Category Archives: dyeing

dyeing with dyer’s coreopsis

I’ve been doing quite a bit of dyeing again over the last few months! When we first moved to Glasgow and into our flat, I really didn’t think I’d be able to do much at all as the kitchen is minuscule and there are no windows where I could put jars of dye and fibre to catch the heat of the sun… but, since we don’t currently have a garden and I’m not currently doing any hort work at all, it’s been the finding and collecting of plant material for dyeing that’s been my main interaction with plants, so I had to find a way to be able to then dye with it! So I’ve worked things so that, if I’m careful to be super clean and keep all my dyeing equipment separate, I can actually dye in the kitchen. Happy!

I recently discovered a huge patch of Dyer’s Coreopsis growing in a council bed near Glasgow University and was really keen to try dyeing with it. Despite the temperature dropping and the days shortening, a huge number of flowers have continued to appear, so I got into the habit of swinging by there every morning and picking a handful on my morning walk. Thanks, Glasgow City Council! (Normally collecting plants is a great conversation starter as people are always interested in what you’re going to do with it but, in this case, the students rushing to class were mostly oblivious to the strange woman harvesting flowers!)

So the results…

I’m using my standard method for dye tests with new species so that, though I’m still in the process of gathering a wide range of different fibres to test on, I get a sense of the possibilities of a species:

  • I’m using an 8ply blend of Jacob, Portland and Leicester Longwool from Garthenor Organics (from Queen of Purls here in Glasgow) that dyes beautifully, I imagine because of the Leicester and Portland components… The large skeins are mordanted with alum and cream of tartar and the short lengths with iron (top) and copper (bottom).
  • I also added small samples of silk and silk velvet fabrics, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.
  • At the top left, you can see two small samples of Polwarth from Tarndie, the original flock of Polwarth sheep in my home state of Victoria, which I added to compare how a yarn that is softer and less lustrous would show the dye- the top one is a pale grey and the bottom a white.
  • And, to the left, a number of flowers showing the varying ratio of yellow to red found in the flowers…
Coreopsis tinctoria

Coreopsis tinctoria

All of these fibres were dyed in the same bath of flowers that had been covered in hot water, left to soak for 36 hours and then simmered for 1 hour. The bath was then cooled, the flowers removed and put in the freezer for another bath (Coreopsis is meant to be very generous!) and then the fibres added and simmered for 45 minutes.

I then removed the fibres and checked the pH to find it was in the neutral zone so put aside one set of fibres, which became the test set for dyeing at neutral pH (including the Polwarth samples).

Coreopsis, neutral bath

Coreopsis, neutral bath

I then added enough vinegar to lower the pH to 3-4, added one of the remaining sets of fibres to the bath and kept it on a low heat for 10 minutes. I then removed and rinsed that set.

Coreopsis, acid

Coreopsis, acid

And finally raised the pH to 9 by adding sodium carbonate and added the final set of fibres, again leaving them in for 10 minutes and then rinsing them.

Coreopsis, alkali

Coreopsis, alkali

And so you can see that, while there is there a huge amount of lovely colour in Dyer’s Coreopsis, it seems to have more of bit more of an affinity with wool than silk. PH definitely alters the result, with acids taking the colour to yellow and alkalis to deep orange and, while the copper-mordanted samples are very similar to those treated with alum/ cream of tartar, the iron samples range from a very dark hunter green to brown.

Coreopsis tinctoria

Coreopsis tinctoria and fibres dyed with it

I think this is my new favourite dye plant! It might have something to do with the fact that I’m still getting used to how dark and grey Glasgow is at the moment but I love its cheerful, sunshine-y colours and the way the dye just poured out of it when I prepared the dye bath! I’m going to try to get the coral-red that is apparently achievable by leaving it in an alkali bath for longer so I’ll let you know how that little experiment turns out…

And in case you’re interested in learning more about dyeing with plants, there is one place left in my workshop at the Glasgow Botanics on November 15- you can find out more via my shop!

fantoosh

I’m just about to hand a recently-finished object over to my lovely sister so, given the paucity of knitting content here of late and that this is my last chance to photograph it, I thought I’d share a few photos…

This is Fantoosh from Kate Davies!

Fantoosh

Fantoosh

Fantoosh

Fantoosh

It’s a beauty, isn’t it?! I worked it in the yarn that Kate had in mind when she designed it, Old Maiden Aunt Alpaca/ Silk/ Cashmere, which is an incredibly luxurious blend far softer and drapier that the woolly yarns I usually go for- but I thoroughly enjoyed working with it so perhaps there’s a “soft” knitter somewhere deep inside me! The work of fantastic dyer Lilith, this particular yarn had a little more colour and variegation going on than I thought it might and I was a little concerned that it might be too much but, although I’m not a fan of lace knitted with variegated yarns, I think it works ok with this one.

The knitting was a complete pleasure too, with just enough to keep me interested but nicely intuitive- my kind of lace. Kate’s designs are always well-thought-through and a good combination of classic technique and interesting detail. And those little trees…  no need to say more, I think!

Fantoosh

Fantoosh

I was a little surprised that I only used 125gm but decided to knit it as written and not to add any extra repeats (that way I can use the 75gm left to make this lovely hat from another smart British designer!). And, once I’d blocked it, I realised why- although I normally work a little on the loose side, my tension turned out to be smaller than the pattern tension. I think it was working with slippery silk and alpaca that made me consciously work a little tighter. And I admit it- I often don’t swatch for a shawl or other non-garment knits ; )  And so the overall piece is smaller than expected. It’s not the sumptuous, wrap-around-me shawl that Kate’s is. But you know, my sister is not a knitter so the concept of how to even wear a shawl will be novel and so a shawl that wraps around the neck, rather than the shoulders, is a good thing!

So that’s my Fantoosh! A thoroughly enjoyable knit that I’d recommend and knit again…

dyeing workshop at tarndie

I recently received an email from Tom Dennis of Tarndwarncoort, enquiring whether I’d be interested in running a workshop on botanical dyeing at the homestead while I’m home in Australia. Of course, I jumped at the chance!

Tom and his parents, Wendy & David Dennis, run a Polwarth sheep and woolgrowing enterprise on their historic Birregurra property ‘Tarndwarncoort‘, established in 1840 in Western Victoria. Polwarth sheep were developed by Richard Dennis at Tarndwarncoort in 1880 by crossing Saxon Merino sheep from Tasmania with Victorian Lincoln sheep. This progeny was then joined back to the Merino and bred to a fixed type. These un-mulsed sheep were named Dennis Comebacks and later renamed Polwarth after the local electorate and are considered Australia’s first breed of sheep. The sheep that Wendy and Dennis run are from the very same flock of Polwarths and produce very beautiful wool with the unusual combination of softness and lustre, something that makes it quite unusual and very desirable to spinners, knitters and dyers.

Polwarth sheep from the original flock

Polwarth sheep from the original flock

I was really excited to teach a class here at Tarndie because, ever since I started dyeing with plants a few yard ago, I’ve used Wendy’s fantastic Polwarth yarn and it takes up the dye so beautifully… You can see the lustre in these beautiful locks of fleece, as well as in the finished yarn once knitted up:

Tarndie Polwarth fleece

Tarndie Polwarth fleece

Tarndie Polwarth yarn

Tarndie Polwarth yarn

Tarndie yarn and silk dyed with pokeroot

Tarndie yarn and silk dyed with pokeroot

Triangle baby hat, made for Wendy a few years ago to show how beautifully her yarn knits on a domestic machine

Triangle baby hat made for Wendy  to show how beautifully her yarn knits on a domestic machine

And so I know we’ll get the most out of the dye pots and that the yarn will highlight the dyes beautifully.

The workshop will cover all the essentials of dyeing with natural materials- we’ll cover the key aspects of dyeing with yarn and fabric; sourcing dyestuffs, fibre preparation, using mordants and modifiers before and after dyeing to achieve a wide range of colours from the same pot, preparing the dyebath and safe dyeing practice. We’ll also discuss over-dyeing to create complex colours, keeping records of dye experiments and other tips for dyeing with plants and other natural materials.

And, because we’ll be out in the bush, this class will be a little different to the classes I normally run- we’ll be dyeing with materials collected on the property and I’m really looking forward to using the local indigenous and weedy species (including some bush foods too) and taking a good walk around to get everyone familiar with identifying the plants used.

Plant-dyed chevron scarf

Plant-dyed chevron scarf

If you’re keen for the full country experience, you can also join me in staying overnight at Tarndie- it’s the most lovely property and I can’t wait to breathe in the fresh, Victorian air…

The farmer's cottage, Tarndie

The farmer’s cottage, Tarndie

If you’re interested in coming along, please contact Tom at Tarndie. I look forward to sharing the day with you!

black elder

It’s been lovely to see the elders coming into leaf and now bloom in my neighbourhood, along the trains tracks and out in Mugdock Wood where we go most Fridays.

Elder

Elder

People tend to either love or hate elders and, sure, they certainly are voracious growers and the leaves smell funny… but they give in so many ways that they’ve been a favourite of mine for a long time! Although they’re also a weed in Australia, I’ve never had much access to them but have used the flowers for teas (I’ve never made the classic elderflower cordial- have you?!) and the berries for soothing sore throats and, now that there are so many around me, I’m really excited about their dye potential! I love weedy dye plants because you feel like you’re providing a service by harvesting them : )

Elderberries are a favourite of new dyers because they give such lovely shades- depending on the strength of the dye bath and mordant used, from soft pinks, mauves and greys to crimsons, blues and purples- but their dyes are fugitive and don’t last very long… which, of course, is not necessarily an issue and there is real beauty in ephemeral colour but, as a knitter, I want to know that my yarn is not going to fade too much over time, especially in colourwork. So I’m really keen to harvest and try dyeing with the leaves and bark- my favourite Jenny Dean suggests that leaves give golds and tans to greens and greys and the bark buff to grey. I’ll keep you posted as to my results!

And then, this morning (while out on my early morning walk, a new practice partly due to the 5am sunrises over the Glasgow summer!) I stumbled on this beautiful ornamental variety…

Elder

Elder

Elder

Elder’s characteristic flat plate of flowers

bloom2

Soft, deep shades

With those almost black leaves and pink buds and stamens, it sure is a beauty. And looking at the flowers up close was heaven…

Elder

Pink stamens

Elder

Pink stamens

Elder

Leaves and flowers

Elder

Beautiful crimson new growth

Elder

Elder’s characteristic warty bark

Elder leaf

Elder leaf

The green of the original plant coming through

The green of the original species coming through

Older flowers

Older flowers

So, now I’m asking myself, what colours might this cultivar yield?! Purple-leaved plants, especially trees, often give greens (one of the most elusive colours in natural dyeing) so I’m thinking that this warrants it’s very own dyebath. Now I just need to find a friendly gardener who won’t mind sacrificing a little for me!

natural dye classes

I’m very excited to be working on setting up some natural dye classes here in Scotland… Quite literally combining plants and fibre, it’s one of my favourite thing to teach and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with other fibre folk again… it’s always such an exhilarating experience to open up a whole new world of colour and understanding plants.

Dyeing with purple carrot

Dyeing with purple carrot

The many colours found in plants

A few of the many colours found in plants

I’m currently looking at different venues here in Glasgow and will keep you posted on those… but I am incredibly excited to let you know that I’ll be running a day-long introductory class on natural dyes at this year’s Shetland Wool Week! I’ve always dreamt of returning to Shetland after my dear friend Amy and I travelled there in 2010 after the UK Knitcamp so, when the lovely Wool Week organisers, Selina, Misa and Donna, suggested that I come up to teach a class, I literally squealed with excitement. I’m not usually one to squeal but this is an amazing thing for me!

The view from Mousa

The view from Mousa

A Shetland shetland sheep!

A Shetland shetland sheep!

I’ll be demonstrating the many (25 in this case) shades that you can achieve from a single dye bath, and incorporating into this practical session all the technical aspects of dyeing: mordanting (which I find is the biggest impediment to people trying natural dyeing at home), fibre preparation (I’ll be focusing on yarn, especially Shetland!), how to extract colour from your dyestuff and apply it to your fibres and how you can play around with colour by using post-bath treatments. And, because I’m most interested in dyeing with local, readily-available materials, we’ll also be taking a gentle walk around to explore the colour potential of the surrounding neighbourhood, often in the most unexpected places. It’s a really comprehensive way to learn the essentials and participants take home comprehensive notes on the dyeing process and a shade card. I hope it will bring into being some new natural dyers!

Madder-dyed yarns

Madder-dyed yarns

25 shades from one dyebath

25 shades from one dyebath

You can see the entire (and incredibly wide-ranging) program for this year’s event over at the Wool Week site (and keep up to date with any other classes I’m running by checking my classes page or signing up for blog updates)- and, who knows, perhaps I’ll see you there!