Tag Archives: Madder root

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.

Madder Solar Run #1 Recap

21 May

For a first run at madder solar color things were not bad….I got the orange and reddish oranges but no deep red.  But the good news is there is more madder to experiment with.  Let me be clear, I am very happy with the range I got from my skeins in the first round.  There was a disappointment.  Although I had flame tested a fiber, it tricked me into thinking it was silk.  I used this yarn in the first pull of color expecting glorious deep color, the wet skeins promised it.  The earlier madder harvest & prep journey is posted here.


But after rinsing and drying the color was much paler than expected.  Both the 3 year and 6 year first solar dye pull yielded exactly the same pale color.  Beautiful, but not what the pot promised.


I think the substrate I thought was silk was really rayon.  Why?  Remember that I had set aside the first soak/rinse water that had the tannins from the bark in it?  Frugal dyer that I am, I had the same substrate skein set aside that was a Hopi Sunflower color fail.  In other words, the seeds were so old, my dye skein appeared a faint beige.  So it begged to be over dyed.  What better candidate for over dyeing?  Below left is what tannin yielded.  It is the left hand skein in the photo below….deeper and more vibrant color.  The rayon (cellulose fiber) used the tannin in the roots and the seeds as a mordant that allowed it to grab more color.  Sigh, I am going to set aside all the prepped skeins that I MORDANTED with alum sulfate and redo them with alum acetate in order to get the color to strike the rayon.  OR alternatively, I can just hold on to these skeins and use them for indigo and persimmon dips, those substative dyes know no substrate boundaries.


Well, the dye pot still had exhaust in it and I still had the roots at hand.  So I combined the roots and simmered them again on a heat source (skipping the solar part) and put in some KNOWN wool to see what color would yield.  The wool gave hope that color was still available for use and that future pots promised a better future.  The tiny skein below the wool was a sample skein that I mordanted again to check I had not perhaps forgotten to mordant the skeins.  It rode alongside the wool in the depot.  Nope, color still would not strike.  Rayon, Deb, accept it!


Since I had two healthy exhaust pots left after this run I looked around for some likely candidates for over dyeing since my prepped silk skeins were impostors.  I had some small silk skeins of different dyestuff that begged to be over dyed.

If I were a perfect dyer photographer the labels would read clearly.  But in summary I over dyed a series of tannin based beiges.  Sorry,  in no particular order these skeins were Lichen pulled with DNA, Water soaked oak gall, Lichen pulled with soda ash, green persimmon, lichen extracted with ammonia, Oak bark in water soak, and acorn exhaust.  All of these combined will make a great drall scarf.  I have plenty of color choices to combine.

So, in summary, the color extracted beautifully from the roots in the solar dye.  The next round will be a heat pull to compare the 3 and 6 year roots.  At this point the colors I got between the 3 year and 6 year madder root were not that different but because of the substrate snafu, I am holding judgement until I complete another color run.


Prepping  indigo seeds while madder silk soaks

8 Apr

While the silk sun soaks in the 6 year madder root I am prepping my indigo seedings.  

One fends off crickets and raccoons early on in the season with seedlings so I am trying a safe start on Harley’s sun porch. We’ll see how that works out. 

I am prepping indigofera suffruticosa seeds, second generation from Donna Hardy’s South Carolina seeds. 


Some of the plants left out in the terrace garden to overwinter are even putting out new growth. I have hopes that if they are protected from the north winter winds I can get them do their perennial thing.



In addition, I am prepping Japanese Indigo or polygonum tinctorium seeds. These come from John Marshall and I am grateful to have them. I had total crop failure last year due to an irrigation dripline failing me mid-season in May. Due to family illness & death I could not save the plants so I’ll start a new seedbank this year. Not to mention a blue color source. John had written a nice indigo overview about the different indigo sprcies here:


And for guilds, he has written a nice guild to dyeing with Japanese Indigo, info here….


I’ll finish with a intriguing yucca madder test piece. As I “walk” my cat here in the Texas Hill Country I’ve been scraping yucca to see if it can be separated for thread.  I had a piece handy and tossed it into a madder exhaust bath and it picked up the color beautifully….


Not sure what direction this will go but it is percolating…. 

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!


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