Sumac, Goldenrod and Walnuts

Late summer and early autumn in my area yields a bounty of plants, such as Sumac, Goldenrod and Walnuts. This plant matter is suitable for natural dyes and tannins (Sumac). My project was the making of cushion covers, with which to recover old lawn chair cushions.

My first attempts with natural dyes were those made with onion skins, coffee, avocado pits and skins, purple cabbage and beets. In other words, using the edibles I had on hand in my kitchen at the time

Both the onion skins and avocado made lovely shades of brown and pink. The beets also turned  out a nice pink tone and the cabbage was a bluish purple.

However, both the cabbage and beet colours faded quite quickly as they are known to be fugitive, not fast. This means that they will fade or turn brown. This also applies to avocado. But avocado is a good tannin source, so it still has it’s place in natural dyeing.

Sumac, Goldenrod and Walnuts practice on cotton

My first pot of dye was Sumac berries. Together with my friend, we cut the cones of Sumac berries. They were a bright ruby colour and smelled delicious, as they bubbled away on the outdoor cookstove. The cones were boiled in a large steel pot for over an hour; then we poured all the detritus, into a sieve. The resulting broth was a lovely wine colour.

In the meantime, we wrapped small beach stones on the fabric, using elastics. I selected a fairly heavy cotton fabric, which I had previously used during my Indigo shibori workshop.

Before immersing the tied fabric, we sprayed it with water. The dye was returned to a boil, we put the fabric into the pot, then the temperature was lowered to a simmer. We left the fabric, in the pot, turning it on occasion, for 2 hours.

After that time, it was removed and hung outside to dry.

We were quite pleased with the result. The colour was a dusty rose. An added bonus was a dark, star shaped imprint, left by the beach stones, in the middle of the white, tied sections.

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Goldenrod blossoms brewing

Later, we followed the same process with Goldenrod blossoms and Walnut husks. As the stones were reused, they left less of a mark in these subsequent experiments. The Goldenrod yielded a warm, subdued shade of yellow. And the walnut husk colour was of medium chocolate brown.

I dyed one more piece of fabric, using my Indigo vat. The colour was nowhere near as strong as it had been a month earlier. However, it was a very pleasing light blue.

I will reconstitute the vat and use it once again.

Four years later– the Sumac cushion has turned a dusty pink and the Indigo cushion has faded a bit. Both were used outdoors for a summer, but since then, they have been kept indoors. The Goldenrod and Walnut were left outdoors in rain and sun and both have faded substantially. At the time, none of these fabrics were mordanted. But I’m a bit surprised that the Walnut dye faded as much as it did.

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Hi. I'm Maija.

Producer of one of a kind fabrics, I am a Visual/Textile Artist at MaiTribe Studio Gallery, in central Ontario, Canada.

My life and art have been inspired by my travels  to countries such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Bali and India.

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