Today I have the honour to tell you a bit more about dyeing with the beautiful black Alder!
For me, one of the most beautiful things about natural dyeing is that it made me be even more in nature, wandering through forests, hiking through moors and across meadows, always curious to find new dyeing materials. It brought me one step closer to mother nature, letting me understand her and some of her species a bit more in depth!
When we finally decide on a new dye material I always want to get to know very intensively the trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers from which we take elements for dyeing projects. What is their role, their purpose in the network? Where do they grow? How are they, or much more often, how were they used for medical purposes in the past?
That's why today I want to start my series of mystical trees and dye plants, explaining you a bit more about one specific tree:
BLACK ALDER - alnus glutinosa
Alder is native to almost the whole of continental Europe and you can find it growing at moist ground near rivers, ponds and lakes.
What I particularly like about the black alder is that it's a fast growing species and it serves as a 'nursing tree' for slow growing trees like oak and beech. Just like a protecting Mama tree. This Mama tree can reach a hight of 28 m and an age of 60 years.
In contrast to many other tree species, it can even adapt to extremely wet, groundwater-affected or temporarily flooded locations. I remember being in Brandenburg on a little morning walk around a lake, when I found myself suddenly standing more and more in the moor. I looked up intuitively, I were surrounded by bare but beautiful alder trees. Despite my wet feet a feeling of happiness overcame me and I thanked the beautiful alder that she gave us a few of her seeds to dye with!
“The alder - guardian of secrets, threshold tree to the otherworld, self-confidence, vitality, clarity, perseverance.”
In contrast to other trees, the reputation of the alder is rather negative, especially in Germany. In popular belief, legends about the alder are mostly interwoven with dark and eerie events. It is has been decried the tree of the dead since ancient times.
But hey, why is its reputation actually so dark? Where does this belief come from?
As mentioned before Alders thrive in damp, swampy areas such as moors. Often their roots reach into the water. So they stand exactly on the border between the solid, secure ground and the eerie foggy moorland with all their dangers, water spirits and will-o'-the-wisps.
According to legend, the alder woman lives in the moor. It is believed to be the personification of the alder and leads hikers astray and thus into perdition. In the moonlight you can sometimes see her combing her hair while sitting by the fire. For the Celts, the moor was a mythical place. They viewed it as the home of the souls of the dead and loved to sink their human sacrifices into it.
BLACK ALDER DYE
When dyeing with alder cones we try to capture this mystical energy of the moor. For the dye bath I normally soak the Alder cones in water the night before and then I boil them for about 30 min so they can release all their color. Depending on the time of the year I harvest the cones the dye bath color can vary between light orange and a dark deep brown. After taking out the dye material I put my fabric in and let it soak for about 24 hours.
Sometimes I put the fabric after dyeing in our self-made Iron stain to darken the color. For me this process of darkening is still magical and mind blowing. In the iron stain it's color immediately turns from brown to grey. For getting a grey result it just needs a short dip, but if you want to achieve a dart and deep black let it soak in the iron stain completely and let it rest for a couple of minutes. When taken out it will turn black with the oxidation.
Seeing this intense black I always and again feel the dark and wet moorland where the alder grows, the muddy ground, the cold and the mystical ambience.
You can find Alder cone dyed parts in several garments from our Dessert Collection!