Madder Springs Forth

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It’s another beautiful spring afternoon and I’ve just been out in the front garden checking my Madder plants. More about Madder here http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubia_tinctorum.I’ve had them in the ground near on three years now. Each year they sprout out of the ground look lush and green and take over their allocated garden nook and then die back to brittle, detritus. In the picture you can see them phoenix-like, bursting forth from the warming ground. They are weirdly clingy plants that grab at your hands and clothes with their rough foliage, but its not the apparent, green leaves that I am interested in.

I am especially excited about this years appearance because three years in, is the minimum time to harvest their roots, cut them into small sections and dry them to prepare them to make an ancient red dye. I am leaving some in the ground so they can continue to expand their planty empire, regardless of the horrendous sacking which will occur. This rather uninspiring photo below, which looks like odd coloured coffee grinds is what I hope to grind the roots into and then embark on some ambient temperature dyeing.
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From my studies I think I have determined that low temperatures and more alkaline waters have a great deal to do with getting reds, rather than browns and oranges. I also know that South Australian soils seem to have a lot of limestone in them, hence calcium carbonate, which I am led to believe is also important for redder reds in the natural dyeing process. I also built a small limestone drywall around my front garden plot (you can see some of the rocks in the first picture) so that these plants might partake in some of their mineral goodness. Do you get the idea I really would like red, reds? The truth will be in the testing.

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Vikings and Linen and Woad Oh My!

When you are interested in Living History you do things you never thought you would, like getting your son and husband to urinate in a bottle for science. Historically there seems to be a tradition of pubescent boys being the best source, and references to collection spots outside pubs. I can’t really see the girls getting into the act as we are not really endowed with the ability of “ahem” directional streaming and were waylaid with long dresses and skirts for a great deal of history. No, I’m not taking the piss….well, yes I am actually, a whole bucket of it so I can ferment it with woad. Woad is an interesting plant. More about it here http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isatis_tinctoria

This little green plant after much hard work imparts a blue dye. Fortunately there are amazing ladies like Teresinha Roberts at http://www.wildcolours.co.uk/html/about_us.html who grow and make the powdered dye. For this experiment I have her to thank for the preprepared powder. I do have woad seeds and I will have a second go at growing them. ( I really don’t think they like Australian summers, not in my front garden anyways.) I should get planting them really soon.

Needless to say you want to do this fermenting process, outside and as I live quite close to a couple of other units, with a lid firmly on when you are not out checking that all is going well. That stinky pot, reeking of ammonia and gradually changing from a dark navy blue to a sickly blue green and producing a shimmering copper scum on the surface when ready is full of historical magic and produces one of mans oldest colours. I am going to pictorially document this for you all once it warms up more. I promise.

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These sober squares of raw linen were to answer for myself questions about dyeing linen. Viking era peoples apparently coloured their linen at times. This is just one ref I can find after a quick google that talks about blue linen. http://urd.priv.no/viking/serk.html and there are more. There still seems to be some sort of idea linen will take no natural dyes. I still think many people didn’t bother or if they did it was there very best garments Many people probably just settled for the raw colour because the effort involved in dyeing the raw linen blue or bleaching linen to then dye it blue would have taken some considerable time and effort (this is possibly modern lazy think). However the more I look into the past the more I admire our ancestors in their ability to produce beautiful cloth, colours and clothing, (which many of us credit card slinging consumers wouldn’t have the first idea how to do) the more I think they were quite sophisticated and go get em, even if they didn’t have the internet, smart phones or think digital watches were still pretty neat. But I digress.

So , I’m in South Australia, as far from flax cultivation as you can be, and to get some linen you need to grow flax. Historically it did used to be grown in Victor Harbor, Aldinga, Willunga etc in South Australia in 1872 and probably later http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/39262299but alas no more. I was going to have to settle for some imported Swedish raw linen for the experiment, already woven. I gave it a bit of a wash and proceeded to experiment with the fermented woad and urine sig vat. These were the results I got. I need to do more testing but these squares kept a great deal of the colour after being thoroughly washed of the pissy smell – I may have continued dipping for another 5 days to see if things got any darker but ran out of squares. Dyed, blue, linen is possible with no heating involved apart from the ambient heat on a warm day. This is blue over a raw unbleached linen. I am yet to test with a bleached linen but I imagine that the blues would come out beautifully bright.

As Spring warms the place up here I am game to do more tests.

Just found the reference that gave me a lot of insight and got me going on this whole thing http://invention.smithsonian.org/centerpieces/whole_cloth/u3tc/u3materials/natdye.html

Tapestry Beginnings

Yesterday I got my first ever tapestry started on a four shaft, table loom.

I’ve decided to use natural linen for the warp and wool bits and pieces I have around the house for the weft. Since it is my first one I am not expecting to set the world on fire and I am not going crazy with spending hours on predetermining colours, designs etc but if what I chose to weave works out it should look good.

It appears to be working so far, although I reckon I have chosen a pretty fine weave. I certainly don’t have all the professional tools and bobbins yet but I am making do and apart from glancing at books, a few you tube videos and a basic weaving background, my knowledge is pretty basic. I still quite don’t know how one attaches a cartoon when weaving in this manner but I am coping. Please be gentle with me oh more experienced tapestry artists of the world.

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Spring Rains and Woad

Well, I am lying in bed, after my wonderful husband bought me breakfast. The rain is pattering on the roof and its the first day of spring in Adelaide, South Australia. I’ve finally got around to having a WordPress account and so to put it to work.

Some time back I started a journey involving rare wool breeds (mostly wools not found in Australia) and ancient natural dyes. The first wool I got hold of was a Russian one. (I do living history, we try and portray life in 7th century Staraya Ladoga). Finding wools from Russia or even the names of the breeds is not exactly easy. (If you are reading this and are from Russia and know sheep breeds I would love to heard from you about everything) I was able to score some Romanov wool. I am really not sure what century exactly this sheep breed comes from other than they were discovered some time back. I got cleaned tops and I spun them faithfully on my drop spindle. Then I got a sig vat (urine vat) prepared, thanks to a very understanding husband making donations for science. Sadly I did not document this process but as the weather warms I will make up a new vat and show the whole process. I did document small samples of wool and dips which you can see in these pictures below. IMG_3730.JPG

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