iron mordant

i’ve decided to investigate natural dyeing again.  when we moved here last spring, i got really excited about the idea, but everything was so new and there was so much emotional and physical adjusting to do, that i just couldn’t organize my thoughts on the subject.  in the summer, i purchased harvesting color by rebecca burgess, a beautiful book that i have now read almost completely, twice.  as we enter into summer again, my interest in dyeing is fully renewed, and i’ve made a commitment to trying it this year.


a little backstory, bear with me… when i was in college (a sculptural studies major, with a focus in ceramics and fibers), i took every weaving class offered, and many of the fibers classes. the fibers studio had an indigo vat, which i found fascinating, and in my junior year i participated in an internship with a friend, growing natural dyes, and dyeing fibers and yarns with a weaver in maryland.  it was such a great experience, and while i’m not sure that i appreciated it as much as i should have,  it remains one of my fondest memories from that time.  after college, i bought a loom and spinning wheel, cramming them into my apartment.  i practiced dyeing wool in my kitchen, and researched raising sheep.  (side note: after college i had the opportunity to move to arizona to raise sheep, and i totally chickened out.   the heat!  so far from family!)  i was so fascinated by the process of taking an animal’s wool, and cleaning, spinning, dyeing, and weaving or knitting it into cloth.  you can do the entire process by hand, one person!  I can do the entire process!  this fascination was the reason that i pursued textiles into graduate school.

graduate school was the same process, but not by hand, by machine.  my love of fibers and fabric was not diminished by the fact that i was learning industrial processes, but was increased.  i loved the huge powerful yarn-making machines, the jacquard and dobby looms, and i immersed myself in every aspect of the textile design program that i could.  for a bit, the weavers (my concentration) were without a department head and advisor, so i pestered the nonwovens teacher into letting me follow him around, use his equipment, and eventually became a research assistant for a project using turkey feathers as a soil-retaining web.  i loved it all.  i dyed much of my own yarn or thread for my thesis project in my kitchen, not using natural dyes, but acid and reactive dyes in crazy bright colors.  my thesis was developing textiles for childrenswear and interiors, and included wovens, nonwovens and knit concepts.  i made clothes, bags and home accessories.  creatively, that program was the best three years of my life.  i left with a masters of science in textile design.

and this love of the process, the passion and investigation, note-keeping and exploration, science plus intuition, is what i have been trying to get back to for the past 10 years.  i finally feel like i have the space to be both scientific and creative in my work again, and to follow whatever passion and path i want.  and so, (after a long rant, here we are, full circle!) i want to explore natural dyes again.  we have a field of wild grasses and flowers behind our house (which i now see as a tick haven, but i’m working on moving past that!), home to black-eyed susan, goldenrod and horsetail, all of which can be used for dyeing.  i’ve planted indigo and weld in my garden.  and i’ve started a jar of iron mordant.  dyeing fabric or yarn with plants seems like a natural extension of the things i’m already learning in this new phase of my life, right alongside gardening and canning and baking.


rusty nails in a glass jar, as described in harvesting color.



with water and vinegar.  waiting.

i’m not sure how this interest will fit into my desire to make stuffed toys, or sew clothes for myself and the bee.  maybe it won’t. i’m trying not to think about it too hard.  i’m trying to allow myself the space to do what i want for a while, and to be open to new possibilities.

2 responses to “iron mordant

  1. I’m so happy to see this post! You were always talking about starting a garden to dye from and your internship from undergrad… When you posted the indigo pictures a few weeks back it made me smile.

    p.s. Get some guinea hens to eat your ticks…

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