As spring unfolds - I am finding myself drawn to the native plant life that surrounds me at my home in Montana. I started thinking about what is here and became curious about the possibility that naive species might actually be useful for fabric dyeing. Kind of a crazy notion - I know, but I actually did a bit of research online and found a website that had a long list of plants that can be used for dyeing fabrics. I have always shied away from natural dyes because I am afraid of the mordants - which can be so toxic. My research also led me to two non-toxic mordants that I know I can safely use - alum and vinegar - both of which I already had on hand .
I soaked cotton in an alum solution for several days. I soaked raw silk in vinegar, as well. Then, I bundled the silk with pine needles, and bundled the cotton with pine bark. We are surrounded by a Ponderosa Pine forest here. I never found specific references to Ponderosa pine, but other pine needles and pine bark yield dye - so why not Ponderosa? No harm in trying!
I boiled the pine needles in water for about 6 hours. The resulting dye water was a pale greenish shade. I removed the needles and then, added the silk pine needle bundle, which had been soaked in white vinegar. This was boiled for another 6 hours. The fabric gradually shifted from the natural raw silk color to an ecru color and then to a deep warm gray.
After cooling, I have put the bundle into a container and covered it with the dye water (holding it submerged with a large local rock. I will let it sit and soak now - until the water is all evaporated!
Am I nuts? Maybe. I am not following any instructions I found anywhere - I am just playing. . . . it's kind of exciting . . . maybe I will discover something interesting. Hey - I already know the fabric is a different color so I know it works on some level. I'll publish my results when I unwrap the fabric bundle. It won't be til the weather warms up, though - we are getting a lot of chilly weather and rain - I am sure it is not evaporating much right now!