While reading through some posts in a foraging group I belong to on fb, I noticed a plant that looked familiar. The group was referring to it at "Cleaver" an edible plant, and I felt sure that I had seen it somewhere in the yard. I did a little reading and found that the Cleavers, or Catchweed, or Bedstraw, (and many other names attached to it) have many different species and are in the Rubiaceae family...the madder family...MADDER! Now I was excited, as I knew madder roots to be a good dyestuff but one I hadn't tried before.
Out to the yard I went and I immediately spotted clumps of Bedstraw, mostly Galium boreale or northern Bedstraw. The more I looked, the more I saw. They were everywhere.
I gathered up a pile of them in my basket and sat down to extract just the roots.
After all of my processing I was left with a small tangle of roots. I felt like this dye experiment would be akin to dyeing with saffron threads. A lot of effort for very little dye material.
I tried to be tricky and leave some of the reddish stalk on the root but after rinsing and drying briefly, it was clear they would be of no help. The tiny roots came off too. If you look closely you can see an orangish color to the root part that is good for dyeing.
After letting the roots stew in the dye jar for a few days I got a little anxious for results and decided to simmer some down. I put the whole batch in the dye pot and let it simmer for about an hour. After straining out the dye stuffs I added my wool and cotton that I had mordanted with alum, brought the temp just up to a simmer then turned it off and let it sit overnight.
From left to right on the photo above - alum, an overdye on dandelion flower (pale yellow), an overdye on black walnut (cocoa brown), and an exhaust bath.
Cotton fabric and floss took on an earthy pink.
I wanted to see how well the wool would hold its color once felted so I wet-felted a stone with it. It retained its carrot-orange color. I haven't gotten a true orange before with natural dyeing so this was pretty exciting. I'm going to try thoroughly drying the roots next time to see if it changes the color.
I found two other species of Bedstraw that day too, galium triflorum, which smells like a weaker version of sweetgrass (which I love), and galium aparine which is fuzzy and the aptly named "catchweed". The northern bedstraw was by far more abundant, which is why I chose to use it for dyeing. It's believed that bedstraw used to be dried and, you guessed it, used to stuff mattresses. The catchweed can be used as a sieve with its tiny hairs acting as a strainer.
Pretty cool stuff, and abundant here. Though, as with all of my foraging, I only take a few from each spot so as not to deplete any one area.
Amazing what you can find in your own backyard.