Category Archives: plants

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!

cowl collaboration

Hello! I’m back from six weeks of travelling and all I can say this morning is phew! The last six weeks have been a whirlwind, mostly full of really wonderful stuff but also some that was challenging- I’ll share more of what I got up to as I download over the next week but I’m just so pleased to be home with Scotto… and am looking forward to a quiet late autumn and winter here, getting to know the winter face of this city, walking (and hopefully camping!) in snowy woods, making stock for some lovely spring festivals, working on a couple of knitting patterns….

But today I’m preparing for a shop update with a new cowl design inspired by conversations with Kate from A Playful Day. Kate and I met at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and immediately connected over our love for plants and adventures in nature and the conversations that stemmed from that meeting led to the idea of creating a colourwork pattern from cow parsley, a favourite spring wildflower.

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

This lovely plant is part of the Apiaceae family, a large group of plants that includes many culinary and medicinal species, such as carrot, celery, parsnip, fennel, anise, lovage, parsley, coriander, caraway, centella, angelica and hogweed, as well as the deadly hemlock. The family is characterised by umbelliferous flowers- inflorescences consisting of a series of short flower stalks- and a distinctive scent from the presence of volatile oils. And a bonus- many of them are also dye plants, including cow parsley!

Cow Parsley is traditionally found as part of roadside hedgerows and is commonly seen in large swathes, such as in this inner-Edinburgh gardens:

Meadow of cow parsley, downtown Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, downtown Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, Edinburgh

But, as always, I’m always interested in what it looks like close up…

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

So I started looking at the form of the umbel flower and wondered how to capture both its curves and geometry, something that was not immediately easy since colourwork lends itself better to linear forms. But the little clusters of flowers enabled me to get around that by using them to create a curve and, after a series of false starts, I ended up with a umbel motif in six colourways that should evoke the Scottish landscape in all its beauty…

Cow Parsley Cowl

Cow Parsley Cowl

Cow Parsley Cowl in Straw

Cow Parsley Cowl in Straw

Cow Parsley Cowl in Willow/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Willow/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Sage Blue/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Sage Blue/ Bleached White

They’ll be up for sale in my shop at 8pm Glasgow time this evening but you can see a preview of them there in the meantime, in case you’re keen to look at the colours and have a think!

And you can find out more about Kate and her ace podcast covering creativity, community and a whole lot about things happening in the British knitting scene (including an interview with me as part of her month theme of Sustain) at A Playful Day. Thanks so much for the inspiration, Kate!

faces and places: (london and) yorkshire

One of a series of posts 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 was lucky enough to make a trip down into England last week to catch up with two great friends last week… I first flew to London to spend a brief but very lovely twenty-four hours with Felicia, of which I have no photos at all to show you- but there was lots of walking, talking and hatching plans, as well as dinner with old and new friends! Felicia is full of excitement and enthusiasm about life and so the time we shared was a real treat for me- although I’m getting to know some great women here, I spend quite a lot of time working at home and so I treasure time spent with people I can talk to about my crappy day or ideas I have and who I know will both listen and be honest in their response- that kind of friendship takes time! Thank you Fel!

I then headed up to Yorkshire to spend a few days with local lass, Mel, who I’d met in Melbourne  during the nine years she spent living there with her family. She escaped the Australian heat last year and has now happily resettled in Yorkshire, albeit with perennial itchy feet- but more on that in a coming post! First stop was baa ram ewe, a yarn shop I’ve heard about for years, mostly for Titus, their beautiful 4ply yarn made from a classic Yorkshire blend of Wensleydale/ Bluefaced Leicester/ alpaca yarn that is soon to be joined by their new Dovestone DK (with Yorkshire breed Masham in place of alpaca). It was lovely to see and feel Titus in the flesh and especially in their sweet in-house kits:

Ella Austin's Dashing Dachshund

Ella Austin’s Dashing Dachshund

Little Fella, inspired by the work of L.S.Lowry

Little Fella, inspired by the work of L.S.Lowry

These women know their yarn and their community well. Their range is almost entirely British in origin and covers all the bases from rustic (the first shop I’ve seen to carry both Jamieson and J&S!) to luxury (Toft, Rowan), as well as patterns and books from independent and more well-known local designers. It was a real pleasure to spend an hour or two there, chatting about yarns and the industry, and it made me hanker a little for my time at Sunspun!

New Lanark Chunky

New Lanark Chunky

Jamieson's Aran Heather in Broch

Jamieson’s Aran Heather in Broch- I’ll definitely be bringing some of this home from Shetland!

After a day pottering about Mel’s house (seeing more of her heavenly handspun yarns, trying  gooseberry cake and samphire for the first time and just hanging out and knitting), we left early in the morning for Edinburgh. I’d mentioned a while ago that I was reading up on British fisherman’s knits for a new class and Mel very enthusiastically and generously said that we must drive back to Scotland via Flamborough on the Yorkshire coast, a place known for both its incredible natural beauty and its fisherman’s ganseys…

We didn’t have long there but we soaked up so much beauty. This is a place for wandering the beaches in bare feet and lying amongst the grasses and watching the seabirds wheeling and the clouds floating by… if there are any.

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Blowhole

Blowhole

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Heads

Flamborough Heads

Sea pinks

Sea pinks (Armeria maritima)

Some species of Chamomile?

A species of Chamomile?

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Unfortunately my camera lens broke on the trip so I have virtually no photos of the small gansey museum and shop that we visited but it was a joy to visit and to see some old and new ganseys- such exquisite work and some myths dispelled and others affirmed so well worth a visit if you’re in the area…

Flamborough Gansey

Flamborough Gansey

Flamborough Gansey

Flamborough Gansey

We then zipped up the coast, stopping at the lovely fishing village of Whitby for the best fish and chips I’ve had in years (not sure about the mushy peas though…) and a quick peek at the magnificent cathedral and jet jewellery, before heading on to Edinburgh. It was a magical day and end to the trip!

Thank you both so much both, Felicia and Mel- I’m lucky to have such lovely friends!

 

 

saxifraga

I discovered a tiny Holi festival going on in the neighbourhood this morning! From here, these beautiful little Saxifraga x urbium or London Pride (what a great name!) don’t look all that colourful…

Saxifraga x urbium

Saxifraga x urbium

But look a little closer…

Saxifraga x urbium

Saxifraga x urbium

Saxifraga urbium

Saxifraga x urbium

And you’ll see!

Saxifraga x urbium

Saxifraga x urbium

Aren’t they beautiful?! I completely fell in love with this sweet little plant but had no idea what it was. At first glance, I thought it might be a crassula of some kind as the flowers kind of resemble each other. But a bit of hunting and it turned out to be a saxifrage, a species that I vaguely remembered from my days as a herbalist but knew absolutely nothing about. So many plants to discover! There’s a lot of it in my neighbourhood, mostly planted amongst the rocky edges of tenement front gardens, and I’ll definitely be seeing it differently now!

There are so many details that you just can’t see unless you get in close.

The chunky, juicy style topped with delicate stigma, patiently awaiting pollen…

Saxifraga x urbium

Saxifraga x urbium

Those beautiful, coral-salmon, pollen-bearing anthers…

Saxifraga x urbium

Saxifraga x urbium

And that way that, once the anthers have fallen from the top, the filaments retract to form a series of rays between the petals…

Saxifraga x urbium

Saxifraga x urbium

And the summer mornings, with their long sunrise and soft, gentle light, make it easy to capture some lovely details, even for novice photographers like me, even though I know nothing about my camera’s manual settings.

How about you? Caught any nice details recently?

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!