The boys helped me gather Lombardy Poplar catkins for only a few minutes at the local plant nursery before wandering off to find something else to do. R found a shady spot to put his nose back into The Adventures of Robin Hood and E picked out a 6 pack of violas to bring home. Here is where I found them, in the shade:
As we drove away, R still reading, he piped up and asked, "Mama, what color is 'Lincoln Green'?" Well, it isn't 'Lincoln Green', but this is the color that those catkins dyed a ball of Regia Silk sock yarn (a merino/silk blend) mordanted with alum:
I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't read about this in Natural Dyes from Northwest Plants, the very first natural dyeing book I purchased when I was living in the Seattle/Tacoma area. When I first read this book, I had no idea what a poplar tree was, let alone a Lombarday Poplar or what a catkin was. I had to refer to other books to find all that out. What I did know was that I somday wanted to get the "Jade Green" as the book stated it would, even if it also rated the fastness of this color as "Poor." In town last week, I noticed the purple catkins carpeting the bank parking lot next to a row of tall poplars. It would have been easy gathering there but it's FAR too public of a place for me to stoop and collect them there. People don't really need any more excuses to think I'm a little odd. ;) Instead, I found a more secluded spot at the plant nursery where I used to work, where one of my closest friends works now, and where one of the owners of the nursery is the high school art teacher and has done some natural dyeing herself, going so far as to bring dried hibiscus flowers back from a trip to Mexico for me to try using for dyeing.
I still can hardly believe it! Those purple catkins that made a deep brownish-purplish dyebath dyed that color green! So, I extracted even more color out of the catkins and added that in to strengthen the dyebath. The only problem was that I didn't have any more yarn to dye. 6 days later when more arrived in the mail, I quickly mordanted a batch, put a skein of merino laceweight yarn in the dyebath, and came up with this:
Hmmm. It's actually duller than this picture shows. Blah beige. Oh well. The best thing about blah beige is that it can easily be overdyed.
There's a certain amount of magic involved in dyeing, and chemistry, too, I suppose, but I wouldn't know anything about that. Aside from Calculus 101 in college, high school Chemistry is the only other class I ever dropped out of. Apparently there are some limits to what my brain can grasp. Why didn't I get the same green as before? I have some ideas but really I don't know and don't really care to know the "real", scientific reason. It's the unknown, the suspense, the excitement, the "what will this look like when I pull it back out of the dyepot?", the magic, the mystery, that keeps my interest, keeps me trying and experimenting with new plants or retrying old ones, sometimes in new ways. The catkins are too far gone this year to try another batch, but there's always next year. Maybe then I can figure out what happened here.
Lincoln Green, the color of the clothing worn by Robin Hood and his merry band was "first dyed blue with woad and then overdyed yellow with either weld or dyers' greenweed."