Natural Dye On Spruce Roots

An old building like my studio is hard to heat, even without this week’s sub-zero temperatures. But it will be a few more days before I’m ready to unplug the furnace and work in the basement until spring. 

One of those experiments is dyeing spruce root for basketry. My friend Karen Tembreull gave me some split roots to play with. I think the indigo-dyed roots need a few more dips, which I’m happy to have drip on the studio floor but would feel a need to mop up in the house. Continue reading Natural Dye On Spruce Roots

Singing The Fresh Leaf Blues

My latest attempt at an organic vat from fresh-leaf homegrown Japanese indigo has me singing the blues — the pale, grayish, stinky blues. And while this batch of yarn counts as a dye fail, I learned some things getting here.

The yarns look better than they really are, but there’s no point letting them dry out for a photo. I’ll keep changing the water until the odor is gone, then overdye them. Probably in a fresh-leaf vat reduced with Thiox. Because it’s the end of August, which in northern Wisconsin means our growing season could end in six weeks or six days. 

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Snipping My Way To Color

Natural dye material is ready to harvest just about everywhere you turn here in rural northern Wisconsin, where I’m snipping as fast as I can. It’s nice to have a reason to slow down for a bit and enjoy dyeing with a friend.

The angel who started my Japanese indigo last spring came over yesterday morning. We combined leaves snipped from her plants and mine and had a nice visit while the pot warmed gently over a two-hour period. 

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Japanese Indigo In Containers

Last year I grew Japanese indigo successfully in a recycled horse trough with the bottom cut out. This year, to plant my expanded crop, I’m also trying three more container growing options.


Each year, Bill and I try a few new container experiments for growing vegetables. Last year we raised potatoes, sunchokes and basil in wire cages made from hardware cloth. We lined the cages with a thick layer of dry leaves. (We found a ring of plastic cut from an old barrel makes it easy to pack leaves up the sides of the container.) Then we fill the center with a mix of soil and compost. This year, one of those bins is planted with indigo seedlings.

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Japanese Indigo Under Cloches

My Japanese indigo seedlings got transplanted over the weekend. Or at least, some of them did. With scattered frost possible for tonight (yes, that would be June 7), I have the rest safely in the dining room in case I need to replant. Frost into early June is not unheard of here, and nights tend to be cool anyway well into June or July. So I try to protect these tender plants after I set them out. My system relies on recycled translucent plastic jugs.


We buy our milk in glass containers, but neighbors save plastic ones for us. And I go through a lot of vinegar for natural dyeing and household cleaning, so I save those jugs, too. When I transplant indigo, tomato or other tender seedlings, I cut the bottom out of a jug, push it into the soil over the seedling, and remove the cap.

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Homegrown Indigo Season 2

Last year’s crop of polygonum tinctoria — Japanese Indigo — produced more than leaves for dyeing: My plants also produced more viable seed than I hoped for in my short northern growing season. So in Season 2, I’m growing plants from seed I saved last year.


This is only possible because my friend Julie started the seeds for me. I knew this spring would be challenging, and starting plants indoors was not in the cards. So I asked Julie for help.

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Plotting The 2016 Indigo Crop

Last year was my first effort at growing Japanese indigo in northern Wisconsin. That’s if you don’t count the year before, when I threw a few seeds at a small patch of bare dirt sometime in June. Nothing Jack And The Beanstalk-y happened then. But a little more effort produced magic in 2015. So it’s normal to want more in 2016, right?

Japanese indigo container-grown in northern Wisconsin.

Since the seed is a bit pricey, I was hoping to save seed from the plants I grew last summer. But they got a late start (are you sensing a theme here), and we have a short growing season.

Continue reading Plotting The 2016 Indigo Crop

Down To Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, here’s a peek at some of the recycled materials in pieces I’m working on for Night Vision, a celebration of how sleep and dreams can bring transformation and renewal. So far, all the materials in this body of work except thread have come from my stash or my closet, or been purchased at garage sales or thrift shops. It’s surprisingly easy and very satisfying to transform fabric you have into fabric you use with a few surface design techniques.

Night Owl includes an old pillowcase simmered with bark and old chain, an old tablecloth altered with Procion MX dyes, and an indigo-dyed piece of muslin.

To work out ideas for the design, I used recycled magazine paper. At a later stage, I stabilized an edge with horsehair braid bought at a garage sale still attached to fabric. (Whoever shortened a bridesmaid or prom dress and saved the stiffener — thank you!)

Dreamcatcher includes another old pillowcase. My mother worked so hard when I was a kid to keep our sheets from turning orange from the iron in our water, and now I do it on purpose. I also used some silk scraps from my Black Hole, and flannel and cotton quilt blocks (given to me by a friend) that I overdyed with indigo.

The rust-colored piece above is the leg from a white wool suit handed down to me by my mom several years ago. After an introduction to some acid dye, it ended up in piece called AfterMath.

I can’t talk about this work without mentioning how much I loved the recycled feedsack PJs my grandma used to make for me when I was a kid. If only I could get my hands on some of those old feedsacks now…

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Blowing My Cover — Indigo Edition

As always, I came home from this week’s teaching trip excited, inspired, and with hardly any pictures! I get so wrapped up in teaching I forget to bring out the camera. With or without, I’ll post more about my Fargo adventure shortly.

In the meantime, I want to share this video before I lose track of it. My Fargo host and I spent some time discussing natural dyes and indigo, and she got pretty excited when I described how easy it is to set up a vat with Jacquard’s instant indigo.

It is exciting to make this process so accessible. (And no, Jacquard doesn’t pay me to say so.)

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