Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Natural Plant Dye: Non Poisonous Sumac

Not all sumac is the bad stuff that gives a person a poison ivy like reaction (like this), the sumac pictured here was used by native americans to make plant dyes and even a citrus tasting drink akin to lemonaid. Red sumac, also known as Staghorn, grows all along the roads here and up on open hills- so I rode my bike about a mile from my house to gather some to make non toxic dye with! The highest goal I have for making organic paints and dye is for it to not be poisonous in any way whether chemical or natural (which is the only downfall for poke berries, ya can't eat 'um) - staghorn sumac is one that can even be ingested- so it gets the 5 star award for being totally eco friendly and safe!
I cut the berry clumps off with a knife (the stem is fairly soft but might be hard to break by hand), and I gathered them in a hemp bag. The sumac is self contained, it wasn't bursting open and staining anything along the way. It has a sugary looking substance coating the each little berry.
I put the sumac berries in a pot, with some salt and water. I brought it to a boil and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I think the more you mush them, the longer it cooks, the deeper a color that can be achieved- even though this most likely will never be as opaque & dark as poke berries or tumeric. As far as I could tell from the consistency it makes a better watery dye, then a paint, but I will keep you posted on that! I did a quick short experiment, just to see if the red-ish brown water would stain an undyed organic cotton shirt.
I was surprised how easy the color took to the fabric, mainly because it looked even darker in the shirt then it did in the pot. It will dry a shade lighter then when it's freshly wet, probably making this a peachy red, with brown overtones. I am impressed with how nice the color came out- but what's even better is the SMELL! This stuff smells yummy, and when it comes to making DIY dye that is a huge bonus! Toxic dyes smell like crap and are unhealthy to inhale, to have against our skin, and the throw down the drain. If someone wanted to try this as an organic paint, it might work best if painting on fabric instead of canvas or paper, using this in combo with other natural dye stains to achieve depth and variations in darkness to light.
Yay, for sumac... more plant dyes to come.
Please share your own natural dye experiments!!!


Lou Cheese said...

Sumac grows like crazy in rural Kansas. It's everywhere, just like hemp (a little known fact about Kansas). The farmers grew hemp to support the war effort during WWI and WWII, so the troops could have rope, twine, and whatever else the fibers goes into. And this isn't the genetically engineered THC-free industrial hemp of today, it was the real deal. And because it's a weed and the rural population has dwindled, it grows wild anywhere that isn't being farmed. I lived in town and it kept coming up in hard-to-mow areas by the fence or trees in my back yard. It even started growing in my mom's garden last year.

Don't know what the story is about sumac, tho.....

Gratuitous said...

During my residency as the Hostel in the Forest, I was proud to start the first annual Festival of the Blueberries. With 365 mature blueberry bush/trees, there were way too many to just consume or bake into pies. Many were traded for other veggies, many more went into frozen daquiris by the vat, cooked into preserves, and of course used to make dye for t-shirts and sarongs. But the best use? Recipe follows:

Take gallons and gallons and gallons of blueberries and dump them into the hot tub. Then get naked with other folks and squish all the plumpness between your toes (the berries, not the people (as much)). Fill with hot water. Float with a thousand gardenia petals. Smoke or eat mind-altering substances. Turn on the jets, and see how many nude squirming bodies you can get in there. Finally, traipse around the forest, adorned with fern tiaras and flower leis and laughing your ass off, all while smelling great and stained the true blue of nature.

Leslie @ the oko box said...

Mr.Cheese - That is wild about the hemp plant growing everywhere - how do the Po Po's ever know if you grew it on purpose or not? Big Sandy Mush was under the microscope a few weeks ago, surrounded by police and the low flying helicopter with the special heat vision glasses (or whatever it is they look through to find drugs)---> some farmers must be subsidizing in the bad economy. Hemp does make some awesome rope, the thicker it's woven the better though, the thin stuff doesnt do that great in lots of rainy weather.

Gratuitous -
You's a hippie? Dying with blueberries is a super good idea, I wish we were growing them here! Know anyone nearby with an overflow? I don't know about ya hot tub blueberry orgy though- that sounds like someone had a crush on smurfette and had to live it out. :)

Gratuitous said...

Get thee hence to the Parkway! If it's not too late already, you'll find many hundreds or thousands of blueberry bushes. I recommend mile marker 420 (just coincidence, as far as I know) or thereabouts. Bring large baskets.

Leslie @ the oko box said...

Get thee a donkey, so I can get there! lol ... hmmm, must go google map that, can ya google map a mile marker?

Gratuitous said...

How will me getting a donkey get you there? As far as I know, they're not exactly 2-seaters, even if one of them is tiny you.

I remember visiting a beautiful little mountain town called Naolinco in the Chiapas region of Mexico, when an old man walked by with a burro in tow. I asked him if he knew where I could rent one for the day, and he said he'd sell me that very one. I asked him how much? "70 pesos." Since I wasn't staying, I didn't buy it. 70 pesos back than was about US $8.00! Ever think we're living in the wrong country?

I dig the google. But jeez, just get on the road and watch the mile markers go up or down! It'll take you about 20 minutes by car. 6 weeks by burro. 4 weeks if you find the only non-stubborn one in the world.

Leslie @ the oko box said...

What? I guess I am not up on my 18th century grammar! lol ;)

That's one cheap donkey- maybe I do live in the wrong place?! But alas, I can not travel by car, for art thou shoobedoo shakazulu (18th century stuff) I have the plight of being possessed by the seizure devils and am exiled from taking the rides in the car.
Hence the longing for a donkey... and curiosity of the mile marker.

Gratuitous said...

I get it now. But why a donkey? Isn't it to a horse like a scooter is to a car? Small and annoyingly slow, but you don't dare complain because it's better for the earth?

I spent some time looking into the mile marker thing, and was baffled and peeved to find out why they don't really exist on maps. The only interesting thing I learned was the term comes from "milestone," which was just that, and there was all the map you needed, and it was a fine symbol of accomplishment in a time when everything moved slower.

It's 37 miles southwest of Asheville, the berries and the waterfalls. So you just stay where you are, little sylvan elf. And move slowly, and become of the earth, and never again try to watch it race past you through the window of a car like the 20 minutes of commercials shown in the 60 minutes of a TV show. And do not show yourself in our world, for you might cause some of us a brief moment of shame at what we've become.

Leslie @ the oko box said...

So glad you asked Why a donkey!?

Donkeys are not always stubborn, but rather they do not react spastic-ly like horses - they are very intelligent and like to think things over. The reason they have gotten a bad rep at being moody is because they are VERY prone to react to however the owner is mistreating the animal - even if you are a new owner and being nice a donkey never ever forgets what happened before and will react accordingly. But once you have won their trust they have the mind of a dog and will be loyal and protect your very life from any harm. They will smash a coyote to death if it was to threaten you or your other animals. Donkeys have retained their natural instincts unlike most over bred horses.
Some personal things are donkeys are Just my size! my elf sized self would like a riding animal more my physical size and compatibility. Also a major thing I love about donkeys is they don't need to be fed grains or gluten hay - they actually get fat and sick if you feed them grains- since I have have an autoimmune disease which reacts to gluten, I need an animal which i can feed safely.....
AND donkeys DO go slow, and that is just about the speed I would like to go. :)
PS- i don't think the world should be shamed cause i have seizures and can't drive - you best believe i'd take a ride to the blueberries if i could. It's the modern Catch 22, the car that is.

Mokihana and Pete said...

From DIY dye to "So glad you asked why a donkey" this is a good long thread of a story and I love that you have done your very, very thorough homework so you know all about JUJUBEAN (be?) The loyalty thing is such a beam. Since your donkey will be carrying precious cargo makes sense you ought to know that he will be your protector should you need it. Alright, Leslie.

Leslie wears organic clothing and plays in dirt said...

:) Thanks Mokihana. For donkeys... YAY, and for DIY dyes, I hope we can find something safe so people with chem sensitivities can safely wear more colors... (you know how alot of people can't even withstand the low impact dyes.)

Mokihana and Pete said...

Leslie, you might enjoy cking India Flint's blog out for dye ideas. She does some beautiful things with a lot of know-how:


xxoo Mokihana

Leslie wears organic clothing and plays in dirt said...

OH Thanks Mokihana!!! I love finding out anything i can for natural dyes!

Liberty said...

a few new-to-me sources for natural dyes were mentioned here when I was researching pineapple fiber fabric... I just found out about it and it sounds cool!


Liberty said...

a more comprehensive link in case you are curious about pina fiber :)


Leslie wears organic clothing and plays in dirt said...

OH wow Liberty! I have heard of banana fiber before (and i like it) but never pineapple fiber- going to check out your links now!


anna said...

Thank you for posting this! Great information. I too, have been experimenting with natural dyes and just so happened to come across your blog after finding some sumac in an abandoned lot today.. Excited to experiment.