It’s Fall: Plants for Dyeing

Here in Connecticut, the end of summer and start of fall are great times for gathering plants for natural dyeing. I’ve written about a number of the plants that I’ve used with success in other posts, and for convenience, here’s a compilation of them:

General instrux included:

black walnut


Queen Anne’s Lace


wild aster

onion skins



Textile Tools – Teasel

Before wool can be spun it is necessary to comb, or card, it to align the fibers and remove knots and debris. Today that job is done very efficiently by machine, but before mechanization, of course, it had to be done by hand. Wool cards are steel brushes that look very much like large dog or cat brushes. There was another “tool”, however, that made use of a plant , “fuller’s teasel.” Related to thistles, teasel develops a prickly seed head that when dried can be used much as a card to comb wool. There were wooden tools available to which a number of the seed heads could be attached. (See link in comment below). Teasel was also widely used, as its name suggests, by fullers, those craftsmen who shrunk woven cloth and raised the nap, thereby “finishing” it. The term “tease”, as in teasing one’s hair, is derived from this source.

See comment below for a website link to this process, with pictures. Thank you to saesford for this info.

Growing Indigo in Connecticut

This spring, I’ve become friends with a new staff member at the Webb-Deane-Stevens museum in Wethersfield, CT, where we both work as textile arts teachers. Joy is a talented and skilled weaver, and she’s been telling me about her adventures in growing indigo and making a dye from the leaves of her plants. I’ve used commercially prepared indigo before to dye wool, but now Joy’s got me intrigued. She graciously gave me two starter pots of indigo seedlings, and this summer I’ll be coaxing them along in hopes of making my own dye. Indigo is a crop that prefers more tropical surroundings than we have here in CT. Wish me luck!

Above is a closeup of the babies posing in front of a much more mature fuschia. Joy says they must be kept moist, but when they’re this little, need protection from rain and direct sun. For the past week, they’ve been living on my kitchen windowsill, where I can keep a close eye on them, but the weather today is cloudy and mild, so they’re enjoying and afternoon on the deck. (It’s the camera that was tilted a bit, not the deck!)