Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Golden Rod

The frost has claimed the coreopsis and the dyers chamomile won't be much longer in the field. The golden rod still has flowers and so I harvested that last sprays and dyed a few lbs. of wool and mohair locks with it.

Michelle, our WWOOFer, dyed her first skein of handspun yarn with golden rod and wove this scarf. Isn't it beautiful?

You can see where the golden rod warp crosses the white weft threads, how the yellow is muted, but where the golden rod warp crosses the golden rod weft, the yellow is strong. Golden Rod is my very favorite yellow. Michelle's selvedges are very even, too. This was her very first spinning and weaving.

The next plant in the dye pot will be woad. There are many kg. of woad leaves left to harvest. I have it under a poly barrier to protect it from frost, but it won't last much longer.

Then I'll be gathering walnut hulls in Christina Lake at my friend, Lorraine's farm -- probably in the next week or so.

Monday, July 20, 2009

St. Johns Wort

Joybilee Farm uses natural dyes for their wool, mohair and silk yarns, fibers and fiberart.

St. Johns Wort is ready for harvest. Only the flowers are used for dye or medicine making. Harvest the flowers at the end of June (St. Johns Day) or whenever they are ready in your area. Around here that is the second week of July. Put the flowers in your dye pot and cover with cold water.

After boiling the flowers in hard water for 1 hour the bath was strained and left to cool for three days until it started to bubble slightly, and become slightly acidic. The dye bath was a deep red, the colour of raspberry juice.

One 4 oz. unmordanted skein of wool/mohair was put in and allowed to soak at room temperature for 24 hours. The bath was then heated to simmer, 1 tsp. of alum (8% wog) and 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar were predissolved in 1/2 c. H20 and then added to the vat. The skein was simmered for 1 hour and then the pot was removed from the heat and allowed to cool down to room temperature without assistance. The skein emerged from the vat a lovely raspberry colour, which faded somewhat when hanging to dry in the sun.

The second skein was immersed in the vat and the above method followed. It appeared that no colour was laid down on the skein so a tsp of sodium carbonate was added. The skein immediately turned a bright chartreuse. Much of the colour was rinsed but the skein remained a greeny yellow.

A third 4oz. skein was immersed in the vat, brought to a simmer and alum was added. The addition of alum and cream of tartar caused some foaming of the vat and a straw yellow was laid down on the wool.

The vat was pH sensitive, turning red-purple with the addition of acid and green with the addition of alkaline, indication of the presence of anthroquonins in the St. Johns Wort.

Light fastness: The raspberry colour was not as light fast as I would hope for, fading to a brick pink colour when exposed to full sun. But the yellow and chartreuse did not fade as much. I wonder if the raspberry colour would have changed to green with a dip in ammonia?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Natural Dye Display at the Courthouse Museum

Joybilee Farm is putting together a natural dye display at the Courthouse museum with the help of the museum curator and staff.

It will include textiles dyed with eco-friendly natural dyes, plus the dye matter, and fiber dyed with it.

Natural dyes for this display include cochineal bugs, natural indigo powder, weld, yarrow, dyers chamomile, and madder.

This is part of the International Year of Natural Fibers "Threads of our Heritage" display at the Courthouse museum in Grand Forks. The show will be on till Labour Day.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Science Fair Winner - The Woad to a Sustainable Blue Phase 3

The regional science fair was yesterday in Castlegar. Sarah's project won a gold medal in the Grade 8 to 10 category, with three contenders. There was an increase in projects this year, over last year, with 12 projects in the contest for one of two spots to represent the region at the Canada Wide Science Fair in Winnipeg, this year. Sarah's was the first project chosen.

She also received a special award from BC Agriculture in the Classroom ($75) and the EnviroExpo Special Award ($100).

It was an awesome science fair for Sarah. Her project was outstanding compared to the other projects there, with a great deal of interest generated in the natural dye woad. The Selkirk College Chemistry division has offered to allow Sarah to use their lab for thin layer chromotography tests on her pigment to establish indigo purity. The Selkirk College Biology dept. has offered to allow Sarah to use their equipment to carry out dna fingerprinting on her hybrid woad plants, as well, to establish the uniqueness of the hybrid she has created.

One scientist said that Sarah's project was not grade 10 work but college level work and congratulated her for her thoroughness. The fair organizers held up her project as an example of a CWSF quality project, and suggested that all participants view her project to see how to improve their own. This will be Sarah's third year taking a project on woad indigo to the CWSF.

Kiwi came to the science fair with Sarah yesterday. What a lot of attention Kiwi received as he was carried around. We gave out every business card we had and could have given out 100 more. Kiwi is a one week old lamb that had a tramatic birth. It took him 5 days to get to the strength and vigour of a new born lamb. Now he's caught up and is a great ambassador for Joybilee Farm. You can read about it here. In his short one week life he has visited at the museum during the International Year of Natural Fiber for 4 groups of school children. He's been to the regional science fair and is due to visit a sunday school class today.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Using up natural dye liquor - Spring Cleaning

I had some pots of natural dye liquor that I've had outside in the ice and snow from last fall. One was of coreopsis blossoms. Another jar was of spent cochineal bugs that had been save and allowed to ferment on the kitchen counter. Another of spent madder roots, again left on the kitchen counter and fermented.

The madder had no colour left and was tossed. The cochineal bugs had lots of colour left and laid down a madder-like red on wool/mohair in the first dip with 200 grams of yarn. The coreopsis laid down a golden yellow, although a bit saddened compared to the yellow of fresh blossoms in summer.

I still have a pot of logwood to try. I hate to waste the colour even if its pale. It can always be overdyed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Woad in North America

Woad was brought to North America by the early European settlers. Seeds were imported from Britain for household use. In the 1830's, woad was listed in the seed catalogues in Ontario, as the plant was common in household gardens.Commercial dyers also used couched woad imported from Europe, and the working of the woad vat was considered the accomplishment of a Master Dyer. Indian Indigo was also used but as it was more costly, it was not as common for household use.

A first year woad plant. Although the woad plant contains indigo precursors at every stage of development, the first year rosette has the highest indigo precursor level, and is the part of the plant most commonly used for commercial production.

Woad is being grown today for oil seed production, a wood preservative, artist pigments and artisan dyeing. Very little commercial production of woad-indigo is being done today, however two enterprises are attempting a revival of woad production in UK and EU.
The European woad growers recognized 2 distinct types of Isatis tinctoria. One, which the French called "Pastel," has smooth leaves (microscopic hairs can be seen), high indigo content, and was valuable for cattle fodder. A second type, which was referred to as "Bastard woad" was contientiously rogued out of the pastel patch.It had coarse, hairy leaves, a low dye content and was unpalatable to livestock. (Chaptal, John Antony. (1839) Chemystry Applied to Agriculture.- available in google books)
It is the "Bastard woad" that came to the USA and threatens to overrun Western range land. It began in a 1900 contamination of Alfalfa Seed in Calilfornia, which got away.
This is the woad being used today by natural dyers in North America. Its indigo yield is low and the hairy leaves contaminate the dye bath with soil and other impurities which inhibit the extraction of indigo from the leaves.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The website is updated

It been weeks of work. But now its finished. Well is a work of art every really finished?

I've updated the whole website, adding pages about the indigo precursors in woad, my innovative woad extraction method, thank yous to everyone who sent me woad seeds, dye samples, books, articles, and encouragement.

My science board is almost completed. OK, I'm on my third revision since last Friday. I keep thinking of new things I should have added.

So I hope you enjoy it and learn more about this facinating natural dye plant. If you have any questions or comments let me know.

Sarah, The student ;^)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Woad Indigo -- a science fair project phase 3

The final stages of the student's science fair project are in process. The paper is written -- over 40 pages about woad -- its history, chemistry, biology, art and economics. The statistical analysis is done. The board was finished at midnight on Thursday night in time for the first round of science fairs.

The biggest enouragement is that the indigo yield from her woad doubled this year over last year. And it was the rainiest and coldest summer we've seen, so this is a positive finding.

She saved seed in our Canadian zone 3 range land climate, at 2700ft. elevation with summer frosts. The saved woad seed out performed the seed from 2007 and out performed the mean yields of current scientific studies -- done on prime agricultural land in Europe and UK. Wow!

Plus her own saved woad seed is rich in indigo precursors through out the growing season, unlike the purchased seed which looses most of its precursors in the early Fall, after frost.

She's getting an average of 4 to 6 grams of indigo per kg. of woad leaves using her innovative extraction method. Last year she averaged 2 gram of indigo per kg. of leaves -- the same as the European studies. According to the Maiwa documentary, "Indigo", the tropical indigo averages 5 grams of indigo per kg. of leaves, using a fermentation extraction method.

The usual method of indigo extraction from woad follows the method described by
Beijerinck in 1900, where hot water is poured over woad leaves and they are allowed to steep for several hours before being removed from the extraction vat. This method is inefficient and results in a loss of most of the indigo precursors from the extraction, since isatan A and isatan B -- the most abundant precursors in woad -- are unstable and require specialized extraction conditions. Woad has an undeserved reputation as a poor source of indigo dye pigment. By improving the extraction methods and using a seed selected for high indigo precursor content, the yields of blue pigment from woad can rival tropical indigo.

The student's method optimizes the indigo yield by taking advantage of the precursors and obtains up to 8 grams per kg. of leaves in some extractions -- averaging 4 grams per kg. of leaves over 50 extractions.

The student took first place in the High School Science Fair on Friday and is on her way to the regional science fair in April. Visit to find out more.

Woad dyed tapestry in mohair and wool with a cotton warp. Designed, dyed and woven by the student. All colours came from woad.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


The Woad project is almost completed for the year.

The student's extraction of woad indigo from the first year woad plants, is completely different from the method used by Ian Howard in Norfolk and by Teresinha in Birmingham and by Blue de letoure in Toulouse. She is obtaining more woad indigo pigment, too -- averaging 4 grams of indigo per kg. of leaves.

In the DVD Indigo by Charllotte Kwon's Maiwa production, tropical indigo's rate is 5 grams of indigo per kg. of leaves, using a fermentation method in the tropics. So the Student is doing very well getting only 20% less indigo -- since her plants are exposed to summer frost and even broccoli has a challenge surviving here.

It is reasonable to expect that she will be able to improve the yield just 20% more in the next year by hybridizing. In fact, merely selecting a few plants for vigor and smooth leaved traits improved yield by 50%. What could be accomplished by a more concentrated effort?

And the blues are beautiful -- noble.
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