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Back to Blogging!


After being distracted by Real Life and FaceBook for far too long, I’m attending to my own blog at last. Yeah, I know I’ve promised to do that before this. But I mean it this time. Really. Seriously. Honest.

We’re gearing up for more dye workshops and fabric painting workshops in 2013. Plus adding dye recipes to our catalog. And separating out our earth colors to its own catalog: Ancient Earth Pigments.

And lots of photos. Plus guest bloggers now and then.

Lots of reasons to keep checking back.


Dye Safety

This is not meant to scare you out of dyeing but is meant to prevent you and loved ones from really dying! Enjoy this wonderful craft by not getting careless. Always be prepared to deal with accidents. Call 911 if victim has a hard time breathing, is not breathing, cannot wake up, or has convulsions.

This is the most important dye information you will ever need!

“Most accidents are the direct result of arrant stupidity; they don’t always happen to the stupidee, but just as often to innocent bystanders.” — FIRST AID TEACHER, Los Angeles Fire Department

Nobody plans on an accident, but bad things can happen all too fast. Never assume that lack of warning means the material is safe. Practice dyeing safety so it becomes automatic.

Safety Gear

FIRST AID BOOK & KIT: Read a First Aid book – you do have one, right? — before you need it. Make a dye workshop first aid kit with various sizes of waterproof bandages, gauze patches, burn ointment, eyewash,
good tweezers, antiseptic, adhesive tape, and sharp scissors.
SAFETY GLASSES: Eyeglasses or contact lenses will NOT protect eyes from splashes and flying powder. Wear safety goggles when using chemicals. If anything splashes into the eyes, wash them gently with water (nothing else) and get medical treatment immediately.
MASK: All powders are dangerous if inhaled, including cosmetics. Sawdust is dangerous because it is really microscopic splinters, which is not good to inhale. Wear a dust or paint mask. However, dust masks are not a substitute for good ventilation, and are no help against fumes. If mixing a lot of powders, get a NIOSH-approved mask.
MIXING POWDERS: Cover work surface with dampened newspapers. Don’t mix near air conditioner or furnace intake pipes that can spread powders into the air. Dissolve powdered chemicals in water, then carefully pour into the dyepot. Toxic fumes result from mixing very strong alkalis and acids, even such seemingly harmless household materials such as bleach and ammonia. PRO-Chemical Company’s excellent website suggests filling a shoebox with damp newspaper cut to size. Keep powdered materials
inside mixing box while measuring or transferring from bottle or package. When powder is mixed or contained, carefully roll up the soiled newspapers and discard.
WHEN TO CALL 911: If an emergency of any kind happens don’t hesitate to call for professional help. They can call the Poison Control Center while the victim is being transported. Post veterinarian’s number in case a pet licks dye or chemicals. The vet can call the National Animal Poison Control Center and have an antidote ready.
CHILD SAFETY: Keep everything well out of children’s reach. Small bodies have less ability to metabolize toxic substances than large bodies. Thousands of children are poisoned every year, some fatally. Children will taste anything: bleach, insecticide, peroxide – you name it! Dyeing is a valuable learning experience, so children old enough to obey can participate if they are watched very carefully.
PETS: As with children, a pet will eat anything it can reach. Thousands of animals are accidentally poisoned every year. One of our pups got into our indigo and ate some. Not enough to harm him, but he pooped bright blue for a couple of days. It was a lesson: what if he’d eaten something far more dangerous?
INSECT BITES: Perfume, food and soft drinks attract insects that get annoyed because you aren’t a flower. Draw their attention away from the dye area with a jar-lid full of sugar-water place well out of the way. In case of bites or stings, follow these hints:

  • Bee stings are acid; put baking soda (alkali) on them
  • Hornet stings are alkaline, put vinegar (acid) on them.
    FIRES: There is not much in a dye workshop that is a fire hazard. However, a sleeve or an apron string too near a dyepot fire can catch fire. If working in an area where there are dry grasses or lots of fallen leaves, be aware of that fire danger. Besides having a fully charged fire extinguisher on hand, also keep a garden hose nearby. A final resort is to overturn a lukewarm dyepot on the fire. The results will be colorful but the fire will be put out.
    BURNS, SCALDS: There is always a danger of burns and scalds if someone is careless around pots of hot liquid. Never put butter on a burn because the fat traps heat and tissue damage continues. Put the burned area in ice water until it can be treated. Aloe gel is good for light burns if not allergic to aloe. For a bad burn, put baking soda on a clean wet cloth and place lightly over burn. If a blister forms or the wound weeps call the doctor.
    FINGER-LICKIN’ GOOD? Place all food, bottles, and cups well away from the dye area. It’s easy to stir your coffee with a spoon used to measure mordant, and that thoroughly ruins the coffee flavor. If your fiber is not thoroughly rinsed it may still have a small amount of unabsorbed mordant on its surface. So don’t handle that fiber, then lick your fingers! This strange warning turns out to be a very necessary caution for adults, not children. Go figure!
    CHEMICAL TOXICITY: Though most natural dyes and mordants are harmless, repeated or prolonged exposure to any materials – including talcum powder — can cause sensitivity and ultimately nervous system damage to some people. These materials can also potentially harm a fetus or nursing child, even though you may have used the same material for years. If you have any adverse reactionsto anything,stop using that material and call your physician.
    LABEL! LABEL! LABEL! Toxic materials in unlabeled bottles causes 75% of all poisonings. Keep the original label and MSDS information with each item on your dye shelf. Never leave any container unlabeled for ‘just a minute.’ Teach children to report skull-and-crossbones if they find something so marked. Don’t remove supplier’s name or hazard warnings. Some chemicals degrade with age, so write date of purchase and when it was made into a solution.
    STORAGE: Replace all plastic or paper packaging by putting the dye or mordant in labeled containers with tight lids. Don’t use metal lids on mordant jars. Some chemicals dissipate in heat or light so keep storage area cool and dark. Make sure glass jars can’t fall off shelves and break – this is very important in earthquake country.
    CLEAN UP: Powders can be wiped up with damp rags; never blow on powders as they may disperse all over the place and contaminate your work area. Liquids can be cleaned with a soapy sponge and paper towels. Dispose of all cleaning rags and paper towels in a tightly-tied plastic bag.
    CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65: This regulation requires special label on products that contain even trace amounts of potential carcinogenic material. Household items such as rubbing alcohol are on the list, as well as copper, cigarette smoke and bracken fern. So a Prop 65 notice on your dye or mordant package is no cause for alarm but merely to create awareness of a possible danger.
    DISPOSAL: Most mordants are not environmentally harmful, but they are minerals and their safe disposal should be considered. Alum solution can be poured down the sink or on any plant in your garden. Copper mordant can be poured on copper-loving plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons. Iron solution can be poured on trees but not on smaller plants. Ask your local nursery about which plants will welcome these mineral. If in doubt ask a waste disposal agency for neutralizing and disposal information.


    POISON IS: Any substance that causes unintended symptoms: (1) Solids; (2) Liquids; (3) Sprays; (4) Gases or vapors. Dyers need to worry about (1), (2), (4): Never leave an unattended stove, especially if children or pets are in the area.

    ACCIDENTS: Millions of people are poisoned every year; most of these accidents could have been prevented. Even talcum powder can be fatal if inhaled; sawdust can be deadly to human lungs.

    CHILDREN AND PETS: Teach children to recognize the skull and crossbones symbol and to report finding such labels. If you suspect a poisoning, call 911. Prompt attention is crucial to save a life.

    SKIN: Never touch chemicals with bare hands Prevent skin contact with impervious protective clothing, closed shoes (no open-toed sandals!), gloves, lab coat, apron or coveralls.

    EYES: Use chemical safety goggles and/or full face shield where dusting or splashing is possible. Do not work with unprotected eyes; do not wear contact lenses around chemicals. Corrosive chemicals can work inside, permanently damaging cornea.
    EYE CONTACT: Check for and remove contact lenses. Gently flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Lift upper and lower eyelids occasionally while water is flowing into eyes.
    VENTILATION: If working indoors, including in the garage, have a good ventilation system to keep chemical dust as low as possible. A ventilation hood can prevent dispersion into work area. Failing that, place an electric fan on floor or in window where it can’t blow across your work table, with the fan blowing out of (away from) the work area.

    RESPIRATORS: For occasional handling of powders, a paper dust mask will suffice; if handling a quantity of powders, a half-face dust/mist NIOSH-approved respirator is best. These respirators do not protect in oxygen-deficient atmospheres.

    FIRST AID: Stay calm! Call 911 so help is on the way. Call doctor and Poison Control Center to find what to do next. Do not induce vomiting unless told to do so by a medical authority. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person.

    INHALATION: Remove victim to fresh air while someone calls for medical assistance. If not breathing, give artificial respiration. Rinse affected parts with water.

    INGESTION: Loosen tight clothing. Wash mouth out with water or milk.

    SKIN CONTACT: Alkali can burn long before symptoms appear. Flush skin with water 15+ minutes. If acid, apply paste of baking soda. Remove contaminated clothing or shoes and thoroughly clean before reuse.

    FIRE: While most dyes and many chemicals are not a fire hazard, some can flare in combination with other materials. Gas can be released from a chemical fire.

    EXPLOSION: Some chemicals can explode if handled carelessly, stored near heat or mixed with an opposite type of chemical. If there is danger of a chemical explosion, get out of area quickly.

    EXTINGUISHERS: Always have a fully-charged fire extinguisher and functioning water hose with cut-off faucet valve in easy reach of work area. Use any means suitable to extinguish fire.

    SURVIVAL: Call 911 to report a fire and give address before hanging up. If possible to fight the fire without personal danger, do so; otherwise, get out of area.

    IF POISONING OCCURS: Have the following information ready to give:

    1. Your name, phone number and address (do not hang up without giving this information!)
    2. Victim’s current condition
    3. Age of victim
    4. Weight (if child or pet was poisoned)
    5. Name of product and ingredients (if listed)
    6. How much of the product was ingested or inhaled
    7. Time that exposure or ingestion occurred
    8. Vital signs (temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, muccous membrane color)

    Post these in work area, and near household telephone:

    1. Your fire department
    2. Family doctor
    3. Your veterinarian
    4. Regional poison control center (see inside cover of any phone directory)
    5. Poisoning emergency: 1-800-222-1222 if victim is conscious
    6. National Animal Poison Control Center: 1-800-548-2423 or 1-900-680-0000
    7. Chemical Emergency numbers, 24-hours, 7 days: Infotrac: 1-800-535-5053 or Chemtrec: 1-800-424-9300; International Chemtrec assistance: 703-527-3887

    KEEP IT SAFE & FUN: Don’t let this long list scare you! It is only to tell you how to deal with dyeing in
    general. Safety precautions are just common sense, once you learn to apply them. Keep an eye on
    everything in the dye area, and enjoy the day!

    About our dyes

    As you’re checking out the dyes in our shop, you might have some questions! Here’s some general information about dyes in our catalog.

    Working at the dyepotsBEST ON…: In product descriptions, a specific fiber may be listed as the best to use with certain dyes. However, most natural dyes work well on all natural fibers. Natural dyes do not work well on man-made fibers.

    FIBER: This is a generic word to indicate anything made of fiber as well as the raw product. This includes raw fleece, bast fibers (linen, raimie), yarns and threads, as well as textiles. Natural dyes react differently on protein fibers (wool, silk) than on cellulose fibers (cotton, linen, hemp, ramie).  You may even get a wide variation of color between wool and silk.

    COUNTRY of ORIGIN: The country listed in brackets [Peru, etc] at the end of a dye description indicates where we obtain our dyestuff, not necessarily where it was first grown or used.

    COLOR NOTE: Dyestuff color descriptions are only approximate; differences in water pH as well as many other uncontrollable factors determine your final color results. Color photos will look different on various computer monitors, so again the color you may see is only approximately the real color of the dyed fiber.

    SHELF-LIFE: Nature dyes in natural or powdered state will last several years; if in doubt, double amount ordinarily used. When dyes change color in the container, it’s time to use up or dispose of them. Dyewood lasts for years if kept dry. Indigo crystals have a finite lifetime, even if kept in a lidded jar, but are too pretty to stay on the shelf, anyway.

    OXIDISING WOOD: Dyewood is a dense dyestuff but will give up beautiful color if coaxed. To get all dyewood color possible, mix 1 cup alcohol with 1-2 drops dishwashing liquid and stir in 2 oz dyewood. Make sure all the wood is wet but not soaking. Spread on baking sheet and let stand at least 3 hours to overnight. Wood may be used immediately or stored for later use. When ready to dye, dyewood should be soaked at least overnight to release the dye; longer soaking is even better. For better color, add a ‘glug’ of vinegar to the dyepot.

    Dyewoods Warning: Many woods can cause contact dermatitis if handled without gloves. Sawdust can cause allergic reactions if inhaled as it contains microscopic splinters, so wear dust mask and safety goggles. Keep powdered dyewoods away from children and pets.
    Hint: Most woody material gives color. Some light woods give surprisingly good color. Ask woodworkers to save shavings and sawdust, every chip. Keep wood separate and labeled.

    DYE EXTRACTS: These finely powdered colors are genuine natural dyes that have been concentrated by a special process. Extracts are 2 to 8 times stronger than regular natural dyes. Extracts create instant dyes of rich natural colors on all natural fibers, especially on protein fibers (silk and wool). These dyes can be used for immersion dyeing or hand-painting on fabric, leather, paper, wood or bone, and are especially beautiful for period manuscripts and scrolls. Extracts are more expensive but much less dye is needed to get beautiful color results! Dye extracts can be mixed with each other or with earth oxides to create even more hues.

    BOTANICAL DYES: Throughout the ages, wild-crafted herbs, flowers, and weeds were used as dyes and often augmented or substituted for expensive imported dyes. Fresh plants give different colors than dried, so try them in your dyeing as well, but please collect responsibly. Some plants are protected. Also, we have no control over handling of herbs, so we strongly suggest that items in our catalog should NOT be ingested.

    SUPPLY & DEMAND: The ancient dye trade was always plagued by taxes, bandits, political borders, territorial disputes, and blockaded shipments that hampered free enterprise. Bad weather limited the amount and quality of natural dye, raised prices, and made regular delivery uncertain. Traders, their agents and other suppliers had their own ideas of doing business, so might or might not deliver as promised, or even have the same quality merchandise when it is reordered. It seems the world hasn’t changed all that much, because all of those factors still control a continuing supply of quality dyestuffs and other items. When you hear of a flood or hurricane (or both) in Central America, it can mean that some of our dyewood suppliers are temporarily out of business; when there is yet another hostile outbreak that means trivial things like dyes will not make it across borders. So please understand when circumstances beyond our control create havoc with our catalog listings, pricing and shipping.

    Burn Test for Fiber Identification


    Getting a great deal at the fabric district, thrift store, or garage sale is hard to pass up – but once you’ve brought your treasure home and you decide to dye it, how do you figure out what it’s made of?

    As you know, the fiber types and contents in yarn and fabric can create wildly different results!

    Luckily, a lighter or match can help you out!Matchsticks on a fabric background

    We’ve put together a convenient reference chart  with a variety of fiber types and what the burned results can mean – download it today!

    Burn Test Reference (for identifying fiber content)

    Bake at 350: Ewe Tube

    Bake at 350: Ewe Tube

    Behind the scenes with Master Hroar the Potter

    Earlier this week, we received an email from Master Hroar and I thought others might be interested in this peek behind the curtain.

    Master Hroar is the potter behind Two Hearts Entwined Pottery, and has worked with clay as an independent potter for the past 30 years.

    Now then, from Master Hroar:
    I know you guys have seen the soup bowls glazed in shino before, but this time I used Dixon Clay from Arrdvarks. The results a pretty awesome, I feel. And the clay is damn interesting to throw with! 8-)

    This one is in the Dixon clay, which is considered a sculptural clay. VERY course with tons of heavy grog. Which means I LOVE throwing with it! 8-) Besides the heavy grog, it also has lots of RIO in it. This influences the glaze color considerably.

    The glaze inside is a brown I make, the covered inside and out with Coyotes Shino. It was dipped with the handle side down, and up to slightly beyond the middle. Allowed to dry, then the procedure was the same on the other side. So, in the middle, we have a double layer of shino, single layers on the ends.

    the same as above is true for this soup bowl.

    I wanted to show the coarse nature of Dixon Clay on a fired piece. Also, a rubber kidney was drawn across it to help somewhat smooth it. Still, the grog does show.

    On these oil lamps, I used a blue glaze I make, and poised it off the Coyote Purple Blue glaze. I feel very satisfied with this glaze. It is very subtle, and seems to work at its best advantage on a white clay body. Any darker and the subtlety is lost. Here, the gold blush comes through nicely, as does the purple and the blue. Also, this is a single dip. Any more and there is the danger of it running. I know; I have had to grind a few pieces from that.

    Computer Problems

    Bjo’s laptop hard drive died so she’s going to be offine for a while. She fully intends to blog more regularly in the future!

    In the meantime, why not check out the upcoming Fiber Frolic or perhaps the hundreds of photos we have of past Griffin Dyeworks Events?

    Whew! Well, I thought I would get back to blogging in a big way, but several things happened to prevent that:

    I had a series of fibromyalgia flares that were more painful than usual and interfered with getting a good night’s rest. This left me very tired and depressed.

    Potrero War, a large Society for Creative Anachronism event, where I taught a natural dye class and a period pigment class using natural earth colors. Though the classes were announced for adults, children showed up for them, too. That’s fine so long as said children are mannerly and really interested in the craft. My youngest dye students were 13 years old and they showed a swift aptitude for color. My youngest pigment student was 5 years old and she did a very good job. But the event was long and tiring.

    Griffin Dyeworks Fiber Retreat was the next weekend after Potrero War. I was not rested up enough to go into an intensive weekend of crafts teaching and learning. The Retreat was wonderful with classes being taught everywhere in the Verdugo Oaks Scout Camp, and participants learning as fast as they could. The Sunday display of projects was just amazing and inspiring. But I was left exhausted.

    During this weekend we learned that three people were in the hospital; one with a burst appendix (she is recovering), one with a serious diabetes reaction (he is recovering) and one who died from a blood clot. Sigvaldr will be sorely missed.

    The next weekend was another SCA event: Coronation and Queen’s Champion, which we attended because friends were stepping up as King and Queen. This extra activity pushed me well beyond my limits and I dragged myself around for two weeks trying to recover. This was entirely stupid of me, and I need to stop treating myself like this!

    So getting my act together to post really interesting blogs with nifty photos has been delayed. Be patient. I will get things sorted out soon, promise.

    We leave on July 3 for a trip to Billings, Montana, to visit John’s sister. This is our annual vacation away from all our activities. I’m taking my Mac laptop to catch up on blogging as well as edit my Dye Basics book to post on the Griffin Dyeworks website.

    While on the Billings trip, we will visit friends along the way and I will teach a 2-day dye workshop (yeah, I know….) — Bjo

    Busy, busy month of May

    May has been a VERY busy month.

    I am working on a mud-dye and rust-dye tutorial for our upcoming Griffin Dyeworks Fiber Retreat and sewing on several projects.

    We saw the Star Trek film at Paramount Studios thanks to Gene Roddenberry’s son, Rod. We saw it again the next week with friends in the Valley. We like it. Of course there are nits to pick: I don’t like Vulcan female garb – on a planet with a standard 140 degrees F temperature, it would be illogical to wear anything close-fitting or heavy. Any starship THAT close to a black hole would be toast. Stuff like that. But in general, it is a good nod to the original Trek while allowing them to go in a new direction. That is a Good Thing, really. The old Trek was too tired to be revived with any success. Love the young actors who played Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura. Doohan would have liked this Scotty, I think.

    The whole family participated in Minnie’s Midnight Madness, an unusual team-builder held every year at Disneyland. This is held after the park is closed to the public. We get into costume and give out clues to teams of Disney cast members (employees). The teams have paid to compete for some really nifty prizes. Outsiders are used for the clue-giving to lessen the chances of cheating. And some of them do cheat. We’ve been clue-givers for the past 5 years and enjoy it thoroughly.

    This year we were a Robin Hood clue corner so we could wear our medieval garb. I handed out the stickers for the clue-gatherers envelopes that they have to hand in. John played King Richard, wearing Lora’s viscountess coronet. Lora and Kathryn were over in the 70s Disco Gong Show clue, which was so popular that people came back after they’d handed in their questionaires just to dance!

    I made Lora widely flared bell-bottomed purple slacks for the game, and repaired a vintage lettuce green polyester leisure suit by adding rust-red fake suede cuffs and pockets for the game show host. Very funny.

    We had several one-day and weekend SCA events to attend as well. In our capacity as Baron and Baroness of the Angels (greater LA area) we are expected to appear at these events. So it is lucky that we enjoy doing it. However, it does take up a good deal of our weekends if we let it.

    Now we are getting ready for Potrero War (a large 4-day SCA event) where I will teach a dye class and a period pigments class where we make our own egg tempera. I thoroughly enjoy teaching crafts.

    It is also important to bring Griffin Dyeworks & Fiber Arts to everyone’s attention so we can build up the business. When I teach dye workshops, I always have flyers to hand out. We’ve only recently introduced the pigments and a really nice period pigment kit for people who would like to try the art of illumination without spending a small fortune. Go visit our website and see!

    After that, over the May 29-31 weekend, we will have our ever-wonderful Griffin Dyeworks Fiber Retreat in the Tehachapi Mountains above Castaic, and that’s the end of May! Whew!

    As soon as I get a few minutes to sort myself out, I’ll post some photos, too.

    Back again after a short pause…

    Only two years later, I am re-blogging (is that a word?) with so much more to tell anyone who has found this blog or who may soon find it. I will be showing a lot of my dye workshop photos here as well as dye recipes for those who would like to learn about natural dyeing. Watch this space!

    Meanwhile, though we are still in Monrovia, our Griffin Dyeworks business address has changed to: 174 W. Foothill Blvd #343, Monrovia, CA 91016. This is _not_ a store front (don’t we wish!) but simply a mail-drop to ship our online and mail orders from. If you show up at this address looking for us, you will meet some very friendly people who won’t tell you where we live. Sorry!

    The reason for having a mail-drop is because it’s cheaper to get UPS deliveries at an official box than home delivery. I have no idea why this is.

    The reason we don’t have a store-front is lack of money. Nobody has shown up with scads of money to back our business venture, either. So we still have our Corporate Headquarters in one-third of the family garage.

    One of my major dreams is to have a crafts center, not just a store, that could house a small crafts store, a supplies store, a large crafts work space, and perhaps even a tiny tea room so we can get snacks on site. This would not have to be in the center of town. It could be in a safely-lit light industrial area, or in a large old house in a commercial area, or other such building. One such fiber crafts center was in a defrocked church. It was really neat.

    I have found a great building in Monrovia that was once one of Charlie Chaplin’s many small movie studios. But there is no way we could afford the entirely reasonable lease for it unless we could round up a goodly collection of other artisans who wanted to rent a space. I don’ have the business head for this kind of thing. Vision, yes. Business, no.

    So it’s not likely to ever happen for me unless I win the lottery or one of you Out There wants to set me up in my dream.