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It's Alive!

Serious question: am I the only one who does this? Every time I walk past freshly planted seeds, I stop to check if anything is happening yet, even if it's only been a few minutes.

There's nothing quite like the thrill of watching something you planted start to grow. You hold your breath as each tiny leaf uncurls, the fragile stems reaching toward the sun's warmth.

Natural Dyes

Don't get me wrong. I love my acid dyes. Easy to use and non-toxic, they produce vivid colors that are light- and wash-fast. They behave predictably, so hues can be reliably repeated.

But I swoon over the shades born from natural dyes. It amazes me how beautifully the colors play off one another; plant-based dyes just seem to match, no matter what combination you choose. As I grow Dirt Floor Fibers (pun kind of intended), I want to concentrate on local and natural fibers. But I'd also love to cultivate a dyer's garden.

As much as I adore natural dyes, I don't quite trust them yet. I don't mind that every dye pot has the potential to create a slightly, or sometimes vastly, different shade. All it takes is a shift in pH, a warmer or cooler temperature, or harvesting during another season. It's a color change afterwards that worries me.

I keep finding conflicting information over the colorfastness of natural dyes. The internet is filled with beautiful images of fiber dyed avocado pink, but I've also see complaints of that lovely color fading to tan, even when stored away from the sun. When researching colorfast natural dyes, some sources say there are only a few that are truly fast. Others say you just need the right mordant. Some say you are fine as long as you stick to plant-based dyes and stay away from berries.

Despite all my worries about the longevity of natural colors, there are a few fiber artists who do sell items dyed naturally, and of course natural dyes were used long before synthetic ones were invented. But I don't want a trusting customer to spend hours knitting what they think will be an heirloom, only to find the color they fell in love with has faded away.

What's a girl to do when faced with conflicting reports? Experiment, of course!

Growing Indigo

Indigo is one of the few plants that everyone agrees makes a long-lasting dye, so I figured that would be a solid place to start. So this summer, instead of planting my usual vegetable garden, my containers are filled with indigo.

I ordered my seeds from, mostly because they offered free shipping. They also sell madder and weld. I was tempted, but I only have so many containers, and madder takes a few years of growth before you can use it. I figured I'd start small. And I love how the seeds arrived in a tiny glass vial!

I planted some of the seeds straight from the package, and the rest I soaked for 24 hours. Both seemed to germinate, but I had a little more luck with the ones I soaked first.

Apparently indigo doesn't like to have its roots disturbed, so it's better to plant directly in the ground. However, we kept having cold snaps this spring, and I was worried about the plants having a long enough growing season, especially since I'm not sure if they will survive a Virginia winter.

I planted my first round of seeds in biodegradable pots, hoping to let the plants grow larger before transplanting. The other half were planted in seed-starting pellets.

Note: the box said the pellets were also biodegradable, but last year my plants had trouble breaking their roots through the netting, and nothing had broken down a year later. When I looked into it, apparently their definition of biodegradable is in two years when exposed to sunlight, which doesn't help much when you need to plant them in the ground. So I used the pellets because I had leftovers, but I probably won't buy another box.

I transplanted the pellet-started seedlings first, making sure to tear away the netting. Some were so small that I was worried that they wouldn't survive the first rainstorm or really sunny day. However, they seem to be thriving.

The ones in the pots are another story. Even living in a sunny window and being carried outside on nice days, the seedlings quickly became leggy. It rained, and beat the long, fragile stems down. A few more seeds germinated, and a sunny day shriveled them. I have a small clump of seedlings that I'm babying and hoping to save, but clearly transplanting early was the way to go.

Now I just have to wait. And I'll keep checking them every time I walk past, just to see what has changed!

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