Category Archives: dyeing

dyeing with buddleja

Buddleja is everywhere is Glasgow! It’s a plant that I’ve done a bit of dyeing with in Australia so I thought it was time to try it here- you never know if the results are going to be the same in another place, as so many variables can influence the production of dye pigments in a plant.

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Different fibres dyed with buddleja: kid mohair/ silk and alpaca/ silk/ cashmere

Buddleja davidii was introduced from China in the nineteenth century and, since then, has spread to all corners of Britain- the highly-dispersible seed of what was originally a garden plant has resulted in extensive buddleia populations in the wild, where the shrub often out-competes native vegetation and reduces biodiversity. Its huge number of tiny windborne seeds colonize bare ground, such as railway lines, amazingly quickly and can even germinate in decaying mortar, causing damage to buildings; many of Glasgow’s derelict buildings have been colonised by buddleja, which makes for an interesting sight when walking in the city!

It is recommended that gardeners and landscape managers remove the flower heads once the plant has done it’s lovely job of providing nectar for butterflies but before the plant sets seed in late summer/ autumn- so I took it upon myself to collect as much as I could from local streets and public spaces- free dye material!

Below is my standard process for dyeing with a new plant, followed by notes in brackets about anything specific to this dyebath:

  1. Prepare  dyestuff: Place 100% weight of goods (WOG) of plant material in a large pot and cover with boiling water (I used 500gm of fresh buddleja flowers to 250gm of yarn as I was not sure whether the high rainfall in Scotland would dilute the dye compounds and affect the amount of colour available). Soak overnight or longer for tough or woody material (I soaked for 36 hours, simply because I didn’t have time to dye before then!)
  2. Extract colour from dyestuff: Place on low-moderate heat and slowly bring the dyebath to 70C. Hold for 45 minutes. Allow the dyebath to cool and then strain out fine or soft dyestuff such as flowers or juicy leaves; you can leave large or woody materials in the bath during dyeing but, for even colour, ensure that it is not touching the yarn (I strained the bath to remove the many small florets that would otherwise get tangled in the yarn).
  3. Prepare fibres:  Place alum-mordanted fibres in a bucket of tepid water and leave to soak for at least an hour to wet the fibres through; If dyeing more than one skein in the same bath, run a long loop of string through the skeins and tie together as this will make it easier to manage them.  If your dyebath is warm or hot and your fibres are cold, place them in a bucket of warm water for 5 minutes and then into a bucket of hot water for 5 minutes to prevent shocking and felting fibres.
  4. Apply colour to fibres: Add fibres to the dyebath. Place on low-moderate heat, slowly bring the dyebath to 70C. Hold for 45-60 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before removing the fibres.
  5. Remove fibres from dyebath and roll in a towel or spin in a salad spinner to remove excess dyebath. Rinse all other fibres in cool water until water runs clear and then dry flat. Alternatively, dry without rinsing; some dyers find that colours intensify if the rinsing process is delayed by a week or longer (I rinsed my yarns straightaway as I was keen to see the final results!).
A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

I used a series of different fibres in the bath; from left to right above, you can see Ysolda’s Blend 1 (Merino, Polwarth and Zwartbles), two skeins of local Shetland from New Lanark, a skein of laceweight kid mohair/ silk and two skeins of alpaca/ silk/ cashmere.

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Above are the two skeins of Shetland- the difference in colour between the two is due to the fact that I popped the top skein in the dye bath when I first set the dyestuff to soak so it had a long time to interact with the dye compounds, whereas the bottom one was added to the strained dyebath with the other fibres. There is a big difference in result, a reminder that some species take up colour without any heat at all and others require long periods in the dyebath to maximise uptake.

And the two fabric samples were part of an adjunct test (in which I poured boiled water over the alum-mordanted samples of silk velvet and left for 12 hours) to see whether the colour from buddleja flowers picked and used when still purple (right) yielded a different colour to those picked when already browning (left). The answer is definitely yes but, as it was getting on in the season, the material I used to dye the yarn in this post was brown… so it’s inspiring to know that next year I can get even more colour if I start picking and dyeing early enough!

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Above are the New Lanark Shetland (left), Ysolda’s Blend 1 and a strand of Tarndie Polwarth. It’s always interesting to see how different fibres pick up and reflect the colour- the dark fibres in Ysolda’s yarn give it a cool cast but the strand of Tarndie Polwarth is also a little cooler than the Shetland, and I often find that dyeing with fine fibres like Polwarth and Merino results in cooler, softer colours than Shetland and other medium-strength fibres…

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

And these three skeins of the same alpaca/ silk and cashmere yarn were all dyed with buddleja but in slightly different ways. The skein to the left was dyed in a bath made from only the buddleja leaves, which resulted in a cooler, slightly greener shade. The skein in the middle is my control skein- it was dyed in the above-described bath. And the skein to the left was also in the above-described bath but had been previously dyed a soft buff-tan in a dye experiment fail with woad seeds- overdyeing it with buddleja resulted in a richer gold and I think that it’s interesting to see how even a very light underbase can affect the end result!

So, my conclusions?  I have some lightfastness tests on the go at the moment (it’s looking like it’s quite fast but a bit too early to be sure) and I’d like to experiment more with modifiers to see if I can get a bigger range of shades but, at this stage, Buddleja is definitely on my list of very useful dye weeds! I love the warm gold shades it yields and the fact that it is everywhere and free to harvest, that we’re actually helping the local ecosystem by harvesting the flowers… it’s such a win for everyone. And my question about whether the colours achieved here would be the same as in Australia? I think the depth of colour is not quite as intense but the shades are very similar…

And, in case you’re keen to learn more, I have one more dye workshop scheduled for the year on Sunday October 9 at the Glasgow Botanics – it should be a lovely day with some great autumn harvesting of dye plants and a day all snugged up in the Kibble Palace with warm tea and cake!

dyeing with avocado pips

A few years ago, after reading on Ravelry dye threads and other blogs about the dyes held in avocado pips and skins, my friend Nandi and I collected a whole lot of pips and got together for a day of dyeing. Carol Lee, one of the great American dyers, had established that the colour is best extracted slowly in an alkali environment so we’d chopped the pips up to increase the surface area as much as possible and left them to soak in a 50/50 water and ammonia solution for a few weeks. Then came the time to see the results of our patience! We heated the dye bath (leaving the dyestuff in) and yarn and waited patiently as the fibres took up the dye… but the end results were unspectacular shades of beige- after seeing and hearing all about the pinks and rusts that other people were achieving, we were more than a bit disappointed. After washing and squirrelling away the pips for months, I turned my back on avocados as a dye ; )

But, after seeing the lovely results that London-based plant dyer Rebecca Desnos achieves with both pip and skin on cellulose fibres, I recently decided to give them another try and set up a large jar on our kitchen windowsill- I half-filled it with water and enough washing soda (sodium carbonate) to take the pH to 10 and , as we finished each avocado, I chopped the pip finely and added it to the jar, ending up a few months later with a jar full of pip in a very dark rust-coloured solution. Over the period of collecting, the solution naturally began to ferment, in turn resulting in a drop in pH so I regularly tested and modified the pH to keep it up around 9-10. Other than that, I just let it do its thing.

Preparing the pips for soaking

Preparing the pips for soaking

The colour emerging on contact with oxygen

The colour emerging on contact with oxygen

A few weeks ago, it was time to try dyeing with it. I added the solution and pips to a dyepot, gradually heated it and let it sit at around 70C for a couple of hours. I then let it cool overnight, repeated the process the next day and then, the following day, I strained out the pips and set them aside and added yarn to the pot. Avocado pips are rich in tannins which acts as a natural mordant, however, after my last experiment dyeing with it, I really wanted to maximise the results and so used yarn mordanted in alum- two sample skeins of Shetland, one white and one grey, and two skeins of one of the yarn bases I’ve been dyeing with, a blend of alpaca, silk and cashmere. I again gradually heated the solution to 70C, held it there for around 90 minutes and then turned the heat off and let the whole lot sit overnight.

The next morning, I pulled out the yarn and was thrilled with the soft salmon colour! However, the solution was still dark in colour and the pips that I’d strained out the day before were the colour of cooked quinces- a rich red. So I added them back to the dye bath and put the pot back on the stove to resimmer and then dyed a whole lot more yarn. In the end,10 pips dyed over a kilo of yarn!

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere, alpaca/ linen/ silk and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ linen/ silk, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

shetland

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ linen/ silk, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

I modified some of the skeins with iron, which transformed the salmon-peach to soft, warm greys and complex purple-greys.

Greys from avocado and iron

Greys from avocado and iron

And, as avocados are rich in anthocyanins which are very sensitive to changes in pH, next time I’ll also try adding them to an alkali bath after dyeing to try to achieve the dark reds and purples that Carol Lee mentions.

So why did I (and many others) have such bland results when I first tried dyeing with avocado? I think slow extraction in the pot over a couple of days of heating and cooling is crucial to build up good colour. I also suspect the the difference in pH (and minerals) between the water of Glasgow and that of Melbourne may be responsible for the more interesting colours achieved this second time… or perhaps it is the soils that the avocados we buy here were grown in that did it. Either way, needless to say, there is a new collection building in the jar and I’m really looking forward to using this wonderful dye again.

If you’re interested in learning more about dyeing with natural materials, I have two upcoming classes at Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens on Sunday August 14 and October 9. And I’ll be adding these skeins to the shop as part of an update in the next couple of weeks so, in case you can’t be bothered collecting pips and dyeing your own, keep an eye out on here, Instagram or sign up for the newsletter for notifications!

dyeing with nettle, coreopsis, elder and logwood

Another group of newbies got a taste of natural dyeing a couple of weeks ago… as always, I was too busy setting up and then teaching to get any photos of the workshop itself but here are the results from our dye baths…

Samples of silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

Samples of silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

We worked with both protein and cellulose fibres and four plants that display some important  aspects of the dye process: nettle as a readily-available, weedy species with a strong affinity with different mordants; dyers coreopsis, a flower that is easy to grow and requires very little processing to extract its dye compounds; logwood extract for easy, quick colour and elderberry for its crazy colour response to pH change. (I’d also hoped to use iron to modify some of our logwood samples but had a scale malfunction and the samples were WAY too dark to show any further colour modification!)

Nettle on silk velvet, silk, habutai, cotton and linen

Nettle on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

Nettle on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

Nettle on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

Nettle on organic merino on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

Nettle on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

logwood1

Logwood on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

logwood1

Logwood on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

logwood1

Logwood on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

elder1

Elderberry on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen; we dyed extra samples of silk velvet and habutai and then treated them with acid (upper) and alkali (lower) in order to demonstrate the influence of pH on the colour achieved from anthocyanin-rich plants (middle)

elder1

Elderberry on organic merino, mordanted with alum + acid, alum, alum + alkali, copper and iron

As always, it was interesting to see how different fibres took up the dyes; I was particularly interested to try a yarn base with two strands of merino and 1 of superwash merino (third from the left in the bundle), as it is commonly thought that superwash yarns take up dye more readily and are less able to hold onto the colour over time. So it was fascinating to see that, while that proved true in this case, the degree of difference in colour uptake seems to depend on the dye! It definitely needs more work but it certainly looks like there is more difference in colour in the coreopsis sample than in the others…

And I was thrilled to get such strong blues on wool using the logwood extract, because dyeing with indigo, while a magical and essentially simple process, requires a lot more work to set up (and a bit tricky in an indoor rental space!). The downside is that logwood is not as colourfast as indigo but using an iron modifier will greatly improve fastness…Something to play around with more.

Logwood on organic merino over dyers chamomile

Logwood on organic merino (over dyers chamomile)

If you are interested in learning more about plant dyes, there are places available in my next class on June 19 at the Glasgow Botanics Kibble Palace; you can find more information through my shop.  And, bonus, here will be so many plants to try by then!

spring

Without us even realising, spring has arrived! After all the preparation for Edinburgh Yarn Festival and then the joy of the actual weekend itself (more on that soon!), it feels like I’ve now stopped to look around and everything has changed… the daylight lasts two hours longer than it did a couple of months ago, we all have a spring in our step, the tiny birds are out collecting for their nests and calling at all hours and there are green shoots everywhere!

Buds

Buds

Fresh green leaves!

Fresh green leaves!

Tiny bundles of larch needles

Larix decidua: European Larch

Cercidophyllum magnficum: Katsura

Cercidophyllum magnficum: Katsura

japmaple

Acer palmatum ‘Sangu-kaku’: Coral-bark Maple

We recently moved and are lucky enough to now overlook the river Kelvin (just a ten-minute walk along the river to the Botanics!) so those shoots are whispering promises of the green cathedral that will be on our doorstep in just a few weeks… and, although we are so excited about the idea of all that green, we can’t quite believe it will actually happen! I’m wondering if that is just because we’ve only had one spring here or if it is another expression of the human capacity to forget all but the physical state we are currently in? Perhaps part of the reason that the ancients performed midwinter rituals to recall the sun back to them was because they didn’t quite believe that it would return of its own accord! We haven’t been ritualising but we certainly have been willing the sun to come… For those who’ve grown up in cold climates, te’ll me, do you begin to remember the seasons as you see years pass?

The early spring flowers are certainly nudging us to remember the colourful beauty of last year’s warmer months…

Salix sp: Willow

Salix sp: Willow

cornus

Cornus mas: Cornelian Cherry

Gold

Forsythia sp.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus: Daffodil

Narcissus pseudonarcissus: Daffodil

Flowering currant

Ribes sanguineum: Flowering Currant

We were lucky enough to head out on Good Friday with one of Scotland’s great foragers, Mark Williams, to learn about recognising and harvesting wild foods which shows that, even this early in the growing season, there is plenty of stuff out and about!

I hope you’re enjoying the swing of the seasons, wherever you live xx

faces and places: sariann and her wool project

Part of a series introducing some of the places and people we’ve come across since moving to Scotland. Some you may already know but, more often than not, they will be new to you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do…

I recently had the chance to talk to Sariann Lehrer of Chopped Ginger about a project that she’s got going over the past few months…

A chef and cookbook writer, Sariann grew up on a working New England farm and then attended the University of Vermont, where she became involved in the local food and small agriculture movements and spent time working on a dairy farm. She’s also a keen knitter who, on moving to Scotland last year, was overwhelmed at the abundance of sheep in the countryside, the native sheep breeds, and the connection to agriculture that so much of the US lacked.

After noticing that there was a lot of focus on the end product of wool farming- that is, the yarns that we all love so much- and very little on the farmers who care for the land and animals that produce them, Sariann took the plunge and contacted small flock shepherds across the UK to launch the Wool Project. In her own words, the Wool Project “focuses on connecting knitters and the recipients of knitwear with where their wool comes from, the importance of keeping traditional small farming alive, and the integral role that we as yarn consumers have in saving heritage and rare breeds here in Britain”.

Sariann has bought 20kg each of fleeces from four different growers and is producing a small batch of yarn from each of them, to highlight both the value and beauty of each breed and the work that the individual growers are doing to sustain them as wool breeds. She launched the project a couple of months ago with her Wensleydale yarn, has just released a Teeswater yarn and will bring out both Gotland and Bluefaced Leicester yarns over the coming few months.

Sariann strikes me as the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or her heart broken, a good thing for the driver of a venture that many may say is too difficult in the current market. So many UK-based mills have closed in the last 20 years that there are few medium or large yarn companies still having their yarn spun here. But it is encouraging to see that there is a growing number of small fibre growers and individuals using specialist mills to produce small-batch yarns, enough to sustain a number of specialist processors and mills, such as the Natural Fibre Company and the Border Mill, who Sariann decided to work with. Her reasoning was threefold; the Border Mill is based nearby in the beautiful Scottish Borders, owners Juliet and John are happy to work with many different types of fleece and to process any quantity, from a single fleece upwards, and they specialise in alpaca fleece, which has long, smooth fibres similar to many of the breeds she is working with.

A little about the breeds and end products of the first two batches…

Chopped Ginger Wensleydale

The Fa’side flock was started by Susan and Ian Brash, with their purchase of three Black Wensleydale foundation ewes, and has grown to include a separate flock of White Wensleydale sheep. The Rare Breed Survival Trust lists Wensleydale sheep as “at risk” on their register, meaning there are between 900 and 1,500 registered sheep in Britain. Fa’side Wensleydales are meticulously bred and registered each year, with the hope of preserving and growing the breed.

The Wensleydale breed originated in North Yorkshire in the early 19th century with the crossing of a since-extinct, local longwool ewe and a Dishley Leicester tup. Unlike most sheep breeds, the lineage can be traced directly back to one ram, Bluecap, born in East Appleton, five miles from Bedale in North Yorkshire. Developed as a dual-purpose breed, Wensleydales still carry the characteristics of the founding tup: dark skin, excellent quality of wool and large size.

A separate register was started in 1994 for black lambs, and the number of registered ewes has been quite volatile, with 88 registered in 1999, which has since declined. The black wool colour is a double recessive trait and is impossible to predict within a white herd. Historically the dark lambs were culled to avoid contaminating the valuable clip with their dark fibres. However, these unpredictable black lambs from white herds have become a valuable resource for the small number of Black Wensleydale herds, as they widen the gene pool and lessen the likelihood of inbreeding.

Wensleydale fibre is very strong but soft, lustrous and especially beautiful in its naturally coloured forms. Yarn made from it has lots of drape and silkiness and, although it develops a slight halo, shows up texture well.

Fa'side Castle and Wensleydales

Fa’side Castle and Wensleydales

Wensleydale Grey

Chopped Ginger Wensleydale Grey

Chopped Ginger Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswaters are a small but dedicated breeding farm, located in Captain Cook country, with one aim- to keep the Teeswater breed alive and to help remove them from category 3 (vulnerable) of the Rare Breeds Survival watch list. When the small flock was started a number of years ago, the breed was at category 2 (endangered) on the RBS list, so the Tunstall shepherds like to think they have gone some way towards achieving their aim. Today Tunstall-homebred lambs are located as far south as South Devon and as far north as Aberdeenshire.

The Teeswater breed is descended from longwool sheep brought over to Britain during the Roman invasion. Initially, they were used to crossbreed with the highland and hill sheep to create larger, fatter sheep suitable for lamb production on gentler, more fertile land. There are records of Teeswaters being exported to Tasmania, Australia, in the early 1800s and they were also bred into Leicester Longwool flocks to improve the breed. When Teeswater ewes were crossed with the Dishley Leicester Longwool ram named Bluecap, the offspring were the origins of the Wensleydale breed. With the rise of the Wensleydale sheep, Teeswater numbers began to decline, until the 1920s when the breed was nearly extinct. The Teeswater Sheep Breeding Association and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust have worked hard to keep the breed alive, supporting farms like Tunstall Teeswaters to ensure that Britain does not lose this historic breed.

Teeswater fibre is incredibly lustrous, strong but soft and has extremely long fibres of up to 30cm. Yarn made from it has the sheen of silk and lots of drape and shows up texture well.

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Teeswater

Chopped Ginger Teeswater

You’ll have to wait a couple of months to see the next instalment of Chopped Ginger Wool but here is a sneak preview of one of the handsome sheep contributing to the next batch…

Griffin, the Pedwardine Gotland

Griffin, the Pedwardine Gotland

Sariann has been really pleased with the results of the first two batches; the lustre and smoothness of both Wensleydale and Teeswater fibres have been highlighted by the processing and spinning and the resulting yarns are smooth, strong and drapey… I’m really looking forward to seeing what projects these beautiful yarns inspire. Sariann’s aim is to eventually buy the entire clip from some of her growers, thus ensuring the continuation of their flocks and an ongoing supply of these beautiful fibres.

As for what I’m going to do with mine, I think I’ll stockpile it until all four are released and then use them together… perhaps a striped shawl?!

You can find out more about the project and buy Sariann’s beautiful yarn at Chopped Ginger and at Ginger Twist in Edinburgh.