Natural Dyes for winter use
Some of you are planning your natural dye garden now. Did you know that you do not have to wait for spring? You can find natural dye materials right now in the dead of winter. So, put on your long-johns, pull your woolly cap over your ears and let’s go for a walk.
Most natural dyes are found in the summer and fall. But this is also the time when we are very busy. Summer is the time for play, gardening, and stocking up for winter. Not many of the summer dyes are fully utilized. Some summer dyes can be dried for later use, others must be used fresh for the best colour. However, in winter, there is an abundance of time, but very few available fresh dyes. Among the fresh natural dyes available to a prospective winter dyer are lichens, woods, and barks.
Lichens can be found almost anywhere, but in winter, snow-fallen branches are a good source. As the branches are no longer on the tree, the dyer can strip all the lichen off the branch, and then add the branch to the bonfire pile. In summer, old fences that are going to be repainted are also good lichen sources, and can also be stripped, as the paint would destroy the lichens anyway. A good resource for lichen dyes is Lichen Dyes the New Source Book by Nova Scotian, Dr. Karen Casselman.
Many woods are valuable natural dyes. For instance, some good woods are Logwood, flowering shrubs that are pruned in winter, and fruitwoods. If you know a wood turner, you could get him/her to save the wood and bark shavings for your dye vats, you may be able to specify the type of shaving you want as well. If the wood worker had an interesting wood, that you were not sure had colour, it would be worth testing in a small vat. In natural dyes, you never know exactly what you will get, and every dye vat is an experiment in itself. If you are interested in being able to repeat any successful colours, you should keep a dye journal to document your processes.
Some barks also contain dye. In my harsh zone larch, willow and alder barks contain dye. A good source for bark is your wood pile and wood splitting area. If you do not heat with wood, you can always find fallen branches and prunings that can be used in your dye vats.
Other Winter Natural Dyes
Make friends with your local florist. Florists carry many varieties of cut greenery in winter, like eucalyptus branches and yarrow blossoms, that can end up wilted and no good for bouquets. You may be able to get the wilted, and under-quality flowers and greenery for a small amount. This is a good way to increase the variety of your winter dyes.
Bark, Lichen and Wood Dyeing Tips
Frequently with barks and woods, it is necessary to add alcohol to extract the colour. You should try soaking the bark or wood shavings in water first, before testing the alcohol. Barks should also be broken into small pieces before soaking. It is necessary to wear gloves during the breaking process to avoid slivers. Many woods also contain poisonous substances, Logwood being a prime example, and the wood shavings should be kept out of the reach of children and handled with gloves. Further, cloth and fibre dyed with a poison containing wood should not be used in toys or clothing for toddlers or young children. Although natural dyes are safer than the toxic aniline and weak acid dyes, caution should be used when working with a known poison containing dye.
If you are using lichens, you can test them for colour by soaking a small part in a bit of ammonia for a week, in a sunny windowsill. The ammonia will extract the colour. As ammonia is a poison it should be handled with gloves, should not be inhaled, eye protection is advisable, and ammonia should also be kept out of the reach of children.
What winter dyes have you used? Have you achieved a perfect colour from a winter dye? Leave a comment and tell your experience.