Another Rainy Day At Fernwood Nursery

Picture 1087We woke in the night to the type of rain that feels like it may float the house away….or at least the chickens and their coop. In the morning, we always head out early to see what damage has been done. The blooms on so many plants can get battered and the branches often bend to the ground with this kind of angry rain. Unsettling , this type of rain. So, another day spent tending to indoor tasks.Picture 1089 Rick worked on sowing seed and I cut the flower heads off some tansy ( Tanacetum vulgare) I dried last year. Tansy is one of the plants I collect for dyeing wool. Yes, the tansy will be in bloom shortly, and I will go and collect more of it fresh from my favorite spots. Tansy happens to be one of the few dye plants in this area that will produce color after being dried. I always pick a bunch for winter dyeing projects. Today, I will use up what I have left from last years collection and also use some fresh on a different dyeing day. Most of the plants harvested to dye wool need to be used when freshly picked. Not so with tansy. I’m sure that back in the day, when natural dyes were all that was available to spinners and weavers, tansy was appreciated for this reason. Summer can be busy with all the chores of the farm and gardens, so being able to save plant material for later use was probably very helpful to early colonists. Tansy produces a yellow dye. The wool gets soaked in a pre-mordent of alum before entering the pot that is simmering with the dried tansy. Alum contains metal ions that bind dyes to fabric, and it is a common mordant used in natural dyeing. With natural dyeing there is always a mordant involved. Mordants are ‘metallic salts’ that help to set the dye pigment. When the yarn or wool is submerged into a hot mortant bath, the ions bond directly to the strands of fiber. When the fiber is then put into the dye path, the pigment molecules form a chemical bond with the mordant on the fiber. This ensures that your wool takes the dye being extracted from the plant and doesn’t fade or wash out in the finished product.
So today I cut the dried flower heads and will then soak them overnight in a water bath. I need to have the same weight in plant material as I do in wool….a 1/1 ratio.Picture 1090 Picture 1093Tomorrow I will heat up the dye bath, leaving the tansy in it, and simmer this for about 2 hrs at about 180 -190 degrees. While this is simmering away, my wool will have already been soaking in a pre-mordant of alum and water. Next, I will gently put the wool into the kettle with the tansy and let it simmer for about 1 hour. I try and keep the dye bath temperature at about 160 degrees. I plan on setting up my little shephards hut stove in the nursery so that customers can see the process ( if it’s not pouring, that is), and hopefully I’ll have some golden yarn to play with after it’s done. If you’re out and about and heading in the direction of Fernwood, come check out some wool being dyed with tansy flowers ! Picture 1101

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