I was delighted, when we first came in May last year to inspect what was to become our new home, to find no less than four mature Staghorn Sumac trees flourishing in the garden, for I knew Sumac to be good for eco-dyeing and printing. When we finally moved in, it was late August and knowing I’d have little time for eco-dyeing and printing until order was restored, I bagged and froze a good number of flower heads (drupes) for future use.
The future arrived a couple of weeks ago so I dug the bags of drupes out of the freezer and plunged them immediately into warm water as per India Flint’s ‘Ice Flower’ technique – described in her book Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles.
The theory is that the physical shock of the contrast in temperature between the frozen flowers and the warm water, causes the plant cells to burst, which better releases their colour.
I simmered (not boiled) the drupes for an hour or so in order to get as much dye out of them as possible, then added some silks and cottons, and some cotton string for use as thread, then simmered the whole lot for another hour or so. I then left the dye pot with fabrics to cool naturally. I left the fabrics in the pot for another 24 hours or so, then rinsed them and let them dry outside in the sun.
Here are the results. As usual, it was the silk which achieved the deepest colour – a rich tan.
A word of caution – if you come across a tree in the wild which looks like Staghorn Sumac, take care that it is not in reality Poison Sumac, which is related to poison ivy and poison oak. In fact, don’t even touch it if you aren’t absolutely certain which Sumac it is as it can cause a very very nasty skin rash!
Staghorn Sumac is reputed to have many medicinal properties. First Nations Indians in the US apparently used it both as medicine and for food. It is thus, considered a sacred plant amongst certain tribes. There is a lot of information about Sumac as medicine and food on the web, but I can’t say what’s correct and what isn’t, so won’t say anything.
The drupes are used to make a lemonade-type drink. I haven’t tried this yet, but I will with the new drupes on my trees when they’re ripe and let you know how it tastes.
I like the idea that if a plant is healing, it is therefore sacred.
In my next blog I’ll write about my recent experiments with wisteria – not just eco-dyeing.