Adventures with Natural Dyes

If you’ve never visited the Folk Fibers blog or store you should mosey on over.  Maura Ambrose is an amazing fiber artist living out her dream of hand quilting with natural dyes in Austin, TX.  She is a huge inspiration to me, every time I feel discouraged or uncreative I simply think of her and remind myself that she has been able to grasp her dream and make a living from doing her art everyday.  She is a wonderful lady and the one who spurred me into experimenting with natural dye techniques.

I love gathering plant materials and Fall in Seattle is a wonderful time for it, things are dying or seeding making them easy to pluck and put in a pocket or bag.  The skies are usually clear and crisp and the leaves become every shade of gold, red, yellow, and brown you could imagine.  After the rains began I started to notice on my walks that the leaves plastered to the concrete were leaving a pigmented silhouette of themselves.

Maple Leaf Stains

Maple Leaf Stains

Seeing these stains all over the city for several weeks I kept wondering if the leaves would make a usable dye.  So I sent Maura a message asking her thoughts, and she had never experimented with leaves but thought it would work.  Encouraged, I got a hold of  some natural white fabrics at Nancy’s Sewing Basket and started gathering leaves.

(I won’t go into the how of creating a dye bath on this post just visit Maura’s blog for the excellent tutorials.)

The White Materials

The White Materials

My only qualm about doing these little experiments was simply the purpose, I couldn’t think of anything I could use the dyed fabrics for.  I am not a quilter or really a sewer, I don’t typically work with fabrics that often and I made several swatch tests before it hit me.  I could dye the wool I use for my hats!

I’m really not sure why this didn’t come to me sooner.  I can only assume because I had been buying colored wool fabric for so long and Maura talks about using cotton mostly on her blog that I totally blanked on it.

I gather most of the plant and animal materials that go into making my hat and to also start dyeing the fabric with gathered plant materials gives me a certain satisfaction of complexity that I can only contribute to my whimsical nature.

This is when the adventure in dye really began in earnest.

The first dye bath I made was from what I believe to be a Sugar Maple (I’m not hundred percent because there are so many dang kinds of Maples in Seattle)  I used the green leaves from a fallen branch.  The Sugar Maple created a creamy golden yellow with pink undertones on all the fabrics. Next year I may try the yellow leaves after they’ve turned and see if it creates a different color.

Sugar Maple Dye Test

Sugar Maple Dye Test

I next tried using the fallen red leaves from what I believe to be a Red Maple (again I’m not positive).  It’s interesting to me the variety of color I got between the two Maples. The Red Maple created a much darker rich golden brown especially on the animal based fabrics (wool and silk) and a more subdued brown on the plant based fabrics (cotton and linen).


Red Maple Dye Test

Red Maple Dye Test


I tried Chestnut Tree Leaves next because I had come across a bunch of them freshly mowed to tiny pieces seeming to stain the grass in giant circles around the trees a vivid red brown.  So taking a chance I gathered a bunch of whole fallen leaves.

I also decided to try adding some plant materials to this dye bath along with feathers to see if any of my other materials could be dyed.  The simmering was too much for the delicate materials though, the plants almost disintegrated and the feathers lost their fluff, so I won’t try it again.

I didn’t get the lovely red brown I was hoping for but I did get a nice light brown color on the wool.

Chestnut Leaves Dye Test

Chestnut Leaves Dye Test


Emboldened with the ease of the process and so curious to find out the color of every plant around me I decided to try some different plant parts.

I gathered the last of the Oregon Grape Root Berries that I could find of the season (it was a bit late in the year for this, they’re usually at their height towards the end of summer).

I only had a handful but it went a long way.  I got some amazing purples on the plant based fabrics, a more subdued mauve on the silk and an almost brown color on the wool.  I may try dyeing the wool again with another batch of berries next year to see if I can bring out the purple more.

A bit of caution here.  This dye bath really smells terrible, the leaves had a lovely herbal smell while they simmered but the berries were surprisingly nauseating.  They also left a sour smell on the wool in particular, so I’ll have to steam in with essential oils a bit before working with it.

Oregon Grape Root Berries Dye Test

Oregon Grape Root Berries Dye Test


After reading one of Maura’s post about dyeing with mushrooms I became really curious about trying new and usual things to dye with.

I had the idea of dyeing with lichen, it grows in abundance in this wet climate and is unique in the plant kingdom in that it is a symbiosis of fungi and algae growing together.  Native people have also used it traditionally to dye with.

So I gathered some kind of Foilose Lichen (I haven’t been able to identify it) from a bunch of fallen branches in the woods and brought it home to play with.  I have to say I love lichen, I think it is so neat.  I already have several different species hanging out with my indoor plants as well as flower essence I created when I lived in Texas.  So I was really excited to see what color I would get.

I was pleasantly surprised with a beautiful sunny yellow green color on the wool  and a more subdued tone on the silk.  It’s interesting that the plant based fabrics would not hold the dye and stayed white.

The lichen also imparted an amazing scent on the fabric.  I can only describe it as smelling like Oakmoss Absolute (which is made from a certain species of aged lichen) which I often use in my perfumes.  It is a musky woody scent that reminds me of ozone and fur.

Wavy Green Lichen Dye Test

Wavy Green Lichen Dye Test


I was now interested in finding another plant material that would imbue fabric with scent, it seemed like a lovely layer to play with when making hats.

So I gathered some White Spruce twigs.  I should have stripped the needles from the woody parts to see what color they would’ve made alone but I just threw the whole thing.

The dye bath did give off an amazing scent while simmering but the fabric didn’t hold on to it and I ended up with just another nice brown tone fabric.

White Spruce Dye Test

White Spruce Dye Test


I’m hoping to experiment with other scents and fabric, I’m thinking the wild yarrow and fennel that grows in the area may be worth trying as well as the local Eucalyptus tree.

It seems like every where I go now I can’t keep myself from wondering what kind of dye a certain plant or berry or lichen or mushroom I see will create.  It’s a really fun process.

I’ll post more as my adventures continue!


Green Dog Treats

It never fails.  Halloween ends and Christmas decorations instantly go up everywhere and I really begrudge the whole Christmas thing being forced on me.  So I vow to not participate in the holiday.  “This is the year!” I tell myself “Nothing!”

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around (another holiday I feel very strange about celebrating because of the whole genocide of an indigenous people thing) my will has softened and I’ve had a million craft ideas bouncing around in my head.

So I give in and indulge my creative inspirations (still trying not to spend money).  These easy treats I make from ingredients we always have around the house, Pinto loves them and I thought they would make good gifts for other friends with dogs.

I feed Pinto a raw diet of food I make from the grocery store and she isn’t always too keen on eating her greens no matter how much I try and hide them and it’s difficult to find JUST a treat with vegetables.

The ingredients:

3 – 4 leaves of Kale – (or chard, or collards)

Kale is a proven cancer-risk cutter, abundant source of fiber, calcium, Vitamin A, E and C, helps prevent heart disease and contains numerous antioxidants. Avoid in pets with certain types of bladder stones or kidney disease.

2 – 3 Tablespoons of Seaweed Powder – (Kelp is what I used and I found it in the bulk section of the grocery store)

The rich iodine content and high levels of other nutrient minerals and vitamins in kelp make it an herb of choice for regulating and balancing glandular systems. In particular, dogs suffering from hypothyroidism and weight problems can benefit from the iodine in kelp.

Dogs with skin irritation problems as a result of allergies, dogs with dry skin, or dogs who are suffering from hair loss can benefit from kelp. The protein in kelp is highly bio-available, which allows dogs to efficiently assimilate its amino acids so they can speedily and effectively assist in tissue repair.

4 – 5 Tablespoons of Ground Flax Seed – (also found in the bulk section of the grocery store)

Flax provides Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.  These nutrients are essential for skin and coat health. In addition, alpha-linoleic acid-a component of flax seed-offers immune system benefits and anti-inflammatory properties. Flax is also high in soluble and insoluble fiber which gently moves waste and toxins out of the body while preventing constipation and providing constipation relief.
Make sure you get ground flax, or can grind it yourself.  None of these wonderful benefits can be obtained without breaking the outer hull of the seed.

(We have a coffee grinder that we use exclusively for grinding herbs and spices.)

About 1/2 cup of Dried Stinging Nettle Leaves– (found at my local bulk herb store, but easily purchased online.  Make sure it’s organic!) Nettles have a mild diuretic effect and can increase the output of urine through the kidneys. This action has a cleansing effect helping to remove toxins, unwanted chemicals and poisons. Flushing out waste products can also help where there is kidney disease or impairment.  Due to their cleansing nature and high vitamin and mineral content, nettles are considered a good general tonic to help strengthen the body. Used over a period of time, nettles can improve the quality and appearance of both the skin and coat.  Also, Nettles have anti-histamine like action and can help reduce itching and scratching, as well as other minor skin irritations.

4 -5 Tablespoons of Blackstrap Molasses – (found at the grocery store, get organic!)
When the sugar cane plant is processed, two products are produced. Refined sugar and a black goo called blackstrap molasses. Though most of the sweetness is removed with the sugar, the precious nutrients from the sugar cane are concentrated in the blackstrap. A single tablespoon of the blackstrap molasses contains up to 20% of the recommended daily amounts of:  iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.  It is also an excellent source of manganese, chromium, copper, selenium, and B vitamins.
There are many people who swear molasses has helped ease their dog’s arthritis.  Just make sure to purchase un-sulfured blackstrap molasses, since molasses treated with sulfites does not retain its nutritional value.


Once you have all your ingredients together the process is pretty simple.  Obviously, I’m not very scientific with the proportions here, so feel free to experiment.

Take the kale leaves and break them in half with your hands, then stuff them in the blender with a small amount of water.  You want just enough water to get them blended up.  Once you have a nice bright green juice pour it into a mixing bowl (if there is some pulp don’t worry about it just plop it in the bowl too).  Add the seaweed and nettles.  Next I add the molasses, it’s important because it adds the sweet savory flavor which counteracts all the bitter greens.

Lastly, add in the ground flax seed and stir it all up, the flax will help keep everything together because as it becomes wet it forms a sticky mucilage.  You should now have some nice goop!

Now, you have a choice.  If you have a dehydrator spread the goop out on a close-bottom tray and let it dry for a day or so.  If you are not fortunate enough to have a dehydrator (like me) turn your oven on the lowest setting between 150 F and 170 F.  Line a glass casserole dish or pie pan (I prefer the pie pan) with wax paper and spread the goop out to your desired thickness.  I typically like thin treats that I can break into small pieces for training but I’m sure you could easily make different shapes.

You’re probably wondering “Why not just bake those suckers in a few minutes?” Well because I want to keep as much nutrients in the treats as possible which means not cooking them but drying them.

So put the pie pan in the oven and let it dry for 6 – 8 hours.  Every now and then just stick your hand in to touch the treats.   If they are moist they’re aren’t ready.  Once they are nice and dry to the touch then they are ready to come out.

Now you can peel the treats off the paper and bag them up or start handing them out to hungry dogs!

“Stop taking pictures and let me eat!”


Cocktail Hats Photoshoot

I’ve been trying for a couple months to put together a photo shoot using some friends as models so I could list my hats on my etsy store.  However, something always seemed to go wrong and the shoot would have to be canceled.  I felt that it was probably a sign, a sign that I needed to put more effort into the project and be realistic about the quality of pictures I would be able to coax from my ancient point and shoot.  The more I thought about what kind of pictures I wanted the more I realized I really wanted to collaborate with someone who was more knowledgeable about cameras than I and who would be interested in modeling with me as well.

The person who came to mind was Amy Billarz.


Amy is a beautiful Videographer I recently met who has been filming the ongoing musical antics of my boyfriend’s band Lou-Lou Hernadez, among other things.  We struck up a long conversation at a recent Lou-Lou show about our respective art projects and realized I loved her look, her attitude, and her work.   She seemed like just the kind of person I’d like to hang out with and do a photo shoot.

In High-school I would have photo shoots with my friend Nitza all the time.  It was what we did for fun and fulfilled a need we had to be creative.  So we would dress each other up as zombies or Greek Goddesses, or whatever and have a great time taking pictures on our 35mm.  I was hoping to have a similar experience with this shoot, I wanted it to be fun, creative, and engaging.

So I ran the idea by Amy over coffee and to my delight she was as excited about the project as I was.

After a trip to the local thrift store for some clothes we set a date and hoped for grey skies.  I really wanted overcast skies for the shoot because they create a diffused light that I really love in pictures.

On Sunday we had the grey skies we wanted but it was 38 degrees and drizzly.  However, neither of us wanted to reschedule so we packed up all our equipment and several umbrellas to keep everything from getting wet and headed out to Discovery Park,  a 534 acre natural wonderland!


We set up camp in one of my favorite off the beaten path spots I had found on many explorations of the giant park.  We stayed in the same spot the whole time because it offered such a variety of backgrounds it seemed silly to waste time lugging every thing around to a new spot.

Deciding which hat to wear.

We started slowly experimenting with light, angles, and camera settings, and despite the cold our outfits were just the kind of odd retro/Korean/Victorian/futuristic style I love and our hair had just the kind of texture I wanted it to have.  (Amy has naturally curly hair but curled it even more for the shoot and I used a strange scrunching twist technique to gather my long locks on top of my head in the kind of voluminous mass I always imagine the hats perched on.)

hat hair

One of us finally thought to check the time and realized 3 hours had flown by in what seemed like minutes so we had to rush the end a bit but everything still came out nicely.  Although, I think Amy deserves most of the credit for that,  her amazing camera lens and eye for composition really pulled everything together into the exact kind of shoot I had envisioned.

Needless to say I can’t wait to make more hats so we can go out again! Although we both agree we need to wait for warmer weather 🙂

Check out the store here with all the serious artistic faces 🙂

Can’t stop giggling!

Bit of an Introduction

Ever since I was little, one of my favorite things to do has been walking around outside looking at nature, daydreaming about it and interacting with it.  I remember long hours spent in the backyard with my sister exploring, eating weeds, gathering flowers, playing elaborate games of pretend, and naming trees.

Whether consciously or not my parents nurtured this wonderment by bringing us up on a steady diet of PBS nature programs, sci-fi fantasy books and movies, and summer vacations to new biomes.  So being outside, wandering around watching plants and animals as they change through the days and seasons has always been there for me as something I truly enjoy even if it got pushed to the background for some years . As I’ve grown older I find myself more and more drawn back to my indescribable love of nature and incorporating this green veil more deeply into every day.

It may sound silly but there is something so soothing, so giddy and centering, so healing for me to just explore with my dog on long walks through the local parks and sanctuaries.  Every thing is always changing and  I have a compulsion to bring back pieces of that vibrancy to treasure.  So I’m constantly gathering up interesting plants, seeds, shells, and feathers; anything that catches my eye and wants to come home.

That’s the easy part though, walking around enjoying myself and finding things.  The difficult part comes when my artist side rises up and refuses to leave all these bits about to languish on a shelf.  To do them justice I must create something new something beautiful or strange, something that could be close to me and others and hopefully convey my sense of wonderment and whatever emotion I felt when I picked them up to make them a part of my existence.

And so I find myself creating art and fashion in a way that doesn’t seem easy to describe.  The closest I can come is to say I craft wearable art from the forest, field, sky, and shoreline.

This is what I do. I hope you enjoy it.