Monthly Archives: August 2014

Japanese Indigo Dyeing Day at Merrily’s

Japanese Indigo Dyeing Day had arrived!  On the evening of August 21, Lynda and I each clipped the leaves from our 2 plants which we had carefully nurtured all summer from seeds gathered the year before.  These were placed in a covered glass jar.


The next morning, on Merrily’s deck, with gentle breezes blowing off the Strait, we assembled our equipment, notes and resources – primarily “A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan and “Harvesting Color” by Rebecca Burgess.  Everything was ready to go…..then we discovered a major problem!!….our “Synthrapol” was NOT “Spectralite” which we very much needed for this process we had chosen!  After a mad flurry of activity and drive to Robert’s Creek, Heather very kindly came to our rescue with more than enough of the special ingredient.  Hugs to Heather!


Next step was to weigh our fibre.  Each of us prepared 5 ounces for our 1 pound of leaves.  I had 4 ounces of a soft unknown fleece and an ounce of mohair locks.  Lynda had white wool and a blend of wool and llama.


We each prepared a separate batch.  Lynda’s leaves were a little darker than mine and we were worried the lighter leaves would not produce a good colour.  (See results!)  Here we have filled our 4 quart jars with our pound of leaves and warm water and the jars were not quite floating in the pot of water which we brought to 170 degrees over 1½ hours.  We then left it another 1½ hours.


Once the liquid had turned a dark tea colour (Lynda’s dark leaves) and light tea (Merrily’s), we strained and squeezed out the leaves.  At this point we wet our fibre and divided it so eventually half would go into Merrily’s solution and half into Lynda’s.  Next we added 1 tablespoon of baking soda to each solution.


Then we poured the liquid from bucket to bucket for 6 minutes.  You can see the color is quite brown at the beginning!


We were quite excited when the indigo colour appeared.  But we needed to be patient as we had more to do before the colour would set.  First we added 2 plus tablespoons of Spectralite.  Next we heated the dye bath to 120 degrees.  Then we let the bath sit at this temperature for 20 minutes at which time the “light leaf” bath turned a bright yellow.  The “dark leaf” bath did not turn very yellow even after an hour.  We immersed our fibre at this point and let it sit another 20 minutes being very careful not to create any bubbles.


Voila!  When the fibre was lifted from the pot it immediately turned from bright yellow to gorgeous deep blue.  Quite magical!! We noted the “light leaf” solution produced the darker blue and the solution had turned yellow sooner.  Why?  Not sure.  Perhaps more Spectralite, fewer bubbles.


We hung our fibre from dye bath number 1 to dry, added more fibre for dye bath number 2, reheated, waited, removed and then hung to dry.


Exhausted, we retired to Lynda’s house for a yummy dinner and a well-deserved chilled bottle of sparkling wine!


We concluded the day by finishing off our notes and referring to our favorite resource book.


Next morning, I discovered there was some yellow solution still left so proceeded to continue heating, dipping and airing till there was barely any colour left in the pot.  My fibre became lighter and eventually quite green.  The mohair locks were lustrous shades from dark blue to aqua.


What a wondrous and fulfilling couple of days!  We can hardly wait till the indigo plants have produced their second harvest later in the fall so we can start all over.  Maybe someday I will have accumulated enough indigo fibre to knit a cozy sweater!

Merrily Corder


Natural Dye Workshop

In August five members of the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild had the opportunity to take a three day workshop on blockprinting, stenciling and resists with natural dyes with talented local artist Janna Maria Vallee.  Janna Maria has degrees from Capilano College and Concordia and was home for the summer from New York where she’s living for five years while her husband works on his PhD.


We started by mordanting our silk scarves.  This helps fix the dye to the fabric and makes it more lightfast and washfast.  We weighed the alum and our scarves and then put the scarves to simmer in the pot of mordant.



Next we made our flour resist by measuring out a cup of flour and whisking it with a cup of cool water.



Sizing fabric with soy helps give better detail when painting with thickened natural dyes as it inhibits wicking.  We blended water and soybeans that Janna Maria had soaked overnight and strained the mixture through muslin, squeezing well to get all the liquid out.  We then painted our silk scarves with the liquid and hung them to dry.





We painted a square of silk with the flour resist for crackling.  Once the flour dries the square is bent and wrinkled so that cracks appear and then dye is applied in the cracks.  We used an assortment of objects to print our scarves with the resist and also rolled the resist over raised objects to make patterns.




The dyes we used were logwood, brazilwood, osage orange and walnut.  We made teabags out of pantyhose, added 2 tablespoons of dye material to each bag and put these in mason jars filled with water.  The jars were partly submerged in a pot of water to simmer for an hour.  The teabags were then removed and the contents of the jar were mixed with guar gum to thicken the dyes for printing and stenciling.



Then the fun began as we painted over the flour resist, stencilled and blockprinted.





We next made iron and cream of tartar mixtures to use as postmordants to alter the colour of the dyed fabric.


Janna Maria had dyed some small balls of yarn to show us the colours to expect.  The dyes from left to right are osage orange, brazilwood, walnut and logwood.  Each dye has 3 balls of yarn to show the effects (from left to right) of mordanting with alum only and postmordanting with iron and with cream of tartar.


We stenciled, printed and painted over our previously dyed scarves with the iron and cream of tartar mixtures to alter the colour of the treated areas.


Our scarves were then hung up to dry and be admired.


The final step was steaming our scarves to set the dyes.  Normal steamers aren’t suitable as they drip on the scarves which causes the dye to run.  Bullet steamers are used commercially but since these can cost thousands of dollars Janna Maria had ingeniously rigged up a homemade version.  We laid out our scarves on fabric which was then rolled around a broom handle.


The broom handle was attached to a towel covered lid and then carefully lowered into the homemade steamer.  Our scarves were steamed for an hour and then unwrapped.



It was a wonderful workshop spent with good friends and a talented artist and teacher.  We learned a number of interesting techniques that we can share with Guild members.  Thank you for a wonderful workshop Janna Maria.



Heather Apple
Photos by Heather Apple, Deanna Pilling, Roberta Symons

Christmas Road Farm

Over the years I have enjoyed seeing Pat and Diane Walker of Christmas Road Farm at the Sechelt and Roberts Creek Farmers Markets.  In early August I had the pleasure of touring their ten acre farm to interview them and photograph their flock of sheep as a new wool source for the Fibreshed program.

Pat and Diane Walker at their sheep shed with Bailey, their 5 month old Australian Shepherd/Border Collie cross pup.


In 1976 Pat and Diane purchased their bare land homestead which had previously been clear cut. Over the last 38 years they have put in hand-laid stone foundations on which to build their warm and cozy home and all the out buildings – a true labour of love and immense hard work.  Their farm now has a large one acre market garden, a greenhouse area, six Black Faced Suffolk sheep plus one lovely “black sheep” named Mocha, seventy chickens and five turkeys- all in their respective housing and penned areas.

Pat feeds the sheep while Mocha and Bailey question, “Who’s boss?”


The rest of the ladies and the spring lambs


The feathered flock


The Walker’s work very hard at tending their gardens and livestock to offer our community fine  produce, eggs, handmade articles and their special Big Leaf Maple Syrup which they sell in February and March – a true local treasure.

Mocha (the alpha female)


Mocha’s newly shorn fleece

6Christmas Road fleece from Mocha

While Pat and Diane’s sheep are a meat breed, their fleece can be used for quilt batting, felting and for spinning into carpet yarn and warp.  They have just been sheared by Pat and soon they will have batts of their carded fleece available at their Farmers Market stands.  Raw fleece is now available.

“Three Bags Full” of newly shorn white fleece

7 2014 fleece

So next time you go to the Farmer’s Market take the time to stop by and meet them, buy a cup of their fresh brewed coffee and talk fibre. Support this hard working family bringing great food and local fibre to our community.


Words and Photos by Deanna Pilling