Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Saffron Harvest Comes Round Again

This year's saffron harvest has been in full swing for almost week now. The weather is not so nice as last year, when we sat outside to pinch the valuable strands out of the centres of the flowers. It's colder and damper this year, and in the dull weather the flowers are not opening, making removing the stigmae even more fiddly. Monsieur Mériguet, the main local producer, is seated comfortably on his sofa with the fire going, and saffron crocus flowers spread everywhere, in piles, on newspaper, in various stages of processing.

Saffron should be planted in August if you have dry bulbs, or you can plant it 'in the green', immediately after flowering, in early November. They are easy to grow and multiply rapidly. Monsieur Mériguet pointed out to me on Sunday that any soil and aspect that is suitable for vines is suitable for saffron (and for truffle oaks). Getting them to flower successfully however means planting them deeply. 15cm is recommended - any shallower, and all you will get is leaves.

The saffron flowers from the weekend harvest, destined for the dyepot.
This year I have arranged with him to take the flowers after they have been processed. Normally they would just go on the compost heap, but I want to experiment with using them to dye some cloth. Apparently, like many purple flowers, they make an attractive blue-green dye. It always seems such a shame to waste the lovely flowers, so I am hoping that my experiments produce something worthwhile.

This will be my first foray into the textile art world in more than 10 years. Once upon a time, and for many years, working with textiles and thread to produce clothes and decorative objects was my main leisure activity. I haven't done much dyeing, but I think now is the time. I have the space to grow a lot of my own dyestuffs, and a nice outdoor area to work. My eyesight is no longer good enough for the sort of fine stitching, beadwork and textile manipulation that I used to do, but long ago I produced some natural indigo dyed samples and the magic of the process has stayed with me all these years. Of course, indigo is an entirely different kettle of dyestuffs to saffron flowers, but I am sure messing around with textiles again will be fun. I was very pleased to learn that, just when I need a refresher, there is an international conference on natural dyeing to be held at La Rochelle at Easter next year, so I am hoping to attend at least part of this. There are half a dozen Australians on the programme to speak, and a big marketplace which will be open to the general public.



chm said...

I wish you the best of luck in this "new" old endeavor. Hope to see pictures of the results.

ladybird said...

Susan, You really are a 'Jack-of-all-trades' or should that be 'Jane-of-all-trades'? :)) Martine

Amanda said...

Dyeing textiles sounds really interesting and I am sure you will learn a lot from that conference in La Rochelle next year.

Susan said...

The blog will be a useful place to document the textile dyeing experiments, so I will certainly be writing about it - probably in tedious detail.

Unknown said...

What fun! It must be like magic to see what comes out of the vat and watch the colour emerge as it dries. Maybe you will use some the local walnuts, onion skins etc. How fabulous to have saffron blossoms to play with. I too will look forward to reading about it. I,ve done lots of watercolour painting and was always fascinated by the wonders of pigments, but dyeing seems less direct and quite mysterious, although I suspect you may get into the scientific chemical explanations for it all?
I wonder when you and Simon have time to sleep - you do so much.

Susan said...

Jocelyn: I was certainly planning to use walnuts and onion skins. Dyeing is like magic, and I love that. We are not that energetic you know, and we are very prone to procrastination.

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