The Brellis House


[Failed] Experiments with Natural Dyes: Pokeweed

Posted on October 17th, 2014 by Susanna

Last year I successfully died fabric with black walnut, which was my first try at dying fabrics with natural plant material. My end goal is to have about 10 or so colors so that I can make a quilt similar to this beauty. This year I decided to try my hand at pokeweed. I had read that it can be difficult, but we have so much pokeweed around our neighborhood I couldn’t help but try. A 25:1 ratio is recommended, 25 pokeweed weight to 1 fabric weight. I ended up with about a 35:1 ratio. Then I picked all the berries off the stems. This part took FOREVER.  pokeweedAnd it made my hands look like this. It’s a bad sign for dying fabric that this washes right off your hands with soap and water.

pokeweed handsUsing two books from the library (one of which is a really beautiful book called Harvesting Color) and the internet, I read that a vinegar mordant helps the fabric hold the dye, so I pre-mordanted the fabric in vinegar, which was done by simmering (160 degrees) the fabric in water with about 1 cup of water. To prepare the berries for the dye bath, I mashed them in the dye pot, filled the pot with water and 1/2 cup vinegar for every gallon of water for a pH of 3.5. I heated this for 1 hour over low-medium heat, then strained the berries out. The pre-wetted/mordanted fabric went right into this dyebath and soaked on medium heat for 2 hours. I turned the heat off after 2 hours and let it soak for about 30 hours.

I ended up with fabric that looked like this. Needless to say I was pretty ecstatic, but worried it would all wash out like it did on my hands.

pokeweed fabricWhich is exactly what it did. I let it sit and dry for over an hour, then brought it to the sink. The color immediately started to rinse out, and I was basically left with a piece of dirty looking fabric, with a SLIGHT pink hue if you squint (or just pretend). Oh well! Maybe I’ll try again. There are a few things I think I could possibly do better, such as being more precise with measuring exactly how much vinegar should be added to the dyebath and using pH strips to get to exactly a pH of 3.5 in the dyebath. Also, using a thermometer because the dye is very temperature sensitive and the color will be destroyed at temperatures too high.

pokeweed fabric

Here are the three fabrics I have so far. Pokeweed on the left, black walnut method #1 in middle, and black walnut method #2 (soaked overnight) on the right.

natural dyes fabric





Good Old Fashioned Fail: French Macarons

Posted on October 29th, 2011 by Dan

Ever since visiting France last summer, I have been in dessert envy for macarons. Those things litter the street side stores in every color imaginable. They’re such a prominent window display, that you’d think the French are born knowing how to make them.

The key to this little cookie, is of course, the bane of vegan cooking: egg whites. I became understandably excited however, when I heard about Versawhip, a soy-based powder distributed by Willpowder. Versawhip totes that with the addition of some water, this powder can be frothed into a stable foam, replacing egg whites.

I immediately ordered a package, and began researching French macaroon recipes. When it arrived, I decided to try it out on a basic recipe, here are my steps and the unfortunate results.

Everything began with such high hopes. I measured out my Versawhip, water and some xantham gum and cream of tartar for stability, put the guns to it with my handheld electric beater and, wouldn’t you know it, I got soft peaks. Sifting in some fine sugar, et voilà! -stiff peaks.

I was SO excited, I could barely contain myself. I folded in my almond flour and sugar mixture into my ‘egg whites’. This is where things started to get hinky. The batter was thicker than what I was expecting, more like cupcake batter.

Regardless, I continued to shove the batter into a piping bag and plopped out 12 dollops onto a greased baking sheet, about the size of a half of a golf ball. Tapped the pan a few times to release air bubbles and smooth out the tops and let them sit for a half an hour while the oven pre-heated.

After letting them sit (presumably not long enough), I put them in the oven and hoped for the best. Much to my disappointment, instead of puffing up or even cooking, my poor macaroons melted into gooey sugar puddles on my tray. 🙁

From what I could tell, the Versawhip couldn’t take the heat, and instead of crystalizing with the almond flour and forming a foamy lattice, it gave into entropy and disintegrated.

I wrote to Willpowder, asking for tips on using Versawhip with baked goods. They replied that their chefs developed it for use in mousses and haven’t experimented with it in the oven, though they are willing to continue support in this area.

I plan on trying to do more online research to see if anyone else is working on this. If you have ever used Versawhip let me know, I’d love to talk about it. Also, if you feel like venting your ‘good old fashioned fail’, we want to hear about it too. Let us know in a comment below.