textiles · exploration · misadventure

Yellow Dock Walks


Radio tower in background, flowering yellow fennel plants in foreground.

Sutro Tower and invasive fennel dye plants.

When Matthew and I met, I lived on Twin Peaks, while he lived in the Mission district, three miles away and 900 feet downhill.

He rode his bike up to see me* and we walked all over the neighborhoods there. We collected lupine and poppy seeds that had popped from their pods, took them home, and planted them. A lot of poppies came up, but only ever one lupine, although it was the rare yellow kind that I love, but it died after a year.

High hill overlooking neighborhoods sandwiched between parks, a fog-filled bay and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
The corner of Marview Way and Palo Alto Avenue has a spectacular view, from the north side of Twin Peaks and the city, over Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, past the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Marin headlands and beyond. Matt and I frequently spent a few minutes there, admiring the view.

We were indignant when the house on that corner sold, and the new owners planted a hedge that, when grown, would turn the property of the commons, that spectacular view from the sidewalk, into a view belonging only to people rich enough to possess the house nearby it.

We joked about poisoning the hedge, but apparently didn’t need to go that far. Either somebody else has been doing that for the past ten years, or there is a wind shear in the right place, or there is a protective Radish Spirit hovering over it. Or something. The hedge does not thrive. Especially in that spot. Ha.

Spindly hedge trying to block a view, and failing.

The non-thriving hedge.

In our wanderings, we frequently saw a rusty orange plant that stood out from the green and gold around it. It always intrigued me. Matt thought Native Americans may have done something with it, but didn’t know what. Now I know.

They dyed with it.

In fact, Twin Peaks and surrounds are lousy with dye plants. Invasive dye plants. Yellow dock, fennel, several eucalyptus varieties, and English ivy all grow at Twin Peaks, and they are everywhere.

I harvested yellow dock last August, then harvested more in October at Twin Peaks—giving myself an outrageous case of poison oak in doing so (it’s still clearing up). I started my dyeing trials first with sticks and seeds.

Reddish orange sticks and seeds from the yellow dock plant.

It was pleasant sitting on my porch in sunshine, stripping seeds, then paring sticks into smaller bits. In the end, I had a fair bit of dye stuff, and I didn’t use it all. I’ll use it on more heavily mordanted, finely spun fibers I’m spinning up now.

Yellow dock dyejars in the sun.Mordanting was the same as before. Also as before, I boiled each dyestuff for an hour, strained and divvied equally into jars, and popped in fibers, which sat in the sun for a week.

Tiny bals of yarn and swatches of cotton dyed with yellow dock. One light green yarn, one deep yellow yarn, others rusty and pinks, some quite pale.Results were mildly pleasing. Top row are sticks, bottom row are seeds. Left to right, mordants are alum/cream of tartar, brass, copper, iron, gelatin, soy, and urine.

Sorry for cutting off the alum, left, and urine, right. Honestly, I am having fun with the urine mordant. I am weird, I know. But it’s not doing much besides making the wool and cotton really, really soft. And these alum samples are tame. So I’m hoping you’ll not mind the cut off.

I actually got color that wasn’t brown on the cotton this time, although these pinks don’t excite me.

But I lovelovelove the wool brass stick sample, top row, second from left. And the pink wools at right are rather nice. The wool seed brass sample, bottom, second from left, is interesting. It’s the first green I’ve achieved. The brass mordant turns the white wool a bit blue. Add a little yellow and voilà: green. Very cool.

Little balls of dyed yarns in a pile.Little balls of dyed yarns in a pile.

I expected these to be more yellow overall, given the name of the plant is yellow dock, so I was disappointed at the lack of yellow here. Then, I cut open one of the roots. A haaaaa!
Closeup, yellow dock root shows a brilliant yellow interior.

*I always told myself if he ever stops wanting to ride up to see me, I’ll know it’s over. He never did, so I shacked up with him instead.

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