Tag Archives: natural 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 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!

purple carrot revisited

I recently dyed with purple carrots for the third time and got such different results from the first and second times that it got me reflecting on the variables that might have led to those differences… which I thought some of you dyers might have some thoughts on or just find it interesting. Can you see what I mean?

Varying results

Varying results

The two balls to the bottom right were my first experiment; this is Shetland yarn reclaimed from a jumper, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar and dyed with a bottle of out-of-date organic purple carrot juice someone was throwing out. I thought I’d have a try so I topped the pan up with warm water, added the yarns and slowly raised the temperature to around 70C, held it there for around 45 minutes. I loved the dusty pinks it produced…

Heat-dyed

Heat-dyed

Then I moved on to fresh carrots, the ones that aren’t just purple on the outside (they don’t give you any real colour) but that are purple-black all the way though. I put them through the juicer and then added the pulp back into the juice and divided it in half; it seems that juicy materials like berries, vegetables and soft roots give clearer colours without too much heat so I had an idea that solar dyeing might be a good approach to take. I divided the goopey juice in half and put half in a saucepan with a skein of organic merino yarn, again mordanted in alum and CT, slowly raised the temperature to around 70C and held it there for around 45 minutes. The first skein in the photo below was the result of heating: mauve- grey.

I then poured the rest into a big glass jar with a skein of the same and another of reclaimed wool/ angora, added enough warm water to cover the yarn and left the jar in the sun on my black compost bin for two weeks. Over that time, we had a few days around 25C but plenty of overcast days so the jar wouldn’t have got super hot. The second and third skeins were the result of solar dyeing: bright purple and mauve!

First solar dye

First solar dye

And then, recently, I rediscovered some old purple carrots that I’d bought to have a play with but had never gotten around to using; despite being a few months old, they were still fine, just a little hairy! Like before, I juiced and recombined them and repeated the solar process but, this time, left the juice outside for a week before I added silk fabrics, wool/ silk yarn and white and grey yarn (as always, mordanted with alum and CT). I then left the jar for a week, with similar temperatures to last time.

After one hour immersed in the liquid, the silk velvet looked crazy pink:

An hour after adding fibre to the jar

An hour after adding fibre to the jar

The silk fabrics and yarn were all a beautiful dusty pink after a week but the white and grey wool picked up NO DYE AT ALL! What is that about?!

Second solar dye

Second solar dye

I know that certain dyes have affinities with particular fibres but I’ve never seen wool not pick up any colour where silk has. And, from the first solar dye, I know that wool will pick up purple carrot. The fibres were all mordanted together. So, to me, the only variables are the silk and the fact that the fibres weren’t added straight to the jar. Is it possible that the silk absorbed the dye compounds so quickly that the wool didn’t have a chance? Seems unlikely to me… So could the week between processing and adding the fibres be the reason? It makes me want to dig out my chemistry books and find out what could possibly affect the structure of the dye compounds to lead to this?

I’d love to hear any thoughts!

And, next time, I want to try to capture that hot pink before it softens!

In the meantime, if you’re inspired to try your hand at dyeing with plants, I have a couple of classes coming up at the Handmakers Factory, an introduction to natural dyeing on October 11 and a collaborative class on indigo and shibori on November 15- I’ll be teaching the indigo component, showing how to establish and maintain an indigo vat, which Rosalind Slade will then use for her class on shibori. You can find out more over at Handmakers!

more madder

Well, it’s been so long between posts that I’ll be thrilled if anyone at all is still reading this little blog of mine… It’s been a very busy few months- both at Sunspun and in my own work- but I’m finally getting my feet back on the ground and have emerged from winter thoroughly inspired and ready for spring!

There’s so much to share that it might require a few installments. But I’ll start with the glory that was and is the Craft Sessions

I have to admit that I was a little worried going into the second CS. It couldn’t possibly be as ace as last year. Could it? The answer to that was a deafening YES! I don’t know how Felicia did it, organizing such a amazingly successful event while traipsing around Europe in a campervan with her partner and three kids and very sporadic internet- what a champ!  As a teacher at least, it was such a happy event, with a lovely balance of challenge and enjoyment in the classes offered and, like last year, a group of people willing to be vulnerable enough to come away with a group of strangers and take on something completely new. That’s a rare thing.

My CS classes were in the same vein as last year- colourwork knitting and dyeing with plants- but with some twists. I love spreading the joys of stranded colourwork and this time, I had 12 newbies working on a 10ply hat (that will be available very soon on Ravelry) and learning to work with a yarn in each hand- fun!

New hat design coming

New hat design coming soon

I also ran a class on steeking, a technique that is so perfect for a class because it can be such a scary thing to try on your own. I think my students were blown away by how secure a steek actually is and also reassured by the fact that there is a steek for all yarns and circumstances! I’m running the very same class at Sunspun on October 8th and there is one place still available so get in quick if you’re keen to try this ace technique.

And then I spent the whole day on Sunday repeating an experiment that I’d tried a couple of years ago as the basis for a class to introduce new dyers to the processes involved in dyeing with plants and other natural materials. I really wanted participants to come away with a good understanding of the process from start to finish and how to achieve different colours using different mordants and modifiers. We used madder as the dyestuff and then alum, rhubarb leaf, copper and iron as mordants before dyeing and vinegar, washing soda, copper and iron as modifiers after dyeing. As always with dyeing, I learned a lot and found that, as opposed the last time I did this experiment where pre-treatments seemed to have more impact on colour, this time it was the post-treatments that affected the colour more. And that the pre-treatments weren’t as effective on silk fabric at the concentrations I normally use on wool yarns.

Here you can see the 5 groups of 5 pieces of silk, each piece having had a different combination of pre-and-post-treatments. Next time I’d increase the amount of mordants used when pre-mordanting the fabric to get a wider range of colours, especially copper. But the colours are lovely anyway!

Silk habutai samples

Silk habutai- from left to right: no modifer, acid modifier, alkaline modifer, copper modifier, iron modifier

No modifers

No modifers- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Acid-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Acid-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Alkaline-modified

Alkaline-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Copper-modified

Copper-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Iron-modified

Iron-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

After we’d dyed and then modified the skeins of yarn, we finished the day by making shade cards of both yarns- I was super excited to make my very first shade cards!

Wool and silk/ wool shade cards

Wool and silk/ wool shade cards

Silk habutai shade cards

Silk habutai shade cards

We didn’t have time to make cards of the silk fabric so I decided to take them home and cut them up for everyone. The fabric colours were just too lovely to miss out on. I mostly dye yarn for knitting with but I was super inspired to dye more fabrics from now on…

The whole weekend was such a joyous experience and the culmination of so much planning and prep (I’m a chronic over-preparer!) that I felt quite flat after it ended. So now I’m counting down until the next one! A huge, huge thanks to Felicia, her support crew, my co-teachers and the many participants for your incredible energy and joy xx

the craft sessions v2.0

If you’re at all into craft and interact with any social media out there, you’ve probably seen and heard the recent buzz surrounding this years Craft Sessions retreat– I’m so happy that it’s happening again (how could it not after such a wonderful response last year!) and am feeling incredibly lucky to be asked back to teach again, alongside so many talented, lovely craftspeople… In anticipation of tomorrow’s opening of registration, I just wanted to remind you that, if you are thinking of coming (and really, there are classes to accommodate pretty much any skill level in such diverse crafts that you’ll definitely find classes that will work for you!), you need to get in soon. There are limited places available and last years success means that this years event is guaranteed to fill quickly…

There are so many classes that I would love to participate in- in fact, I’d love to sit in on them all… but especially Georgie’s grading for knitwear design, Belinda’s weaving, Leslie’s tote bag and Melissa’s embroidery from the natural world. At the end of last year’s weekend (especially after arriving back from Iran a few days beforehand!), I promised myself that I’d allow myself time to do a workshop but, when it came time to put forward ideas for my classes, I had too many ideas to allow space for that ; )

This time around, I’m teaching two half-day sessions, one on stranded colourwork for beginners (based around a new hat that I’m designing especially for the class) and the other on steeking (cutting- yes, cutting!- your knitting to make knitting garments in colourwork and other complex stitch patterns easier), which will work really well together or as stand-alone classes.

Stranded colourwork

Stranded colourwork

Steeked colourwork cardigan

Steeked colourwork cardigan

And then I’ll be out with the dyepots, running a whole-day class on dyeing with natural materials… we’ll be working from a single dyepot (made from one of the exotic, ancient dyestuffs) and learning how to use the mordanting and modifiying processes to extract 25 shades of colour from that one dyeport. Exciting!

25 colours from one dyepot

25 colours from one dyepot

I’m super excited about everyone’s classes and also by the extra space that Felicia has created over the weekend to absorb what’s been shared or go for a walk or spend time with mates… and I hope that those who take part in the weekend will gain some really practical skills and feel invigorated by being surrounded by such a great, creative community…  I hope you’re inspired by what you see over at CS headquarters!