Thank you Alabama Chanin for the wonderful blog post about Sea Island Indigo! I'm so very honored!
Thank you Alabama Chanin for the wonderful blog post about Sea Island Indigo! I'm so very honored!
In the last blog post I said I would be moving back to Charleston, well, again, life has a very funny way of keeping you on your toes! I was settling into the idea of moving back there and life happened and I found myself back in Athens, Ga. I think I may have a little whiplash from all this! This year has been crazy to say the least.
So, I'm back in the Athens area living in a little farmhouse about one mile outside the lovely little town of Winterville, Ga., around 10 miles from downtown Athens. This little house has a very nice garden area and I've already started turning over the soil getting it ready to plant. I'll be planting indigo and other dye plants as well as vegetables, in this crazy world today I think it's very important to grow your own food. There is also room to hold workshops, so I've posted a few on the workshop page. The first one will be a Drop In and Dye Day on March 18th. The beginning of April I'll be back in the Lowcountry to give a talk to a lovely group of women on Hilton Head Island, SC and then a talk and demo for the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston. April 22nd I've scheduled a One Day Indigo Intensive, there are a few changes for this one and it will be explained in the course description. There will be several other days where we'll be dyeing both with indigo as well as other dye plants, I just haven't scheduled them yet. I'll be back for forth to the Lowcountry and hope I can find a place to have a workshop or two there. The Ossabaw Island Foundation has scheduled their annual Indigo Days we do on Ossabaw Island for Sept. 23rd and 24th. You will need to contact them to reserve a spot and they fill up very fast.
Please let me know if there is anything you would be interested in doing! I'll be adding more workshops and dye days as the year progresses.
I took this picture yesterday as I walked on Folly Beach. You see, I feel it represents my life right now. Life has taken me down a path that I've walked before but never thought I'd visit again. All the plans I made last Spring to plant indigo and other dye plants and have workshops with them in Athens never came to fruition. I moved and then I moved again! Now I find myself back in Charleston! I'm excited about it! I've started working on grants and fundraisers to do the research I've always wanted to do on the indigo.
I haven't given up on indigo workshops, I've found a place on John's Island to hold them, it's Sea Island Savory Herbs. Starting the middle of September we'll be having them in the "secret garden" and when it gets too cold outside for the vats to work, we'll move into a green house. It's going to be so much fun! We'll also be growing indigo in the green house this winter and will possibly be selling plants in the Spring. I'll post the dates of the workshops on the calendar page of the website, if you find a date that works for you just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send you a Paypal invoice.
I hope to see some of you this Fall!
The International Center for Indigo Culture, Inc.
I'm pleased - actually thrilled - to announce the formation of The International Center for Indigo Culture, Inc. I've been thinking about this for several years and the time has come to form a non-profit to further the education and research on indigo. We are at the point where we are ready to fundraise and apply for grants/funding to explore harvesting and processing on a large scale and this is the way to do it.
I've also dreamt of a facility that would be a place where people could see indigo textile arts, indigo growing and experience indigo dyeing themselves. A place where we can bring all the blue producing plants from around the world together to show and explore how the are used by individual cultures both historically and today. It will house classroom space, gallery space, space for an artist in residence program, the list goes on and on. I know this facility is some time down the road, but I've decided to put it out there and see what happens!
More good news! Most of you know that Sea Island Indigo has been working with Clemson University and their Coastal Research and Education Center (CREC) in Charleston, South Carolina, on growing indigo and even though I've moved to Athens, Georgia, that research continues! In fact, it's growing even bigger! This fall we will be exploring how to process tons – yes TONS – of indigo leaves. If you see a blue woman walking about – that’s me!
This is so appropriate as the main focus today is to continue to bring indigo into mainstream culture by creating a domestic source of blue dye. This Indigo Culture that I talk about will be a community of people all based around this plant and the dye it produces. It includes everyone, but especially farmers/growers, artists, processors, industry (including small cottage industries to larger commercial industries) and consumers. As things move along, I'll be sharing it with y'all!
Yesterday I visited with Paulette Couch Brown at her farm Fiddlehead Hollow in Winterville, Ga. Paulette care takes sheep, alpacas, llamas, donkeys, chickens, ducks, cats, dogs and a squirrel or two. It was a beautiful day and we took a stroll through the pastures giving the sheep scratches as we went.
Most of the sheep are Icelandic, but Paulette is working on breeding some dairy sheep as well, hopefully this Spring she'll start making cheese. I can't wait!
The alpacas are so soft!
I decided to use her wool as part of my outfit, it will be knitted into a sweater, I'll start knitting first as I'm such a slow knitter and want it done by this Fall, not next Fall. I won't be dyeing this yarn as it's beautiful with the natural colors of the animals it came from, but, she has some yummy light gray that I may go back and get to over dye with indigo.
This yarn is a blend of Icelandic and alpaca, I can't wait to start knitting with it! I just have to find the perfect pattern!
I have been interested in doing this since last year, so I've decided to sign up and make an outfit from totally sourced goods this year. I've already found cotton yarn that's been grown and processed within a fifty mile radius of Athens, I'm just going to have to weave it myself. I know several folks that raise sheep and alpaca around here so there won't be a problem with a sweater or jacket. Of course there's the cotton jersey from Alabama Chanin, that will have a bigger footprint, but will work. I'll be dyeing everything using either plants I've grown or gathered, I think even my mordants and assists will be local, such as sumac leaves for a cotton mordant. This should be fun! I'll be posting my progress through out the year! Y'all join me!
Make sure you check out the new Workshop Page! New workshops will be continually added throughout the year. Please contact me if you have any questions. email@example.com
The first event is an Open House/Studio here in Athens, Georgia, at the new home of Sea Island Indigo on March 6th. I look forward to seeing you there!
If you follow Sea Island Indigo on Facebook then you'll know that a couple of months ago I posted that I was moving. Well, finally, I've moved to Athens, Georgia. There were many reasons for the move and I won't bore you with them. I'm excited about my new home that's a gracious turn of the century farm house attached to a five acre urban farm about two miles from downtown Athens. There is space to grow indigo as well as other dye plants and herbs and also a couple of out buildings that I'm cleaning out and starting to set up as studio/class room space, one looks like maybe it was an old store and has a wonderful warm feel to it. Finally I have space to host everything from Indigo Dye Days and intensives to in depth workshops on all natural dyes. I will also be offering a course of herbal studies with my friend Pat Harpell of the South Carolina Herbal Society.
Please know that the work started in Charleston with Dr. Brian Ward and Clemson's Coastal Research and Education Center will continue, in fact, it's progressing much faster than I ever imagined! Soon we will have a domestic source of natural indigo! This summer I will be traveling back and forth between Athens, Charleston and Savannah, Ga.
Over the next month I'll be adding a calendar and reworking the website to reflect my new home. I look forward to meeting many of you and welcoming you here!
Black Walnut - Juglans nigra - is another one of the dye sources native to the United States. The trees grow extensively from the Piedmont to the mountains and on farther north. I've only seen one or two Black Walnuts growing in the coastal region and the impression I got was they were planted and not naturalized. Black Walnut is considered a substantive dye, meaning it doesn't require a mordant to create lasting, lightfast color. However, some experts like Jim Liles recommend using a mordant on your fibers, which will act as a color changer. If you have an iron pot, this is the dye to use in it, as Black Walnut has quite an affinity for iron. If you don't have access to an iron pot then add a little dissolved iron to the dye bath. The hulls contain a large amount of tannin as well as juglone, the source of it's color.
In her book "Want Natural Color?", Jeanie Reagan suggests using either fresh green hulls equal to the weight of the fiber or dried brown hulls at a quarter the weight of the fiber in the dye pot, throwing in some sumac or black walnut leaves (which contain tannin), covering the pot as light will cause oxidation and letting it sit for 2-5 days. The longer you let it sit, the darker it will be, but also the stinkier it will become. After soaking the hulls, add 1 cup of vinegar and boil for 2 hours, let cool and strain. Then add creme of tartar at 5% weight of fiber and if not using an iron pot, add iron at 2% weight of fiber. Stir well and add enough water to make 4 gallons. Add your scoured fiber and bring to a simmer and hold there for one hour. Turn off heat and let sit overnight. Remove fiber, wash and rinse. You should end up with a warm reddish brown.
When using commercial dried and ground Black Walnut, use at 100% with weight of the fiber.
This method is based on the French technique from the Manufacture des Gobelins in Paris, a tapestry weaving center. Sometimes I'm a lazy dyer. I will gather the hulls (I don't even remove the nuts, like I said, this is the lazy method) and put them in a large plastic garbage can and then place that in a tin trash can. I don't want the walnuts to react with the tin trash can, but don't want animals such as racoons or squirrels to chew through the plastic one. I then cover with water, up to the top and occasionally stir with a large stick. The one I had when I lived in the mountains was four years old when I moved and emptied it, it produced beautiful browns. You can drop scoured skeins of yarn or fabric in the black liquid and depending on how long you leave them determines the color. It is possible to get anything from a light tan to a dark brown. This is considered a cold dye method. If you want an almost black, take out some of the liquid, add a little water and heat at 180 F for an hour. With the addition of a little logwood or overdyed with indigo, it is possible to get a good black. Black Walnut and especially iron can make wools and silks a little harsh so be mindful of your practice.
The leaves and green hulls also have medicinal properties. Traditionally, the leaves were decocted and used topically as an antiseptic wash for sores and skin infections. The juice of the hulls was believed to cure ringworm and other skin issues.
Reference books for this post are:
"Want Natural Colour?" by Jeanie Reagan
"The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing" by Jim Liles
"Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians" by Patricia Kyritsi Howell
As the wheel of the year turns and we head into late Summer and early Fall, I thought I would share with y'all some of the native plants that can be used to create color. First, we'll talk about goldenrod.
Goldenrod is native to the United States and grows abundantly in the Southeast. The beautiful yellow flowers produce a warm gold. Harvest the blooms before they are fully opened for a clear yellow. Goldenrod contains a lot of color and where as with most fresh plant material you need at least 100% or more based on the weight of the fiber, with goldenrod you only need 50-75%. You can dry the flowers for tea, but not to save for color. Although, according to Jim Liles, you can process the blooms and freeze the dye bath in gallon containers. If you include some of the leaves and stems in the dye bath, you get more of a bronze color. Goldenrod over dyed with indigo produces beautiful greens.
Historically goldenrod was used for its medicinal properties by the Native Americans and later European settlers. A lot of people think the Fall seasonal allergies are caused by goldenrod, but actually it's caused by the seemingly insignificant ragweed that blooms at the same time. Interestingly, goldenrod tea is an effective remedy for upper respiratory congestion.
If you would like to learn more about goldenrod's dye properties, please check out "The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing" by Jim Liles, "A Dyer's Garden" by Rita Buchanan, and "Want Natural Color?" by Jeanie Reagan. For more information on its medicinal properties, you can read "Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians" by Patricia Kyritsi Howell.