Archive for September, 2011

First Boll Open

The cotton plants in pots (now in the screen porch) are still producing new blooms while the first boll has burst open.

It’s an Uplands Cotton plant, from Joan Ruane’s seeds, which were planted on February 23.

This plant has four other bolls and this is not the biggest one, but it’s showing beautiful white fiber.

It will be interesting to see the colour on the Green and Brown cotton plants when they start to open.


Read Full Post »

Woad Plant

The Woad and Japanese Indigo plants in the garden have grown reliably, as have the Indigo plants in pots in the porch. I took a first harvest of all three types of leaves and tried my first-ever indigo vat(s).

There were about 102 grams of Woad leaves, so I processed them following the directions in Jenny Dean’s book “Wild Colour”.

Combined, the Indigo and Japanese Indigo leaves only weighed 35 grams, so I tossed them together in a second pot.

The directions for Woad called for boiling water poured over the leaves, which resulted in a nice brew that looked like rooibos tea. Soda ash is then added and the mixture is whisked to incorporate air. The oxygen is then removed by adding thiourea dioxide. Small skeins of cotton and wool were dipped and then exposed to air, at which point they developed a shade of blue.

The directions for Japanese Indigo called for cold water that is then heated to just below boiling temperature. This is the point where I started to go wrong. I let it boil, and then didn’t see any change in colour, so I kept adding soda ash and thiourea dioxide. Still no reaction until I dipped the wool skein which foamed up and promptly disintegrated. The cotton skein didn’t fall apart like the wool, but didn’t pick up any colour either. I think I had way too little dye-stuff to start with, and added way too much soda ash. I added the cotton skein to the Woad pot which added a pale blue shade when exposed to the air.

Left: Cotton dyed with Woad. Middle: Wool dyed with Woad. Right: Cotton added to Woad pot after most of the dye was exhausted.

Here are the results. The Woad was especially nice and easy to work with and I’ll try all three plants again, but it will be a challenge getting enough Indigo leaves as they weigh next to nothing.

Read Full Post »

wool simmered and soaked overnight (left), wool soaked overnight (right)

To test the dye potential of the Black Walnut hulls I’ve been removing, I soaked a small skein of yarn overnight in the tub where the walnuts have been soaking in water. I liked the colour so much that I decided to make a proper dye-bath to see what would happen.

I half-filled my dye-pot with hulls, added enough water to cover them and simmered the liquid for an hour. The pot was then cooled and the hulls filtered out, leaving a very dark brown dye-bath. A pre-wetted skein of wool was added and the pot was retuned to a low heat and simmered for another hour. The heat was then turned off and the skein was left to soak in the dye-bath overnight. Here are the results – I think I like black walnut dyeing!

Read Full Post »

The first week of September, the nuts started to fall. This appears to be the best year yet for quantity and there are plenty to share with the red squirrel who is very territorial about them.

To actually use the nutmeat, the outer covering must be removed, then the shell cracked and the edible parts removed. Sounds simple, but the outer covering is tough and the shells are incredibly hard to crack without pulverizing the nut inside.

Stage One:

Soak the nuts to soften up the outer covering so that it can be removed.

It takes about a week of soaking to soften up the fresh green hulls.

Stage Two:

Remove the hulls with a sharp knife (wearing old clothes and rubber gloves!) and then clean the shells with a pressure washer. Many of the nut shells are completely blackened by contact with the juice in the hulls, but I don’t think it affects the flavour of the nutmeat. The liquid is a powerful natural dye, and I plan to save the hulls and experiment with it as a dyestuff.

Lay the nuts in a single layer on a screen to dry.

Stage Three (future):

Crack the shells – I use a heavy hammer on a concrete floor and cover the the nuts with a tea towel to prevent the sharp shell fragments from flying.  The inner sections of the shell are also very hard, so it’s a challenge to get reasonably sized pieces. Store the nutmeat in the freezer unless it is used right away. The nutmeat can be lightly toasted before use.

A small mystery:

Amongst the Black Walnuts, we’ve found a few Butternuts. We don’t posses a mature Butternut tree, but suspect that a squirrel passing through with a butternut decided that a walnut (being bigger) was a better find and dropped one nut for the other.

Read Full Post »