Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sumac Dye, Part 1

Today I began an adventure that I've been waiting to start since about mid-winter when the idea popped into my brain. You see... we have an abundance of natural dyestuffs growing all around us & simply don't use it because we either A: don't know about it, B: don't want to take the time/effort/energy to do anything about it... then there's always C: don't wanna.

I wanna, so I am.

After combing the internet & bookshelves for info on this stuff, I found that sumac is a decent dye material. Not perfect in color or fastness, but it has a wide range of colors & it's not like I have a shortage of available materials... that stuff IS a weed around here.

Sooo... I grabbed meself a little axe & hacked down some weed-trees. The barn is a bit easier to get into & I have some raw materials.
Of course, I had help...
For those of you who don't know, this is Clyde; a Cool Cat. He helped me chop trees down, strip leaves & made sure all the leaves went in the right box.

At this stage (June, new buds, fully leafed out), sumac has a main trunk with a couple branches & suckers with leaves. So I've read, it's the right time to harvest leaves & inner bark. Leaves can be harvested any time after they are fully grown, but the inner bark is soft now. Berries can be harvested after they are ripe.

I pulled the suckers off the main branches & stripped them of leaves, leaving the leaf-stems intact. This is fairly easy as the leaf stems are on alternating sides. Holding the branch upside down & doing a "spin & pluck" motion, it took me about 30 minutes to reduce the pile into leaves, trunk/branches & suckers.

Please note: I made a serious miscalculation of leaf-mass to box-volume.
PS... Clyde helped.

Now, very important, when Humans are stripping branches from trees for inexplicable reasons, Kitties must lay on their feet to make sure the Humans don't topple themselves as they are precarious, top-heavy creatures anyway (always tripping over things - like Clyde).

OK, so the pile is now reduced to 3 things: leaves, suckers & branches... and Clyde.
That's still only 3 because Clyde counts as one - always.

The main issue was finding a spot to dry the leaves. It takes up quite a bit of space & I didn't want a place where birds would mess things up. I settled on Punky's house (sad), and spread the leaves out on a canvas tarp to dry. I set the suckers upright in a few buckets to dry in case I find that they can be used as well... no harm in tossing them out later.

I will have to toss the leaves around every day until they are completely dry or risk mold. I should have some drying racks if I were doing this "properly," or I could have bundled the stems & hung them (from what?), but this seemed like a good solution for now.

Leaves will dye several colors, brown, yellow & gray depending on fabric & mordants.

The next step in this adventure, the one I'm really after was skinning the branches for their inner bark. It's the bright green inner bark (Phloem) that we are after and it's fairly easy to get if you have a shady spot & help from Sweetie Pie.

I will admit that the sources weren't clear if I was supposed to take the Cambium too, so I did. It'll either be filler, or useful.

This dyes a bright yellow or a yellow-green.

2 different ways of doing this: stripping the bark with your fingernails, or using a knife. I found that I preferred to use my nails. Stripping from the top down worked best, as did removing the brown outer bark. When I removed it from top-down, it didn't take the green bits with it.

I'm not sure it's necessary to strip the outer bark, but all the info I found said the green inner bark is what is used. As it separated relatively easily, I figured I'd leave the brown bits off.

They are now compost.

NOTE: the Pith or most inner bark at the center of the tree also yields a bright yellow dye. Had I known this, I'd have split the sticks open. Alas.

After 3 trees & a huge pile of sticks this is what I'm left with, 1/3 of which is in the dehydrator right now... the rest will have to be laid out on newspapers for the night.

It took about 4 days of the inner bark being laid out on paper for it to dry. Fortunately we had nice, dry weather for those days. If the humidity had been up it would have taken longer.

The sumac leaves are completely dry. They may have been dry for a while, but I've had my hands full with other things & I figured they weren't going anywhere.

Easiest way to strip the leaves was to get a plastic grocery bag, set it open on the ground and one leaf at a time.
Holding the main vein I pulled it through my fingers & the leaves came off nice as you please. I was limited to one grocery bag because the dry bits are sharp! (also, the bird who built her nest in the building was having a fit that she couldn't get to her babies. Prettiest nest I've ever seen, she used the sumac berries & stalk bits to build it.)

Back inside (100 in the shade today), I crushed the leaves & put them in a gallon bag. 1 grocery sack = 1 gallon in the end.
I put 2 handfuls of leaves in the bowl, crushed with a glass first & then ripped & crushed by hand. The leaves were rather silky & crushed easily. No splinters.
I did not powder the leaves because I figure that whoever is doing the final dying can handle that.

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