Drying the harvest

I choose wine by the quality (together with the price), but when the bottle comes in an organza bag, that’s an added bonus. I now have a sizeable collection and there’s always at least one hanging on the washing line at any time of the year. In summer there can be baga good half-dozen.

Leaves are generally tied in a bundle to hang off the laundry door for a week or so, but when flowers are plucked one or a small handful at a time, they go into the wine bags (gift bags, not goon bags) on the back wire of the clothes line where they get shade 24/7. This also goes for tagetes heads which would otherwise shed hundreds of seeds over the floor.

I originally spread some wire fencing over the “rafters” in the shed, placed flyscreen wire on top and spread dahlia flowers over that to dry. Now I find that if there are not too many in one golemon myrtle, they too can go into a wine bag. This is only practical in summer, where they can dry within a day; in winter the tree dahlia heads go mouldy when piled into a bag.

And avocado pits? When a colleague donates them on a daily basis, they stay on my desk shelf at work and dry well without going mouldy. Easy! At home they get put into a bag along with the skins – after going over both with a nail brush to get rid of any remaining flesh.

On the right: half-a-year’s harvest of lemon myrtle from the 50cm-high specimen in a pot. I remember buying 100g of these about 18 years ago when they were $50/kg! Although they’re not native to SA, they’re really easy to grow both in pot and in open ground.


Autumn beanie

autumnbeanieSomeone pointed out that this could very well be the colours of a hitherto-unknown footie team. Better not wear it down the Port, then. Or to a quidditch match.

It was actually a thank-you for the many kilos of dahlia flowers mentioned in a previous post. I had some balls from a grey, crossbreed fleece spun many moons ago that had already made one serviceable beanie, so I decided to put the rest of that part of the never-decreasing stash to good use.

The yarn was over-dyed with dahlia flowers (orange) modified with bicarb, and dried Tagetes minuta tops. I think I prefer these particular colours on white yarn, but after the workshop surprises, I might just do my next lot of natural dyeing at the Guild. There’s magic in them there pipes…

Natural dyeing workshop

After spending some weeks deciding on what exactly we were going to dye with, and then worrying on more than one occasion that the dyes weren’t going to p


erform, last Saturday’s workshop was full of pleasant surprises…

There were seven participants, all friendly and enthusiastic, and all with interesting tales, information and tips to add to the proceedings. The dyes used were (from bottom to top): hawthorn berries, brown onion skins, red onion skins, Tagetes minuta, dahlia flowers, Tagetes lemonii (dried flowers/heads), Eucalyptus cinerea, E. incognita (yep!) and betel nuts.

I didn’t have time to follow Jenny Dean’s recipe (in Wild Colour) for the haws, so boiled up some leaves and twigs for about 40 minutes to get as much tannin in to the dyepot, then added about a kilo of berries and simmered for three-quarters of an hour, then left overnight. This mixture was strained and reheated for the dyeing experiment. They turned the woolen yarn a shade of light brown that I’d never had before, so that’s one for future ref.


The onion skins were amazing! (right to left: brown onions, red onions, Tagetes lemonii). Even though we used a scant 50% wof, the brown ones dyed a deep copper, while the red ones (close-up below) came out dark, khaki green; the unmordanted ties were lime green, and both without trying. Could it have been the copper pipes at the Guild?

A smaller quantity of dahlia heads than I would have liked gave such a deep colour, and onions2redwhen we dipped half (or more) of the skein back in the liquor with bicarb added, well, even better.

I was concerned that as the tagetes flowers were dry, they’d give muted shades of old gold. Lemonmii gave such a deep sunshine gold that at first I thought it was the brown onions, and the minuta heads could have been fresh – the brightness and intensity of the resulting colour is still a source of amazement.

E. cinerea performed to its usual standard, while the other (maybe a type of peppermint gum?) gave a very pale yellow. Still a good shade to have in the line-up.

The betel nuts? These gave a deeper brown than I’ve ever managed before. None of the pinkish hue, mind. They were, as last time, soaked in water and bicarb for a couple of days.

All in all a successful run of experiments and a great bunch of people to work with!


Tagetes minuta dye

Tagetes minuta3Tagetes minuta, aka Peruvian mint, huacatay, stinking Roger… and a noxious weed in many parts of the world. It does however have some interesting uses: seasoning, herbal tea, medicine, garden stake and dye.Tagestes minuta leaf

I obtained a plant without knowing anything about it last year at an open garden. It grew to the prescribed metre high, flowered briefly, then disappeared in winter. This year several offspring appeared and grew exceptionally well – to over 6’2″ (they’re taller than me, and that’s when I stopped measuring). Fantastic! But what about the dye?

I had a couple of balls of wool from an op shop. They looked like handspun that had been previously used, then unravelled. The strands stuck to each other like a cross between a limpet and velcro and have several knots after washing, drying and re-skeining.

Left to right, 1) undyed, 2)uTagetes minuta dyesnmordanted & dyed with 400% wof dried tops, 3 + 4) 50:50 alum-CoT to 15% wof, dyed with 200% fresh tops and 200% dried tops respectively. Once cool, they were washed with soap nuts; there was no noticeable colour loss. You can see that the yarn used to tie the skeins took on more colour.

The next skein was from a Finn x Romney x Corriedale fleece. I’ve always had trouble with this one, even with commercial dyes. So I added a few more fresh tops to the dyepot, then a few more. What the hell; they’re going to seed anyway.

minuta dye

Madre de oveja! I’ve yet to test for light-fastness, but this colour is intense, no other word for it. I noticed in this skein and the test ones above that the dyeing tends to be patchy, and think this may be due to the tip end of each lock, but can’t say for certain. Not that it detracts from the overall wow-factor. Will definitely be using the other three or four plants drying in the shed.