Some might be wondering about the rant regarding alligators the other day, sorry about that. It was a saying that my father kept on his office wall for as long as I can remember. It is a funny reminder to not get bogged down in the details that may or may not have anything to do with the final goal. The cooperative I am in, Pottery Place Plus, has been remodeling. Construction projects being what they are, there was a certain amount of frustration. Then there is being a group of creative types-everybody has an opinion. About everything. Sometimes you would think we were all theater majors; there is a lot of drama. But it is all done and it is beautiful! Here is my new space there:
So I finally got to work in the studio. Truth be told, my body decided to have some sort of minor but inconvenient stomach ailment I am sure was designed to make me stay home. Sometimes the universe works in not very mysterious ways. If you can't figure it out on your own, it finally says "Knock it off and take a rest!"
This is what I did with my sick day. Matching pendants I have made to lariat scarves is perfect for that kind of day. It isn't physically taxing and does allow ample time for trash TV and naps. It also is a wonderful reminder of summer days spent making the fabric for the lariats and fun at the clay studio Urban Art Co-op making the pendants. These lariats will be taken over to The Pottery Place and sorted out with the ones that are already there so I have a good color range there, for the art fairs and my Etsy shop.
The other thing taking up entirely too much room in the freezer was a bag of avocado pits and skins. After spending a lot of time Googling around for some sort of prescribed recipe I decided to wing it. Some did separate batches of just pits or just skins and some threw them all in together. Nobody seemed to use a mordant of any kind. Since I had some small pieces of crepe de chine with various mordants I decided to try a couple of different things. First I simmered the skins and pits together for about and hour and then let it set over night. I did my best to keep it from boiling since this can mess up the results with a lot of things, better to err on the side of caution.
Then I strained out all the skins and pits, the dye liquid looks just lovely!
I divided my dye liquid into three batches. I used enamel or stainless pots for all. In one I did plain silk in the vat. The second one was with a piece of silk that had a pretreat with alum/cream of tarter in the normal manner. The third was in a neutral pot, but the fabric itself had a pre-boil in an iron pot with some vinegar. The plain and the alum samples I let simmer for about an hour and left to set over night. I knew the piece with iron particles would get dark and I didn't want to turn it completely black so I could eco print it later. I only let it go for about 45 minutes and then took it out, gave it a rinse and hung it to dry.
Since most people were getting some sort of mauve pink, my results were a bit puzzling. From left to right, the first is the alum, the second is the iron pot as mordant and the third is the plain silk with no mordant. It is the best color of the three, a lovely soft peach. The gray in the middle I will eco print with leaves and see what happens. The one with the alum pre-mordant will make a trip through something else to improve the bland beige. The only thing I can think of is water quality, my rain barrels are frozen solid so this was all done with the tap water which is rather hard. The goal now is to eat more avocados and get another stash going for this spring when I have rain water to work with. I won't use a mordant and I will do two batches, one with just the pits and one with just the skins. Eco printing these samples will tell me something about the permanency of the color.
When the snow is deep I work with what I have saved throughout the year. Drying and pressing is great as it doesn't take up space in the freezer and the materials last indefinitely. Not all dried flowers work (the darker the better) but in this case the hollyhocks are great fresh or dry. They got ahead of me last summer so I just picked up all the fallen blooms and left them in a basket to dry. I used them along with dried and pressed leaves on the last of my silk jacquard.
The stuff that looks like ash is the hollyhock, if you just throw them in whole they make kind of a blotch, so I am using them to color the background around the leaves. For these I used several kinds of maple, smoke tree, eucalyptus, onion skins and dogwood.
Rolls, both before and after steaming (the two darker ones are re-dos that went into the pot as well):
Some close ups of the results. I think it is interesting that the hollyhocks came out both a blue purple and a red purple. This probably had to do with the mordant (rusted nails) and how much was distributed on each piece. It could also be that the different leaves affect the color, acting as a co-mordant.
Well, you would think that one would be easy to answer, wouldn't you?
First off, the obvious ones, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans and T. rybegii) and poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens and T. diversilobum). At first I thought about searching the web over for copyright free images, but decided against it. Both plants have an eastern and western version in the United States and since they are wild plants they are greatly affected by their growing conditions. So trying to identify them from a picture of an ideal specimen could lead to tragedy. The poison in both plants is so long lasting it survives even in the dead fall leaves and in the smoke if it is burned. So, needless to say (you would think) you should not make steam prints or dye with it. For a mind blowing story about people who decided to try it out anyway, check out India Flint's blog post about such things-YIKES! I have discovered here in Eastern Washington poison ivy seems to like to grow at the feet of Oregon Grape, why I wouldn't know, but it does. So, if I am picking up windfall leaves, I avoid raking anything out from under an Oregon Grape as Oregon Grape leaves don't work anyway and who knows what else might be lurking around under there. Last summer in Northern California I finally saw poison oak for the first time and it also likes to grow up, in and around other plants.
Fact is, every area of the country has poisonous plants both wild and in our gardens. It is really important that you know what they are. Knowing the scientific names helps, check out the ones above-"toxic" should give you a clue! Any name ending in Tinctoria or Tinctorium indicates a dye plant, but not necessarily that it is harmless.
If you are the type of person that breaks out into hives just riding the lawn mower, this may not be the hobby for you. Many plants that do make color also have active ingredients that can give them medicinal properties, so anything that can help you can hurt you. Tansy, for instance makes yellow and green dye. It has been used as a medicinal tea but should only be used under the supervision of a trained herbalist as if consumed in large quantities it can cause convulsions and psychotic effects and is poisonous to grazing livestock and can poison the milk production from those animals. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, used both as a mordant and a cleaning agent, but is lethal to consume. Things like oleander, foxglove, hemlock and anemones are so poisonous they, like poison ivy and oak, should be avoided altogether. It is possible that what one person has a bad reaction to, another will not. A friend of mine was clearing scotch broom (also a known dye plant) from her yard and suffered anaphylaxis, making it to the emergency room just in time. She told me this after I had a bunch boiling away in a bundle; no harm seemed to come to me from it, however I think I will be more careful in the future-especially since the result from the steamed leaves was underwhelming.
The best advice I can offer is that if you are not an expert at plant identification it might be advisable to go on guided nature walks or take classes if possible. Park services, county extension services, garden clubs and other outdoor activities groups offer such things and they can be really informative as well as fun. Having a local park ranger point out what poison ivy looks like in your area is much more memorable than a picture. That being said having an actual guide book for your area along on a collecting trip can help you avoid danger. There are also weed apps for phones, but if you are out far enough, there may be no signal in order to be able to use it. That, and not everything that is dangerous is considered a "weed". Old school is best in some cases.
Using common sense when processing plants is invaluable. Wearing gloves while working with things you are unfamiliar with, keeping a dedicated set of tools for dyeing and doing all your cooking outside are good for a start. Remember that in some cases, nobody ever thought anybody would be cooking a particular plant to begin with, so no one knows what might be in the fumes, just make the assumption there might be something poisonous in the vapor and don't breath it in. The mordants you use can have issues as well, sometimes more so than the plants; wearing gloves can protect you from a lot of strife. Even things that are food stuffs can be problematic, my "roommate for life" has requested that I never cook cabbage for over an hour in the house ever again-he was coughing his brains out. After having to deal with cabbage scented sheets, curtains, rugs and blankets, it is a request I have no trouble complying with!
The long and short of it is, don't get a false sense of security from the words "natural" and "organic" there are plenty of naturally occurring dangerous organic substances in the world, it is up to us to use common sense in order to avoid trouble.