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3 year madder showing its colors!

31 Mar

About a week ago I put aside 2 batches of 3 year madder root (small & large) to “cold” soak in our 80 degree spring weather here in the Texas Hill Country. Actually the water heats to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I checked it not trusting stone/sun overheating potential! If you overheat madder root the red  breaks to a brown. Not desirable if one is trying for a red tone.

Yesterday I put 100 grms (3.5 oz) of silk in my batches.  Below is the result after 24 hours in the “cold” soak. 

  The one on the left below is the first & second wash water of the roots before pulverizing the root for the final soak.  As expected it pushes more to a muddy yellow orange.  This is my Hopi fail silk that needed another color. This will do!

 The next two below are the large & small roots which soaked in the sun for a week before I added the silk. There is no discernable difference at this point in color between the large or small root. I expect I won’t see any difference until they are rinsed and dried.

 These skeins go back into the dyepot and will hang out in the sun for a couple more days to see what depth of color I can achieve.  When fiber is wet it is usually a couple shades lighter when dried.  I won’t leave them too long as I don’t want to weaken the silk.

I expect the madder root to shake out easily as the skeins dry. This is one of the beauties of silk. I am curious if I will get any spotting, literature says no, but I am dubious.  Time will tell!

Prepping madder for cold dye

24 Mar

Well, prepping madder root for cold soak is sorta a misnomer in 80 degree Texas spring weather. But I’ll stick with a Tx cold soak.

I took 100 grams (3.5oz) each of my 3 year large root & 3 year small root madder vintages and soaked them in 4 cups of water in the sun yesterday and overnight. Result was softened roots with the dirt and skin loosened.

I strained off the first 4 cups of water, set it aside and cut the larger roots with scissors so they would not jam my blender.  Then into the blender with 4 more cups of water.

The first blend water was poured off again and reserved with the overnight soak water. You could see the dirt and skin that had loosened.

Into the blender one more time on high and the roots were pulverized for more soaking. Pouring off the soak water and the first blend water will, I hope, keep the brown accents out of my red.

The madder slurry was poured back into the holding jar with its water and set out to sun simmer again for a couple of sun days until I am ready to add my silk.

Now, you can bet after this effort that I cringed when I lost some of my dye stock on the floor by pouring too fast. Grrr, breath and go slow, the madder has already taken 6 years to grow. What is my hurry?

I repeated the process with another batch of my 3 year small root vintage and reserved the wash water again.

So now, the 3 &year small and large roots are solar heating for age color comparisons.  The wash pull is waiting for me to do something with it. Hmmmm, pull pigment or dye silk, choices exist.

note: edited 3/20 to reflect batches processed were 3 year large root and small root…100 Grams each!

Harvesting Madder Root In the Texas Hill Country (aka Texas Red)

2 Feb

imageHarley will assure you I grow madder root for his napping and bug hunting convenience. Despite his beliefs, I am experimenting with growing madder root as a crop with our alkaline soil and high PH well water. I don’t believe I will need to add calcium to this madder root to get to a deeper color. More on dye experiments later this month. This post is all about the digging and madder root prep.  I am making an assumption most folks don’t and won’t grow their own madder root and would enjoy living vicariously thru my harvest.

Why do I? Because I can and I hope it will be a decent cash crop.  You don’t grow madder for its beauty.  It is invasive, scraggly and very scratchy. The tiny yellow blooms and purple/black berries are pretty but small. The mockingbirds and pill bugs LOVE the madder berries!  It is a good rotation crop, if you can call every three years a timely garden rotation.  Once you get it established it takes very little water and just grows.

I had two madder beds to harvest, one three year and one six year bed.  I did take the trouble to keep the vintages separate so I could test the color yield on the two vintages.  The six year bed came about because of a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery which diminished my enthusiasm for heaving roots with a pitchfork.  Once I run some test dye baths we’ll see if  a six year vintage happens again or if a three year rotation will suffice.


To start the harvest I clipped off the green cover leaves and stalks. That leaf cover crop will give you a nice series of yellows and the leaf stalks will give you a light tangerine. You can plan out your bed harvest to take that portion of the crop to the dye pot and simmer your dye stock while you are digging the roots. I am sorry to say I just cut the leaves & stalks and put them out on the septic field for the deer to munch on. There are historical reports about livestock eating the madder root and developing red bones. I’m thinking some deer hunters around here will be scratching their head if they harvest any of our deer.  I had a lot of digging to do and a tight timeline and wanted to get to it, so…happy deer!


A garden friend and fellow weaver, Jeannette, came up from San Antonio to help me with my 2nd day of harvest. She wanted to see the plant first hand and learn more about the dye process. Her reward for her hard work was ample madder seed, fresh madder root and some commercial dried madder root for comparison for the dye pot. She went home with ideas for her own madder bed.  My back appreciated Jeannette’s help the 2nd day very much.

It was nice to have someone with which to celebrate the big root “finds”.


We dug, shook out dirt, washed and rinsed the madder harvest and set it out to dry.

If one is going to pull a big crop I can’t stress having enough tarps for sorting/rinsing and drying racks to manage the roots as you process the crop.




Above you can see the depth of color these tap roots hold! I think these will yield the deepest color.

Below is about two thirds of the crop laid out to dry.



After a couple of weeks of drying and the next spell of clear weather I stomped the crop to clear more dirt and clipped the roots apart. The size sorting within the vintages began at this point.  There are the root clumps, the “finger size or larger” madder root and the smaller roots within the 3 and 6 year vintages.  This crop continues to dry.


Once the moisture is reduced I’ll weigh the crop to see what the root yield is from this effort.

Next up is to pull some 3 & 6 year samples and see what colors I can coax out of the roots.

Below are colors from another earlier 3 year crop to give you a color comparison preview.  It will be fascinating to see what nature has in store for the roots when they meet the dye pot and silk.

Stay tuned!


Pulling color & dyestuff into an image

25 Jan

As we start 2015 I am creating collage photos of the dye plants and the finished product in one photo. Quite a composition challenge! Here is a start! Happy New Year to all!

This is a silk shawl donation for our public library here in Johnson City, Texas coming up in March. It is screen printed with an iron mordant and dipped in our Texas Persimmon.


And these are some large silk wraps dipped in my local native or garden grown dye stuff. Starting top left and working clockwise…..the source colors are Texas persimmon, Texas red madder root, Japanese indigo and teloschistes exilis, slender orange bush lichen.
These silk wraps will be heading to our local art gallery, Texcetera


Madder Red – Book Review from a grower’s point of view

7 Sep

John Marshall, a fabulous art teacher, introduced me to the book, Madder Red: A History of Luxury and Trade by Robert Chencier

I can’t afford a printed copy but I did find a digital copy. I do grow madder root here in the Hill Country. Possibly I am late to the party for this book but I am having great fun reading about madder cultivation in Russia, Eastern Europe, France & the lowlands and the economic turmoil surrounding it in the 1600, 1700 & 1800 leading up to the aniline dye market trump. I find it fascinating that it was grown in the local vineyards. Hmmm, perhaps our wine vintners need another long term cash crop.

It is still early in my reading so I haven’t hit the recipe section yet. If you grow madder see if you can find it via library loan. It is a decent read. I’ll report back if I glean any decent madder recipes but I am getting a great old world ag education in madder root cultivation and economics.

Two of my madder beds have hit 4 and 5 years old and I’ll be digging them up this fall. Can’t wait to see if I get the richer purple reds on silk from my older roots compared to the one year old red orange I got from an earlier harvest.



Interested in helping me dig? Let me know. I can trade madder seeds, lichen or madder shoots for labor. I’ll probably harvest in late October here in the Texas Hill Country.

I have lots of lichen, persimmon and weld dyeing to report on but have been sidetracked by hot temps, family matters & travel. And this book!

Part 3 Texas Madder Root

4 Aug

Let’s revisit the madder root.  The photo above shows the nice dark tomato red I got from the large madder roots.  The left two are from the big roots, the right two are from the smaller roots.  I can see why one should be patient and let the madder root grow for at least 3 years.  This crop was right at 3 years old.  I dug a 4 foot by 4 foot area and separated the roots.  I still have some madder exhaust on hand to use with some wool.

A nice contrast color for the persimmon, oak, acorn and weld yellows and browns.  Almost time to weave…..

Part 2 Texas Madder Root

30 Jun

Back in March I posted the “before” as I prepped to dig my madder root after 3 years of Texas sun and Texas well water (heavy on the limestone/calcium).  So here is the big dig photos.

I separated out the leaves, the large roots and the thin runner roots.  The leaves are soaking (yes, since March) and I plan to run a yellow dye path with them.  I dried the large roots and the thin runner roots and set them aside.  The shrinkage from drying was about 90%.  I’ll have to dig out my #’s but it was significant.  I let the roots dry thru the Texas spring heat from about March 27 to about April 18th.

I did my lazy dyer method with the smaller roots, which was minimal effort, and got a nice coral on my silk.  The roots went back into an Everclear alcohol soak to see if I could pull more color.  I still need to run the big roots but want to use my new silk.  AND of course, I haven’t mordanted that yet.  Always something to catch up on!


Texas Madder Red

27 Mar


Preparing to dig 3 year old madder root before I plant the indigo bed. The dye color “should” be intense since our water has high calcium (limestone) in it.

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