Last summer I was lucky enough to be able to take a day long class at the Wildcraft Studio School about an hour and a half outside of Portland. It was so nice to be able to spend the day outside exploring the woods and gathering plants with a group of other people interested in natural dyes and I came away with some insight into where I can find some of these plants on my own. I’ll be talking about dyeing with Blackberry, Sheep Sorrel, Horsetail, Lupine and Fennel on wool yarn and silk fabric.
The first photo in this post is of Sheep Sorrel. It’s a fairly common “weed” that can be found easily in meadows and open spaces. We used the flowers and gathered a brown paper bag full of this plant. The key to any type of wild foraging (including dyeing) is to take a little bit from many individual plants in an area as opposed to taking a large amount of foliage from a single plant. This ensures that your patch stays healthy and continues to thrive.
We also harvest the bright green new growth on some blackberry plants growing along the edge of a rest stop. Because we won’t be eating any of these plants you can safely harvest material along roads or other less than clean areas like parking lots.
There was a field full of wild lupine next two the lovely Wildcraft studio, there’s nothing like spending an afternoon in the warm summer sun gathering bunches of pretty blue flowers! Everything felt very whimsical and Heidi-esque. We gathered several baskets full of lupine as we spread out across the meadow.
We spent the day following our instructor, Chelsea Heffner as we strolled through the woods back to the studio to start preparing the dye plants and get our fabric prepped. Here she is telling us about sheep sorrel (the red plants you see growing throughout the meadow) with the gorgeous view of the Columbia River valley behind her.
Back inside the studio we stripped the lupine blossoms off of the stems and placed each dye plant into it’s own stock pot to heat up while we ate lunch. Not picture is the huge bouquet of fennel that the intern had harvested back in downtown Portland and brought with him to class. The fennel dye bath smelled so wonderful as the plants steeped in the hot water, very much like a large liquorice tea.
We were able to dye silk that had been through iron and alum dye baths (different mordants which will skew your final dye color in different ways) as well as a sample of wool yarn. Above are the fabrics after going through the mordant baths but before going into the plant dyes. We strained the plant matter out of each pot and put the dye liquid back on the heat with one sample of each fabric.
The soft blue/greens in this photo are silk fabrics that have gone through the lupine dyebath with an alum mordant, the bright yellow is fennel with an alum mordant and the dark tan/brown is sheep sorrel with an iron mordant.
There was an entire wall of the studio featuring samples of previous natural dye experiments including turmeric (bright yellow), eucalyptus (a beautiful blue) and black walnut (deep dark brown) among others. I left that afternoon very much inspired to research more plants on my own and to do some foraging over the summer. You can see my last dye post with Holly where I dyed some yarn with hollyhock and marigold blossoms that I harvest from my garden after this class HERE.
These are the little swatches I took home in my new dye journal. From top to bottom, left to right we have horsetail silk (alum on top, iron on bottom) and yarn, sheep sorrel (alum on top, iron on bottom) and yarn, blackberry (alum on top, iron on bottom) and yarn, lupine (alum on top, iron on bottom) and yarn and lastly fennel (alum on top, iron on bottom) and yarn.
There’s something very magical about the way the season, soil, time of day and harvest method can give you wildly different colors from the same plant. I might never get that gorgeous piercing yellow from fennel ever again, next time it might be a dusky grey green or a pale custard and that’s the beauty of gathering dyestuff from your surroundings. The experience will be unique every single time and yield unexpected thrills that first time the fabric comes out of the dye bath. I hope this inspires a few of you to try your hand at natural dyes, I’ll continue to tempt you throughout the summer as the plants start to bloom again. In the meantime we have our Earthues Botanical dye kits and Indigo dye kits so that you can dye with plants at home in any season!