indigo blues

besides reworking a failed sock last week I kept busy cleaning up the garden. fall is just around the corner.


the garden at the cabin has become an overgrown jungle the past 3 summers. instead of tending to the garden we were tending illnesses. slowly I am reclaiming the garden beds and trimming out branches and vines. while I was unable to do much planting this spring because I was in Michigan what I did plant in the dye garden grew beautifully.


DSC01278the cosmos is abundant and every week I look forward to pulling in the drive and seeing the masses of cheery yellow and orange blossoms. and every week I am out there picking off those cheery flowers to throw in the dye pot. I also froze some of the orange flowers  and dried them too.

dyeing with cosmos is super easy. I just pick the flowers and throw them in a pot and cover with water. simmer and add yarn mordanted with alum. no fuss – no muss and in just a few hours I am rewarded with the most gorgeous bright oranges. I love this orange I am going to use some of it straight up for an orange hat and cowl. I will be easy to spot while I am walking this fall. a little more will be used in a stranded project that will be a special present. and some of it will be over dyed with walnut husk because I can never get enough of that wonderful orange-y brown I get.

this is my kind of dyeing…easy and unmeasured. I throw things in the pot and heat them up to see what happens. or even easier I pick and then put it into a solar jar and leave the jar to sit in the garden and heat up.

there are times when I wish I had the patience for a more scientific approach which you need to work with some plants like indigo and woad. when working with indigo you need to follow a strict regiment to get those awesome blues. sure I can and have bought a kit and managed to get the blues. but I have never achieved blues from the plants in my garden. twice I did get the dye pot to the  blue point but failed when the blue washed out of the yarn.

well this year I grew 15 indigo plants…my sister Peg supplied the seed and she also gave me some extra plants she started. the plants she started were bigger than mine and actually have flower buds now.

my plants were smaller but still produced some leaves. so last week I picked the leaves and followed a  recipe on the internet. this recipe was more my style – no measuring or heating to an exact temp.

I took an old tupperware bowl and filled it with chilled water and then added a glug of vinegar. I placed the bowl on the ground and proceeded to strip indigo leaves off my plants. I tore the leaves up as I picked and put them in the chilled water right away.

since I don’t have a blender I used my pruning shears to cut up the leaves a little more. then you just let the bowl sit for an hour.  after an hour you strain the leaves out saving the water in a bowl. then add more chilled water to the first bowl.  the water had just a faint blue tinge to it so I thought I had another failure but I added the wool to the bowl anyways and wandered off into the garden to do a little pruning.

when I stumbled out of the bushes about an hour later to my surprise the wool had turned a very pretty robin egg blue. the directions said to leave the wool in the water for a half hour then to dry for 2 days then rinse. so I hung it to dry and added yarn in the second bowl of water and  a little later I had 2 skeins of robin egg blue yarn. the skeins of yarn started to look more turquoise when I hung them to dry.

DSC01277but the big test is washing and rinsing the yarn. is the blue going to stick or is it all going to wash out when I add some soap and water?

DSC01275after 2 days I rinsed one of the skeins with a mild shampoo and the blue stuck. well to be honest the color shifted slightly and is a little more green than blue.  but it is still lovely so I count this as a win and I will be growing more indigo next year.

the only disappointment with this method is it is not as magical as the traditional method. when you use the traditional method you add the fiber and when you take it out it is a little yellowish and then as the fiber is exposed to the air it magically turns blue right before your eyes. you have to be careful how long you leave fiber in the dye pot because it can turn a very intense blue very quickly. with this method there isn’t that moment of oxidation and the blue/green that I got isn’t very intense.

but this is so much easier than  having to heat the dye water in a double boiler and watch the temps carefully. and beat the mixture, then add a chemical to take out the oxygen and then watch the yarn turn blue only to have all the blue run out when the yarn was washed and hung to dry. this is more my style of dyeing and I am pretty excited with this shade.

DSC01276the skein on the right is washed and rinsed — the skein on the left is not. there is a subtle difference between the 2 skeins. next year I think I will blend the dye water and that should release more pigment into the water and maybe I will get a darker colorunnamed-1




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