Chumash Basket Hat (materials and pattern from Santa Barbara Chumash)
Style: Coiled basket with juncus three-rod foundation
Colors: Plain juncus (yellow), dyed juncus (black), split sumac (white)
Black dye technique: Split yellow juncus is submerged in old cast iron pot with crushed up oak galls and rusty nails. Leave outside for 2-3 weeks. When you remove dyed juncus, let mixture in pot dry up, then re-use just like a soup stock the next time you dye.
This photo & the description come from Timara Lotah Link, of the Santa Barbara Chumash Indians in California. Tima contacted me to ask my advice about preventing the Juncus textilis reeds used in their basket weaving from becoming brittle as a result of the iron/tannin dyeing process.
The tannin/iron complex, used to achieve black through the combination of tannin from a plant source & iron, often from iron-rich earth or mud, is one of the most ancient & most widespread dyeing techniques. It is used traditionally all over the world, from Aboriginal tribes in Australia to Native American Indians in North & South America, & also throughout Africa, mainly to dye reeds & grasses & sometimes to paint designs on cotton fabric. Its only drawback is that iron tends to have a damaging effect over a period of time, most noticeably on animal fibres & less so on vegetable fibres. However, this damage may take many decades to become apparent & may not be noticeable during the lifetime of the artefact, especially if it is a well-used basket.
In her email, Tima described how “In the old days, the women would dig a hole (we think it was in ground that stayed wet), fill it with black mud, (maybe?? ashes), juncus, and come back in 3 weeks and ‘presto!’. Jet black juncus.”