Natural Dyeing Fabric with Black Beans

When shopping for muslin fabric for sewing test garments, I ended up buying something called “Dyer’s cloth” which was basically an unbleached cotton fabric (I think it’s the same as any other muslin, tbh). That sent me down a rabbit hole of researching various dyeing techniques like tie dye, shibori, and natural dyes.

The concept of natural dyeing was fascinating to me. Seeing the colors people could get out of leftover avocado pits, onion skins, turmeric, berries and more was pretty amazing but also left me with so many questions. How hard was the process? Would the color really stick? Is it really possible to get pink from avocados and blue from black beans??

After reading a ton of articles and watching all sorts of youtube videos, I decided to give it a shot. I was going to try dyeing a couple yards of the dyer’s cloth using black beans since we had a stockpile of dried black beans at home. This is just my first attempt at black bean dyeing, so I am no expert but the 3-day process was quite the experiment!

Equipment and Materials

  • Pot or large bowl for soaking the beans
  • Pot large enough to hold the fabric (will no longer be food-safe) for mordanting (more on this later)
  • Bucket large enough to hold the fabric, for the dye soak
  • Tongs
  • Rubber gloves for handling mordanted fabric
  • (Optional) colander or second bucket for rinsing
  • (Optional) Turkey baster to help transfer bean water
  • Fabric (or yarn or other textile) to dye. This should be a natural fiber (cotton, silk, wool, etc), not synthetic.
  • Dry black beans (I used 4 cups dry black beans for 2 yards of fabric, resulting in a very light color. The higher the bean:water ratio, the stronger the color will be)
  • Alum powder (I used 43g, more detail on this calculation later)

Soak the beans

Day 1 early afternoon: Using a large pot, I soaked the beans in water for about 24 hours in the fridge, giving it a stir every once in a while. I used a 1:6 bean to water ratio: 4 cups of dried black beans + 24 cups of water. You can use more or less depending on what you need for your amount of fabric and how strong you want the color to turn out. The beans will be safe to cook and eat after this soak, so plan ahead for some bean-filled meals 🙂 Do not stir the beans in the final hour or two of the soak so that any particles remain at the bottom of the pot.

Pre-soak fabric in water

Day 1 early evening: Weigh your fabric/textile using a kitchen scale and take note of the weight, to determine the amount of mordant you’ll need in the next step. Before proceeding to the mordant step, soak your fabric in water for an hour.

Mordant

Mordanting is the process of pre-treating the textile with some sort of chemical that will allow the color to stick to the fibers. From my research, alum powder seems to be a common mordant to treat cotton fiber, so I bought a bag on amazon but it can also be found in grocery stores since it’s commonly used for pickling.

I got this brand of alum from Amazon (a whopping 3.5lb for $15)

Day 1 evening: You may want to wear rubber gloves while handling the alum mordant. Calculate 15% of the weight of the fabric (in my case that was 43g), and measure out that much alum. Dissolve into hot water, then add to the pot you’ve dedicated to mordanting (will not be food safe after this!) along with enough water to cover the fabric. Wring out the pre-soaked fabric and add it to the pot, and bring the whole pot of water+alum+fabric to a low simmer. Simmer for about an hour, and use your mordant tongs to turn the fabric occasionally. I then turned off the stove and left the fabric in the pot of mordant overnight.

Didn’t get a photo on the stovetop, this is after the overnight mordant soak, ready to rinse

Day 2 morning: Take fabric out of the mordant pot and rinse well in clean water.

Transfer dye water

Day 2 early afternoon: After not stirring the beans for a couple hours, use a ladle to transfer the bean water (it was a purpleish color for me) to the dye bucket. When the water level got too low for the ladle, I used a turkey baster to get the last bits of water while trying to avoid any sediment or particles at the bottom of the pot.

Soak fabric in dye water

Day 2 early afternoon: Add the rinsed mordanted fabric to the dye bucket and leave to soak! I used the tongs to move and turn the fabric occasionally (every hour or so) to get even color throughout. In total I left the fabric in the dye for about 24 hours, and while soaking, it looked to be a vibrant purple-blue color!

Rinse fabric and hang to dry!

10+ rinses and the water was still coming out blue

Day 3 early afternoon: Remove the fabric from the dye and rinse! It took a shocking number of rinses to get the water to start running clear from my fabric (still not sure if it was ever truly clear after 20+ rinses). Then hang to dry on a clothesline or drying rack. The color went from the dark and vibrant purple-blue to a very pale periwinkle after drying!

After final rinse and fully dried, compared to the original undyed fabric

I haven’t tried washing the fabric again, whether by hand or machine-washing but will update when I do, and when I decide what to make with it! I would definitely try natural dyeing again (especially since I have a huge supply of alum now), I’m very curious about avocado pit pink and onion skin yellow!

Drying Herbs from the Garden

One of the few plants that thrived in the garden bed last year was oregano. In fact, it did so well that it is still taking over its corner of the garden bed today. After using a bunch of it to make oregano pesto, I realized I would need to find another way to make use of all the oregano that I had. With some quick googling, I found a simple guide on drying your own oregano.

Overgrown oregano

The process is actually quite simple. When the oregano has grown tall (about 1 foot) and is about to go to flower, cut off the tall stalks. It’s best to do this in the morning when the aroma is concentrated more in the leaves. The stalks can then be tied in a bundle and hung to dry in a cool dry indoor spot for 2-4 weeks. I hung the bundles on the guest bedroom door for 4 weeks.

After the leaves were dried and double checked by breaking them off and ensuring they were crispy like chips, I took the bundles and removed the leaves from the stems into a large bowl. After the dried leaves were all separated from the stems, I put them all into a glass spice jar. I had to compact them a bit in the jar to get them all to fit, but that just means we have more oregano!

We’ve only been using it for a month or so, but so far it has maintained a strong aroma and flavor. The oregano goes great in pasta dishes, and anywhere you would normally use store bought dried oregano.

We recently used the oregano in these rosemary and oregano sourdough discard crackers.

If you ever find yourself with an overabundance of garden herbs, I would definitely recommend trying this method of drying them.

Quarantine Cooking Favorites

Like many others, being quarantined has led to far more cooking at home than usual — due to no catered lunches at work and also having much more time to prep meals. Here are a few of our new fave recipes from the past few months. (Note: The majority of these recipes are from NYT Cooking which requires a paid subscription, but it is well worth it IMO!)

Buttermilk Pancakes

I’ve made these pancakes most weekends since the quarantine began, and they converted me from someone who is neutral about pancakes to someone who CRAVES pancakes (but only these ones). I also delivered a pancake platter to my mom for mother’s day. I tried a couple other pancake recipes (one for regular pancakes when I didn’t have buttermilk, and one for sourdough pancakes to use up sourdough discard) and they were fine but no comparison.

Recipe: Perfect Buttermilk Pancakes by Alison Roman – My tips/adjustments: Use coconut oil to grease the pan, heat oven to the lowest temp (170F on mine) to keep pancakes warm, add a splash of milk if batter is too thick, and experiment with different flours!

Pasta e Ceci

This has become my pantry fallback for when we’re running out of fresh groceries in the fridge. The only fresh ingredient is kale (or similar green), and otherwise I try to keep shell pasta, canned chickpeas, canned tomatoes, and parmesan on hand at all times. I’ll also throw in any other veggies I have on hand.

Recipe: Pasta e Ceci from NYT Cooking

Chicken Tikka Masala

We’ve made this a couple times now, and it came highly recommended by a friend who has made it many times. We had it with a side of rice but garlic naan from Trader Joe’s freezer aisle is also a great and easy option.

Recipe: Chicken Tikka Masala from Cafe Delites

Homemade Chicken Shawarma

This was much more of a project because we made each element from scratch, including the pitas, which were a surprise success!

Recipes:

Garlicky Chicken with Scallions and Lime

This was the first thing I ever made in a dutch oven and it turned out great, and I’ve made it several times since. You just need chicken thighs (skin-on gets you a crispy skin), limes, garlic, and an abundance of green onions (which we have growing in the backyard). At the end I usually take out the cooked chicken and cook down a bunch of kale in the remaining sauce. Also the cooked head of garlic is great for smearing onto crusty bread!

Recipe: Garlicky Chicken Thighs with Scallions and Lime from NYT Cooking

Quarantine Project Successes and Failures (so far)

Since stay-at-home orders have been in place starting in March, like many others we’ve taken on various home projects to varying degrees of success.

Successes

  • Sewing face masks, as donations to healthcare workers as well as for friends + family
  • Building a new garden bed (post here)
  • Making meringues from aquafaba, aka. chickpea liquid
  • Baking yeasted breads, including: babka, chocolate buns, scallion buns, pita, sourdough (post coming soon)
  • Dyeing fabric using black beans (post coming soon)
  • Built a shelf in the garage
  • Sewing a shirt
  • Trying lots of new recipes (post here)
  • Drying overgrown oregano from our garden (post coming soon)

Failures

  • Making sourdough starter from scratch (it made flat, super dense bread)
  • Keeping critters out of the new garden
  • Loquat jam — tried to use up the hundreds of loquats from our yard but they did not break down into jammy consistency
  • Making tortillas from scratch — they tasted fine, but they were too thick and misshapen
  • Making potstickers from scratch — the dumpling skins were time consuming to roll out, then after we rolled them out, they had all stuck together in a stack (we didn’t put enough flour between the sheets). Then filling and folding the dumplings was a real expectations vs reality moment.

Left: High dumpling expectations vs Right: Reality of us trying our best

Building the New Raised Garden Bed

Last year I built a raised planter box along the side of the house to grow a few herbs and veggies. It turned out well, but it does have a few issues: It’s a bit too small for all the plants we want to grow, and being up against an east-facing wall it only really gets direct sun in the morning.

One year ago (same t-shirt though): the first garden bed which is in the shade

I decided to build another, larger bed to get some more area to grow veggies. This new bed gets a lot more direct sun throughout the day, so hopefully that will help increase the yield of the veggies we grow in it.

I started by clearing weeds and leveling an area about 4ft x 10ft along the north fence in the back yard. Once the site was prepared, I placed stacks of raised bed planter wall blocks in stacks of 3 high. This was the most time consuming part of the process as it took some time going back and forth between each corner to make sure all the blocks were level with each-other.

One year ago: This is the spot! Replacing those potted plants with a second raised garden bed

Once I was satisfied that the blocks were all leveled, I was able to slide in the sections of 2×6 lumber to create the walls. After I was satisfied everything was going to fit I wrapped the inside of the walls with a clear plastic drop cloth by stapling the plastic to the bottom and top 2×4. The hope in doing this is I will preserve the lumber a few more years from rot and have the bed last a bit longer. At this point, the full structure of the bed was complete and I hammered in 3-foot sections of rebar in each of the 4 corner block stacks to hold them in place.

Before filling the bed, I attached some vertical sections of 1″ PVC on the inside wall of the planter bed. These will serve as attach points for various coverings I may want to construct such as bird netting or a mini greenhouse with plastic tarp.

Frame of the raised bed completed

Finally it was time to fill the bed. I started by adding a layer of various tree branches and logs that we had in the backyard. (Having recently trimmed some trees we had quite a few of these). I then added leaves and some dirt to fill the gaps between all the branches. Luna appreciated the hole that was dug to get the dirt. Finally, the last 8 inches or so were filled with a combination of various leftover potting soil from last year, finished compost, and a bag of “garden soil” that mostly just turned out to be mulch as there were much more wood chips than actual soil. Luckily I added that last so it worked out well as it is in fact mulching the soil.

Bottom of the bed is filled with leftover branches and leaves
Luna enjoying the freshly dug hole

The last step was to plant some seedlings. I transplanted some Zucchini, Honeydew, Japanese cucumber, and Butternut squash. In a later post, I’ll talk about the fate these seedlings suffered at the hands (claws?) of my nemesis in the garden: squirrels.

Seedlings freshly planted!

Hot tips for making pizza in your home oven

Since we are rebranding our house as Pizzahouse, for our inaugural post we decided to share some of our tips from making excellent pizza at home. (Yes, we are known for having a backyard wood-fired pizza oven but when we’re not churning out pizzas for a party, it’s much more practical for us to use the regular oven for just a couple pizzas.)

Tools you’ll need:

  • Pizza stone or perforated pizza pan (we use something similar to this pan)
  • Pizza peel (we prefer a wooden one but metal will also work)
  • Parchment paper

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • Pizza dough, preferably from scratch (this recipe has been great)
  • Flour for rolling out dough
  • Toppings! Anything you like but ideally keep it simple as too many toppings will weigh the pizza down and make it soggy

The Process

Step 1: If making dough from scratch, start your dough 3-4 hours in advance of pizza making time to allow enough time for it to rise

Step 2: Prepare all your topping ingredients (make sauces, wash and chop veggies, pre-cook sausage or chicken, etc)

Step 3: When you’re about ready to start rolling out pizzas, preheat oven along with the pizza stone or pan to as high as it’ll go (our oven goes to 550F)

Step 4: Flour a surface and roll out the dough into as close to a circle shape as you can. This is trickier than it seems. We typically use a combination of rolling pin and just pushing and tugging on the dough with our hands until it is quite thin but not about to break. (You could try to master this method 😁)

Step 5: Place a piece of parchment paper on your pizza peel, and place your rolled out dough on the parchment. This is where you’ll assemble your pizza for ease of transfer into the oven.

Step 6: Aerate dough by taking a fork and pricking holes alllll over the dough. This will prevent really huge air bubbles from forming and pushing the toppings off.

Step 7: Assemble pizza! We usually brush on some olive oil and minced garlic, then top with a good amount of mozzarella, plus feta, zucchini, corn, and red onions (our take on a Cheeseboard favorite). Again, to avoid a soggy pizza try not to pile on too many toppings, as tempting as it is.

Step 8: Once the oven and stone are at temp, use the pizza peel to slide the pizza (along with parchment paper) onto the pizza stone. The parchment paper is crucial to prevent sticking and is a trick we learned very recently.

Step 9: After about 3 minutes of baking, remove the parchment paper. You should be able to carefully lift the pizza up at one side and slide the parchment out from under it. If it’s not too fried you can reuse it for your next pizza (we’re assuming you’re making at least two)

Step 10: Bake for about 7 minutes more (approx 10 min total) or until cheese is starting to get bubbly and brown on top.

Step 11: Remove pizza from oven, add any finishing toppings (fresh herbs or a squeeze of lime), slice and enjoy! Repeat as many times as you like =)