In some areas Fennel is considered a noxious and/or invasive weed. But for me, Fennel has always been a nice, well-behaved multi-use plant. It even smells good in the dye pot. (And I can identify it correctly : see post about the Woad that turned out to be Weld.)
Fennel has also become one of of my seasonal markers. Wood Sorrel runs through half of the year and as it dies off the Fennel starts up. And visa versa. So I am always stocked with yellow dye.
Quick note: Fennel by my experience works only well with protein fiber (i.e. wool), I’ve never successfully dyed plant fiber such as cotton. Wood Sorrel on the other hand dyes anything I’ve tried. The only exception has been corn fiber.
The surviving Woad plant from last year. It really started growing this spring and looks about ready to bloom.
If you haven’t hear the Woad Song here is at least one version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK5-F9mLp4Y
The Oxalis has died off for the season and the Fennel is blooming. (Sorry there isn’t a Fennel song..)
[TR aka the-little-ball-of-fury]
My standard yellow dye plants are Fennel (for wool) and Oxalis (cotton, wool, soy silk).
The first Oxalis opened up a few days ago. Locally the Fennel produces through most through what would be our Summer months (Pacific, southwest USA), starts to dry and dies out around Autumn. Following that the Wood Sorrel/Oxalis starts up, runs rampant through the Winter into Spring and dies out towards summer when the Fennel starts up again.
This being southern California the seasons are hot and dry, and really hot and dry punctuated by a furious rain storm or two. In fact, left to itself I am guessing much this area would be more desert like. (In case one forgets this idea, having a car breakdown in the San Fernando Valley, in July, around high noon, is a heck of a wakeup call…) Most of the years I grew up here the weather was at least consistant with itself but lately has gotten incresingly volitile (and just plain wierd).
Otherwise, the cotton is still opening and some smaller (cotton) plants have been started for next year.
Dye plants work on their own time tables, ignoring (my) schedule, day job hours and other relivant interruptions which may be why I prefer using dry-ables. The Fennel seems to be going into its die-off cycle. Fortunately its one of those dye plants that seems to work just as well fresh or dried and I have enough stocked up for what passes as Winter in California. And, about the time that the Fennel is finished the Oxalis will probably be reappearing.
It would probably sound great to say I grow all my own dye plants but I certainly don’t – lack of space for starters. I probably have sufficient garden space to grow dye to cover sock toes. The Fennel (yellow dye), until I transplanted it into the yard, I used to chase around town ahead of the weed abatement people. The Oxalis (the other yellow) appeared on its own and refused to leave. Since both of these work well fresh or dry I can save and dry for the season and have enough to dye beyond the sock toes.
Otherwise I rely on things that are going to be tossed out – Onion peels, lawn grass and Eucalyptus leaves for example. I have grown Maddar but again its hard to grow enough for an extensive dye project so I buy that dried. I have to Woad plants going this year but again that probably toe coverage so the Woad and Indigo are also purchased dry.
My little overdye experiment – the Knitpicks sock blank – has some Oxalis (yard), Maddar and Indigo. This is also my first time knitting toe-up, two-at-once socks.
Lastly, this is the new wordpress version of the dye blog.
Around the time that the Oxalis was dying off the Fennel seemed to take off. It looks like I won’t be scavenging the Smart-&-Final parking lot or sides of freeways for Fennel this year. The backyard stand – now too large to be called a shrub – is producing enough to keep me in dye and local insects in food.
Also here, my first attempt at growing Woad. There are 2 plants, still in pots. One seems to have some Sweet Basil growing along side – probably from some other planting. They are about 6” across right now. I’m not sure how fast these grow but it is unlikely there will be blue dye until next season.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
(Note: for the best search results use ‘foeniculum vulgare’.)
Part of the plant used for dye: flower heads
fiber: wool (It could be me but I can’t get this to work on cotton)
Proportions: 1:4 (fiber:plant)
The first dye plant that I ever tried working with was Fennel. A lucky choice since Fennel (unlike the Avocado pits from hell) has always given me a fairly consistent yellow and provided a pretty good first-time experience with plant/vegetable dyes.
Fennel is one of those wonderful multi-use herbal/dye plants that are often bad-rapped as noxious weeds prone to taking over a garden, city block, etc. In my tiny corner of Southern California (Los Angeles) this doesn’t seem to be the case and my own transplanted fennel plants are quite well-behaved.
I have gathered from the local Smart-and-Final parking lot, Topanga canyon, and patches next to the freeways (public areas) and eventually transfered some smaller plants to my garden.
Nature’s Colors (Ida Grae) describes using Fennel fresh, 4:1. It also appears to work dried.
That is another thing I’ve found about working with dye plants vs synthetic dye. You work on the plant’s schedule not your own. When its ready you had better be there with properly soaked fiber and not the next day at which point it may be past the point of giving up good dye, have been stepped on or eaten. The only way around this is to try drying and saving. Fennel seems to work.
The amount of mordant to use is calculated by the weight of the fiber. A wonderful booklet published by Las Aranas Spinners and Weavers Guild, Dyeing with natural materials has an excellent chart and information about safety (the poisonous stuff) and disposal.
My other standard reference is always Nature’s Colors by Ida Grae. (<- I believe this one is out-of-print but findable places like abebooks or amazon used.)