Monthly Archives: January 2013

Magical madder


I received a gift of dried madder root recently: it could be years old! But then, the tradition of madder dyeing is ancient and there was no reason to think it was past its use-by date.  I followed Rebecca Burgess‘ instructions in the beautiful Harvesting Colour to process it during a dyeing day with a friend who (happily) shares my enthusiasm. Here are our fibres going in:


I left fibres soaking in the dyepot for a week afterward.  And here they are after drying.


The alpaca/wool (larger skein) is really red, and so is the smaller skein of mohair.  The cotton mordanted with soy on the left is a red-brown shade, and the well-loved but unmordanted silk fabric (previously a precious shirt handmade for my friend) is a lovely red-orange.  This madder bath didn’t begin to give orange until it was on its third exhaust bath. After that, I kept dyeing with it until I got down to peach on some handspun wool and banana fibre blend.

It’s exciting to see madder dye red with my own eyes, as every madder-dyed textile I have seen dyed by anyone I know is decidedly orange.  Not unlike the colour I can get with many local eucalypts.  And it is also exciting because my madder must be getting close to possible harvest!  Here it is at the height of our Australian summer, which is to say, partially crisp.  But about two or three years old and so promising…



Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Tree loving


I decided on a bark collecting mission prior to a big heatwave we were expecting, so I went out with my trusty bike trailer and a couple of sacks to collect from this glorious Eucalyptus Scoparia.  I was hailed by the woman who lives directly across the road from the tree: ‘Oh, you are a good man!’  Eventually we left the gender confusion (and her embarassment about it) to one side and she embarked on explaining that the council hadn’t swept her street for two months.  We have spoken before when I’ve been admiring this tree, so I wasn’t entirely surprised.  However, tree hating always surprises me somewhat in spite of myself.


I am privately amazed that this woman leads a life in which she sees this tree only as a source of rubbish that lands on the road, which she would prefer swept clean.  This saddened me so much that after I filled my first sack with bark, I collected up all the leaves from the gutter in my second sack and took them home to be appreciated by my chickens.  I am not sure if I was trying to spare her the agitation she clearly feels, or trying to spare the tree her anger, though the tree is indifferent.  It does concern me that when people hate trees, those trees can be endangered, since even when there are people dedicated to tree preservation, so many are cut down.

I managed not to mention that my favourite local tree has been reduced to this:


Despite the council agreeing to ensure the tree was not chipped once it was felled, only intervention from an alert and interventionist neighbour from a few blocks away stopped it being shredded for mulch.  The neighbour was kind enough to leave a note in our letterbox explaining what she had done to try to preserve it, even reduced as it now is, to being wood.  Tree loving: now that, I can understand.


Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts

After the workshop

This week I ran a natural dyeing workshop for my Guild.  It was exhausting but fun!  I tried taking a picture inside the hall and my poor old camera wanted to use the flash–pretty useless.  Between that and having a lot going on, I decided to forget taking photos.  We ran lots of dye pots: E Scoparia bark, dried E Scoparia leaves (oranges), silky oak leaves (yellow), logwood from the abandoned/donated dyestuffs of the past stash (purple), black beans (not as blue as I hoped)… we mordanted with alum and with soy, there were leaf print experiments.  We dyed silk, alpaca, wool, cotton; fleece, roving, yarn and fabric.  Phew!

I came home with cooked bark and leaves and  ground soybeans to compost, quite a bit of remaining pre-mordanted yarn, a bucket of black beans with yarn tucked into it, a bucket of homemade soymilk and the logwood bath.  Can I just quietly mention how relieved I was when I got home without having sloshed a bucket over in the car?


I have run the logwood bath twice more so far.  This is the second effort: superwash wool in the foreground, alpaca/wool blend in the middle, and greeny-grey-blue black bean dyed sock yarn at the back.  I have some roving still soaking and rinsing after the third logwood bath, and I’m mordanting more fibre to go into a fourth bath right now.  I wish that logwood was a sustainable local dyestuff.  It is spectacular and straightforward, and purple is a great colour.  I loved pouring boiling water on wood chips and getting purple water; dipping fibre into what became a brownish dyebath and pulling it out purple.  But logwood isn’t local or sustainable, so I’m making the most intense use of the logwood that I have been given that I can figure out.

I hope that my forebears at the Guild who abandoned the logwood there or donated it to the Guild would be happy if they could see the excitement it provoked in the workshop.  It’s possible that the former owners of this logwood are still coming to the Guild and will let me know what they think when word gets out of what we did in the dyeroom this week.  I feel so blessed to be part of the Guild–fancy being part of an organisation that has a dye room!


Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

Abandoned dyestuffs of the past

A while back, I became the happy recipient of some dyestuffs that had been left at my Guild long ago.  Most were labelled, some were not.  The only one I had previously tried was indigo.  I’m thinking we’ll dye with some of them at natural dyeing workshops I’m running for the guild this year, but I needed to try them out first, check they still have dyeing capacity.  There are some in tiny quantities.  This one, for instance.  8g of something that looks like a dried fruit or husk, between the size of a hazelnut and a pea.  I posted this picture on natural dyeing fora online but got no clues at all. I await any clues readers might be able to offer.


The fact that I can’t identify it is a shame, because here is what happened when my dear friend and I had a dyeing day and tried it out. We soaked it overnight (in rainwater); simmered for an hour, added fibres mordanted in alum and here is the resulting colour. The yarn is mohair mordanted in alum, the sample card (wool and wool+alum) won’t wash off, and the fabric is silk, no mordant.  Burgundy… maroon yarns (with pink silk as a background).


We dyed with Osage Orange, which gave jewel bright yellows on silk especially; and Logwood, which gave strong purples even on the second bath (I plan a third).


The Madder is still soaking; and then there is the Red Sanderswood/Red Sandalwood.  Based on reading Jenny Dean‘s informative book Wild Colour, my dependable guide in many such matters, I expected hues of orange to brown.  I expected to think ‘why ever import this wood when these colours are readily obtainable from so many local plants’?  But nature is a complicated thing.  I did not expect this:


The roving is unmordanted merino.  Almost no dye took at all.  What did take amounts to a smudge of orange.  The cloth is cotton mordanted with soy, and it is quite a red-brown.  Rust, perhaps.  The skeins are alpaca-wool blend and mohair, both mordanted in alum.  They are vivid purple, and so is the wool mordanted in alum on the sample card.  I could scarcely tell the sanderswood skeins apart from the logwood dyed skeins once they dried.

Jenny Dean offers no suggestion of purple from this plant using any combination of mordants.  It can’t be a simple case of mislabelling–the logwood baths have produced purple on silk and cotton as well as wool.  The sample card was mordanted months ago, using different wool and different alum than these skeins, and any contaminants in my dyepots would have been different, surely.  Even my rainwater will have changed in that time.  What can it mean?  My friend and I decided it meant ‘dye more protein fibres mordanted in alum’, because we both think purple is an exciting outcome!

More natural dyeing mystery–meaning the depths of my ignorance are still being plumbed by this process.  But since the result was purple… I mean, purple… I’m not feeling sad about this outcome at all.  And the exhaust dyebaths were good fun too.  The madder is on its third turn as I write.  But more on that later…



Filed under Natural dyeing

Eucalyptus Erythronema var Erythronema

Riding along the railway corridor near Oaklands railway station, I passed one striking red-flowered tree I didn’t recognise and kept pedalling, but when I saw a second, I pulled over.  Here’s the tree.


The flowers were especially striking: bright red, with stamens curling back up and around the base of the fruit.  The bud caps are bright red, coming to a pointed tip.


Quite a sight.


In her book Eco Colour, India Flint argues that eco-prints are a good way to test potential dye plants using minimal leaf material, and she is, of course, right. On the right, E Erythronema var Erythronema.  Not much of a dye specimen.  On the left, leaves from another E Scoparia, I believe.



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Uncategorized

Eucalyptus Camaldulensis Bark Dyepot

The river red gums are shedding bark all over my city.  I was riding down to visit my parents passing a planting of these trees along the railway corridor near Marion station.  I couldn’t resist, so pulled over and took pictures and bark.  Under these trees, the ground is covered with thousands of tiny gumnuts (as well as bark).

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So of course, I collected some bark just to try it out… and yes, tan again.  Brown, with alum.  Often I can see almost no difference between wool with no mordant and wool with alum after dyeing, but this was a clear example of alum making a difference.

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Finished objects completed in my holidays

There has been a lot of holiday crafting going on round here.  But this post marks return to my day job!

I made some Thai style fishing pants.  I bought a pair in 2000 as the new century began, and they have finally gone to the worms in our worm farms, the ultimate destination of natural fibres that are worn past the point of repair and reuse around here.  I traced a pattern from them and made this pair from a sarong found at the op shop.  I assume the originals were cut to maximise the use of fabric from a loom that is a standard-ish size in the region, because the sarong was the perfect amount of fabric, with almost no fabric left over to be wasted or used for other things.  Surely this is the goal of all hand weavers, as well as a decent goal for thrifty and green sewers.

I used french seams and then top-sewed them flat, so that I could use only cotton thread and ignore the polyester sucking overlocker.  When commercially sewn garments go to the worms, the overlocker thread is usually all that remains.  The worm farm offers an education in the biodegradability of garments, and I am increasingly aiming for biodegradable.  There is a cotton-polyester t shirt in one of them that has been there since my daughter left home and abandoned it.  Over 10 years ago.  Polyester will clearly survive the apocalypse, along with cockroaches.   Seriously, my everyday garments do not need to live as long as the Gobelin tapestries.


I made a pair of radmila’s slippers from a new book, Knitting from the Center Out by Daniel Yuhas.  They are knit from handspun merino roving dyed with Eucalypts.  I have to say that I gave up making matching pairs a long time ago and now make siblings rather than twins… further proof lies in the next two images. OK, make that three!


I took up knitting in order to be able to knit socks, and that is what led me to spinning and then dyeing.  Sock production has slowed down, but I finally finished a pair of Jaywalkers for a beloved friend. She is a lover of bright colours who has appreciated these as splendidly red while they were still in progress.  This yarn was dyed by a fabulous local dyer, Kathy Baschiera.


Remember the post where I was wondering whether a sow’s ear could be turned into a silk purse (actually, whether I could turn the less exciting parts of a polwarth fleece and some low quality alpaca into slippers)?  Well, the answer is yes.  These are knit using Bev Galeskas’ Felted Clogs pattern and dyed with Landscapes dyes.  I hope Bev Galeskas has made millions from her pattern.  I sure have made tens upon tens of these, though most are a shade less hairy.  Clearly I spun in a fair amount of guard hair, and it won’t felt.  Just the same, the recipient of the red pair at the back was very enthusiastic as he turned 40, and the delightful women who will be receiving a parcel today or tomorrow with the front two pairs are great mend and make-do experts who have darned their previous pairs extensively… they live in a very cold place and will enjoy warm feet and hopefully overlook the odd stray guard hair!


Ah, holidays.  I hope you’ve had some to enjoy.


Filed under Eucalypts, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Sewing, Spinning

Angophora Costata subsp Costata bark dyepot

Our lovely friend has an Angophora Costata subsp Costata (Sydney Red Gum) in her backyard.  When the bark is newly shed, these trees have a stunning rust-orange coloured trunk.  There were many to be seen and admired in and around Sydney when we were there in December.  The other day she came around with… a bag of fallen bark for me!  Here is my sample card and swatch before:


And, after.  You could call it cinnamon, I suppose–the alum mordanted, superwash sample is really quite brown.  Or on the other hand, you could just call it tan, again.


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Eucalyptus Saligna Bark Dyepot

Continuing the recent bark theme… and since it is the season of bark shedding for so many local trees, I bring you a Eucalyptus Saligna (Sydney blue gum) bark dyepot.  I collected the bark in December and had a very funny conversation with a passerby who had lots of ideas about what I might be doing with that bark.  This tree has a rough base but has shed all the bark above it in strips now.


It is a huge tree!  It is outside a block of townhouses, where some trees were removed a while back but this one was saved by some local friends.


What a beauty.


Enjoy the tree, because as I write I’ve looked into the dye pot where my handspun wool is heating and this is a case of tan again, I believe.  Here is the bark after I added rainwater for a few days of soaking. 


And here, my friends, is my dyed wool.


And against a background of E Scoparia-dyed merino:



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing, Uncategorized

Hibiscus Flowers


Until recently, there was a house near us that we were told would be demolished within the next week (it’s gone now).  The inhabitants moved out in a hurry, leaving the tide of unfinished business you might expect in the circumstances: the gate and doors open and unwanted stuff everywhere.  I picked all the grapefruit they’d left on the tree and gave it to a friend who loves grapefruit, saved the water lily and goldfish for another friend with a pond, with the help of friends, I put out the bins and piled their recyclables into our recycling bin and their recycling bin and a crate or two, ready for collection the next day.  I decided to harvest the flowers from their red hibiscus, which was in full bloom.   I followed the instructions Jenny Dean gives in her very fine book Wild Colour, up to a point…


I decided to use more rather than less dyestuff, 125g flowers to 50g washed unmordanted polwarth locks to begin with.  I began as Jenny Dean suggests but decided to try solar dyeing.  You can see the wool in the top of the jar wrapped in a couple of yellow onion nets.


Two days after beginning the dyebath, I picked a whole extra round of flowers, sieved out the ones that had been steeping two days, gave them to the worms in our worm farm and added a fresh lot of flowers to my dye jar.  The dye liquid was a plum colour and a little thicker than water.  I took the second round of flowers out after they gave their colour up.


Well, after a good fortnight in the jar, almost no colour on the fleece.  So I returned to Jenny Dean’s instructions and heated the dye bath.  The fleece still didn’t take up colour, but my sample card gave green on alum mordanted wool.  Green???  I have dyed with hibiscus before and achieved a rose pink on unmordanted washed fleece, which I spun up three-ply and knit into socks for my mother.  Green isn’t even on Jenny Dean’s horizon.  Deep, olive green (checked against a couple of friends with decent eyesight).

So, I put a skein of alum mordanted, commercial superwash in the dye bath, heated again and my skein turned steely grey.  This picture gets the colour right despite its defects in the focus department:


To me, this is quite bizarre.  I can only think that the fleece failed to take colour because it was inadequately scoured, though it didn’t feel at all greasy or sticky.  Polwarth is a high-grease breed.  But how I can explain the green and grey outcomes?  Well, I can’t–and I await your thoughts.  Dye pots which had been inadequately cleaned might mean there was some iron in the dye bath, but Jenny Dean suggests purple to pink would still be the outcome.  And after all this, the dye bath was still full of colour–red-purple colour.  Mystery!


Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing