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Dying to have fun!

Well… since my experiments dying with bloodroot last spring, I have been wanting to dye with other plants. The decision was to try for a brighter red/red-orange with Bedstraw (Galium sp.). One of the things that made me decided this was the following description…

Their red is extracted from the root of tsa-voo-yan, (galium). The spike which consists of the seeds of the sumach with their pericarp and the stalks to which they are attached, are washed in cold water to clean them. They are then boiled in soft water. When this water has become of a deep brownish red, it is strained through flannel. The root of tsa-voo-yan pulverized is infused in the sumach water. The porcupine-quill or elk-hair is then introduced, and the temperature gradually raised to the boiling point, and there sustained a quarter of an hour. It is then taken out and rinced in soft water, and then it is soaked for a short time in weak soap and water.
William Green[Originally published by the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec in Transactions, Original Series, Volume 2 (1831)]
The use of Galium sp. is also seen elsewhere as quill dye among the Cree, Blackfoot, and Micmac (see end of this article for citations).

My youngest daughter, Lillian, and I took my original 18th century hoe and went to the edge of the yard and dug some Bedstraw (ended with about 2 oz.). We then went and harvested some Staghorn Sumac berries so that we could follow the recipe given above.

Once the sumac had boiled and been strained, I added the chopped up Bedstraw roots and reduced the heat.  I, under a mild heat, let the quills sit for a few hours.  The color was pail ad pinkish and I decided to put them and the dye in a jar for a day or so.  They increased in brightness some but not as much as I had been hoping.  I dumped the whole works back into the pot and increased the head to just under a simmer and let them sit for about an hour.  After a rinse they looked pretty good.  Not the most scarlet, but definitely a bright red-orange.

Cree and Blackfoot
Johnston, Alex 1987 Plants and the Blackfoot. Lethbridge, Alberta. Lethbridge Historical Society (p. 53)
Speck, Frank G. and R.W. Dexter 1951 Utilization of Animals and Plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 41:250-259 (p. 254)

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