My vacation time really became a mini immersion course, dyeing and simmering and reading... I poured over Van Stralen’s “Indigo, Madder and Marigold” and devoured Gladys Reichard’s “Spider Woman”.
Reichard was an anthropologist who went to live with the Navajo for four summers during the early 1930’s. She was studying language, family structure, religion and symbolism and did that by apprenticing herself to a family as a student of weaving.
“I was interested in crafts and decided that learning to weave would be a way of developing the trust of the women, as well as of learning to weave and to speak the language. By this attempt I would put myself under the family aegis; my work would at first deal primarily with women, and I could observe the daily round as a participant, rather than a mere onlooker.” P.xii, introduction to “Spider Woman”.
The Navajo don’t have a word for teach – they show- and Reichard surprised the woman with her willingness to learn. I love Reichard’s descriptions of the Southwestern sky- often comparing the clouds to tufts of wool. I love the glimpses into ordinary activities- like the winding of a ball of yarn-the women wrap the wool in just two directions not around and around like we do. Reichard is always struck with the calm, efficient and practical way the Navajo approach their work.
“ We have nothing further to do but wait, and as we sit in the pleasant sunshine and watch I am once more overcome with the casualness of it all. I have at home repeatedly tried dyeing; I have always tried to follow written instructions to the letter; I have invariably achieved only streaked results. Marie has here done only the most essential things. The wool has not been washed; I am soon to find it will not be rinsed- the dying suffices for cleaning and coloring. Verily Navajo ways are not our ways. Occasionally Marie stirs the yarn and lifts it to test the color. Too light, not even, she lets it boil longer.” P. 54 “Spider Woman”
Vacation is over but I plan to continue my exploration of natural dyeing and of Navajo rug making. I’ve already sent off for a book that my friend Katie recommended...
and ordered Reichard’s book “Weaving a Navajo Blanket.” I am also looking forward to getting a hold of-
because I’m finding the historical significance of dyeing so interesting.
And someday- because I think it’s fun to dream big- I’d like to do this.
“Most of the women have refinements of their own as well as their secrets, but the essentials are the same. Most weeds yield yellow, and wevers use the kinds nearest home.” P 273 “Spider Woman”
Photo by my sister Nancy
Inspired by Reichard’s word’s and remembering that I had read that you could dye with Queen Anne’s Lace , and knowing we have A LOT of Queen’s Ann’s Lace out back- I decided to give it a go.
Though many people consider it a weed, Queen Ann’s Lace really is quite pretty when you take time to look at it . I have to admit that I had never noticed how the opening flowers resemble a nest.
All that was necessary was about a half bucket full of flower heads. Then I covered them with water and let them sit overnight. The next day I simmered the flowers and water for an hour, then let the mixture cool a bit before straining the bath through some muslin into another bucket. I then added my dye bath to a large pan, added alum mordanted wool and simmered it for an hour.
There was really no discernable fragrance with any of the other dyestuffs I used from my kit.The Queen Anne's Lace was different.
The fragrance as the dye bath simmered is difficult to describe- it smelled something like what honey tastes like- a sweet and flowery fragrance- I can’t say I’ve smelled anything like it before- now even after washing the yarn has retained a little of that fragrance.
I’m in love with this color – it’s yellow – but it’s not- not really chartreuse- I wish I could show it to you in person- so you could see it… and smell it.
“Rare pleasure and many surprises are in store for one who has the opportunity of trying the natural dyes. If I were a Navajo woman, I think I should make my blankets of the store dyes as most of them do. But on the days when my imagination soared I should try the various brews generally but rarely tried; and on the days when my ambition was at it’s peak I should try out all the plants in my territory adding this and that as occasion should suggest. Just as weaving suggests new patterns so dyeing suggests new formulas.” P. 37 “Weaving a Navajo Blanket”
I learned so much last week- but there is still so much to learn. I am hopelessly obsessed with natural dying now- so much so that taking a walk on the trail near here- my eyes dart from thing to thing- and I’m asking myself- “Could I dye with that- what color do you think that would make?”….