Natural Dye Notebook :: No. 34, Black Locust

Posted by Erin Howe on

To boil or not to boil? The question isn’t as straightforward as it at first seemed. I started out my natural dye journey by just boiling everything, unaware of the subtleties that temperature can coax from plant matter. Then I realized that boiling might be too heavy-handed and backed off. Now my rule was, never boil the dyepot. But then comes black locust, with two entirely different colors from boiling and not boiling the leaves, and adds complexity to my rules. Thanks a bunch, black locust. I’m trying to reduce the world of natural dyes into easy, memorable, replicable rules, and you’re making me back up and admit it’s wild and complicated. 

With boiling, black locust leaves gave me unique mauves that I hadn’t seen any other plant produce:

But without boiling, pale pinks:

So neither boiled nor unboiled is better or worse, they just offer two options for color. 

The bark is worthless for dye as far as I can tell:

Which is fine with me, because check out those thorns. 

So now I have to amend my rule of never boiling because I like the mauve, and doesn’t it all just come down to a life rule after all? Withhold judgment. In dyes, as in life, keep from forming rules and etching your observations into stone as long as possible, probably forever. Keep experimenting, keep observing, leave space open for surprise and new information. Who knew black locust could teach me all that?


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