Dandelion dyeing

A photo essay “Using Dandelions for Dyeing




Spanish moss

Spanish moss goes by many names. Florida moss, long moss and greybeard.  It is an airfern, Making its own food. This type of plant is an epiphyte.

I was just in South Carolina and had to take some home with me for dyeing. The color is supposed to be a golden tan. I have it soaking until I start the cooking process. I already have the yarn I plan to dye.  It is a basic recipe using alum and cream of tartar as the mordants (French for bite). 

Will show you when it’s done.

Check out my dyeing with dandelions.

FYI: Spanish moss is used as stuffing for very expensive furniture.

Egyptian linen

I was at the Metropolitam Museum of Art yesterday. I got to see Egyptian linen used for mummification from Tutankhahmun’s funeral, 1327 BCE. 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street in NYC.  This exhibit will be there till September 6, 2010.

The linen was spun so very fine. Thiner than thread on a sewing spool. The weaver’s mark was on a piece. Not enough information was given for me. One piece’s caption said it had an s twist. The blue color was indigo. The linen was spun from flax. I would love to have watched this being spun so fine.

Did the weaver spin the thread? What was the dye recipe they used? A drop spindle or wheel? 

The Museum is a great place to go and have fun.

32,000 yr old spun flax

Hand Dyeing…


Take a good look at this cover: That’s the magic of dyeing. Fiber and fleece changed from one color to another…then more magic as you spin or knit the hand dyed yarn. Physically, the book is spiral bound with a hard cover. The plus; it lays flat while reading the recipe and mixing up the colors. I love color, and she creates a color wheel with dyed fiber. I want to do that, as soon as the weather gets warm. I will also get to try out the pots my mother gave me when she was moving. 

She dyed commercial white yarn on a cone, several colors.

Her tip is…Keep dyeing it to you like the color. She does touch upon making muddy colors, and how that can unfortunately happen.

Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece by Gail Callahan               Storey publishing

Spring is coming in our neck of the woods…well in a few weeks. My yard will be filled with plants, I can use for dyeing. What have you dyed lately?

 Examiner  for a video and slideshow of the book.

Flax fiber found from 32,000 years ago

Late this summer in a cave in the Republic of Georgia flax fibers were found that had been spun and dyed. Radiocarbon dating puts this fiber around 30,000 BCE, representing one of the earliest findings of humans using plant fibers. 

The thread was spun from wild flax. Threads found in the cave had been dyed violet, red, black and turquoise. From my little experience with dying fiber…these are not your everyday colors. Judging by the colors that are made from the majority of plant dyes , they are more in the autumn tones. Usually the results are gold, browns, greens and yellows. True black and real red are not easy to come by. I would love to hear from dyers and their opinions.

The cave was used on and off over various time periods. Due to the constant level of humidity in the cave it preserved the fibers. Fungus spores that were found in the cave are of the kinds that live off cloth. This leads the scientist to believe textiles were made from this fiber. 

The people of the time were considered early modern humans in a hunter-gatherer society. An out of date term you may know these humans by is Cro-magnon man.

I gave a timeline to give a broader picture of the time and what was happening.


38,000BCE – 33,000 BCE earliest example of figurines

35,000BCE oldest known mathematical artifact

33,000BCE earliest musical instrument 

30,000BCE cave paintings 

10,000 BCE last ice age

While doing this article I came across that Neanderthals…prior to this timeline, buried their dead with items. Cro-magnon men shaved. I also need to read “Clan of the Cave Bear”. That story of a Cro-magnon girl and the Neanderthals. It is a historical fiction novel. Love those. Love to hear your opinions or outlook on this subject.

Black Walnuts – to dye for:

They were right under my nose. Since I have started vegetable dyeing I have seen my garden in a new way. Up until last year I had two Black Walnut trees in my yard. We had one taken down because of its condition. The wood is beautiful. Other than that, I never had an affinity for the trees. They leaf out so late, you end up asking yourself if it made it through the winter. Without the leaves it reminds me of a tree in a painting I remember of the wild west. I didn’t much like that painting. But now I hold the fruit of the tree in much higher esteem, black walnuts.

You need to wear disposable gloves to harvest them from the ground. They ripen from a spring green color into a brown corrugated nut with a browish-green, semi-soft outer covering in the fall. Left on the ground the nuts start to degrade (if the squirrels leave any) and become gooey. Don’t worry, they will work.


Black Walnut at 5 minutes

Black Walnut at 5 minutes


Black Walnut after 24 hours in water

Black Walnut after 24 hours in water

 As you can see from the photo:

I put four husks in water. Within 5 minutes the dye started  to dissolve in the water. Within 24 hours see how dark the water became. I let it sit for a few days to ferment even further. I placed the fiber into water with a glub of vinegar for 30 minutes. Then I took the fiber (white, mixed with black, merino wool with a small amount of mohair), squeezed out the water mix, gently, and placed it in a microwaveable container. I covered the wool in dye. I then covered the top with plastic wrap.

I micro-waved the container for 2 minutes, then let it cool for two minutes. Then repeated this step. I let it cool overnight. I then gently squeezed out the excess dye and set the wool to air dry. When it was dry, I washed it in cool water with dish soap and again let it dry. Pre soaking in a water/ vinegar bath is not necessary, as black walnut does not require a mordant. Mordant means “to bite” (a word of French origin), vinegar would act as the mordant. Though the fiber needs to be soaked in water prior to dyeing. I will try another time to simmer the fiber in the dye, on the stove, for a darker more intense color. This is the way I dyed my fiber…and I like what turned out.


fiber prior to dyeing

fiber prior to dyeing


Spun - dyed with black walnut

Spun - dyed with black walnut



My results:

My plan is to make the yarn into a 2 ply and possibly knit some socks. Does anyone have a toe-up pattern. I have always worked the sock from the calf to the toe.

Code of the Quipu “Colors” – Pre Columbian textiles: Part II

Inca Quipu

Inca Quipu

I did some more digging and found information on the colors that makes up  Khipu or Quipu ~ Pre-Columbian textile. A Peruvian, Inca method of keeping inventory and history pre-written language. I was under the paradigm that the 24 colors of the strings (yarn) were made up of 24 different colors. I now understand that there may have only been six different colors and the other eighteen were combinations created during spinning these six different colors.

My digging lead me to Code of the Quipu A study in Media, Mathematics, and Culture by Marcia Ascher and Robert Ascher. It is a reference book on their findings and even tells you how to make a Quipu. I have to say I glanced at this last section. There was a whole lot of detail. Not a 2nd grade class art project!  So if you want more details….check out the book.

A Study in Media, Mathematics, and Culture

A Study in Media, Mathematics, and Culture

I haven’t (as of yet) found any information on the dyeing process. On to the color for now: Each cord has a color. Color is a part of the quipu’s symbolism. Each quipu’s colorcode relates some cords together and sets others apart. Let’s start with the six individual colors. Take a combination of two solid colors and spin them together with an S twist, giving a “candy cane” effect. Two “candy canes” twisted together using a Z twist gives a mottled effect. Different solid color cords could be joined so part of the cord was one color and the other half was another. What I might call a bar effect, they call joining. Using 6 colors and the various candy cane, mottling and joining effects, allows for a large number of distinctly different colors.

I will continue to look for information on the dyeing process of the six colors. So  stay tuned to a possible part three. If anyone has any information or is able to send me in the right direction,  I would appreciate a heads up.