natural dyeing


In the four years I’ve called Community First! Village home, I haven’t had much room for sewing or weaving. However, I’ve had access to abundant outdoor space, and so while my farmer-husband has handled growing our vegetables, I’ve cultivated several experimental textile crops: first cotton, and then dye plants. Two years ago, I received seeds for Guatemalan indigo and madder from local dyer Deb McCormick, and I planted them in my plot.

Through the upheaval of the last year—starting a farm, arrival of our firstborn, et much cetera—I’ve sorely neglected my “Dye and Fiber” garden. However, the indigo and madder have endured. I’ve harvested leaves and seeds from my indigo plants twice, but I’ve left the madder undisturbed, wanting to give the roots as much time as possible to grow.

However, at long last we are moving in order to re-launch our farm with a renewed focus on ministry (more of that story here and here). We’ve signed a lease, and I’ve begun filling my workroom with boxes. In other words, it’s time to harvest the madder.

I harvested the roots a few weeks ago, on a hot-but-sweet August day. I parked the baby in her stroller, pulled down her mosquito net, and spent the next hour and a half delving for my roots. The madder vines had tangled all over the garden, and so I first had to trace the vines to their roots. Then I began to clear away the dirt, trying not to hack through the roots as I cleared the soil around them.

It was hard work, but the reward was sweet. I felt like a miner or treasure-seeker, and the roots were brilliant red and orange against the black soil. I was able to pull up several enormous “hubs” of roots, thick and twisted and full of color. Although I had planted the madder in a raised bed, many of the roots had reached the bottom of the bed and pierced the landscape fabric, delving into the thick clay beneath. Although I longed to extract every inch, I had to break off many of these because the ground simply would not yield them up.

I’ll post a more technical account of his harvest once I have a chance to actually dye with my roots, but for now I’m pondering the parables I unearthed with these ruby roots: that the gardens we neglect still bear good gifts for us. That uprooting is always toil, but that these clay-caked roots we carry bring hopes for the next ground we call home.

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