Mad Scientist -Food, Flowers & Fabric

Spring does strange things to us. All those farm roots suddenly come to life. Dear hubby takes to the garden to plant potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes. I stick herbs and a few flowers in the ground. White flowers for my “moon garden”. Bee Balm for bees and hummingbirds.  Milk weed for the butterflies. And whatever else might catch my fancy. Then I look for something to harvest.

First out of the gate is Haskap. These shrubs produce fruit even before strawberries are ready. We came across these when they were in the experimental stage at the University of Saskatchewan. I love that they flower and provide food for the bees before everything else. I love their rich purple colour. And the health benefits are suppose to be phenomenal. They are also known as honeyberries, and I have tasted some good ones. But, not ours. So, what will I do with these berries I picked last week? Let’s play!

My source of inspiration for this little experiment was The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr. mads4Just reading her list for harvesting organic hues is exciting. Turmeric, onionskin, fennel, Japanese Maple, coffee, blackberries, acorns, pomegranate, and so on. Can’t you just imagine it? Aren’t the possibilities endless?

My first task was to search for some natural fibers and this is what I found around the house: white cotton, silk doupioni, wool batting, and cheesecloth.mads1

Next decision – what other plant materials should I use? I had just finished my morning coffee, so using coffee grounds was an easy solution. Then I went into the backyard with the intention of finding something green, but saw the peonies and wondered if they would work. Such a nice delicate pink. There was no harm in trying.mads3

I prepared the fabric by soaking it. At the same time, I started cooking the organic materials. Most of the risk was with the peonies. At the last minute I added a lemon thinking it may draw the colour out. The petals turned white immediately with very little change in water colour so I added more and more petals. mads2The suggestion to weigh and measure everything went out the window. Eventually I had pretty pink water – and a nice smelling kitchen.

After straining the water and adding the fabric, I continued to play with the peonies. What would happen if I added more petals on top of the fabric? Would I get a soft pink with darker pink areas, similar to petals?
This time however, instead of turning white, the petals turned brown. Not surprising, since that is what they do in nature. I guess the role the lemon played was different than I anticipated, and there wasn’t enough contact between the two elements this time around.

Here are the results…mads5

  • I had such high hopes for the peony fabrics. They were a pretty
    pink coming out of the rinse water, but dried a light pink/brown. Not what I wanted.Maybe next time I will have to use more lemons.
  • The fabric with dyed coffee was also lighter than I expected
  • What happened with the haskap? It was a solid red (except the tie dyed piece) after rinsing but ended up with blue spots. It’s true that I briefly rolled it in an old blue towel (and I mean really old). The colour could not have transferred from the towel to the fabric, could it? Is there any other explanation? It was a pleasant surprise. I would love to try this one again but it will have to wait until next year. The berries are all gone.
  • Cotton is surprisingly hard to dye. The colours were not as intense as I expected in either the fabric or the cheesecloth.
  • LOVED working with wool and silk.  The wool did not felt even though it simmered in water for a considerable length of time. Both took up the colour almost immediately.

So what will I do with these pieces? I have no idea. They would not be colourfast in a quilt. But I may use them in postcards. I might even challenge myself to make an art quilt using only organically dyed fabrics, and where I must use at least one piece of each. Is anyone else with me?

About Judy's Quilting Studio

Creator of all things quilted
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6 Responses to Mad Scientist -Food, Flowers & Fabric

  1. Laurel says:

    What a fun project! The pinks are really pretty, but I am surprised at how dark they are!

  2. Marnie Houston says:

    Thanks for the write up. I had actually saved my peonies for the same purpose you described thinking I would dye some white cotton I had laying around. But after reading it, I thought….nope. I’m not going to start dying for fear it will lead me into unknown waters and draw me into yet another hobby I don’t have enough time for…..LOL!

  3. Koongoek says:

    Hi Judy, it’s so cool experimenting with natural dyes! Will look out for The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr when I go to the library.

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