I began the process of dyeing I’m finishing this weekend months ago by collecting the bark of some of my favourite dye trees when they shed their bark. I don’t muck around when making the most of this resource that the council and other people in my suburb will treat as rubbish if it lands on a footpath. I take a chook feed sack if there is a lot of bark, as you can see. Otherwise, I take a shoulder bag with me when I’m out and aboout and just pick up bark bit by bit as it falls to the ground. There are four trees nearby which have bark which gives a lot of colour.
I discovered this quite by accident when I was experimenting with mordanting cotton one year. I couldn’t figure out where I would get tannin to apply to my fabric. Then I thought… why buy tannin online and have it transported all the way to my house when Eucalypt bark is rich in tannin and I have it lying on the ground less than a block from my front door? Imagine my surprise when I heated my pot of bark and saw the water turn deep orange within an hour! I haven’t stuck with using this method to mordant cotton, but I use it for great colour on wool.
First, I soaked the bark for 48 hours. I don’t think 48 hours is a magic number, but it is more than enought to wet the bark through. Then, I brought the pot to the boil and kept it simmering for 2 1/2 hours. I like to develop the colour in the dye bath without subjecting the wool to heat for so long, especially because my burners are difficult to control and default to a rolling boil rather than any more subtle temperature.
Then, I removed enough bark to allow my wool to move freely and put 25g merino roving into the pot. Sometimes I leave more bark in the pot, because it can produce contact prints on yarn or roving and this can be a lovely effect. I like to plait the roving because it produces interesting variegation–not just different shades, but different colours–and a semi solid yarn once spun. Even though this is a huge pot crammed with bark, I’m using a little wool because this gives the best chance of a burgundy… but no guarantee! I can add more wool for orange or tan later. Today, I have left the pot steaming but without heat for an hour, then applied heat for 15 minutes, and now another hour without heat. I’m always happy if I can find a way to save energy… less heat will reduce the chance of felting (or just turning the wool harsh), and I am not convinced that a lot of cooking the wool itself improves the colour. Well, that’s the theory.