Lessons from the Dye House 2: Dog Milk and Rape

I’m going to start with the good news and continue with even better news! Bucharest Metropolitan Library has made a scanned book dated 1914 by Tudor Pamfilie and Mihai Lupescu called “Colors of the Romanian People” (Cromatica poporului roman) available on the Internet, from which we extract the thought:

“Nobody can deny that most of our spiritual treasures, our finest ethnic qualities have – in all areas – have at first been discredited, then left behind and after that forgotten.”
The causes of the abandonment of tradition plant dyeing processes have been discussed since 1914. The main cause was the introduction of  chemical dyes in the form of powder: easy to use, covering a wide range  of intense colors. These modern dyes quickly spread through villages,  tempting and promising a permanent availability, gradually replacing the more difficult methods of collecting natural dyes which required time,  botanical expertise and knowledge of the natural cycles.
We find that with the disappearance of this plant dyeing craft also the disappearance of ‘boiangiţă women’ (plant dyeing women), this “wandering botanist”, a permanent feature of the plains and meadows, quick to recognise all the flowers in order to return home at the end of the day with cloth bag filled with flowers or roots

Smiling and thinking of this wandering way of life, I started looking on the banks of Someş to find May plants and I returned home after 3 hours, happy and with a bag full of rape, comfrey and dog milk. For future dates I spotted places where yarrow, horsetail and common elder are growing …

Today the story continues with two colourful and happy occurrences this week. Starting with a plant that I unjustly neglected until now, given the colourful benefits they can bring: dog milk. It is found in meadows and dry, sunny places with rocky soil.
DYEING WITH DOG MILK – Euphorbia cyparissias
Carefully collect and air only the stem, leaves and flowers of the plants as the sap in the roots is toxic and can cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes. I managed to gather 100 grams of Dog Milk, which I then chopped and soaked for 3 hours in a jar with 700 ml water.  I heated the contents of the jar in a pot, and when it reached boiling point I took out the plant debris. To the remaining solution I added 1 teaspoon of powdered alum  (potassium alum is found in herbal stores). I then put the raw wool  fabric into the dyeing bath and set it on a very, very low heat for  about 1 hour. When I removed the material and washed it, I finally got that long overdue color: YELLOW!
And if you have developed a taste for that sunshine color I am sure you  will like this recipe I have been using for textile dyeing: natural rape. This plant with yellow flowers is commonly found on roadsides and growing in large fields for harvesting.
DYEING WITH RAPE – Brassica rapa
To dye with rape you just need to pick the flowers. I collected 800 g of  rape flowers and laid them out to dry in a thin layer for 2 days. Then I soaked them for 3 hours in a pot with 2.5 liters of water, stirring  occasionally. I took a fireproof enameled pot and added 2 tablespoons of powdered alum (potassium alum) and boiled the solution for 15 minutes. I took out the plant debris, and added the raw wool into the dye  solution. I simmered it in the dye bath for 20 minutes, then took it off the heat and left the wool to cool in the solution.  I removed the wool and washed with warm water.
This natural wool dyeing recipe was translated and edited from De Dimineata, a blog by the Cluj based jewelery designer Diana Calin. She uses natural methods and antiqued metals to create embroidered felt necklace pendants, jewelery and accessories. To purchase her products, check out her online shop.

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