Thursday, July 21, 2016

To weed or not to weed...

    Several years ago, behind the garage, I planted about half a dozen currant bushes.  They do pretty well in the partial shade of our neighbor's trees.  A few years back, a pokeberry bush started  to insinuate itself there.  They are large, nigh on impossible to get rid of, with red berries in the fall.  I would hack it back, but each year it returned.  That area is also overrun with jewelweed plants - much easier to pull but far more prolific.
a pokeberry plat with mature berries
      The toxicity level of this plant varies, with the roots being the most toxic, next the leaves, the stem and finally the berries.  This is NOT a plant to have in a garden with small children who like to eat things. It can kill them.  Like monk's hood and foxglove, it is for the mature gardener.
     This year, due to various factors, like a warm winter, little rain, etc., the currants produced about 12 berries between them.  The poke is HUGE and covered in berries.  To parents of small children, this would mean "get it out of here" but to me,  it means I am going to have a good dyeing year.  Poke berries are wonderful as a dye, making a rich maroon colour for my wools.  To me, it is a bounty of dye stuffs.
      The same hold true with my patch of jewelweed.  It will dye fabric a peachy tan.  In fact, I used it on a show  in which I was creating some costumes for native American characters.  Now I doubt the Havasupani had jewel weed, but I felt better portraying them using naturally dyed fabrics rather than chemically coloured ones. 
     The more  I explore  natural dyes, the more a weedy garden looks like a dyer's garden and less like a mess!  I am constantly trying  new plants - sometimes with little success (the purple flowers of hairy vetch do not make a purple dye) and sometimes with moderate success.  I recently was pulling cattails out of my pond and  boiling them up to make paper, and noted that the  water in the pot was getting sort of orangey/golden/tan.  What they heck!  I grabbed a small piece of  wool yarn, mordanted with alum, threw it into the pot and waited a bit to see what would happen.  Here is what came out:
Hmm...colour inspiration!

Throwing in s sample

The outcome
I am not certain yet how colour fast this will be, and  lord knows there are enough  dyes that make brown and tan, but this was an experiment worth trying, and I have an unlimited amount of cattails available to me, so I am certain, I will use them again. 
      Long live the weeds!