Alchemist's Apron, art, dyeing, fiber art, Lake Waccamaw, Nature printing, North Carolina, Slow cloth, Upcycling

Alchemist’s Apron project


Last weekend Sandy and I went to Lake Waccamaw and I gathered materials to dye my project for India Flint’s online class, “The Alchemist’s Apron.” I’ve experimented with natural dyes down there before without a whole lot of luck. This time, using a good mordant and bundling the plant materials directly in contact with the cloth did the trick.

In this project we cut apart a shirt in a particular way to make an apron. This is a lightweight denim shirt that Sandy discarded a long time ago. I saved it, paint stains and all. I have a few other white thrift store shirts that I could use, but I wanted to experiment on this one first. Blue is my favorite color, unless you bring up any of my other favorite colors, like orange, purple, yellow, brown, black, red, and green.

I made a mordant from iron scraps, white vinegar and water in a pickle bucket that is safe to use but turned out to be almost scary powerful. The chemical reaction creates a billowing orange foam much like the toupee on Dear Leader’s head. I have a lifetime supply of iron mordant now because I have to dilute it so much. This mordant developed over about eight days.



Even after diluting it with rain water it had a weird metallic sheen on top which cracked when touched. I ended up straining it through a piece of thick cloth to get out most of the rust, poured in hot tap water to dilute it more, and even then I got a lot of brown/orange color on the shirt. I soaked the shirt for two days and a half in this mordant solution.


Then I bundled it tightly with swamp bay leaves, common privet leaves, red tip photinia leaves, dried live oak leaves, dried bald cypress needles, dried sweet gum leaves and balls, and some dark blue berries that could have been from the swamp bay or Chinese privet. They were growing beside each other and I identified the Chinese privet after dyeing, which was a no-no. The leaves and berries of Chinese privet are toxic to ingest. My guess is that they are not dangerous to the skin since I saw nothing that mentioned it and this will be going on over other clothes. I cleaned up all the berries and washed the apron well. Also, I could be wrong on the ID.


The swamp bay leaves smelled heavenly in the dye bath. Some leaves didn’t leave a print but made a negative print where they blocked the dye from the leaves on top on them (a resist) and had a black edge around them. Looking at it today, I wonder if the black leaf prints are actually the dried live oak leaves and the leaf prints with the black edges are the swamp bay leaves. Unwrapping these bundles is such a joy – you just don’t know what you will get. I knew that it would be mostly black prints because of the mordant and the tannins, but that was about it.



Here it is after rinsing it in the bathtub. It has since been washed and dried and lost none of its color. I’m pleased,, because early spring is not the best season to do natural dyeing.


The next step in the class is to dye threads for stitching and sewing on pockets. Many pockets. I needed some more thread dyed with broom sedge to finish an old project anyway and I saw some down the street on the old train tracks, so I’m going down there to gather it now. It makes a lovely yellow.

I also stuffed a garbage bag full of Spanish moss that covered some tree branches piled on the side of the road for pickup. That will be mulch for my container garden. The birdies love to line their nests with it too. I’m sure that conservative crowd living at the lake thinks I’m bananas walking along the canal road, plucking up Spanish moss and leaves and branches from their yard trash piles, wild graying hair, braless, and no make-up, with my Bernie 2016 bumper sticker on my car in the yard. Ha!



art, dyeing, Nature printing

Natural indigo dyepot experiment and leaf prints on photo paper

Walk to Work Prints

I decided to try my hand at dyeing with natural indigo powder this weekend since I missed my weeklong workshop at Arrowmont where I would have dyed with a fresh (fermented) indigo vat. Following instructions on the Dharma Trading website, I soaked the natural indigo powder overnight and ground it in a blender. I added soda ash because I’m not interested in playing with lye. I used all the thiourea dioxide I had and tried my best to introduce as little oxygen as possible to the pot, but I still had a deep blue dyebath. I decided that I might as well try it anyway.

It did not work at all – the dye oxidized in the pot and it all washed out of the skeins. There could have been several reasons I couldn’t keep the extra oxygen out of the pot, one is that our tap water has been cloudy for the past few days. However, I did learn from the experience. I won’t even try to dye in a deep blue indigo vat again – it was a waste of time having to wash out all the skeins and equipment. The good thing is that the skeins are ready to be mordanted and dyed in another dyepot.

Because I am eager to start on my new tapestry, I’m going to use my Procion dyes. I know how to use them. Later I will try again with pre-reduced indigo crystals.

Since I am not to let a hot pot of old dye go to waste, I boiled a bundle of glossy photo papers layered with leaves and bound between ceramic tiles at the bottom of what was left in the indigo solution and got some great results. I learned this method from Marilyn Stephens at Interlaced-Textile Arts. I would not have considered using this photo paper for plant prints, but it was bought long ago and gathering dust and probably would not have ever been used. These are all plants that I pass on my walk to work twice a day. I’m not sure whether the indigo will rub off the paper or not, but here are the photos.

Walk to Work Prints

Walk to Work Prints

Walk to Work Prints

Walk to Work Prints

Walk to Work Prints

Walk to Work Prints

Walk to Work Prints

Walk to Work Prints