Summer’s Colors


By late August, the signs are clear that summer is winding down. I begin to notice that it isn’t light til eight or nine any more and I wake up to the sunrise instead of the 5am brightness of June. The vibrance of the garden has dimmed, but it is certainly not over yet. I’ve been harvesting cucumbers and tomatoes while the crickets chirp their late summer song, but my baskets aren’t as full as they were even a week ago. We’ve been packing as much as we can into each day, beaching and swimming and eating up as much summer goodness, both figuratively and literally, as we can.

In addition to more than two dozen pints of pickles canned, jars of slow roasted tomatoes stored in the freezer, and lots of herbs dried, I’ve been thinking about other ways of saving this colorful, humid, delicious season. At the end of last summer I eagerly gathered all the plants I could find to use for dyeing. This year I haven’t made as much time to capture the colors of summer because I’ve filled my little bit of spare time putting up food from the garden. Last week Amos, Eowyn and I collected flower petals, leaves, and anything else they could find to try eco-printing on fabric.

I’m not exactly sure if eco-printing is the correct term but this is what we did: We soaked some fabric I had already mordanted in water and spread it on a table outside. On half of the fabric we arranged the plant material we had collected. Then I folded the other half of the fabric over the plants and rolled the whole thing as tightly as I could. I coiled up the roll and tied it with twine. I steamed the rolls for 30-45 minutes on a steamer in a pot on my kitchen stove. We let them sit for a couple of hours and then unrolled them to see the magic revealed. After that we rinsed them gently and hung them on the line to dry.

Our garden has plentiful flowers and plants for dyeing such as calendula, marigolds, rudbekia, bachelor’s buttons, and scabiosa (this one instantly speckled the fabric with blue). I also gathered some blackberry leaves, apple leaves, and a few hopi black dye sunflower seeds to see what would happen. The resulting colors and patterns are scattered across the fabric in spots, blotches, streaks and smudges, not fabric I would be drawn to if I hadn’t made it myself but I love this record of summer’s blooming plants wildly scattered across the fabric.

We used the fabric to make special pillows. Amos’s is filled with lentils mixed with dried lavender we bought and dried lemon verbena and lemon balm from our garden. It has a nice weight to is and a lovely smell and I’ve been encouraging him to have it nearby when is trying to fall asleep. Eowyn’s is a flatter pillow, stuffed with batting and the same mix of herbs. Just the idea that we can bring these flowers inside, keep them through the winter, dream with them, has me wanting to make more. Luckily this end of summer season will linger and I’ll be able to gather more of summer’s goodness.