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!