Natural Dyes: Rhubarb Leaves and Bark Extracts

When I can glean materials for natural dyeing that would otherwise end up on the compost pile, I’m a happy dyer. That’s what I’ve been working with lately — the waste from processing bark for this basket, and rhubarb leaves I saved from last summer.

Rhubarb leaf natural dye on wool.

Bill and I grow rhubarb, which we gorge on in summer and freeze for winter. When I harvest the stalks, I save the leaves for natural dyeing. The oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves seems to help yarns take up other natural dye colors better, but on its own the color is not that special. Usually.  This time, I got an electric yellow-green — best color ever for me from a rhubarb leaf dyebath by itself. So now I have a fade test going to see how colorfast this yarn will be.

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Looping With White Pine Bark

For thousands of years, people have learned to make the most of materials they can grow or gather locally. To celebrate that tradition, for an exhibition in Iowa this summer I’m sending a looped basket made from white pine bark I gathered in my own yard.

Looped white pine bark egg basket by Donna Kallner.

The show is American Baskets: Made To Be Used at the Philip Dickel Basket Museum Gallery in West Amana, Iowa. The technique was inspired by the Swedish bastabinne tradition. There are very good videos that show bastabinne looping technique here and here.

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Natural Dyes — The Unscientific Method

My cavalier approach to natural dye documentation must drive some of you nuts. Any 8th grader knows from working on science projects that I go about things all wrong. Well, maybe not all wrong. But I certainly don’t make it easy for others to replicate my results. When was the last time you read “weight of fiber” here? Right.

Experiments with pH shifts in naturally dyed wool yarns.

This is going to sound awful, but I really don’t care if others can “replicate” my results. I do care, and care deeply, that others feel encouraged to explore uses of natural dye materials they can grow or gather where they live. That’s why I share these experiments in the first place. Chances are you won’t have access to the exact same materials. Or you won’t have the recommended weight of materials in relation to weight of fiber. Or your water chemistry will be different. Or any number of other variables will make your results unique. That’s why I write about the process, instead of the product.

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More Fun With pH

That’s a variation on one of my alkaline extraction natural dyes on the left, and a pH modifier test on the right. I’m tempted to leave them hanging on the towel rod in the bathroom because they look so pretty in there.

Naturally dyed yarns by Donna Kallner.

For the one on the left, I simmered the wool yarn in a rhubarb leaf immersion bath. That helped use up some of the frozen dye materials that were relegated to the porch in my recent freezer purge.

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Point Of View — Shoal

It’s amazing how much changing the point of view changes your perspective on something.

Shoal by Donna Kallner.
Shoal by Donna Kallner

As an instructor at the 2015 National Basketry Organization biennial conference, I was invited to have work included in the exhibition. The plan in my head was for a hanging installation. But when a bundle of willow hoops in my studio came untied one day, the scattered pile reminded me of a shoal of fish.

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What’s New Around Here

One of my goals for January was to make my web site work better for people reading them on mobile devices, and it’s finally done.


Some other things got updated, as well. When the Sievers site opens for 2015 class registrations on February 1 I’ll update the direct links to my Local Color To Wear class (July 27-31) and Natural Dye Retreat (October 13-17). Registration is now open for the Midwest Weavers Conference and the National Basketry Organization biennial conference. More workshop information, including links to eCourse registrations, is here.

New Age Looping by Donna Kallner.

There are probably other things I missed that should be updated. If you spot something, please let me know!