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growing, harvesting and using natural dye plants and other natural dye materials

 
Judith Browning
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I grow weld (reseda tinctoria) mignonette family; woad (isatis tinctoria) mustard family; and madder (rubia tinctorum) as dye plants and am thinking about adding them to some fruit tree guilds and wondered if anyone has tried it. I've tried an indigo (indigofera tinctoria) but our growing season isn't long enough. I know madder and woad are considered invasive weeds some places but between our hot summers and winter freezes that has been no problem.

April 25,2013...EDIT...I want to broaden the topic here to growing dye plants and using them in general...not just in fruit tree guilds.
 
Cal Edon
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I've grown a few of those, although never as part of a guild. Woad seems to be a terrific nutrient hog - it's supposed to delete the soils it's grown in, and I believe it. I don't know what effects any of those plants would have in a guild, but I'll make an educated guess and say that woad wouldn't be a good companion plant for most trees, and probably for no fruit trees. Weld has some very specific preferences for soil types that might limit its usefulness in a tree association - high pH and dryish - but attracts so many pollinators it might be useful regardless.
 
Judith Browning
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I may regret it but I planted several nice madder plants along the edge of a raised garden bed..the deer like it so I had to put it behind a fence. It won't have good roots for dye until it's three years old.
Deer don't bother my weld or woad both of which I plant from seed late summer into september and they are ready to harvest when they set flowers in June or July.
One of my favorite natural dyes is from Bright Lights cosmos flowers...they dye wool just as nice an orange as the flowers appear.
 
Judith Browning
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My Madder plants are greening up and growing now that we are getting some warmer days and the deer can't get at them.
I planted Woad in pots last late summer (with wood added as is talked about in a couple other threads) and they are excellent plants. Woad needs very fertile soil so I added the pee bucket frequently over the winter and they had plenty of rain water...it continues to grow in cold weather. I'll start picking leaves for dye in June. They are used fresh or fermented and dried in balls. I plan to let a couple of them go to seed so I could share if anyone wants some.
Only a couple Weld plants overwintered...I think the chickweed shaded it out. When I first bought seed I was warned about it's prolificness but I find that here it reseeds well but most seedlings don't survive our hot, dry summers.
Is there anyone who wants to share natural dye information or ask questions?
 
Dennis Lanigan
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I have questions about natural dye plants and mordants. Is there a way to get around using alum, iron, etc.? For sources of seed, did you get a bunch from JL Hudson? What's the best source? I know it's late but I'm going to try and sneak some stuff in.
 
Judith Browning
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Dennis Lanigan wrote:I have questions about natural dye plants and mordants. Is there a way to get around using alum, iron, etc.? For sources of seed, did you get a bunch from JL Hudson? What's the best source? I know it's late but I'm going to try and sneak some stuff in.


I bought weld and woad seed recently from Richters and have saved seed from both that originated from Pinetree Gardens. I found madder seed from Horizon Herbs. A lot of places probably carry 'bright lights','Diablo' or 'Sunny Red' cosmos...just be sure the variety is th right one for dye.
I don't think it is too late to plant any of them. Both weld and woad are biennials and will winter over and then bloom around June the next year...which is when you would use the leaves to dye with. Madder is perennial so as long as it was well established by really cold weather it would be fine...I started mine in pots.
I use a minimum of alum as a mordant so that it is all taken up into the fiber. We have sumac growing here which is a fine mordant for some things but I thought gave my lemon yellow weld a greenish tinge. I dont use any others...several are toxic...nor do I add the glaubers salts that some do to exhaust the dye bath.
A book that I refer to a lot is "A Weaver's Garden" by Rita Buchanan...it covers everything.
One beautiful dye wood is bodark (osage orange) and needs no mordant...it dyes both wool and bast fibers equally well. I have shavings stashed from my husbands woodworking. and onion skins...need alum but dye an amazing golden yellow. My interest has always been in nontoxic, lightfast, washable dyes that I could grow or harvest myself.
I did grow indigo from seed one year and the plants were beautiful but our growing season is not long enough for them to reach maturity..and the deer happen to like them.
 
Dennis Lanigan
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The main reason I don't want to use a mordant is I plan on dying buckskin hides and I'm trying to do everything as traditional as possible. I do have a big aluminum pot so I could just cheat that way.

Have you ever dyed with beets? I know in Sweeden the only red dye allowed is Bull's Blood beets, which is the only variety I usually grow.

My main source of information is Natural Dyes from Northwest Plants. It's OK, but it's the old style hippie methods with alum and chrome. Are there plants that are naturally high in alum? Do tannins (like in Sumac) help bind color? I do a lot of bark tanning (the origin of the word tanning: tanning with tannins) and the tannins do seem very color fast. I don't see a lot of "ancestral" guides to dying though I know that knowledge is out there.
 
Judith Browning
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Yes, the tannins in sumac will will help to bind color to fiber. I don't know anything about dying leathers though. We have leather workers in our family who buy hides that are colored with 'vegetable' dyes I think. My book lists sumac, taproots of dock, bark of hemlock trees, bark and leaf galls from oak trees, and bark of willows as containing significant amounts of tannins. Dried Sumac leaves are listed as containing the most tannins and all are considered mordants either on their own or in combination with alum or other metals.
I hope someone else will post with an answer.
I am looking forward to having madder as a dye source. Besides being a beautiful rich color for fabric it has a history as a lake pigment for artists and in coloring for violins. It would be wonderful as a dye for leather if possible.
I have never dyed with beets but have read about it. Apparently the color is not as colorfast as some other reds..but where you are dying something that won't get washed repeatedly that might not matter. I think Pinetree Gardens lists them with a hopi dye sunflower seed and something else that I cant remember.
 
Judith Browning
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I dye a bit every winter...here are the most vibrant of the colors...all wool...the afghan may get passed on to a grandchild to finish...I love growing and dying with natural dyes but get bogged down in the making something with the results part.

the deepest gold is bodark, the yellows are onion skin and weld (I am not sure anymore which is which), and my favorite is the bright orange that is from 'bright lights' cosmos and the exact same color as the flower. I am working on madder...the deer ate it back...and woad. Both grow well here if I can find the right spot.

...and the pinkish color was a second run through dye bath and a change in the ph...I don't keep good records...I try but then in the moment it all goes out the window.
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plant dyed wool
 
Judith Browning
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this is a link to Turkey Red Journal...not so much a 'how to' as wonderful articles about what is being done in the world of natural dyes.Turkey Red Journal


and a link to John Marshall's site with instruction about using soy milk as a binder. soy milk binder
Reading this made me more certain that I don't need to be eating unfermented soy beans. I am experimenting with treating cloth....bast fibers, cottons and silks (all from recycled clothing)with homemade soy milk as a binder for my natural dyes and graphics with india ink.
 
Holly Turner
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Good info. You've re-inspired me to set up a dye plant garden. As I learn more about permaculture, I am keen on knowing what works well with other plantings. Thanks!
 
Leila Rich
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When I was a child, we used to collect mosses and lichens for dying wool.
Ok, lichen's not really a plant
Lichen especially created beautiful greeny bluey tones.
I now realise stomping around yanking out ancient wild things is a bad idea though!

Even more offtopic: our red, black and blue clays can make great dyes.
 
Judith Browning
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Leila..not off topic...I should just change the title to make it all natural dyes. I love 'mud' dyes and have played with our bright orange clay with some cottons...I need to work on the mordant but I got a nice pale coral that won't wash out. I've seen commercial 'mud' dyed ones with really deep colors.

Years ago I wanted badly to find the right lichens for dye after reading about them and seeing the colors they can make...i don't remember well but it seems the right lichen didn't grow here at all but it got me to look at them more closely.

Holly, great to hear...many dye plants are beautiful...as the bright lights cosmos and even woad is a nice rosette. Some are both medicinal and useful as a dye and useful as a food and as a dye. Pine Tree garden seeds carries a nice selection and so does Richter's and Horizon Herbs.

 
Judith Browning
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Holly Turner wrote:Good info. You've re-inspired me to set up a dye plant garden. As I learn more about permaculture, I am keen on knowing what works well with other plantings. Thanks!


and Holly, be careful to call it a 'dye plant' garden as you did and not a 'dye' garden to folks who aren't aware of natural dyes...they tend to hear it as 'die' garden and give you funny looks
 
Holly Turner
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Judith, well said. Many of my friends are fiber folk-spinners, knitters, weavers & such, and understand dye versus die, haha! Others might need some education .
 
Judith Browning
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Woad is a biennial. This plant was started from seed more than a year ago...it survived a summer here, and is just beginning to send up flower stalks. When it blooms it is time to cut the whole plant to use for dye. It survives very cold winters but has a hard time in our really hot summers and I tend to loose a few plants every year.
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Blythe Barbo
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My understanding is that tannins are needed when you are dying cellulose fibers - for example, cotton - to make the color hold fast. I knitted a couple of neutral cotton bags; soaked them overnight in an alum bath, then in a strong willow tea for the tannins (mainly because I grow a lot of willows and the sumac hadn't leafed out yet), then again in the alum, and finally in a strong tea of madder root and another with osage orange. The willows dyed them a light tan, which was rather nice, and added a unique twist to the final colors. I will see if I can upload a couple of pictures. Perhaps the willow wasn't necessary with the osage?
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Natural color of cotton knit bag, soaked in alum mordant.
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willow mordant
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Final bags, dyed with 1) osage orange and 2) madder
 
Meryt Helmer
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when I dye cellulose fibers I don't use tannins and the colors hold fast. I use a different type of alum but where i live people have been experimenting using sea water for mordant and I have also used that for cellulose fibers with very good results. you have to have the fibers in water that is about 190 degrees for at least an hour. that is what I was taught in a workshop I took that was taught by Rebecca Burgess.I have not tried growing my own dye plants yet buy on my land there are a number of native dye plants I want to try, madrone trees, toyon, coyote bush and a lot more. I love the photos in this thread!
 
Judith Browning
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It is great to have more folks sharing information in this thread...thank you both! ...and, Blythe, the pictures are great. Everyone is welcome to post more pictures of projects, experiences dying and growing and gathering dye plants.

I am playing with just a few dyes that are color fast on cottons and bast fibers....the picture below is of weld (the paler yellows) and bodark ... I did use a small amount of alum as a mordant added to the dye bath...I didn't premordant anything. I love the range of colors that resulted totally due to the fiber content of the materials...all from thrift store blouses...linens, rami, cottons, silks...and a bit of variety just from the spin of the threads in the woven fabric, I believe.
I am noticing that the weld I dried most recently (and is 2 years old) is not dying the bright lemon yellow I remember getting in the past. I am not sure if it is to do with the age of the herb, when I cut the plant (at flowering) or plant health, etc. I do find that when I use sumac with weld It gives all of the yellows a greenish cast.
I think bodark is one that needs no mordant or tannins to dye most anything. I do find that it continues to bleed through repeated washes though and crocks a bit. I think I probably tend to make the dye bath too intense.

the second picture is just a small tuft of wool dyed with some of my homegrown woad. It seems to be very light fast...several years old and exposed to natural light every day.
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various fabric dyed with weld and bodark
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wool dyed with woad...against bodark dyed cloth
 
Judith Browning
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Leila R mentioned clay dyes and that got me researching again...there is a bit more information available since the last time I looked and THIS SITE has what sound like really good instructions for dying with clay. She uses soy milk as a binder mixed with the clay and then can paint it on the premordanted cloth or add more soymilk for immersion. I have experimented with soymilk as a binder a little and really like the feel of the cloth afterwards. When painted on fabric the soymilk helps the pigments bind with the cloth...after a week or two the soymilk cures completely and resists dye. John Marshall recommends homemade SOYMILK BINDER made in small amounts to use fresh...very economical.
 
Judith Browning
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"Verdant Color" the Bay Area Natural Dye Journal looks excellent! I think I have the link correct...it took me awhile to be able to find the way to read it...lots of information and pictures....
 
Judith Browning
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a small batch of woad...dying some cotton and linen fabric. I used the simplest method...which is cutting and chopping the woad...filling wide mouth quarts then pouring almost boiling rain water over the chopped woad to overflowing and sealing with a tight lid for an hour. The liquid then contains the indoxyl and the color is achieved by repeated dipping, drying, rewetting and dipping again. Someday when I have more of the plant to work with I want to try one of the longer, fermented processes where I think the resulting color will be more intense.
"recipes" for this are in the book I mention in an above post "A Weavers Garden" by Rita Buchanan.
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woad
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choppped into widemouth quarts
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covered to overflowing with boiling rain water
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liquid after an hour
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cloth after several dips
 
Jeremy martin
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Nice thread,

Fabaceae family has dye potential as well

http://www.theplantlist.org/browse/A/Leguminosae/

anybody here interested in late blooming fruit and nut trees for zones 5b-6a?

cheers
Jeremiah
 
Jeremy martin
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Here is an example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alnus_incana

The Zuni people use the bark of the tenuifolia subspecies to dye deerskin reddish-brown.

 
Judith Browning
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Thanks, Jeremy...you are correct, the fabaceae family includes 'indigofera tinctoria (true indigo) and logwood that I know of. I wish I could grow indigo here but our season is not long enough so I am working on growing enough woad, which contains the same 'indoxyl' that produces that beautiful blue.

I found a site that is marketing clothing that is dyed with what they call 'farmer grown color' SOUTHERN HUES
I run across clothing businesses that are using natural dyes more and more often...hopefully it is more than a trend, as the chemical dye processes in making our clothes is one of the more toxic steps along the way.
 
Judith Browning
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MAIWA'S "GUIDE TO NATURAL DYES" lots of information including an extensive section on dying with 'INDIGO AND WOAD'.



-
 
Judith Browning
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all cotton and rami and hemp and silks gathered from the used clothing store....washed and cut to pieces to dye.
natural dyes 027.jpg
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turmeric with two changes in PH, woad.
 
Judith Browning
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a few pictures of dye plants and materials.
natural dyes 028.jpg
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our red clay
natural dyes 030.jpg
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woad is flowering this week
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madder taking off after winter dormancy
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flat of this springs starts...weld, woad, madder and hopefully yellow senna....and a 'mystery' plant in the lower right of the flat.
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onion skins
 
Blythe Barbo
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This thread has really gotten me excited about doing more dying. For some reason, I was locked into the idea of yarns, partly because I used to do a lot of handspinning and raised Angora rabbits, Samoyed dogs, and llamas -- but it has been harder and harder to find time to do the spinning (more of a winter thing), and even though I no longer have all the animals, the dye pots kind of fell to the wayside. The photos on here of thrift-store linens were kind of a thump-on-head moment for me! So I went out in my garden and made a list of all the plants I have that can be used for making dyes, not including ones that I can forage (lichens) or common edibles (onion skins) or possible trade items available locally, but not something I grow (walnut hulls). I was amazed at how many of them there are - all easy to grow! I uploaded the list to my website at Barbolian Fields - Dye Plants. (I was thinking the link might be easier than trying to upload the table here on the forum.) I also went down to our local thrift store and scored a couple of tablecloths and other linens, one with hand-crocheted edging and another with hand-embroidered cutwork - I mean, these took someone hours and hours of work to create and now they were selling for a few measly bucks! So I am excited to give them new life and to honor the person who so lovingly created them, even though I don't know who that person is.

Thanks, everyone, for making this such a great inspiration and resource!

Oh - and I am also pretty excited to get my first apple Not sure how that happens, but a very fun idea for positive reinforcement!
 
Judith Browning
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It looks like I will have a lot of woad seed to share for free if anyone would like some....this is second generation from seed i bought from Richter's. The seeds are not fully dry yet although they feel thick as though they will be good viable seed. I think I can send a tablespoon or two in a regular envelope...just let me know.
woad seed.jpg
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Judith Browning
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I've got way too much woad seed....can send a bit in an envelope if anyone would like to try it...any larger amounts I would need shipping $$.
I think it is considered an invasive weed in some states so check first...that has never been a problem here...i don't know if i have ever had it volunteer...I always start it carefully from seed in a flat and transplant before the roots get too big. It is one of those seeds that needs to be just pressed into the surface of moist soil and barely covered...I keep the soil moist until it germinates.
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Judith Browning
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My two year old madder is blooming....the flowers are really tiny.

the second picture is, I am pretty sure yellow senna...leila H. if you notice this maybe you can ID, it is from your seed, I think

dye plants 005.jpg
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madder flowering
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yellow senna
 
Judith Browning
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i like this online free journal
http://turkeyredjournal.com/

one of the articles..."Chromatopia from Collected Color" http://turkeyredjournal.com/hilliard.html
Collected Color VI, Oklahoma to Michigan Photographs Copyright by Heather Clark Hilliard
"Chromatopia 2, Naturally dyed fabric remnants / photographs copyright by Heather Clark Hilliard

and some dye processes pictured in a blog........
http://gatherandgrow.org/
 
Judith Browning
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My favorite reference book...'A Weaver's Garden' by Rita Buchanan
link to book summary HERE


"A Weaver's Garden" at Amazon


 
Dale Hodgins
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While clearing trails of Oregon Grape, I discovered that it is a pretty good dye. Some little chunks got into my clothing and they left yellow marks. I know there is no shortage of yellow dyes. Yellow is the most common color derived from plants.
 
Judith Browning
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Dale Hodgins wrote:While clearing trails of Oregon Grape, I discovered that it is a pretty good dye. Some little chunks got into my clothing and they left yellow marks. I know there is no shortage of yellow dyes. Yellow is the most common color derived from plants.


Can't have too much yellow dye although I don't see Oregon Grape listed in either of my books. Some dyers are up for trying anything that shows some color though.

I think this book is worth owning also...I don't use glauber's salts at all and she has it listed in every recipe, but the recipes work without that additive. The book covers a lot of dye materials.
'Vegetable Dyeing' at amazon
 
Judith Browning
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Here is a link to one of Project Gutenberg's free online books...it is also available in other forms including kindle.
Vegetable Dyes by Ethel M. Mairet and the table of contents....
CHAPTER PAGE
I. Wool, Silk, Cotton and Linen 1
II. Mordants 6
III. British Dye Plants 11
IV. The Lichen Dyes 16
V. Blue 24
VI. Red 31
VII. Yellow 35
VIII. Brown and Black 40
IX. Green 43
X. The Dyeing of Cotton 46
XI. The Dyeing of Silk 56
Glossary 60
Bibliography 63
Index 65

...and another The Practical Ostrich Feather Dyer by Alexander Paul. Old, dated but using some natural dyes.
 
Sharon Kallis
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Mostly I manage to connect with city gardeners and forage from park annual garden beds for when plants get pulled at end of season, and there are lots of annual plants for dyes to gather from! But I do have some woad growing, and this year we planted madder- I have been warned Madder is very vigorous and will take over, so will have to watch it I guess. In a shady area- under our bamboo and willow crops (for weaving) -we also planted sweet woodruff, again, I understand it can be aggressive, but it is in the same family as madder and apparently the roots will give a pink dye. I am ok if it takes over- it will be a nice change from the running buttercup which so far I can't find much of a purpose for! In my best case scenario- the sweet woodruff will take over from the buttercup, and in trying to weed that I at least am gathering plants for dye. My current favourite dye is the bark from the Paulownia tomentosa tree- known as the empress or princess or foxglove tree. It is invasive in the southern states, but not this far north where we grow it as an ornamental. My husband pollards several each year, and makes musical wooden horns with it. He carves the bark off for curing the wood, and I use the bark for dye. On wools I get rich chestnut browns, soft golden browns or pinks from exhaust baths and deep rosy pinks on my linen crops. I like a versatile dye plant!
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Paulownia bark dye on wool and linen and home grown linen stricks
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my friend Martin Borden
 
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