Thursday, October 28, 2010

Plant Dyes - Tansy and Queen Anne’s Lace

I picked my tansy from the side of the road, it grows about 4 feet high, and the leaves are sort of like a fern. What makes is easy to identify is its flowers – bright yellow buttons forming clusters. The flowers have the scent of camphor and rosemary, it can make quite a stink when simmering on the stove – go outside! Supposedly the flowers can be used as a mosquito repellant.
The tansy had been drying in its paper bag for almost 2 months before I got around to making dye with it. I’m not sure if the color would have been brighter if they had been used fresh. My dry plant material was twice the weight of the wool used.

As with most of my dyeing, I simmer the plant material the night before for about 45 minutes and then let the pot with the plant material sit overnight. I strain the plant matter from the juice; add my wool I have pre-mordanted in alum and heat to a simmer for about 45 minutes. I remove the wool from the pot, rinse thoroughly and take three bundles of yarn and put one each in a dip of iron, tin and copper, leave it to come to a simmer and remove -- 10 to 20 minutes -- or until the color has shifted . I again rinse out these samples and hang them up to dry.

The photo shows the final product, from left to right:

Tansy with alum, tin, copper and iron. Then Queen Anne’s Lace with alum, tin, copper and iron. These two plants gave very similar colors, except the Tansy with the tin is a much brighter gold-orange than the lace. The photo doesn’t show it well but the iron modifier turned both of these into a very deep olive green.

I picked the Queen Anne’s Lace from the land next to a freeway on-ramp. I knew the road crew mower was coming so I went back several times collecting only about a third each times. I wanted to get as many of the blossoms as possible, but still leave plenty to seed for next year before they mowed them all down.

The legend of Queen Anne’s Lace is that the queen was tatting (making lace) and pricked her finger, there were several spatters of blood and that’s why the flowers have a pink center.

The plant is closely related to the carrot, so when crushing the leaves in your hand or simmered on the stove, it smells like carrots. The root is supposed to be edible, but the plant also looks a lot like hemlock – yes, the very deadly poison of old. Both plants can also grow in the same place, so extreme caution should be used, make sure you have positive identification if you’re planning on using it for food. The leaves of hemlock smell horrible when crushed in your hand – don’t lick your fingers after trying this test, wash thoroughly and carefully afterward.

The Queen Anne’s Lace was picked in early fall, dried and wasn’t used until 2 months later. The dry plant material was one and a half the weight of the wool used.

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