FIBERARY 2018 GROWING WELD FOR DYEING BY MICHELLE PARRISH

 

FIBERARY 2018

Growing Weld for Dyeing by Michelle Parrish

 

If you are a gardener who is interested in dyeing with plants, there are many interesting dye plants that you can grow in your garden. Weld (Reseda luteola) is one of them. It is originally a Eurasian plant, and its use dates back to antiquity. It has not naturalized here in New England, unlike so many other Eurasian plants. So, if you want to use it, you have to grow it yourself or buy it from a natural dye supply company. It is relatively expensive to buy, but it’s very easy to grow, so I encourage you to grow your own. Weld produces a very lightfast source of yellow, thanks to the luteolin that is present in all the above-ground parts of the plant.

 

To grow weld, I find that it is difficult to direct-sow. The seeds are incredibly small, and need to be kept consistently mois while germinating. I usually start the seeds in small pots and transplant them when they’re big enough.

The plant has a taproot, so transplant carefully. Weld prefers alkaline soil, and you can add chalk or lime to your bed if your soil is acidic. I am fairly certain that only the black seeds are viable, but it is hard to to separate the green and tan seeds efficiently, so I just plant a pinch of mixed seed and thin the seedlings if necessary. Wherever you put it in your garden, be sure to leave space for much larger plants in the second year.

Weld is a biennial, which means that its lifecycle takes two years. In the first year, the plant grows low to the ground in a round clump or rosette.

Second year spring

The leaves are long and thin with wavy edges. You can use the leaves in the first year by cutting them close to the center of the plant. The quantity of plant material that you can gather in the first year is relatively small, though, so I usually wait until the second year to harvest weld. In its second year, weld sends up a tall woody stalk that can get as high as 5 feet. It produces tons of tiny creamy-colored flowers that are attractive to bees and other insects. It is easy to save your own seed, though cleaning it can be a chore. Some dyers find that letting the plants go to seed produces an unwanted abundance of volunteer weld seedlings. In my experience, I get at most one or two volunteers a year, which is manageable.

 

To harvest weld, cut down the entire stalk in full bloom.

If you are saving seed, wait until you can see dark colored seeds at the lowest part of the flowering stalk before harvesting. The flower stalks keep adding new flowers at the tip, while the seeds mature at the base. You can use weld fresh, or dry it for future use. I hang it upside down from a laundry-drying rack to dry. In some years, I have noticed a strong smell as the weld dries. It is not to everyone’s liking, so be prepared to dry it with ventilation or move your drying set-up if the smell becomes objectionable.

 

Once it’s dry, chop up the plant material to reduce the bulk, and store it in a dry location until you are ready to use it. I usually put dried weld in a paper bag to absorb any condensation when there are temperature fluctuations, and seal that inside a plastic bag. It also keeps well in a cardboard box.

 

To read about my seed saving and germination experiments, please visit my blog Local Color Dyes.

Michelle is an accomplished Spinner, Natural Dyer and a grower of Flax.  Stay tuned for the second part of this wonderful dye series on Weld   Continue reading

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FIBERuary

FIBERuary Day 3

Today, Michelle Parrish grower of flax here in Western Massachusetts and dyer and weaver is writing about her adventures.

Michelle Parrish is a weaver, natural dyer, and spinner, who has been growing flax for over ten years. She is a member of the New England Flax and Linen Study Group, and an organizer of the upcoming symposium Flax and Linen: Following the Thread From Past to Present.

On February 28th at Sheep and Shawl in Deerfield from 1-3, she will explain the steps involved in growing and processing flax, and share some of her research into different varieties of fiber flax.

 

Planting Flax In Western Massachusetts

Flax is the plant that linen comes from. The Latin name, Linum usitatissimum, tells you it’s the “most useful” plant, and highlights how important flax has been for thousands of years as a source of fiber. The fiber has been used for yarn, thread, rope, fine and rough cloth, sails, and a multitude of other purposes.

Flax is a bast fiber, meaning that the fibers are found in the stalk of the plant. Growing flax isn’t too tricky, but getting the fiber out of the stalks is a long and complicated process. In agricultural communities before the Industrial Revolution, the knowledge of how to grow and process flax was commonplace. However, since this crop is no longer widely grown, knowledge is harder to come by.

I’ve been learning to grow and process flax for over ten years. I’m still learning, and every season brings as many questions as answers. Learning by trial and error is slow, so a few years ago I was thrilled to meet up with some other flax and linen enthusiasts, and form the New England Flax and Linen Study Group. I learned so much from the enthusiasm and support of this group. In our quest to learn more, we hatched the plan to organize a symposium, where we hoped to bring together as many knowledgeable people as possible to share experience and advice. The symposium will be Saturday and Sunday August 20-21, 2016 at Historic Deerfield, and is organized in collaboration with Historic Deerfield. We’re proud to say that registration is now open for this symposium! You can learn more about the symposium on our website (http://newenglandflaxandlinen.org/) and can register on Historic Deerfield’s website (http://www.historic-deerfield.org/event/seminars/flax-and-linen-following-thread-past-present/).

On this FIBERuary blog, I’d like to share some of the steps involved in growing and processing flax. Step one is getting seeds. If you want to plant flax this season, you should order your seed now. Flax is typically planted early in the spring, as soon as the ground has thawed but while it’s still wet. Usually around here you can plant in April, though this winter has been so mild we may be set for an earlier planting date this season. If you are growing flax for the fiber, rather than for edible seed, make sure you have bought a fiber flax variety such as Marilyn, Evelin, Viking, or Ariane. Two reliable sources for fiber flax seed are The Hermitage in Pennsylvania (http://flaxforsale.com/) and Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum’s Heirloom Seed Project (http://www.landisvalleymuseum.org/index.php/programs/heirloom-seed-project/).

You can read more about Michelle’s adventures in dyeing, weaving, flax and other fibers in her blog:  http://localcolordyes.com