Tag Archives: natural dyeing

more dyeing classes!

Hello! It’s been ages since I’ve posted here about dyeing… it’s been a really busy few months and we spent most of our end-of-year break painting our house, so neither dyeing nor writing about it have had much of a look-in… I’ve also got into the habit of posting photos on Instagram, which is so quick that I’ve realized it’s made the idea of writing an actual blog post overwhelming! Of course, it isn’t- I just need to get back into the habit ; )

I ran another class on natural dyes in December, this time for the Handmakers Factory at the lovely Ink and Spindle studio in Kensington. I think I’ve said here before that I don’t consider myself a natural teacher- I get very nervous and compensate by being way too serious ; ) But I feel really passionate about the need for good classes and skill-sharing so I push myself to get better at it. But you know, teaching this class was an absolute joy! I think perhaps that my love for plants and colour managed to override my nerves- it was great!

This time, I played around with some basic sample sheets that participants could attach their samples to- it’s always so hard to remember what they are and how they were dyed so I thought it would be useful. Each one relates to a particular dye plant that we used on the day.

The first plant we dyed with was Oxalis pes-caprae (Soursob or Sourgrass), which is a widespread weed in Melbourne. I realize I need to start taking photos of the dye plants I use as an ID tool for the blog and classes but Soursob is small herb with a clover-like leaf and bright acid-yellow bell-shaped flowers in spring. I collected about 500gm of flowers in spring and then froze them for the classes I had later in the year (and, in case you’re wondering, I find I get the same results with fresh or frozen flowers).

We poured hot water over about 2 handfuls of flowers and left them to soak for an hour while we did other things- I don’t like to apply much heat to flowers as heating them too high or for too long can destroy or alter the dye compounds. We then strained the flowers out and placed the dyebath onto the stove on low and added two sets of samples of alum-mordanted yarn (wool, wool/ silk and bamboo) and fabric (silk velvet, silk, coarse cotton and unbleached linen). We left them to heat for around 45 minutes and then took them off to cool. We then removed the fibers, put one set aside, added some washing soda to the dyebath (which changed the pH to alkaline and instantly turned from yellow to bright orange!) and replaced the other set back into the bath. You can clearly see the difference in colours achieved from the different fibre types and pHs; interestingly, this plant seems to have more of an affinity with protein fibres, like silk and wool, whereas the cellulose fibres (especially the cotton) didn’t take up as much colour.

soursob
Soursob

Next up, we used Eucalyptus cinerea (Argyle Apple), which is found though the south-east of Australia and is often used as a landscape tree in streets. It yields far better colour when heated and cooled multiple times so I took it into the studio already soaked and heated over several days to maximize the depth of dye we could achieve. We simply brought it up to about 80C, then added a set of alum-mordanted yarn and fabrics and a piece of iron-mordanted yarn and took it off the heat to sit for 2 hours. I would have liked to keep it in the heat but my second stove refused to work on the day so we had to juggle pots! The dark brown yarn at the top right was iron-mordanted and took up colour very differently to the same yarn mordanted with alum.

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Eucalyptus cinerea

And we used chlorophyll as our last dye, as I wanted to demonstrate dyeing with a weed (Soursob), an indigenous landscape plant (Argyle Apple) and a vegetable and I couldn’t get hold of my favourite purple carrot (more on recent experiments with that next time). I sacrificed some of the chlorophyll extract from wonderful French natural dye house Renaissance Dyeing that I’ve been hoarding since my lovely friend Mel gave me a pack of them.  It’s produced from organically grown spinach and nettles and was very simple to work with, giving us lovely, soft green, that most elusive of colours when it comes to natural dyes!

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Chloorophyll

As I said, it was such a joy to teach this class and I think everyone got a lot of confidence to get out and try dyeing with natural materials, which is mostly what people need, as it’s actually pretty simple! If you are keen to learn about the process in a hands-on session, I have some classes coming up at the Handmakers Factory, the first one at the beginning of February- you can find all the details here. I’m also playing with the idea of running a class on how to get 25 (or more) colours from one dyebath, so let me know if that sounds like something you’d be keen to do.

I’ll be back soon with exciting and not-so-exciting results from recent dye experiments…. And for those in Melbourne, enjoy the cool change that is just blowing in!!! Too many days above 40C this week!

classes at handmakers factory

I’m super excited to be running some knitting and dyeing classes for the Handmakers Factory! If you’re not familiar with Nichola and Liesl and the project they are building, you can read about it here… as well as a strong focus on making clothes and other stuff to reduce industry waste and build resourcefulness, I think what is really lovely about this project is the diversity of classes on offer in one place (already, they have sewing, machine and hand knitting, dyeing, knit-a-longs and social sewing sessions) and the way that participants can then document what they make on the Handmakers site… all these things should go a long way in helping to build the community that the project is all about.

All the classes are practical and focus on building skills from the beginning up. For example, Brianna Read of Jack of Diamonds is running a series of individual classes on machine knitting, but you can also sign up for a course of 5 classes which will take you from the first step of assembling your machine (which can be more daunting than it sounds!) all the way to finishing a pair of fingerless cabled gloves. I’ve done a couple of workshops with Bri and she is a great teacher with the rare ability to stay calm in a room full of newbie machine knitters. If you have any inkling that machine knitting is for you, you should sign up for this course- I would have killed for it when I first started working on my machine!

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Once Liesl has worked her magic teaching the basics of hand knitting, my Knitting Tips and Tricks class covers all the little details that enable a new knitter to move on from scarves to all the fun stuff… We’ll cover working accurate swatches, salvaging dropped stitches and fixing mistakes, choosing the right increases and decreases, picking up stitches to work button bands, joining in a new ball and weaving in ends neatly, working a 3-needle cast-off and more.

Finishing Knits follows on and covers the essential skills involved in putting together knitted garments in a professional way, including short-row shoulders, seaming, easing the pieces to fit, grafting, weaving in ends, blocking (when and how to do it), sewing on buttons and trim and more. Knitters of all levels often start to feel faint at this point of the knitting process, which is why so many garments lie unfinished for years- I thinks it’s important to learn how to break the process down into individual, manageable steps, so that you feel confident and inspired to get all those UFOs out of the cupboard!

And, just in time for the beginning of summer, I’m running a Basics of Natural Dyeing class to demonstrate the essentials of dyeing with natural materials. We’ll cover the main methods of extracting colour and how to apply it to fabric and yarn, fibre preparation and mordanting, equipment, safety and more. We’ll then look at the colour potential of our kitchen and medicine cupboards, garden and surrounding landscape, as well as sourcing more exotic dyestuffs and will work with several dyebaths from seasonally available materials. Participants get to take away small samples of yarn and fabric from the dyebath. Should be lots of fun!

You can find the dates and details of my classes at Classes at the top of this page; for details on the whole range of classes available, go to Handmakers!

workshops at the craft sessions

I’m starting to get very excited about all of the workshops on offer at the Craft Sessions … I really wish I could participate in all of them- if I could pick one class from each teacher, they’d be Leslie‘s blockprinting on fabric, Sophie‘s sewing with knits, Melissa‘s embroidery from the natural world and Georgie‘s intro to design… I think there are even a few more classes to be announced over the next few days, so it’s kind of lucky I’ll be busy teaching all weekend because I really don’t think I’d be able to choose!

My classes all revolve around colour- unintentional but not surprising for me, I suppose. I’ll be spending all of Saturday with my dyepots and the morning session will focus on sources of local colour- the plants that grow all around us in our gardens and wider landscapes. We’ll go for a walk to explore the indigenous species, common weeds and landscape plants and trees that hold pigments in their  roots, leaves and flowers and spend the rest of the session dyeing with a few of them and exploring the basic theory and practice of dyeing with plants. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be running this workshop- it is such a perfect pairing of my two great interests, plants and textiles…

Local colour

Local colour; Feijoa

My Saturday afternoon session focuses on dyeing with indigo; we’ll explore the history of this ancient and venerated dyestuff and create an indigo vat, a seemingly mysterious and specialised process unlike most other dye preparations. We’ll prepare fabric and yarn for dyeing, explore patterning using shibori (methods of folding, clamping, binding and stitching) and then get into the actual dyeing process, dipping multiple times to achieve a good depth of colour and overdyeing to create complex colours.

Wool/ silk: indigo

Indigo on wool/ silk yarn

And I’ll spend Sunday with knitters keen to try their hand at stranded colourwork (non-knitters, read Fairisle!) and this workshop is all about empowering participants- I wish I could have taken a class like this when I first tried stranded knitting! We’ll cover the how-to of this deceptively simple knitting style as well as basic colour theory, combining motifs and shaping so that participants come away with their own colourwork hat design.

Stranded colourwork hat

Stranded colourwork

And, just so you know, the dyeing classes require absolutely no previous experience in dyeing but the colourwork class does require basic skills-  but only casting on, knit, purl and increasing and decreasing.

So that’s my lineup… If you haven’t already, do have a look at the Craft Sessions website- registration opens at midday tomorrow (Monday July 15) and places are very limited, so you’ll need to make up your mind very soon about which workshops you want to do!

Happy Sunday!

madder, mordants and modifiers

I’ve been experimenting with plant dyes for a while but still feel a bit in the dark when it comes to the effects of pH on plant pigments… Lots of experts allude to the importance of pH in their books and blogs but it seems there is very little detail about it… so I decided to follow an experiment outlined by Jenny Dean in her wonderful dyers bible, Wild Colour (so worth getting your hands on if you’re at all tempted to try dyeing with plants!) which displays the effects of not only pH modifiers but also pre-and-postmordanting.

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Madder in post-treatment groups; none, acid, alkaline, copper, iron

Mordanting is also pretty new to me; I’ve been pre-mordanting yarn with alum and cream of tartar (that is, treating yarn before dyeing) with good results but I feel quite ambivalent about introducing salts and metals, such as copper and iron, and other substances like ammonia into my dyebaths or as post-treatments… I know I can learn more about the potential colours held by a plant if I use them but I’ve been asking myself to what length I’ll go for that knowledge… it is a really personal question and I’m still working out how I feel about the potential environmental cost of my experiments and so I generally avoid using anything other than alum… but I thought it was important to temporarily put aside my ethics for this comprehensive experiment, hoping it would prove enlightening!

To prepare the dyebath, I put 250gm dried madder root (1:1 ratio of madder to fibre) in a large jar, covered with boiling water and set the jar in the sun for 2 weeks to soften the woody roots. I then poured off the soaking water (as madder releases its yellow and orange pigments first and the more desirable red pigments only later) and repeated the process, soaking the roots for another week. I then chopped the madder as finely as possible to maximise surface area, placed it in my large, heavy-bottomed dye pot, covered with warm water and then slowly heated it to 65C for one hour. I left the pot to cool overnight and then heated and held it at 65C for another hour the next day. Phew, it was finally ready for the fibre!

In preparation for dyeing, I wound 25 10gm skeins of 5-ply Polwarth yarn from local producer Wendy Dennis (which I’m discovering takes dye really well, almost as well as superwash which soaks up everything but often has trouble holding colour because of the stripping involved in its production!) and set aside 5 skeins. The other 20 were treated as follows: 5 premordanted in 10% alum, 5 in 2% copper solution, 5 in 2% iron solution and 5 in rhubarb leaf decoction.

Premordanted yarn; rhubarb, copper, iron, alum

Premordanted yarn; rhubarb, copper, iron, alum

All skeins were labelled with a letter from A to Y which indicated their pre-treatment, written on a square of heat-proof plastic (like a milk container) with a permanent marker- this is essential as it becomes impossible to keep track of what is what later!

While still damp from their pre-treaments, I then added the 25 skeins to the dye bath and slowly brought the temperature to 65C for 2 hours and then left the bath to cool overnight. Actually, it was meant to be overnight… but life got busy and I didn’t get back to the pot until a week later! No problem though- wool fibres are designed to withstand permanently damp conditions over long winters!

I removed one skein from each premordant group and hung the 5 to dry with no further treatment.

* I’ve been trying to photograph these for days but the low levels of light combined with the reds make it super hard to capture the colours accurately! The samples are all less orange than they look and there is quite a lot more contrast between the different groups than appears in the group photos. See the top photo for a clearer picture of the contrasts!

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No post-treatment; premordanted with none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

One from each group was placed in a glass bowl with hot water and 100ml of vinegar and left to sit for 15 minutes- the vinegar brought the pH of the water down from 5 to 3, forming an acidic bath, which tends to bring out the orange tones in reds.

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Acid post-treatment; premordanted with none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

One from each group was placed in a glass bowl with warm water and 50gm of washing soda and then 50ml of ammonia and left to sit for 15 minutes- the washing soda took the pH to 7 (still in the neutral zone and wasn’t high enough to change the colours of the yarn) whereas the ammonia brought the pH of the water up from 5 to 9, forming an alkaline bath, which usually makes colours pinker in tones.

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Alkaline post-treatment; premordanted in none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

One from each group was placed in a pot with warm water and 1gm copper dissolved in water and then held below simmering for 15 minutes- copper makes colours greener or browner in tone and often helps to make colours more permanent.

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Copper post-treatment; premordanted in none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

One from each group was placed in a pot with warm water and 1gm iron dissolved in water and then held below simmering for 5 minutes- iron makes colours darker and more sombre in tone and often helps to make colours more permanent.

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Iron post-treatment; premordanted with none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

So… lots observed in this experiment:

– Pre-mordanting with copper and iron leads to much stronger colours than modifiying with them after the dye-bath.

– I was surprised that the alum-mordanted skeins turned out a darker, rusty orange than the non-mordanted skeins- Jenny Dean finds the opposite.

– The copper-mordanted and iron-mordanted skeins dyed about as dark as each other, the copper a dark aubergine and the iron a tobacco brown. In the photos outlining this experiment in Deans book, the copper looks much darker.

– The rhubarb-mordanted skeins dyed very similarly to the non-mordanted skeins- I used very fresh, new leaves so will try tougher, older leaves next time as they may hold more oxalic acid, the mordanting compound.

– The acid post-treatment skeins ended up only slightly more orange than those which had no post-treatment- I think this is because my water is naturally acidic.

– As stated by many dye experts, the alkaline post-treatment is the way to go for red tones!

– I expected all the skeins in the copper and iron post-treatment groups to end up much darker than they did… perhaps I didn’t use enough in the baths.

And my thoughts on modifiers and mordants after the experiment? Vinegar I’m fine with using but ammonia is pretty strong so I’m going to try to work out how much washing soda I need to add to take my water to alkaline, as well as capturing rainwater to see how that affects pH. I definitely saw first hand the increased range of colours attained with copper and iron so I’m going to try the methods outlined in Harvesting Colour for using scrap materials to make mordants. I didn’t use them here as I wanted to be exact with quantities but it feels like a much better option than buying powders!

It seems like I ended up with a very seventies palette! I feel like I should be weaving a shagpile wall hanging with them ; ) There are some beauties though…and it is wonderful to have more confidence in extracting the tones that appeal to me.

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Rhubarb/ none, alum/ none, alum/ alkaline, rhubarb/ alkaline/ copper/ alkaline, iron/ alkaline

As for all the little 10gm skeins, I’ll be using some of them for colourwork and passing the rest on. I thought I might hold my first giveaway on this little blog! So leave me a comment if you are interested and I’ll draw it next week- after I show my dye teacher the results!

PS These are silk/wool and angora yarns that I put in afterwards to exhaust the bath… I used an alkaline post-treatment for those pink-salmon tones and think I like it better than the others!

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Exhausting the bath; wool/ silk and wool/ angora with alkaline post-treatment

dyeing with ornamental prunus

You know those purple cherry trees that used to line every street in Melbourne? This is some of the colour held in those purple-black leaves. How strange that red leaves usually yield greens… and that greens are the hardest colours to find in natural dyes!

Prunus on wool

Prunus on wool mordanted with alum and cream of tartar