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Growing Color: My First Dye Garden

Freshly planted marigolds

With the gardening season coming to a close, I want to take some time to look back on my first attempt at growing my own natural dyes. We have limited space and my thumb is not very green, so when I began thinking about planting a dye garden I knew I needed to keep it simple. I selected a couple dye plants based on the colors that I was hoping to achieve and how hardy they were.  I decided to start with marigolds, dyer’s coreopsis, and hopi black dye sunflowers. I purchased my marigolds at the nursery already started and I bought the dyer’s coreopsis and hopi black dye sunflower seeds from bedheadfiber.com.

Throughout the summer, with the help of my husband and kids, I was able to keep these flowers alive. We also grew some vegetables and the kids love picking fresh carrots and watching the plants grow and develop over the course of the season.

Every other evening we would pop the dyer’s coreopsis flower heads off the plant and strip the petals into a bowl. By the next day there would be a whole new crop of bright, yellow flowers to pick. The petals were left to dry out overnight and now I have a large jar of color just waiting to be used all winter. I also collected seeds from some of the flowers with hopes that next summer they will develop.

I collected the marigolds as they died and let them dry out as well. Next year I would love to make a marigold garland. This seems like a beautiful way to collect and let the flowers dry out. I would also like to try another variety of marigolds, but I’m undecided about which one yet.

As for the hopi black dye sunflowers, they were a bit slow to start and I wasn’t sure if they were going to produce any flowers. Sure enough they grew and grew and flowers began to emerge. They did not get as tall as I have seen and the heads were only about the size of both of my fist, but they were beautiful. Once the heads died, I cut them off the stalk and let them dry out a bit. Then I harvested the seeds into a bowl to let them further dry out. I haven’t done any experimenting with them yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing what colors can be achieved.

Once again, growing a garden has taught me to be more patient; to be mindful and intentional in the hopes of getting something that will serve me well in the future. I am very much looking forward to using all the color that we collected this summer throughout the winter. Next summer, I have hopes to add a couple more dye plants to our garden. I would love to try pin cushions, goldenrod, and indigo. I’m sure come April, when I’m ready to see green again, I will have a long list that I will need to edit back in order to fit it all in.

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Experiments with Painting Fabric

Lately I’ve been intrigued by the idea of painting with natural dyes. My hope and vision is to use natural color to create unique painted fabric using upcycled cloth. I’ve tried working with iron water as color modifier to paint patterns on naturally dyed fabric, but I have not been very successful. The patterns and colors tend to bleed together too much when washed.

After some initial research in Natural Color by Sasha Duerr, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Promagrenate skin dye was up first. I simmered the skins on and off for a day. After straining the liquid from the pulp, I reduced the liquid dye by simmering it again for about an hour. Then I added guar gum to thicken up the paint. I also wanted to change up the color so I added iron to half of the paint.

My pomegranate paint was much more orangey, coral color then I thought it would be. I was expecting it to be much more yellow. Once I started painting, I was pleasantly surprised by how the paint turned bright yellow on the fabric. The fabric was mordanted in aluminum acetate. Watching the color change as a reaction to the mordanted fabric gave me a first hand look at how the mordant effects the dye.

Once washed, the iron paint bleed slightly into the original yellow paint, but the integrity of the design stayed. I also splattered lemon juice on some the fabric. The lemon juice acted as bleach on the natural dye so I was left with an interesting effect on the fabric.

To continue with my experiments, I made paint with avocado pits and tea bags. I used the same technique to make the paint as I did with the pomegranate paint. The avocado dye turned out a very pale coral, pink. In the past I have gotten much deeper pinks from avocado pits so I was surprised by the lack of depth to this dye.

Once washed, the color was altered by the iron. I was pleased by the outcome because it darkened the avocado paint.

As I continue to explore this type of textile art, I have been thinking about other effects the dye could have on the fabric. I wonder if different watercolor techniques that work on paper would work on fabric? What about color mixing? Or combining different dying techniques like shibori and painting? Using different color modifiers besides iron? The possibilities do seem endless as there are lots of questions and ways to play with natural color.

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DIY Backpack: A Lesson in Upcycled and Reclaimed Materials

I decided I “needed” a retro style, drawstring backpack. I’m 38 weeks pregnant and I felt that it was the only kind of bag that was going to be useful for quick trips out and about. I love my over the should bags and larger totes, but the straps tend to get in the way when you are babywearing.

I have seen more and more of the retro style backpack bags with modern updates lately. Some are beautifully crafted from leather and others from fabric. I thought I could scour the thrift shops to see what I could find, but that was quickly ruled out when I realized how much walking could be involved (although I will still keep my eyes open for one every time I go to the thrift store).

 

I began to research what I knew I could do…sew.  I searched for different DIY backpack sewing patterns to see if there was anything that would work. I came across many different patterns (I really liked this one  and this one) and I decided I could use the concepts from a variety of styles to come up with a simple pattern for myself.

The next part was more exciting and eye opening. Materials! What did I have on hand to make this bag. Could I make it completely from materials I had in my stash? I’m not talking about pretty fabric I have collected over the years with the intent of someday making something out of it; I’m talking about scraps that I have laying around from previous projects. I also have a stash of old clothes that could have gone to the thrift store, but I kept because I either liked the fabric or some component of the item seemed like it could be useful in the future.  These reclaimed materials would be the base of my DIY backpack.

 

I know this sounds like I’ve got this huge hoarding problem, but really all this fits in one big plastic tub so its not that bad! I love that I can go to this stash and find bits and pieces that can be used to create something new, useful and beautiful.

With my backpack ideas swirling through my head, I went to my stash to see what I had. I knew I had some thicker fabric that I could use for the outer shell and I had a lots of pretty bits that I could create a lining. I was surprised when I found a pair of my husband’s cargo shorts. One of the pockets had a zipper pouch and a snapped pocket. Perfect for the front pocket of the backpack. (Although, now I owe my husband another pair of cargo shorts because apparently they were only in my stash pile because they needed a new button…oops!!)

Once I sorted out which materials could be used, I began to take measurements and think about construction. Once I figured out what needed to be sewn together when, the process went pretty quickly. The one thing that I still need to figure out is how to make the straps adjustable. I could buy a backpack hardware kit or the likes or I could see what I have laying around that might work. Currently a safety pin is doing the job.

What really inspires me about this project are the endless possibilities of upcycled and reclaimed materials. Giving new life to something that people don’t want anymore. Going to the thrift store and looking at clothes, not just for what they are, but what they can become is a very exciting. It really keeps your creative juices flowing.