Oklahoma is derived from the Choctaw Indian words "okla" meaning people and "humma" meaning red. Oklahoma is my home. Tinctoria is Latin, meaning to dye or color things; this is my work.

30 June 2010

Miracle Milk from a Plant

Dry Soy Beans, 2010.

Aside from corn, soybeans are the workhorse of plants. They are one of the most widely grown crops in the world. Although mostly grown for vegetable oil and feed filler for cattle, soy beans are still used for many food products that have an especially long history in Asia and Japan. Soy(or soya) beans are used for many food products such as soy milk, tofu, tempeh and miso (fermented), edamame (fresh), soy oil (pressed), okara (by product of soy milk), textured vegetable protein, shoyu or soy sauce, and baby formula. Glycine max, called mao dou in China, is a nitrogen fixing legume native to East Asia. It has been cultivated for 2200 years. The plants have small purple flowers that produce these wondrously nutritious beans that are good for soil and good for our health. So, what does this have to do with natural colors and textiles?

Well, it turns out fresh soy milk and fresh cow's milk can be used as sizing on fabric and it acts as a binder to “lock” pigments onto cloth. The protein molecules chemically change over about a two week period and transform from being water soluble to being insoluble in water. During the 3-6 month curing period the soy milk is locking the natural color to the fiber.

Soy Beans beginning to soak, 2010.

Plump Soy Beans, 2010.

When I first learned about making my own soy milk I was on the path to discovering the “real way” food was made and I was learning how to feed myself. Several years later, during a workshop lead by Michele Wipplinger of Earthues, I was introduced to the concept of using fresh soy milk when painting natural pigments on cloth. But, honestly, in hindsight I did not believe my eyes. Even though I had been immersed in natural dyes for some time, I still could not grasp this simple concept. Fast forward a few more years to Earth’s Palette Color Conference 2009 in Taos, New Mexico to a workshop lead by John Marshall. Here I began to accept that this humble workhorse of a plant produces Miracle Milk used for natural color techniques on fiber. And, it does not come from an animal. Now I am forever hooked.

Draining Okara, 2010.

Squeezing Okara to extract
Soy Milk, 2010.

Okara leftover after squeezing, 2010.

There are many instructions that can be found so I won’t be too repetitive. I find pictures helpful when I am trying any new process so that is what I am going to provide as a reference. The only missing picture is the blender “in action”. Following are a list of general steps for making Miracle Milk.

1. Start with organically grown dry soybeans whenever possible; a few beans go quite a long way and they are inexpensive and safe to use.
2. Make soy milk fresh each day you are going to use it.
3. Do not keep it longer than 24 hours, refrigerate overnight if necessary.
4. Soy milk is sticky so rinse your hands and the cloth being used for straining as quickly as possible.
5. When straining the soy milk use a cotton dishcloth or a recycled piece of a sheet. The first time I made soy milk on my own I used cheap cheesecloth folded over on itself  and I ended up with bits of okara, in my painting- it was mealy and yucky!
6. The okara is edible, maybe not delicious.... send a recipe if you find a good one!

Miracle Milk and Okara, 2010.

Soy Milk consistency, 2010.

1. Soak dry soybeans 4-12 hours, until plump. The warmer the climate the faster they plump. 
2. Make soy milk in blender, strain through cloth; Repeat 2-3 times.
3. Brush clean cellulose or protein fabric with fresh soy milk.
4. Allow to dry to damp dry.
5. Mix pigments with soy milk in a glass or ceramic jar before applying to the fabric.
6. Apply pigments to the cloth using various tools &  techniques.
7. Build up layers of color and let the cloth air dry between layers.
8. Air cure, minimum 1 month; preferred 3-6 depending on climate.
9. Hand wash in neutral detergent, Orvus paste, or shampoo.
10. Once washing is complete, air dry and then apply a final layer of soy milk. 

Small plants at Olinda, Maui
Credit: Forest and Kim Starr
Plants of Hawaii - Image licensed under
a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License,
 permitting sharing and adaptation with attribution. 

Soy Beans ready for harvest,
Credit: Photo by Stephen Ausmus,
Public domain from USDA
 Agricultural Research Service Image Gallery.

Dry Soy Beans,
Public Domain Image by
 USDA employee,
Wikipedia Commons.

For detailed/scientific information about the growth stages of Glycine max visit:

For political food for thought read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen

For adventures in cooking with soybeans in all forms try:
The Book of Tofu: Food for Mankind Volume 1. Shurleff, William and Aoyagi, Akiko. Autumn Press, Canada, 1975.

23 June 2010

Seed to Skein 2010 Dye Garden Project, Part V

VW Improv, 2010.

Part V: Mulching

It would be nearly impossible to garden in Oklahoma without a good layer of mulch. Ground leaves are a favorite mulch but they are more difficult to come by than wheat straw. Even the wheat straw has to be “hunted” for every time I need to replenish my supply. I buy as much as I can transport in whatever vehicle is available. We do not have a truck so we improvised with the VW Camper van. We packed in 16 total!

16 Bales Full, 2010.

Top > Bottom:
Polygonum tinctorium
Isatis tinctoria
Reseda luteola

Top > Bottom/Mulched:
Polygonum tinctorium
Isatis tinctoria
Reseda luteola

Polygonum tinctorium mulched, 2010.

All of my dye plant seedlings have been transplanted into their garden ground. I purchased wheat straw from a farmer in Tuttle, Oklahoma. The wheat straw was spread throughout all the garden beds about 6” thick.

A good layer of mulch helps to retain moisture, especially during the hot and dry Oklahoma Summer. Mulch is excellent for suppressing weeds too, reducing the amount of overall weeding that needs to be done.

Tomatoes, Basil,
Cardoon, Calendula,
 Tagetes patula, 2010.

Same bed as above,
looking North, Rubia tinctoria
in foreground, 2010.

Calendula bud
 in freshly mulched bed, 2010.

16 June 2010

Seed to Skein 2010 Dye Garden Project, Part IV

Seed Starting Frame/Growth Stages, 2010.

Part IV: Transplanting and Root Systems
Once the true leaf has developed (after the cotyledons), the small plants can be transplanted directly into garden ground or potted up individually into 4” garden pots. The main advantage to starting multiple dye plant seeds in a single 4” pot is the ability to clearly identify the dye plant sprouts as they emerge. Several factors determine direct ground or continue in pots: Is the garden bed ready? Has the last frost date passed? How sensitive is the plant? Does it have a better chance of survival if it is able to grow a bit bigger and stronger, developing a stronger root system before being transplanted directly into the soil.

Layout Rubia Tinctoria, 2010.

Transplanted Dahlia, 2010.

Transplanting time is an overwhelming process. There are many decisions to make. I find planting choices to begin methodically and end intuitively. Some seedlings are not the least bit bothered by division or transplanting while others go into shock for a of couple days but find the strength and determination to recover. Some plants simply do not like to be moved and may continue to struggle or perhaps die. Often the weather during the time of the transplanting can play a major factor in the outcome for sensitive plants. Many results are predictable, but some are surprises or simply the “lay of the land” when learning to garden or getting to know new plant species. These characteristics are important to recognize and to respect in each garden and for each plant species. Think of people being moved... sometimes we take it well, sometimes we don’t. Plants are no different. And, like people, they like to have a good drink once they have been moved. Ideal moving days for plants are when it is cool and wet.

Isatis tinctoria
being thinning, 2010.

When seeds are directly sown into the garden soil they most likely will need to be thinned because they germinated too closely to one another. Woad, Isatis tinctoria, was the only plant I direct seeded this year. Weld, Reseda luteola, one of the slower dye plants to germinate, is usually recommended for direct sowing, but I was concerned about not being able to identify the seedling, so I planted them in a 4” pot that went into the seed-starting frame. Once the seedlings were ready for division I transplanted about a dozen into a prepared garden bed and I also potted some up into individual 4” pots. Although the Weld needed a couple days to recover from their move, and the cloudy, cool days helped, both methods worked well. Weld will shortly develop a tap root, making transplanting too difficult and traumatic. 

Reseda luteola roots of seedlings, 2010.

Rubia tinctoria
 roots, 2010.

Rubia tinctoria roots,
close up out of 4" pot, 2010.

Roots anchor the plant in the ground, absorb water and nutrients, store carbohydrates, and they are responsible for the primary growth of the plant. There are many different types of roots. Primary root systems are the main root growing downward. Tap roots are characterized by their single large, downward growing root with branch or lateral roots growing off the side of the tap root like a carrot. Fibrous roots are when all the roots are of similar size. Root nodules form with nitrogen-fixing bacteria along the root systems of legumes- Indigofera tinctoria is a good example.

Polygonum tinctorium,
close up out of 4" pot, 2010.

Polygonum tinctorium,
root growth stages, 2010.

Transplanting dye plant seedlings allows for observation of various species’ root systems, exposing root systems rarely seen or not fully exposed until harvest.

Galium verum roots, transplant, 2010.

07 June 2010

Purple Majesty

Energyscape #2658, 2010.

Violet has the shortest wavelength in the light spectrum and the fastest vibration. The hues of Purple vary in proportions of Red and Blue, making them warmer or cooler. Violet is the darkest hue on the color wheel. Its complement is Yellow, the lightest hue on the color wheel. Purple is elliptical; a combination of the Blue sphere and the Red square.

Inside Iris,
Chalet Garden, 2010.

Purples which are light in value are often referred to as lilac or lavender while  darker value of Purple often referred to as eggplant, mauve, or dark purple. Mauve is known as the transition color from worldwide use of natural dyes into the use of synthetic dyes. The book Mauve, by Simon Garfield, provides a detail account of its historical importance.

Unidentified Mushroom, Gloucester, 2009.

Sumac Fruit, Rhus, 2009.

The combinations from Red-violet to Blue-violet are stunning. Blue-violet represents solitude, dedication, and sternness. Red-violet represents divine love and good luck; of course experiencing divine love is good luck!

Papaver opening,
Chalet Garden, 2009.

Roadside Echinacea,
Arkansas, 2009.

Lavenders and lilac are delicate, fragile, soft, and calming. They can be nostalgic and sentimental but they can also foster mental balance. More saturated Purples  are considered prestigious, royal, wealthy, powerful, and represent magnificence and an expression of sophistication.

Feng Shui practices associate purple with the element of fire. Chinese astrology associates purple with the North Star. Violet is associated with the crown chakra, while working with the spiritual body, it is useful for vision and anything affecting the  brain. Violet has a strong connection to artistic endeavors, quests, and inspiration; it is the color of  consciousness. It is a color of healing and awareness, cleansing and calmness. While encouraging and impressive, if the improper shade or value of Purple is used it can be oppressive. 

Victorian Home, New York,

The historic purple known throughout the ancient Mediterranean was derived from Murex, mollusks which produced only drops of the desirable color. Good Purple hues can be achieved using Logwood, Haematoxylon campechianum, or Brazilwood, Caesalpinia species. Cochineal, Dactylopus coccus, and Lac, Laccifer lacca, are natural red dyes; by shifting the pH to alkali the reds become more blue-red. And, using various values of natural red dyes in combination with indigo will yield lovely purple values. 

Acanthus spinosus,
Cornell Botanical Gardens,

Energyscape #309, 2009.

Purple represents devotion, reverence, respect, and loyalty. Although it is the color associated with royalty, the City of Gloucester, Mass. debuted in January 2009 purple plastic trash bags (@ $2/bag) to replace their pink sticker trash collection service. 

Gloucester trash bags, 2009.

descriptive words for purple:
lilac, dusty plum, lavender, mauve, violet, plum crazy

inspirations from purple:
violas, lilacs, red lettuce, red grapes, Ageratum sp., orchids, Clematis sp., mulberries, blackberries, eggplant, beets, red onions, red cabbages, plums, dew berries, amethyst, red wine, port, Callicarpa, poke berries, prickly pear cacti fruit.

meanings of purple:
Eminence, Missouri ironically is the town we recently “put in” our canoes for our week long adventure down Jack’s Fork River. Pleading ignorance, I did not realize the word was synonymous with purple!

Door #269, Gloucester, 2009.

Bibliography and Suggested Observations (see Oklahoma Tinctoria LibraryThing for detailed information):

Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, One-way Color Tunnel, San Francisco Museum of Art, ‘Take Your Time’ Exhibit:

Pantone Color Guides.

Dean, Jenny. Wild Color.

Phipps, Elena. Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color

Garfield, Simon. Mauve.