J > Until yesterday, we’d never even heard of Mugwort. Encountering a big specimen of the shrubby plant, on a walk through the dunes with Tilly, yesterday, it’s appearance was no more than vaguely familiar*. But when J rubbed the leaves he immediately claimed that the strong scent reminded him of Southernwood – a scent that is suggestive of an antiseptic solution, or perhaps pyrethrum. So perhaps a member of the Artimesis family? That would include wild and garden Chrysanthemums. And it turns out that this plant is has an alternative name of Wormwood – which definitely does ring bells. And it is by that name we made the connection with dyeing of wool, because it turns out that Mugwort / Wormwood is Artimesis Vulgaris – or Common Artimesa.
[ * Later, we realise the plant is to be found just outside the west gate of our garden, and along the verge of the lane that leads to the hill gate ; but though it’s so common, it is so unpretentious, that we have never really noticed it before, let along given it any attention.]
Mugwort is a plant with numerous traditional uses, including as a treatment for malaria, depression, joint pain, and a great deal more. But it’s the use as a dye stuff that got us interested, and having read up on the subject, back at home, we immediately set out once again to the track through the dunes at Smercleit Taobh a Deas, to collect some of the plentiful Mugwort there.
D > Back at home again, I took the Mugwort to the dyehouse, and set to work. I selected only the more vigorous stems (which are red to purple in colour) and leaves (mid green on top – very pale green underneath, and chopped through the woody stems, reducing them down to a length of about 10cm. With the chopped vegetation in the dye pot, I added water until the vegetation was covered by about five centimetres, and covered with a close-fitting lid. After an hour of vigorous boiling I drained off the liquor, the plant material going to the compost heap.
From time to time I mordant a quantity of white Cheviot wool to top up my stocks of skeins that are pre-mordanted with Alum, Chrome, Copper, Iron. It was skeins from these stocks that I put into the dye-pot with the Mugwort liquor. Here’s the results. On the left, Mugwort over Copper mordanted wool ; in the centre is Mugwort over Iron ; and on the right is Mugwort over Alum. Personally, I’m not much taken by the Copper version, but the other two are more striking colours, and could prove very useful.