Dyeing naturally

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Welcome to my first (proper) attempt at natural dyeing.

My lovely friend came over the other day, and together we delved into the world of fabrics, mordants, botanical alchemy, hot dyeing, ice-flower dye and hapa-zome.

If you’re thinking this sounds a bit like a foreign language, you’re not alone. We sat reading India Flint’s ‘Eco Colour’ (somewhat of a bible for natural dyeing in Australia), exchanging puzzled glances and googling the concepts we struggled to grasp.

Learning the ins and outs of natural dyeing definitely feels like embarking on a completely unknown journey. There is too much to take in all at once, so it seems best to just throw yourself into it and see what happens. Luckily, the deep end was kind to us, and we ended up with some half-decent results. Sadly, a few hours later, much of the magic had faded, so at least we know what to work on next time.

The gallery above shows our attempts. We scoured the garden for anything that could make a dye; trying everything from eucalyptus to jerusalem artichoke leaves. I have to say though, my favourite of those that we tried was the trusty onion skin. I do really want blue though. Remind me to find an indigo plant. Or woad. I don’t even know what woad is! I have much to learn.

I do just have to mention hapa-zome though. It is essentially the process of beating the colour out of plants with a hammer. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this as a child! Such fun!

Here’s how it works:

Find a solid surface; concrete works well.
Lay down some cardboard or thick paper, then your fabric.
Arrange flowers, leaves etc on the fabric, and cover with another piece of fabric.
Lay another piece of cardboard on top.
Hit with a hammer or rubber mallet. I tried a wooden mallet and it didn’t work so well.
When you’ve got a nice print, peel the flowers/leaves off the fabric, and steam iron to keep the colour intact.
Apparently, the print can be washed carefully, but try and avoid it as much as possible. According to ‘Eco Colour’ it may only last a few washes.

So there you go. Hours of entertainment will now be provided via a hammer and some leaves.

The dyeing thing definitely needs some more work. At some stage, I’ll read the book properly and take it all in. For now though, learning by trial and error is suiting me just fine.

Barefoot gardening

I found myself out in the garden again this morning. It often happens like that; I don’t intend on doing any gardening, but find myself amongst the lettuces early in the morning in my pyjamas, or dressed somewhat inappropriately for work. So this morning, I ended up weeding a whole lot of wheat out of the vegie garden, without shoes.

At first, I didn’t pay much attention to my lack of footwear, though as I continued to work, I realised just how awesome it actually is to garden barefooted. Without trying to sound too New Age here, there is something wonderful about being able to actually feel the earth beneath your feet, and connect with the soil which is very much alive, providing nourishment to the little seedlings, which in turn will nourish you. In Western culture, it is very rare that we exerience this physical connection to the earth, as unfortunately we as a society have deemed it unacceptable to walk around in public barefoot. (Such a shame.) It may just be me, but getting your feet dirty is also quite fun. It reminds me of playing in the mud in kindergarten, or the feeling of the sand between your toes at your first trip to the beach for the summer. Also WOMAdelaide.

There are actually some tangible benefits to barefoot gardening though. Earlier in the year, I completed my Permaculture Design Certificate at The Food Forest. Amongst an amazing line-up of tutors, I was lucky enough to be taught by David Holmgren; co-originator on the permaculture concept. Something he said during the course which I remember just now, is that walking around barefoot is actually a wonderful tool for observation. (For the uninitiated, observation is a key principle of permaculture design and practice.) Literally feeling the ground beneath us, allows for detection of subtle changes that we mightn’t otherwise notice. The change in soil moisture across different garden beds, and the temperature change in spring indicating that carrots can be planted, are just a couple of uses for bare feet.

Though of course, always keep safety in mind. I definitely wouldn’t recommend using tools around bare feet, and be mindful of small, biting critters who might feel threatened by your presence. But when feeling a little disconnected from nature or life, taking a stroll without shoes can only be a good thing.

Mushrooms

I found myself in the garden this morning, planting out some salad greens and pumpkins. This was more a necessity than anything, as I had just observed the pot-bound mizuna struggling to stay alive. Sometimes a wilted seedling is all it takes to get something done. I might just add that I was still wearing my pyjamas at this time, but I digress.

Much to my surprise, each garden bed was filled with these tiny mushrooms, sprouting from the compost. They looked so pretty, glinting in the morning light, so I rushed back inside to get the camera. My inner nerd instantly wanted to identify them. After a quick Google search, I found myself on RogersMushrooms, trawling through photos of fungi. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately??), I have better things to do with my day than figure which species I have growing between the lettuces. Just for the record though,  I’m pretty sure they’re in the Mycena genus.

Anyway, here’s a wee gallery of unspecified mushrooms taken from lots of different angles.

                  

When all else fails, make brownies.

During the week, I received a lovely parcel in the mail from my friend interstate. Despite having met her in person only once, I kind of feel like she knows me too well. It’s cool. This parcel contained (among other things) a recipe. Today I baked it, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I’m going to get a bit philosophical here, but it’s necessary.

Life doesn’t go to plan. That much is pretty obvious. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes it is just too awful for words. In these not-so-great moments, even the tiniest of gestures can make a world of difference, or at least make things a little more bearable. In fact, small gestures are great any time.

Receiving mail from friends is one of those things that can instantly lift your spirits a few hundred notches, which is fantastic no matter how good/bad you’re feeling. Brownies are also one of those things. Luckily, the recipe I received was for brownies. Too perfect.

So to bring it all together here, I shall let you in on the story of my life… (not quite). Today kind of determined my success/failure in regards to this semester of my uni degree. After weeks of struggling to get anything done, today was nothing out of the ordinary. Another deadline came and went, and I found myself realising that although there was still hope for saving the semester, it probably wouldn’t happen. Definitely not the end of the world, but a defining moment in the life of a student nonetheless. So what else can one do in such a situation, but make brownies?

If baking could be dedicated to people, as songs or novels are; this batch of brownies would be dedicated to my friend; the spirit-lifter and provider of delicious recipes.
(Yes, I realise you can’t dedicate food to people, but I make the rules on this blog, so…)

Here is a photo of the glorious wonder that is a giant, as yet unsliced ginger pumpkin brownie, and below: the finished product. (You’re right, they are tasty.)

**You can now find the recipe for ginger pumpkin brownies here.