Monday, August 29, 2016

History and Humble Beginnings Part Two: Slater Mill

Once upon a time, fabric was made and dyed in Pawtucket, RI.  You can see some of the machines from the Industrial Revolution's birth at the Slater Mill on Main St. Now, URI Master Gardener volunteers have recreated gardens similar to those of that time, even using brick and stone from demolished buildings from the turn of last century to make the edges of raised beds and create stairways.  

Native sunflowers stand tall, visited by bees and birds. Kitchen garden crops popular at that time, like pat-a-pan squash, ripen.  In this hot, dry summer, the arugula has already gone to seed, but New Englanders would have saved those seeds for the following year.  Onions were also in this stage, but some fruit trees and gourds were just at their peak.  The garden also includes several medicinal plants common to the time, as well as the "fabric" plants: cotton and flax.

Not much further,  labeled plants are grown as a demonstration of their use in dyes: red ox blood beet roots, yellow tansy or goldenrod flowers, ochre onion skins, blue woad and false indigo...  A volunteer tells of her surprises using mordants like alum and vinegar.  The understated bronze fennel (the whole plant) will give a clear yellow with a little help from alum, but the bright, hot pink and orange petals of zinnia with give a soft beige or tan.  Sunflower petals may yield yellow or green.  Many of the plants require alum to bring out the full color, such as is used with (rose) madder to make reds.  With bloodroot, a native plant, no mordant will yield an orange color from the roots and adding alum will yield rust.  

All these plants must be harvested at the right time for the right parts.  I may have just missed making blue with my Russian sage, but I'm not going to miss making yellows with some native goldenrod and European tansy flowers!

Mallow, as in, marshmallow.

Native goldenrod.
Crested celosia, i.e. cockscomb.

Nasturtium: Edible flowers, leaves, buds, and seeds.
China aster.
Cotton seeds and fluff on right.

For ways you can try making dyes at home, for eggs or socks or tie-dye, try these sites:

I also like using purple cabbage to make blue.  More blue plant dyes here.  My first graders don't know this yet, but we will be making paint this year!

Ox blood beet, for red.

Calendula: Yellow dye and skin cream.
Teasal: Out of season.

Flax: Out of season.

Onion bulbs and seeds.
Love Lies Bleeding.  Amaranth seeds.
Lupines late in bloom and with seed pods.

Support for squash with sunflowers.

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