Category Archives: dyers greenweed

The traditional dye plant for yellow on acid soils

Seeds of Colour

seedlings 4

Japanese Indigo seedlings on our windowsill

So far this month the weather here is how I remember April from childhood: sun and showers and no extremes of heat or cold. And I’m feeling enthusiastic about the growing season ahead.

We’re now well into the annual cycle of seed propagation. The windowsill in our front room has trays of Dyer’s Chamomile, Dyer’s Coreopsis, Japanese Indigo and a bee-friendly Dahlia. With the exception of the Dahlia, all these seeds are saved from previous years.

Japanese indigo needs a slightly longer growing season than our climate can offer. So we start seeds off in heated trays on our sunniest windowsill in late February or March. A home-made rig provides extra light for the plants during gloomy weather. From here, they move on to a cold frame in the back garden or the unheated greenhouse. We won’t plant the Japanese Indigo out until all risk of frost is past.

Dye plant seedlings indoors

Dye plant seedlings indoors

Cold Frame near the house

Cold Frame near the house

In case you’re curious, we collect Woad seeds in early summer to prevent them spreading everywhere and sow direct into the soil the following autumn or spring. Weld (biennial) and Dyer’s Greenweed (perennial) are reliable self-seeders and not invasive, so we let these grow where they will and don’t usually bother planting them up in seed trays.

These last two photographs show the end of one cycle of indigo and the start of the next. I was amazed at the beautiful patterns in the mould on top of a forgotten Japanese indigo vat. For a plant dyer at least, there’s no happier sight than trays of lush green Japanese Indigo seedlings!

Patterns of mould growth on a forgotten indigo dyebath

Patterns of mould growth on a forgotten indigo dyebath

A good germination rate. A dyer's delight!

A good germination rate. A dyer’s delight!

Breathe Yellow

TG breathe yellow medium

I have experimented with something called ‘Colour Play’ developed by Vanessa Volpe from Northampton. This is a healing therapy akin to psychodrama, but using colours rather than words to communicate. Vanessa understands how colours resonate with different aspects of our personalities. When facing fear of the unknown it’s a good idea to imagine breathing yellow into your lungs and body to infuse you with confidence. Anish Kapoor has said that when your visual field is full of pure yellow something very special happens. He dislikes spelling out experiences for the viewer, but he is on record saying that yellow is the ‘passionate’ part of red, whereas blue is the ‘godly’ part.   Goethe, on the other hand, described yellow as serene, gay, softly exciting and gladdening. I was certainly gladdened the other day when I obtained these beautiful yellows on silk, linen and cotton. I had been feeling rather overwhelmed by all the preparation work I still needed to do for my display in the student gallery at the Festival of Quilts. A morning out with the dyepots ‘breathing yellow’ lifted my spirits.