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14.5.13

70 Dandelions


Sadly I'm not making dandelion wine - 'summer on the tongue', to borrow from Ray Bradbury - but I am hoping to have dandelion-yellow silks and wools for a spot of summer stitching*. At the moment I'm boiling up the dandelion flowers in one pan while the threads are being mordanted in another. Without a mordant, in this case alum, the fugitive dandelion dye wouldn't 'bite' and would quickly fade.

Mordants are used in such tiny quantities when working with small amounts of fibre ... 3/16 of a teaspoon of alum (aluminium potassium sulphate) is sufficient for the six skeins of silk thread I intend to dye. So I've bought myself a handy set of itty-bitty spoons that measure a dash, a pinch, a smidgen, and a nip. Or 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 and 1/64 of a teaspoon, should you wish to get technical about it. And I've fallen down something of an etymological rabbit hole.

Convinced that the words 'dash', 'pinch', 'smidgen' and 'nip' all pre-dated 'tea-spoon' I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary. And they do. Tea drinking became fashionable during the 1600s when tea was pricey stuff and was measured using small 'tea-spoons' equivalent in size to an apothecaries' dram. Yet pinch denoted the much smaller, 'amount taken up between finger and thumb', at least a century earlier, and Shakespeare wrote about dashes and doses of this and that. So who decided that a pinch was half a dash, a smidgen half a pinch, and a nip half a smidgen? I'm guessing either Fannie Farmer or an early measuring spoon manufacturer, but does anyone know different?

Back in the kitchen the thread and dye liquor have been united. I'll let you know how I get on! And meanwhile ... know any dialect names for dandelions? They were 'piss-a-beds' in Somerset where I grew up, or 'one o'clocks'.

* Dandelion roots are reputed to yield a magenta dye, but I've yet to hear of a dyer who has achieved anything more exciting than a mucky fawn.


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70 comments :

  1. The boys used to chase us hysterically around the playground, for if indeed you did smell them you would wet the bed that night! Boys can be so cruel!! Look forward to the results! :) x

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  2. I found this year that the leaves actually gave me more colour than the flowers!

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    1. Ooh, I'll bear that in mind, thank you :)

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  3. Intriguing. I can't wait to see how it looks when it's all done.

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  4. I can't recall what the dialect name was in Wales, it is too long ago.

    I am getting quite excited by your dyeing plans, it must be magical.

    I like the names of the tiny amounts too.

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  5. I get mucky fawn with virtually everything. Ok, I like to call it 'khaki', but I know in my heart it's mucky fawn. Pissenlit, when I was growing up - they are a diuretic, after all...

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  6. Well, we call them "maskrosor" which translates "worm roses", which is rather an odd name.

    However, I learned only last year, to my great surprise, how to pronounce dandelion. I always thought that it was pronounced "daendéelion" and was astonished to hear that it is supposed to be "daendylajon", as in "lion". I haven't quite gotten over it yet :-)

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    1. I had the same experience a few years ago with the pronounciation!

      In DK they are called "(the devil's) milk jugs" but also "lion's tooth" which I guess is the same as the root for "dents de lion". In one area of the country it was called "troll witches".

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  7. Yep, that's what we called dandelions too, one touch and it was a sure sign you would wet the bed!
    V xxx

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  8. Love the word 'smidgen'!

    Also loved dandelion and burdock when I was a child, and yes, we were told if you picked them, you wet the bed!

    Looking forward to the results, Annie!

    Love Claire xx

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  9. GA smidgen is half a pinch, love that! I'm excited to see the results of your dyeing, it sounds great!

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  10. Whatever they are called, they are far too pretty to be a weed.

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  11. I just love dandelions - even those gardeners moan about them! How could such a beautiful sunny colour become only "mucky fawn"?! I guess the roots don't have the same properties and the wonderful flowers.

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  12. Learned something new again today. I did not know you could use dandelions for dyeing! Good luck Annie!

    Madelief x

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  13. Dash, pinch,smidgen and nip are all great words but 'mucky fawn' takes the price.

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  14. I passed a neglected city garden yesterday that was a stunning solid carpet of dandelions; having read the dandy wine recipe, I kinda wish I had all the wine-making kit (and the nerve to knock on the door and ask for their flowers!)

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  15. That first photo is stunning. I didn't know you could use dandelions for dying either - we learn something new every day.
    June

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  16. Stunning photos of the dandelions. My youngest used to call them Daddy lions. Maybe a bit of improvement on the Somerset version. Although alarming to think of a load of daddy lion about your ankles!

    I shall be interested to see how your dyed silks turn out.


    P x

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  17. Look forward to seeing the result. Always wanted to try some natural dyeing x

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  18. Dandelions were called piss-the-beds in Fermanagh and we used to play a game which involved picking the flower and holding them in our hands and snapping the heads off with our nail while singing 'My mammy had a baby and its head popped off' (a little gruesome, I admit) ... the aim was to see how high the bloom would jump ... Bee xx

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  19. Here in Canada we just say it like is and call them ... dandelions. We would hold a dandelion under another's chin and say "do you like butter", if their chin glows yellow, you DO like butter. We would also make dandelion chains to wear on our heads. Never heard of the 'piss' qualities before, but good to know. Wendy

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    1. We have the children's game of holding-a-flower-under-the-chin-to-see-if-you-like-butter thing in the UK, too, but we do it with buttercups rather than dandelions.

      And we make chains, but out of daisies. Funny how things partially translate, isn't it?

      My block of flats has a communal garden, maintained by the management company. They don't do anything with the lawn other than mow it every now and then, so the whole thing is a riot of daisies, dandelions and forget me knots. I love it.

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  20. 1/64'th of a teaspoon Annie? You have got to be kidding me! How on earth? Ok I'll just accept that i don't always understand everything :o)
    Who would have though that the common old dandelion could be so handy for dying, I look forward to seeing how your dying turns out. Oh and by the way a dash always sounds so frightfully posh to me he he x Penny

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    1. Take a look! Not the set I bought but a very similar one (this one calls the nip a drop).

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  21. Annie, I do love the golden yellow of dandelions, even if I also remember lots of childhood hours spent trying to weed them out of my parents' flower garden and back yard. I'd never heard any of the other names for this plant. What an educational place this is!

    On to natural dying. A friend of mine wants to explore the Japanese art of Shibori tie dying, usuing, if possible, natural dyes. Can you recommend a book that is really good at explaining allt he basic about mordants, etc.?

    I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what range of colors your collected dandelions will produce.

    xo

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    1. I'd recommend Jenny Dean's Wild Colour as a good place to start Frances. The original or the revised edition. Both are available on Amazon on your side of the pond
      http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=jenny+dean+wild+colour

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  22. ...always something new to discover around here!!!
    xxxx Ale

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  23. Does your spoon set include a "dollop"? :)

    Looking forward to the sunny yellow silk. And I don't recall any dandelion nicknames from my youth - but I do remember making daisy chains with them (in default of actual daisies).

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    1. No, but I'd love a set that did ;)

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  24. hmmmmmm most of this is news to me....my mother was keen on picking dandelion greens, before the plant flowered so that she could boil them up for us to eat....because "they are good for you" and not too horribly bitter if you pick the greens young enough. I was astounded not long ago to see dandelion greens for sale at the grocery store.....I know I lead a sheltered life :-)
    Gracie

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    1. You can grown them under an upturned flowerpot to blanche them ... they'll be white-ish rather than green and a lot less bitter :)

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  25. Annie, your posts always fascinate me. I will now look at Dandelions in a whole new light.....and teaspoons!

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  26. yellow is my favorite color, how i would love handdyed yellow wool with dandelions. i'm very much looking forward to seeing what comes out of that pot! magic!

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  27. Hello Annie!

    Dandeliions are rife here and I find their seed heads, en masse, make the neighbouring countryside look like a moonscape!

    The fifteenth-century word French word, 'Pissenlit', derives from the plant's diuretic properties!

    I hope all is well with you, Annie.

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  28. I had quite forgotten about them making you wet the bed. My boys love knowing the fact about their name (the lions teeth one)
    Annie - there are so many delicious words in this post... I can't tell you how much I loved it.
    I really think (know) you have a book deal in you - a mixture of photos and words to make us swoon.
    Have a good day...fee xxx

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    1. A book ... what a lovely thought, and such a sweet thing to say. Maybe one day ;)

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  29. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product. I saw a front garden as I was driving in the country yesterday awash with dandelions and it looked absolutely beautiful, as does your first photo Julie x

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  30. What a very interesting post. I have heard you can make coffee from the roots so that probably explains the colour you get.
    I keep a dandelion patch in my garden - my friend has a tortoise!
    Julie xxxxxxx

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    1. I'd heard that too. I gather it was a war-time work around when coffee was hard to come by but I have also seen it as a caffeine free alternative in health food stores.

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  31. I'm convinced that I have never seen as many dandelions as I have this year, another of those plants that was duped into this late, late spring (ha!). Where's my Englishman's Flora when I need it? I'm sure Mr Grigson would have plenty of more names for wet-the-beds.

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  32. Your new spoon set sounds intriguing Annie, they must be teeny tiny.
    A beautiful post as always, I hope your threads came out the desired colour, can't wait to see
    love jooles xxx

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  33. I am so wonderfully pleased to know that there are official quantities for a dash, a smidgen or a nip. As someone who has had arguments with her husband about exactly how many makes up a 'few' or even 'several' this is good news indeed!

    Love your rabbit holes!

    S x

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  34. Somewhere in the back of my brain I think I read that you have to roast the roots to get magenta dye out of them... but then again I might be thinking of making dandelion coffee.
    Exciting! I love the idea of natural dye-ing but my own experiments were even less exciting than mucky fawn - sort of grass-stain slime green :(

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    1. Ah yes, the ubiquitous chlorophyll yellow ... it's happened to us all Roo :)

      I'll try a spot of dandelion root roasting one day, thanks for the tip!

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  35. What a lovely post, we were always told as children not to pick the dandelions or we would wet the bed. Can't wait to see how the dyeing comes out. Sarah x

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  36. I love the petal formation and the rich golden yellow of dandelions and I agree they seem to be better than ever this year. Some of the road sides here have simply glowed with them on the all too rare days that we have had sun. I remember seeing, at a specialist nursery, a cultivated form of celandine called Brazen Hussy (bronze leaved) and I remember wondering then how long it would be before someone bred a special dandelion. Not that I can think of what I would want to see change.

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  37. I could really use some dandelion wine right now. Or any other kind of wine actually. I can't wait to see what kind of yellow you'll get out of those flowers! Yellow it's one of my favorite colors.

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  38. I only found out last year that the French word for dandelion is "pissenlit" which I guess translates as piss in bed! We always believed they would make you wet the bed if you picked them when we were little

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  39. I love the cheery photos!
    I didn't know that you could use them to colour yarn. Looks like fun, though.
    Carly
    x

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  40. if you run short I have PLENTY of them here in my yard. Hope you get the magenta but I don't see how :)

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  41. Dandelions are the one thing that is missing in my life right now. We've had such a slow start to spring, that we don't have any leaves on the trees yet, either. (Make that two things missing!)

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  42. Beautiful photos and can't wait to see how it turns out!! And thanks for sharing the fun tea-spoon history! ;) Have a lovely day Annie!! xo Heather

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  43. lovely photos - and how fun to watch your dye experiments in process. We only called dandelions by just that .... but we did used to rub the flowers on our cheeks to give a yellow color. Why? who knows ... just kids :)

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  44. It's an amazing year for dandelions in our neck of the woods, so you shouldn't be short or raw material, Annie. I look forward to seeing the results of your labours.

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  45. Just whipped up a dandelion bath yesterday! I got the prettiest yellow from it too, and that just on cotton! Good luck!

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    1. Brilliant! Which mordant did you use?

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  46. The dandelion shots are amazing! Do you have to mordant all fibers or just silk?

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    1. Some dyes are substantive and you won't need a mordant for those regardless of the fibre you're dyeing, although using a mordant can give you brighter or duller versions of the basic dye colour. Others are fugitive and you will need a mordant on all fibres if you want the colour not to to fade too quickly. You use different mordants for animal fibres like silk and wool and for vegetable fibres like cotton and linen. The animal fibres are harder to get good results with.

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  47. I love how the color sometimes is totally unexpected.....pink from avocados!! now magenta from white roots?? what an adventure natural dyeing is!!!

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    1. It is! And an utterly delightful one :)

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  48. Dandelion and burdock was a favourite drink when I was young, though we didn't wet the bed when we drank it!
    In Spanish, it is called 'lion's tooth' - or diente de leon - and is considered a most medicinal plant by my mother in law - it has a long list of uses - but not primarily as a diuretic, interestingly.
    Looking forward to seeing the results!
    Axxx

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  49. mucky fawn sounds good to me :)
    I am yet to explore dyeing with plants. I can't wait to try it. Where did you get your mordant?
    And, I'm right with you on the smidge, dash, pinch - shake it into your palm until it looks like the right amount - school of measuring ...

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    1. You should be able to pick the alum up on ebay Libby, or from www.georgeweil.com :)

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  50. Love the photos....really clever....my boy (smallest) and I have been doing dandelion clocks walking up e path from school to the car.....I tell him to blow quickly so that I don't end up with the seeds and stalks in my car!

    I'm betting if any one can get magenta from the roots, it will be you Annie.x

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  51. Beautiful, as always. :-)

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  52. Beautiful, beautiful photos. Just gorgeous. I tried picking some dandelions to put in a jug as I just love their cheery bright heads, but they wilted within hours. We always called them "dandelion clocks" where I grew up.

    I have to say I thought a pinch, dash etc were all just approximations and different words for the same thing - i had no idea they actually had measurements attached. See, I've learnt something here today Annie! x

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  53. The dandelions seem to be so vibrantly yellow this year. Really, too pretty to be weeds. My neighbour's front garden is a picture. Hope your silks and wools turned out as colourful.

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  54. There do seem to be a great many dandelions around this year - the verges and roundabouts hereabouts are covered in them. I associate them with childhood - kids used to say if you smelled a dandelion you'd wet the bed that night but we had a lot of fun with dandelion clocks.

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  55. Can't wait to see the finished product! : )

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  56. Hello Annie,
    I am catching up after a walking holiday in Cevennes, France. There we saw fields full of dandelions. I imagined making dandelion wine but didn't think of dyeing. When I grew up in Fife, we called them pee the beds or dandelions.
    A previous commenter talked about flicking the heads off - we did that with a different plant which had a more solid head, no idea what they were, and we recited, rather gruesomely, "Mary Queen of Scots got her head chopped OFF".

    Loved your photos.
    Dawn in NL

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