine bark from an old lodgepole pine that has been killed by the pine beetle.  Over 1.5 million acres of forest have been killed by the infestation.  So far, there has only been selective clearing of the dead trees, but most remain, orange and red vestiges of a once vibrant and verdant forest.  This bark was the source of a dye that we made the following day over a wood fire stove.


This is the old copper pot that our teacher Carol Lee has set up in her backyard.  Her dye studio and wood-fire arrangement was inspiring.  Her BrownSheep company sells roving, yarns, and fleece.  Some of it, the Cotswold- is from sheep living within the region.  Carol has a penchant for natural dyeing, her studio is like a scientists lab- shelves filled with jars of colorful water, from this or that mushroom or bark experiment.


Here are some of the outcomes of pine bark, and aspen leaves.


Here is the Mt. Mahogany and Madder root experiments.  I am so pleased with these colors!


Here is Wooly Boy, the outdoor cat, that desperately would like to be let indoors.  He settles for time in the wool studio, hence his name.  He loves rolling around on skeins.  This madder root and sage skein inspired lots of rubbing and stretching kitty attention.


On our way back to Denver, we took highway 130 to Laramie Wyoming, driving through exquisite landscapes, that I hope to return to, and re-visit with a little more time someday soon.  So much beauty in the West, so much more to explore.  It was my first time in this awe inspiring region.  Thank you mountains, water, and beautifully clean air- I’ll be seeing you again.


This hollyhock dye experiment was the most joyful of surprises!  I have not seen this color before- ever, not from a natural or synthetic source.  That is the beauty of a natural dye- the color that emerges, is often not one that can be put into words.  Light defines color, and it seems that natural color and natural light create so many subtle variations, that the eye is delighted to no end with the shades and tones that emerge from one plant-based dye applied to one natural fiber, in the soft light of the setting sun.


The beautiful hollyhocks- thank you for your gifts…


This hollyhock came from a lovely root-stock from Spring Hill nursery.  The darker and deeper hollyhocks were by far the most useful for dye purposes.  I highly recommend this plant for your dye garden.  Do you have any hollyhock dye experiences you care to share?  I’d be very interested in how this plant may have worked for you, and what colors you may have discovered.

Desert Harvest

August 18, 2009



Paige Green Photography

Paige Green Photography. Navajo Tea or Cota- used for immune system and orange dye

When I think of the word ‘desert’, I hear phrases in my mind such as ‘food-desert’, or ’emotional desert.’  All of which communicate a lack of something important.  My time in the veritable deserts of New Mexico and Arizona were anything but barren- they provided for me more than I can share simply in words.  The abundant and generous attitude of the human community, combined with the exquisite bio-diversity of the landscape, created a trip that is engraved in my bones and heart.


Paige Green Photography. Digging 2 ft. down into the ochre sands


Here in the sands of the Eastern Agency of the sovereign Navajo Nation, we dug for wild carrots.  These were not so edible.  It was recommended I try one, if I needed to experience the potency of oxalic acid.  I refrained from the taste test.  The collection was a joy, and we gathered many, enough for our teacher Rose to create dye baths well after the passing of the harvest season


Dye baths of cliff rose, wild carrot, Navajo tea, ground lichen, and rabbit brush, were created from plants that were gathered the day before in the long and far stretches of the high mesa plains.  I had not cooked dyes over an open flame before.  The smells of the cooking plants were overpowered by the smell of ash, and burning wood. Rose and her husband Henry arose at 5 a.m. to begin splitting the wood, building the fire, and making the dye vats.


Henry speaks Navajo and English, although he is a quiet man.  He is retired now from years of working in the coal mines, and as a welder’s assistant.  Although ‘retired’, he is continuously at work-whether it be a new addition on the home, to fit the growing family, or crafting weaving tools for the increasing number of young ones who Rose is teaching to weave.



Rose, grandmother of 17, raising 14 of them herself, is a woman who cares for her family with a humble dedication.  Here, she cleans yarns being pulled from the dye vat.  Her body moves into the routine with an impeccable casualness.  She rinses, squeezes, picks out the plant matter, and then hands over the skeins to a family member, who places them on the fence to dry.


Here is Rose with her daughter in law and grand-daughter rinsing skeins together.  Roses’s daughter in-law is a fine weaver, she showed us several looms she is working on simultaneously- one of her rugs is being woven with her grandmothers hands-spun yarns, that had been saved for many years after her passing.


Paige Green Photography

Paige Green Photography

Here are many of the family members together.  Paige Green took this picture, along with many other incredible shots during our journey.  Even amongst the sand, ash, decomposed granite, and wood smoke, she managed to document our journey with incredible skill and precision.

Paige Green Photography

Paige Green Photography


And now the desert colors are home with me.

Native Dyes in the Commons

August 12, 2009


The West Marin Commons hosted a natural dye workshop in their wonderful new native forb garden. Amongst the coyote brush, toyon, Point Reyes checkerbloom, mugwort, and farewell to spring blossoms- a group of 15 adults and four children made use of 100% locally harvested plant dye vats. This was a day of working with what was available-  colors such as vibrant yellow, light and brighter orange, soft sage green, and deep brown, emerged from our vats of bee plant, toyon, sage, eucalyptus, fennel, and tickseed coreopsis. This workshop had the unique and added benefit of the most exquisite lunch, and dessert, whose ingredients were so good, and so many I would probably not be able to list them correctly! Thank you Stacy. As the workshop tailed off, Elizabeth Barnet brought huge cabbages, chard, and broccoli from her garden/farm, for us all to take home. The experience was rich in a feeling of community and connection with the land we share.

We also learned about rust dyeing, and how to make leaf prints with the help of found iron objects.  This process requires a little longer than one day, and I do have a few items that were left behind- they turned out beautifully.  If anyone is missing a little piece of hemp cotton fleece wrapped around a single maple leaf, let me know- I have it and can return it to you- its lovely. Many of the participants, including the children found success with the hapa-zome process, which is an easy way to make eco-prints, from common plants such as pansies, cosmos, borage, cota, and red geraniums.

IMG_3575The beauty of black walnut, and Artemesia californica, mixed in with a little coyote brush.  The colors on this piece were astonishing. Each workshop a some pieces are created for which I have little explanation for.  They emerge out of the vats and they just take my breath away.  The alchemy of the personal creativity, and the plant colors, forge a new aesthetic, one that I never see repeated.


IMG_3165This young man is four years old, and dressed to ‘be a super-hero that saves the earth,’ as stated during a free-play session on the native red fescue lawn.  He has spent his week making wild weed paper, adobe houses, gathering found objects, listening to stories about how things came  to be, and making his own natural dyes. His color choice for the above shirt and ‘wild flower cape’ came from the bark and shavings of the Indios peoples logwood project.  He also pounded cosmos flowers into his up-cycled cotton T, for a lovely floral pattern.

IMG_3152The dye vats began cooking here, in this large pot.  The little man in the picture is three, and enjoyed stirring this pot immensely. When his turn was over, he graciously passed the stick to the next in line.

IMG_3155We also prepared a tickseed coreopsis vat in a big glass jar. This jar was on its way outside for a solar cook. Dyes can be simply made with water, flowers, and the suns rays.  Although, we were at the absolute edge of the bay, looking out onto the Golden Gate Bridge, a well-known marine fog layer came to visit us each morning.  We still seemed to get just enough rays to cook our goods.

IMG_3159 The calming effect of natural dyes is well known by those that make and wear them.  I see children enchanted by the colors of the bark, and flowers, and often their demeanor, sense of well-being, and inner peace emerges from the busyness of the activity, as they put on their hand-dyed clothes, and tie their scarves around their bodies to make capes, and costumes.

Natural Dye Day

August 2, 2009

Eco-Color Files


It was an incredible day in the garden and the studio.  A benefit for our local sustainability center- Sustainable Fairfax, was shared with an exuberant, creative, and very sweet group of adults and children.  Immersion dye vats of Eucalytpus, fennel, bee plant, California Sage, Fermentation Indigo, Logwood, and black walnuts were dunked into, with silk, wool, cotton, hemp, and a bit of linen.

IMG_2922We started indoors with a little presentation on the importance of using natural dyes.  There are many reasons to use natural color, from personal to global ecological health-  it was a joy to share this information with such an understanding and receptive audience.  Many people purchased dye plant seeds, and talked about how to re-create these processes in their own homes and gardens.  I hope to see little dye gardens popping up in neighborhoods everywhere- and have people walking down the street wearing their own bee-plant pants, and Eucalyptus shirts…A world that is soft on the eyes, and good for the ecosystem.  What a wonderful world that will be.

We experimented with rust dyeing, hapa-zome (or pounding)- new additions to my usual immersion dyeing process. It was beautiful to observe how people used the immersion dyeing as a base layer, and then pounded pansies, borage, and geraniums into their cloth.  This created amazing effects, ones that I learned so much from.



I have so much gratitude to each and every member of today’s creative team.  If anyone in the group would like continued support in any of their eco-color adventures, please drop me an email, or give a call.  I look forward to your colorful future!