Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When Spiders Grow Bold

You must notice it too. That time of the year that marks the transition between summer and fall. The spiders build their ostentatious webs in very conspicuous and often inconvenient places. What's that all about? The hops flowers are lengthening. It might rain tomorrow and we sure need it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Natural Dye Workshop at the MOP

Last week Penny Coupland and Emily Smith gave a wonderful workshop on natural dyeing at the MOP Garden. Participants brought jars and animal fibers to practice some eco-alchemy. Penny and Emily showed us beautiful samples of naturally dyed wool and cotton. Many of the women at the workshop were into fleece: the wild, woolly women of Vancouver!

Those really bright pieces of raw wool are actually dyed with Kool-aid.

As Penny gave us a tour of the dye plants in the garden a fritillary landed on Sharon's hat. Penny has been experimenting with Natural Dyes for about a year and she highly recommends the book Wild Color by Jenny Dean.

One of the cool things Penny Does is buy grapes that are on sale at the grocery store because they are overripe. These are perfect to use for dyeing. She also says you can have your fruit and dye with it too: use blackberry juice to dye and dry the pulp to make fruit leather. Clever!

Some dye stuffs such as golden rod (which is blooming right now) can be frozen or "canned" as a dye stuff if you don't have time to use it while it's fresh. Preserving the flowers this way will give a brighter color than the dried blossoms.

We all headed into the garden and chose plants for our jars. Then the participants poured water from the kettle into the jars. Some plants will lose color if you get them too hot, whereas others need to be made into a decoction and boiled.

Sharon got good results with these bright pink geranium petals.

Some people tried using Rudbeckia and others the blossoms of the tall coneflowers.

As a general rule of thumb you need about the same weight of plant stuffs as your fibers. We added a small pinch of alum as a co-mordant.

Todd got some good yellow color with the roots of Oregon grape.

Some people made "cocktails" of mixed plants.

Penny also noted that the internet is a great source for info on eco-dyes but you can often find conflicting results due to many wild cards such as ph readings and different varieties of plants.

Penny says you can get a pink color from rose hips and rose petals. Tansy will give a neon yellow color when the pollen is fresh and a duller browner yellow when the flower is older or dried. Emily reminded us to keep all dye containers separate from food containers because many dye stuffs are toxic. Some should be handed with gloves because they contain skin irritants as well.

This should be a really good weekend for solar dyeing because the forecast is for some really hot days. I have a jar of blackberry, a couple of fennel, and one of coreopsis and goldenrod on the go.
Thanks to Penny and Emily for a great workshop! Good luck to everyone with their experiments in eco-alchemy!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Scones with Gypsy Jams

It's a beautifully sunny Labor Day, which is supposed to be unusual. According to my father-in-law it always rains on Labor Day in Vancouver and then the sun comes out when the kids go back to school. Well, we struck it lucky today, but it's cool enough in the kitchen to bake fresh scones.

I had an unopened jar of lime marmalade from Gypsy Jams that was tempting me from the window sill. "Open me! Eat Me!" I heard the little lime voices calling me. And so I made my favorite lime scones. My son came pounding down the stairs. "Scones." I said. "I haven't made them yet." So he headed back up to the computer.

My favorite scones recipes is lightened up with the tang of yogurt:

2 cups flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cold butter
3/4 cup yogurt

You know the drill. Mix the dry ingredients, cut in the butter and work it lightly until the pieces are the size of peas. Add yogurt and just barely mix together until it holds its shape. I used a small glass to cut out the scones. Note to self: buy the bloody cookie cutter ring set. Bake on a pizza stone if you have one at 425 F. They take 15-20 minutes to bake. Once the smell of fresh scones wafted up to the second floor, I heard the whump whump whump of a hungry boy coming downstairs. He lathered his scones with raspberry jam and they disappeared.

Sivia's lime marmalade lists three ingredients: lime, water, sugar. It's got a lovely tang that sits well on top of a smear of creamy labneh. We enjoyed our warm scones with jasmine pearl tea that was a gift from my sister. I'm going to ice some of that tea and take it with me today to the natural dye workshop at the MOP. Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Celandine Yellow

My friend Robin gave me some greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) plants for a dye experiment. She says they are somewhat weedy, so it was no problem to pick a handful with the roots. The stems and the roots ooze a bright yellow liquid. It is considered an invasive plant in North America if it escapes the garden and moves into the woods or other natural areas. Its latex sap is a skin irritant and the plant is toxic. How charming!

I simmered them in water for half and hour and then put them in a jar with some pieces of cotton mordanted in tannin. I just put the jar in the garden in the sun for a day or two.

The cloth came out a lovely soft, buttery yellow.

Robin has created her garden with an artist's eye. It's always a pleasure to visit and feast on its colors and textures.