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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Part Artist, Part Mad Scientist

There are a good handful of books out there on dyeing wool with Native Plant Dyes. This is one by Isabell Deschinny who is an expert on this subject matter and has taught many others how to collect the plants, process and dye their wool. I researched her hoping I could track her down to talk to her, but all I could find out was that she taught this subject matter at the UNM Gallup campus for many years. I believe she has retired now, but her son, Mark Deschinny has carried on and also makes rug weaving tools and looms. In addition to weaving and selling his work. In fact, he was here at the Trading Post the day before I got here-to drop off some weaving tools to sell (I saw them and they are beautiful!). I guess meeting him or his mother was not meant to be on this trip.

Before I came out here, I was talking to Donna Barnitz who had been here as an artist in residence last year and she was trying to tell me about the weavers she had met and who knows how to dye wool with native plants. She then proceeded to tell me about a plant they call a wild carrot and that it was highly prized as it doesn't grow in abundance in this area, but that it does in Rio Rancho. It blooms in the spring and then dies down by the end of May, but it is the tubers that are used and they can be dug up year 'round if you know how to recognize the already spent plant. In fact, she knew where a whole bunch of it grows in Rio Rancho. Since she didn't know the real name of the plant, she drew me a picture of it. When I got home and looked through my books, I saw that the illustration on Isabell's book looked just like the picture Donna drew! 

I got pretty excited having found this plant in my book and was able to tell her what it was called. And, before I knew it, a few days later, she had gone out and dug some up for me to take on my trip out to Hubbell. By the way, it is called dock root. Donna said it would be nice to take some with me to play around with and to 'gift' some of it to someone who knew how to use it.

Here's what the tubers look like and boy do they smell of the earth!

I cut some up of the tubers up (they are tough) and let them soak overnight. I can see why they are referred to as wild carrots but it is also called wild rhubarb as the stems look like rhubarb. 

I let it soak with some oak leaves I harvested last fall as they are full of tannins and help the dyeing process along. In all the research I've done, it seems that if you give the plant matter a chance to break down some, you will get better results.

 Fresh marigold flowers will yield a light yellow-green. The dock root should yield a darker yellow.

Some hibiscus tea (red) and last year's sunflowers. I don't know if the sunflowers will be successful-we'll see. This is where the mad scientist part starts to come in.

I spread out the mixture over a cotton tea towel and said a few prayers over it that it will go all well.

It's like making a sandwich with fabric instead of bread.

I also had a few silk hankies (thank you, Donna!) and decided to try out the marigold and red onion skins on it. The red onion skins yield dark reds and purples.

All bundled up and in the steamer (this is after it has steamed for 2 hours and cooled down). Alum was added at the start of this process. I need to leave it be and wait a few days before I unravel these bundles to see what magic (if any) happened. Technically, I am not dyeing the entire article of fabric a solid color. I am letting it impart the natural pigment just where it has contact with the fiber. This is called 'eco printing'. I have a Pinterest board that has many examples of eco printing.

This is what I use to steam the bundles in which is a pot dedicated just to this process on an induction plate. I like using the induction plate since it has to go for a few hours-it is more energy efficient and doesn't heat up the room.

In a few days, I'll be able to post what these bundles will look like unraveled. I hope you are far more patient than I am!