Why I Don’t Like the Word “Natural”

From the LA Times, “Why ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore

“Natural” and the definitions of that word have been on my mind lately. I’m taking my first, bumbling steps at teaching a dye plant workshop and while my description would be “vegetable dyes” everyone seems to be calling it “natural dyes”.  And yes, this does involve working with plant based dye materials that occur in nature, I find the term “natural” kind of misleading or at least confusing.

“Natural dyes” seems to imply methods that are safer, non-polluting, better for the environment, etc. As the kids say, Not. Or at least not necessarily. From what I’ve read on the subject it appears that dye work was often a pretty nasty, polluting industry. Supposedly in time of Elizabeth I (England) the dyers had to work some specified distance from town because of the stench. Remember the stale urine for indigo?

Chemical additives – mordants, however “natural” in origin were often poisonous for the dyers and polluted water sources that material was dumped into. Which is not to say one can’t use mordants safely but with the same safety practices and precautions one would use with synthetic dyes.

Aren’t natural dyes safer than synthetic dyes?: Paula E. Burch, Ph.D. ( Her All About Hand Dyeing is an excellent dye resource.)  In this (web) article Burch points out that “..Some natural dyes are almost perfectly safe; others are quite toxic. Some synthetic dyes are safe even to eat; others are too toxic to bring into your home. ”  Know what you are using and how to use it safely.  Respect your materials.

Also see: Natural vs synthetic: from Dharma Trading Co.

Although I’d like think I know how to handle mordants safely, I do work at home, in my kitchen and don’t live alone (other people, animals) so I prefer not to use anything stronger than Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) and Tartar. (I used to use Copper and Iron but phased that out a few years ago.)
whiteToGray.jpg  yarn02.jpgWith wool I manage color range by using white, lite, medium and dark sheep gray from Bartlett Yarns. The only other fiber I work with is cotton and I’m trying out using white, brown and green cotton for the range but that is still in the we’ll-see phase.

Another generation of fiber artists

Back on the Woad Track

I’ve turned out to be a rather rotten blogger.  I have this idea of only writing where there is something appropriate and relevant and then somehow not getting back to it for a few months.

The plants last seen around September 14 have mostly survived.  Woad in porch planters were eaten by something.  The Woad in the yard took off though one Weld didn’t survive.  Additionally I have some more seeds in flats that will hopefully take off.

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[Woad]

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[Three Weld plants in front, the Woad nearest the tree and another Weld  behind.]

 

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[One of the Weld plants.]

Due to drought conditions – I’m in southern California – there are watering restrictions. On my street odd numbered addresses have  Mon, Wed, Fri and Sunday, before 9am and later in the evening for watering.  For awhile now I’ve been using dish (washing) water on the dye plants and they seem to be doing ok along some shade from the tree.

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My other yellow dye staple is Oxalis, aka the Weed-that-does-not-die. That one is of course did well for it’s seasonal appearance and keep a lot of bees happy while providing me with a good supply of yellow/orange dye.

Woad and Weld

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Earlier this year I stared some Woad in a planter to see how it would do.  So far it has survived the crazy weather and nibbling by local urban wildlife.  Looks like it would be possible to grow this one in planters if no yard is available.

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This area is the Weld and one Woad plant behind.  And behind that is the dead lawn.  Current drought conditions are my excuse for letting the lawn go dormant. (Nice word for letting it dry out.)  I wouldn’t have a lawn at all but I’ve been outvoted.  Since I can’t get rid of it I’m expanding the dye plants and medicinal herbs out over it a section at a time.

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One of the Weld plants with the Woad behind.

Cotton Blossoming

About the only thing that thrives during heat waves.

Cotton blooms

Cotton blooms

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Cotton BLossom

Cotton BLossom

Cotton Blossom

Cotton Blossom

Cotton BLooms

Cotton BLooms

 

My cotton tree

My cotton tree

(Adding this last picture to show the size.)

Mostly New Woad

I haven’t posted in a while.  Starting new plants and trying to regrow what I lost in the last heat wave.

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Even though my Woad plants curled up and died  there were seeds from that last batch.


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I’ve been moving them a few at a time into the yard.

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This one (above) is the growing-Woad-in-a-planter experiment. Since the roots seemed so shallow it seemed possible that it might thrive in planter.

Woad and Weld are not desert plants or My Moment of Duh

If you ever forget that parts of Southern California are desert under all the asphalt,  an automotive breakdown in the San Fernando Valley will be your reminder.

Earlier in the year (after my last happy post) I woke up to one of the worst heat waves that I can recall.  For a few days my local temperature beat out that of my (Pahrump,) Nevada relatives.  Yay for me but parts of my garden curled up and died.  Even watering before and after work didn’t save the Woad and Weld.  Not being native or desert plants those two in particular did not survive the summer.  Fortunately I do have seeds from last year and will try again next year.  (Pictures of dead plants would be depressing so just use your imagination here.)

Cotton however did really well and I had enough for various guild friends and myself.

Some of the bolls that haven’t opened yet I bring in doors and leave in a warm spot – window, by heater,  bowl near the stove – and they open later.


Categories

Some project photos, plants and cats

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More Photos

Library Thing dye book list


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