On August 17th and 18th, Rose Dedman and her family instructed a third Weaving in Beauty Natural Dye Retreat in the use of some of the plants available in the Navajo homeland as dye materials. Rose opened her home and several members of her family participated over the course of three days, and there is preparation that is done up to a month in advance of the class.
Most of the plants are harvested the day before the dye session within a few miles of Rose’s home in Ft. Defiance. There are two plants that are somewhat hard to find, and those required some advance preparation. One is a plant called wild carrot, a member of the rumex family. It’s also called dock root or canyaigre. Depending on the age of the plant, the chemistry of the water and the dye pot used, the plant produces a highly colorfast yellow to burnt orange color that has been prized by Navajo weavers for many, many years. The rug at right has yarns dyed with wild carrot over 100 years ago that retain their vibrant color today.
The plant grows only in areas which have sandy soil and the right mix of moisture and temperature. Rose’s brother, David Bryant says that the plant migrates over areas where it grows depending on where the seeds blow and water is present. The dye bearing part of the plant is the tuberous root, which is found a foot to two feet below the surface. Some people harvest the plant near Rock Point and others prefer the Crownpoint area. We won’t say where we went, but we did take in a well known rug auction after harvesting the carrots.
Other plants that we used were mistletoe, sage, large and small rabbitbrush, coreopsis, ground lichen, Navajo tea and black walnut hulls. Here’s what the dyepots looked like before the yarn went in and I’ve labeled them to the best of my recollection. We also used freeze dried indigo and cochineal, which gave us access to a rainbow of colors.
Rose, her daughter-in-law and I are going to get together sometime this fall to do some more experimentation with the cochineal and indigo and see how many shades we can come up with so that we can make next year’s retreat even more colorful. I’ll write another entry on where and how we harvested the plants, but I wanted to get some news on the retreat published, and as always a give Rose and her family a big thank you for their help and hospitality. Another big thank you goes to the retreat participants, who come from all over the country to learn vegetal dyes the Navajo way.