Bubbling Cauldrons Week

Bubbling cauldrons is the theme for the week — not because of Halloween, but because we have a holiday studio sale coming up November 16. Those cauldrons are filled with natural materials I’m brewing so I can dye yarn for the sale.

Mullein leaves chopped for natural dye.

This is mullein leaf chopped up and soaking, ready to simmer. I’m trying an experiment with a second batch: I chopped the leaves, added water, and set it outside to freeze and thaw a few times. I’m hoping that yields a greater color extraction. We’ll see.

Willow leaves for natural dye with Donna Kallner.

I’m trying the freeze-thaw method with willow leaves, as well. My friend Jo Campbell-Amsler stopped here with a big bag of them on her way home fromĀ  teaching the Willow Harvest Retreat at Sievers. The island’s fall temperatures are moderated by Lake Michigan, so the class needed to strip leaves had not yet dropped from the willow. I have a good supply of fresh-frozen willow leaves in the freezer already. With this bonus pile of leaves, I’ll be able to do some experimenting.

There’s something to keep in mind before transporting fresh materials like this: Invasive species and diseases can be accidentally dispersed to new areas this way. Talk about toil and trouble. Even the transport of hardwood firewood is restricted in our region. We have grave concerns about the emerald ash borer, gypsy moths and other pests. I certainly don’t want to introduce problems into my patch, or to help them spread. These are things you have to think about.

What elevates this bag of willow leaves into the “trusted ” category? The patch at Sievers, which is about 100 miles from me as the crow flies, is one I know well. I saw it myself just a couple of weeks ago, and saw no signs of problems. And if there were concerns, I know Jo would have taken immediate action to contain a problem. Most of what I know about willow cultivation, I learned from Jo. She’s a thoughtful, careful, knowledgeable steward of resources. And the kind of friend who will bring you a big bag of leaves — or tell you why she didn’t.

Either way, that’s a great gift.

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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

4 thoughts on “Bubbling Cauldrons Week”

  1. Hi Donna ~ wanted to make a quick comment stop to say 2 things: first, you will have great fun with those willow leaves, not only are they loaded with tannin but recently when I cooked up a big pot of leaves & twigs from one of the native willows in the back garden, a beautiful reddish-brown dye was my gift – can’t wait to see what YOU come up with. Second, just a tiny word of caution to other folks reading here about that verbascum [mullein] in the top photo … that “hairy” variety is an extreme irritant to some people as we sadly found out during one of our local dye group get-togethers – one of our members had a terrible reaction to it once she started chopping it up, poor gal …. itching, scratching, sneezing, runny eyes. Oddly, not one of the rest of us was bothered. Anyhoo, just wanted to note that.

    Love your blog!


    1. Thanks so much for sharing that warning, Christi! It’s a great reminder that almost anything can provoke a bad reaction. A few years ago, I had a student who had a reaction to the onion skins we used.

      Your local dye group sounds awesome!

  2. I’m getting a very nice green (better when I pay attention and don’t let the pot boil)! And the freeze/thaw/long soak method is working very well! Yarn is drying. Pictures soon.

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