Earlier this year, fifth graders learned about how colonial Americans made cloth by growing fibers such as cotton and flax for linen, by raising animals such as sheep and occasionally silk worms for wool and silk, how they grew plants with which they could make dyes, and how they wove and knitted cloth for clothing, and recycled old clothes into rag rugs, patchwork quilts, and just about anything else they needed. Then the fifth graders planted some dye plants — marigolds, coreopsis, red sorrel and purple cabbage.
This month, the fifth graders used those plants to make dyes — red sorrel for pink dye, marigolds and coreopsis flowers for yellow dye, and purple cabbage for lavender dye. They boiled the plants in water mixed with a mordant — a chemical such as cream of tartar or alum — which broke up the cellulose or protein fibers of the plant or animal fiber, and allowed the dye to penetrate. They then put squares of linen and silk into the dye, and left them to soak over the weekend. The results were brilliant — if a little stinky!
To manage the odor, the fifth graders — like the colonists before them — made lavender sachets.