The Dream of the Blue Turtle Beans Part One

I hope Sting forgives me for borrowing part of the title of his album. All shall be made clear.

Been working pretty much solidly for the last couple of days on sorting out the back garden and the garden shed which had become unusable over the years. I am happy to report that I can actually walk into it and find things again as well as make things and put dye pots and such somewhere other than in the house or out in the back garden.

Was soaking turtle beans for dinner, when I got a comment to one of my blog articles from a lovely lady on WordPress who, I discovered has been making blue colours with black beans, I know these as turtle beans.

I do a 24 hour soak with some Braggs apple cider vinegar splashed in before I cook them and make the best refried beans south of the northern hemisphere! I’ve been chucking the soaking water out for some time. After learning about making a dye with the beans I thought I would collect the bean soaking water and give the turtle bean or black bean dyeing a go. Had a quick internet search about doing this sort of dyeing. Asked this same WordPress friend about the importance of using Alum as opposed to nothing or vinegar. Determined that I would try all three things and document them. Seems the ph (definition of ph here) of the water determines what colour you get from the bean water too. You can get some amazingly nice blues, but you can also get greens and magentas from what I have read in other peoples documentation.

I’ve usually used vinegar as the mordant when I am dyeing things or in the case of the woad, stale urine but I do have alum too. I thought I would go with white vinegar for the first trial.

I strained the bean soaking water (which is distilled water with a splash of Braggs apple cider vinegar and the bean juice)and put it into an Ikea jar. The water doesn’t look very inspiring. Sort of a murky purple grey black.

Meanwhile I soaked some merino wool top in tap water with vinegar for about 20mins. Then I gently squeeze the vinegar out of the wool and have put it into the bean juice and closed up the lid. I guess its going to ferment. I wasn’t really expecting a blue because of the acid ph from the vinegar.


So what colour did I get in I the 48 hour period?
Well, I got a grey, It’s grey out in the daylight and purple grey bordering on lilac in the artificial light see the pictures below. I suspect when it is spun the colour will be more apparent.

Ok so the earth didn’t move for me. It was a test using vinegar which I couldn’t find any tests for in regards to turtle beans and I now know what happens. The next test when I am next soaking beans will be with alum prepared wool.




Madder Springs Forth


It’s another beautiful spring afternoon and I’ve just been out in the front garden checking my Madder plants. More about Madder here’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.

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.

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