Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ironwood ~ Natural Dyeing

When one of the members of the Telaraña Weavers and Spinners Guild asked if anyone would like some Ironwood for dyeing, I said "Sure". Then I Googled Ironwood. I assumed it was a tree, but that was about all I could come up with on my own. Also, I have no real experience dyeing with raw ingredients like this. I've worked with fiber reactive and acid reactive dyes and I've brewed a lot of tea, but that's about it.

So here I sit in front of my computer, with an Ironwood concoction simmering on my stove downstairs. I'm a learn by doing sort, so I didn't research to find a dyeing process. I think my instincts are pretty good and I like putting them to the test.

Varieties of Ironwood can be found around the world and it is endemic to the Sonoran Desert. It is referred to as a "nurse plant" and is one of the biggest (anywhere from 15 to 30 feet tall) and longest living trees in the desert. While the wood is too hard for animals to burrow into, the falling of their leaves provides a healthier soil for other plants, like cactus, to grow. Small animals can make their homes in the plants shaded and nourished by the Ironwood. The great canopy of the tree becomes home to a variety of birds, insects and lizards.

Desert Ironwoods are a member of the pea family. The shape of their flowers and leaves resemble the Sweetpea and their seeds provide another source of food for desert wildlife. The actual wood of the tree is among the hardest woods known. In Mexico, the Ironwood has become known as the "Axe Breaker". The wood is so dense it will sink in water. It must have been and industrial strength food mill that ground it up so fine as you can see in my photograph.

So back to my dyeing process. Right now I am simmering 2 cups of the Ironwood in 12 cups of water. It has been shaved so fine, that I think if I heat it long enough, the wood will break down into more of a pulp or thick liquid. This will intensify the color I am able to achieve and also make straining my dye water easier. Because I have no deep knowledge of the plant, I am covering my nose and mouth as I work with the Ironwood. It may be perfectly harmless, but better safe than sorry.

Once I have some fiber dyed, I'll be back to share my results.

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