I have discovered there is one thing in life I just don't seem to be able to get enough of. -It is color. From the time I had my 48-pack of Crayolas, blending and contrasting colors has always been a part of my life.
In the sixties and seventies, bold combinations such as purple and orange together was hard for clothing designers to grasp, but hippie and Afro-American kids made it mainstream. Bedrooms around the country were released from their white walls as parents and landlords gasped. Now, forty plus years later, bold is still beautiful but subtle is equally appreciated.
Nature is of course the master of color. It knows no boundaries in coloring gardens, sky, animals, even soil. Variations are virtually endless. Take green; how many different shades of green do you recognize just glancing out the car window? I am convinced that even the most accomplished artist would never be able to duplicate the subtle differences of green.
Being hooked on color, grounded in gardening and comforted by stitching, I have always been interested in dye plants. I knew of a few basics-indigo makes blue dyes, onion skins and tea bags make browns; yet my curiosity continued to grow as I ventured toward counted cross-stitch.
Sucked in by the beautiful patterns, I purchased a few patterns while shopping with my sister Sunny in Austin. As I finished a quilt I thought about the upcoming projects, designing and redesigning them in my mind.
The first thing I considered was the color of the aida cloth, the finely woven backing on which the design is stitched. White or cream would be fine for some projects, but using plants to dye the cloth before stitching was part of my vision for my first piece.
I started steeping little swatches of cloth with different flavored teas, tried some tomato skins and blackberries off my vine. The colors were intriguing. I sent off for a book, A Dyer's Garden, recognizing more plants to test in the saucepan.
I learned of a thing called "mordant" that helps set the die in the fiber. Different mordants yield different variations on the color. One mordant, alum, was in my spice cabinet for pickling. I experimented some more.
I thought of what plants stain-tomato juice; purple petunias stain my fingers when deadheading. Oh the endless possibilities of color! I finally settled on a pale green and gathered Dallis and Crab grass with my kitchen shears.
Two things I have learned. First, if a saucepan full of grass dyes a 2" swatch a certain shade of green, a WHOLE LOT MORE crabgrass is needed for a 12x18" piece of aida cloth. Second, once the cloth is dyed it is hard to get it to take more, ie: you can't darken the green by re-steeping.
I settled for a paler hue and started choosing shades of thread. Sister Sunny doesn't understand why I needed to dye the cloth and re-design the pattern on my first venture into cross-stitch. I didn't either, but I was happy with the results.
As a bonus, I started a swatch card with colors identified by the plant...purple petunias, wild coreopsis, fennel, blackberry. I am as excited about my colorful swatch card as I am about the stitching project. Next try is hardy hibiscus flowers and pecan shells.