Spinning, Dyeing, and Weaving

Spinning, Dyeing, and Weaving

This is another episode from the first season of FOLKWAYS in 1982. While most of the artists in that first series are no longer with us, this is a chance to visit them again and see some of the very best and authentic folk art practiced in the southern Appalachians. Although the production tools available then can't match the quality of today's digital video, it's still a fascinating look back at part of our cultural heritage.

The dark mountain cabin had splashes of color in the beautiful and intricate overshot woven coverlets, mats, and hangings.

Wilma McNabb, in her eighties at the time of production, learned the art on her great-great grandmother's massive rough hewn loom. Her work is acknowledged as some of the finest in traditional weaving. She displays examples of her work and demonstrates how she works on a modern loom.

Barbara Miller of Pisgah, North Carolina explains the intricacies of overshot traditional weaving, from reading patterns to warping the loom and weaving the finished product. But before anyone could begin weaving, the person had to make the wool and flax into fiber and then dye it the proper colors.

Two ladies from Tennessee demonstrate these two very vital arts of rural life. Mary Frances Davidson, author of the book The Dye Pot, shows some of the many sources of dyes, from flowers, bark, plants, and insects. She illustrates the dyeing of indigo, a most prized color. Persis Grayson demonstrates the tedious craft of spinning thread from the raw materials a farmstead would have had available.

Making Dyes from Plants
As demonstrated in this episode, you don't have to spent money at a craft store to have some beautiful colors to work with. Most dyes can be found in your own backyard; roots, nuts, leaves and flowers are just some of the ways that you can get colors to dye clothing or just do some painting.

Before you start dyeing, be sure that your flowers, nuts and roots are fully mature. When you're gathering plants for dyeing, never take more than 2/3 of a species-otherwise, it won't be available the next time you want to dye something.

To make your dye, chop the material into small pieces and place it in a pot. You should have twice as much water as you have plant material. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for about an hour. Strain it. If you are dyeing fabric, soak it in the water. The longer you leave it in, the deeper your shade will be.

To make fixatives for berry dyes, mix ½ cut of salt to 8 cups of cold water. For plant dyes, mix 4 parts of cold water to 1 part vinegar. Add your fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour, Rinse the material and squeeze out the excess, and then rinse in cold water until the water runs clear.

Plants to Use for Colors:

  • Orange: bloodroot, sassafras leaves, onion peels, gold lichen
  • Brown: wild plum root, oak bark, sumac leaves (NOT poison sumac), walnut hulls, juniper berries, boiled acorns
  • Pink: strawberries, cherries, red raspberries
  • Light green: lily of the valley leaves
  • Red: Sumac fruit, dandelion root, beets, rose hips, red onion skins
  • Blue / purple: mulberries, red cabbage, elderberries, blueberries, cherry root, blackberries, inner bark of red maple tree
  • Red / purple: pokeweed berries,
  • Gray / black: iris roots
  • Green: spinach leaves, black-eyed Susans, grass, nettle
  • Yellow: Turmeric, saffron, cumin, red clover, marigold, Queen Anne's Lace, dandelion flower
  • Black: sumac leaves (NOT poison sumac)
  • Peach: Virginia creeper

From pioneerthinking.com


Southern Highland Guild
All kinds of crafts, including weaving, pottery and other folk arts.

Natural Dyeing Information (Links)
This page has links to several Web sites that discuss how to dye.

Pioneer Thinking: Natural Dye Information
This site has a list of materials as well as dyeing instructions.