Heads up that this is a completely non-philosophical post! I've been participating in a group of US-based growers who are trialling saffron as a cash crop. The research group is based at the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT, so I attended their first annual conference last year, planted 500 saffron corms on my own land, and just recently completed a series of dye experiments using different parts of the saffron flower. The stigmas, or female parts of the flower are the expensive spice. Stamens and petals are usually waste materials. I heard that another grower was selling stamens to Buddhist monks for dyeing robes, so I thought I'd experiment with my own crop, augmented by donations of stamens and petals from some other growers on our listserve. (It takes A LOT of stamens to get a usable weight of dyestuff to play with!)
The following content is the report that I wrote up for the rest of the saffron growing community. I'm putting it here as a view into some of the side activities that go on in my studio and also to illustrate the trial and error involved in figuring out how a dye material works. Hopefully my experiments will prove useful to anyone else wanting to dye with saffron and I welcome comments from anyone who has discovered other methods that work with stamens and petals.
This Christmas finds me thinking deeply about gifts. Not the wrapped items under the tree so much as a philosophy built on a virtuous circle of generosity. And a system called the Gift Economy, which acts on an entirely different axis than our capitalist economy.
Thwarted by a snow storm from visiting family today, my dog and I opted for a long snowshoe up the ridge behind my house to the Lily Pond. It’s a familiar tromp for me and it was fun to say hi to the spots where I picked dye mushrooms just a few months ago now all blanketed in white. When I collect wild stuff for dyes, I don’t pay for it. But I do pay attention to what I am doing, acknowledge the joy of discovery, take a moment to study the living plant or mushroom before I pick it, and make sure to never take more than would be sustainable for a particular patch. When I started foraging a few years ago, I could sense first-hand what it felt like to be greedy with Nature’s gifts. The usually enjoyable activity of walking in the woods felt icky if I was trying to load up on and possess these scarce and beautiful beings that were sitting so perfectly in their home environments. I’ve been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass which has given not only validation to my practice of paying attention to how I forage, but a framework for reciprocity with the land based on the concept of the gift economy. By taking the time to have a relationship with the wildflower and mushroom patches year after year, I learn their habits, can watch when and where they appear, if they seem stressed or vigorous, and only if there is a bounty do I read it as being a gift for me to gather. In turn, I do what I can to protect and enhance their environments and I spread their spores and seeds through the slats of my baskets. They should flourish more and more through the attention and respect I offer. I don’t need huge quantities of any of these precious dye bearing bodies to make the quantities of hats that I do, and I let what is plentiful dictate what colors will populate the patterns.