Growing Color: A Symposium and a Lifestyle

We are about to have our first killing frost here in western North Carolina and it’s time to collect seeds. This morning I watched a squirrel cross the road with an enormous black walnut in his mouth. There are plenty of black walnuts in the freezer. I’ve collected seeds from my French marigolds. I’m not sure of the tagetes variety but the seeds were brought back 8 years ago from Couleur Garance in Lauris, France and the plants grow taller (about 1 meter tall) than our garden shop variety. They produce plenty of flowers that are easy to harvest and dry.

My Japanese indigo (Polygonum tinctorium) is blooming so next year I’ll have my own seeds to plant. We had an unusually dry summer here and the seeds on the madder plants didn’t mature but usually I would be collecting those as well. I’ve been collecting and drying staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) leaves as a great source of tannin.

The tiny weld (Reseda luteola) seedlings in the garden will turn into a valuable crop of dye next summer. Each year I harvest about 5 pounds of dried weld from a 4’ x 8’ bed.

As I prepare my own garden for the winter, the North Carolina Arboretum is preparing the first Growing Color Symposium, November 5,  2016. The event was conceived with the idea of dyers and farmers collaborating to grow plants that produce color.

Anne de la Sayette , of France, is our keynote speaker. I met Anne when she and Dominique Cardon were co-chairs of the ISEND Natural Dye Symposium, La Rochelle, France in April 2011. Anne created and led the Regional Center for Innovation and Technology Transfer in Horticulture (CRITT) where she initiated and managed a 15-year innovative project on natural dyes. We are very excited to have her here.

Sara Bellows is another of our speakers. She founded Stony Creek Colors in Tennessee She is raising and processing indigo right here in the United States. We are all anxious to hear more about this project.

There will be other speakers and displays. Come and join us if you can. We hope this is only the beginning of a long conversation about growing color here in the mountains of North Carolina and beyond.

12 thoughts on “Growing Color: A Symposium and a Lifestyle

  1. Hi Catharine, Can I still harvest the staghorn sumac leaves for tannin if they have already changed color? How much do you use per pound of cloth?
    Cheers,
    Tricia

    1. A tannin is not a mordant but an assist to the mordant process. The mordants are all minerals, such as alum, ferrous, or tin. Tannin an important step when mordanting cellulose fiber. The colorless tannin of the sumac attaches to the fiber so that the mordant can precipitate on the fiber. The tannin can also be used with mordant dyed to improve lightfastness.

  2. Catharine, when you freeze black walnuts, do you freeze the whole walnut or just the green outer husk? Thank you.

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