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Madder Root Harvest 2020

26 Mar

It’s been 5 years since I dug my madder root bed. It is time. With the self isolation in the world today one has time to dig. This is day 3 of my digging. Since my back surgury I have learned to pace myself. I thought I would record the dig/clean steps for others.

Equipment is pitch fork, shovel, buckets(lots of buckets), wheelbarrow and screens for washing and drying. Below you see my equipment and this morning’s harvest before cleaning.

After the fun of digging and wrestling with the irrigation equipment you deal with dirt before it becomes mud. I move the roots from my wheelbarrow to a bucket, shaking out the dirt and trimming the green tips away. Shaking out the dirt means less mud to deal with later down the line.

I have some garden frames and screens I repurpose every couple of years when I harvest. Below is my frame set up by my water source. I set the sun screen fabric on my garden frames and use it to keep my madder in place as I rinse more dirt off. The madder is moved to another bucket for a 2nd rinse. Of course, these rinse waters are put on meadow plants and other areas outside the irrigation system.

After getting rid of the muck I rinse a final time and start sorting and final trimming. I end up with 3 buckets of goods. The greens get dumped back into the madder garden. As I trim, I separate out the large roots from the younger, more immature roots. My plan is to run comparison baths to show the depth of shade in the young versus the older roots.

Finally, I put the sorted roots out to dry. It is important to dry the roots with good circulation so mold does not set in. I do cover this screen and the harvest with another screen to protect it from winds and nibblers.

Finally, I post this older photo to remind me and you why I grow & dig this root.

Take care & wash your hands! Deb Mc

Elder care vs Dyepot

17 Sep

So many things on deck but I have to wait to finish them. Mom fractured her hip last Thursday and I have definitely been redirected in my explorations & write up of results. But as I sit here in the elder care eddy of life I thought I’d post pictures of what is in the pipeline and will get written about.

My effort for black without iron gave me some promising directions…the skeins wait patiently.

My time poring thru John Marshall’s library gave me more info on pulling the yellows early from a madder root bath. The roots & rice are having a party in my absence in the sun. Note my drawstring color.

My experiments at John’s indigo explorations with dried Japanese indigo leaves, fructose and lime gave me the green blue one gets from blender indigo.

Finally my pull from the Indigofera Suffruticosa waits patiently. Hopefully it is separating as we wait.

I am remembering why drying indigo leaves was so attractive to me. I pick, dry and hold them for when I have time to play.

Off to mom stuff.

Winter Garden Chores

12 Jan

Temps here in Texas are just weird this season. Japanese Indigo seeds are sprouting early. Never have they sprouted in January.

Madder root are poking new shoots out rather than going dormant. Mid-January is just not the time for this dye plant behavior.

Being the weather opportunist I had Emerald Landscape local folks out to pull a large perennial flower bed which was past its prime, weed & layout a pad for an indigo pot work area. More to come on this pot install journey later.

After 10 years here our rosemary had gotten old and overgrown and needed to be pulled. Since John & I have also gotten older as well the day of garden muscle help was most welcome.

Since I did not have to wrestle rosemary bushes out of the ground I used this wet day to trim back madder root away from acanthus bushes and save the roots for dyeing. I hate to toss red roots. The gardeners think I am nuts.

Here are the roots after cleaning. I will let them dry for a couple of days and then cut them smaller for further drying.

The garden bed is now prepped for the 3 year root harvest. It has been 4 years since the last harvest. More to come on this harvest later. Where’s my pitchfork?

Sharing a Texas Winter Dye Garden

25 Feb

Today I hosted 3 UT Art Graduate students and showed them the winter dye garden. Even though all outside was frozen or dormant there was plenty of color in the studio to show them. It was a fun 3 hours of give and take and seeing the art world thru their eyes.

The indigo suffruticosa is cut back and dormant but the seed pods were beautiful.

The madder root bed was frozen back but we weeded and looked at the roots gleaming with color.

The Japanese Indigo beds lay fallow waiting for their early spring turning of the soil. Some frozen indigo leaves showed their true colors.

Dye Garden Storm casualties

24 Jul

Some walking wounded plants in the dye garden. We had a severe thunderstorm roll thru this afternoon. Fortunately no hail but wicked NW winds at about 40-50 mph. Hopefully the madder and Japanese indigo will raise their heads with the sun tomorrow. The indigo suffrucitosa did ok as it is sheltered from the winds. I Imagine I will be drying some Japanese indigo earlier than planned if the stems broke.

Madder root blow over, not bad grown for roots so just need to keep alive.

Sad Japanese Indigo, I hope it pulls thru as I don't have much.

Indigo Suffrucitosa still standing!

Madder root bed cleanup

28 Apr

The first qtr of 2016 has been an amazing wet season. Plants & weeds have been very happy. The madder root bed took an unauthorized leap into adjoining garden beds.

 I tore out the top green foliage and did some pitchfork work to move pesky roots that ran along the irrigation line.


I was doing my best to ignore the red root glimmers but I succumbed and took time to separate out the roots that showed dye potential.

I pulled out the pitchfork and dug deeper. Even though they are not 3 year roots, I suspect I’ll get a decent salmon out of the root yield.


Roots are drying now and the bed is now clear for my indigo seedlings. I will report on the color obtained on silk using the “young”  madder root.

Madder Exhaust Pigment Precipatation

11 Jun

Meanwhile, I am pulling pigment from my madder exhaust pots. Remember the solar dyeingUsing recipes in the book Natural Colorants for dyeing and lake pigments I am continuing to pull color out of the madder exhaust pot to store for future use.

Remember the soy milk painting on silk? Not exciting color from my lichen and weld on the left but the technique worked. The brighter color on the left yielded from Daniel Smith watercolor pigment.

This is why I am continuing to pull color. It’s all about using the color in my valley to create. One just has to be patient.

This particular formula used the dyestuff solution, potassium carbonate and potash alum. When dissolved and stirred into the exhaust in the proper order it pulls the dye molecules and drops out of the water.

    You then pour and then filter out the water and either store the extraction in wet or dry form. You can then circle back & reuse your color.

   This separation process takes a few days as you “wash” your precip and refilter it again. In my case I’ve used it to paint on silk scarves or on warps with soy milk. I’ve seen mention of other dyers using citric acid to use for immersion skein baths but I have not done so. And of course, painters reconstitute with linseed oil and other concoctions for painting. To each their own!

 Thanks to Glenna, Donna or Diane, one of you pointed me to this book to move further into the rabbit hole of storing pigment using this book and other class notes from Michael Garcia & Catherine Ellis. Truly a dye brain trust I am grateful to be able to access. One does tend to mutter over the dyepot and it is good to have company in the journey.

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