Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sampling dye plants


When I started plant dyeing, I used to make a tiny skein, about 1-2 metres long, and try out the leaves of trees around my neighbourhood on that.  In those early days, I tried rue after I found it listed in a book… oh my goodness…  the least said about that smell,  the better.  It almost put me off for good.  (Pale green, if anyone is wondering–not the red I was hoping for in my naivete).  When I had accumulated enough experiments to have identified some trees I wanted to keep visiting and some I would appreciate but not use for dye, I knit the samples into striped socks for a dear longtime friend. So that method had its advantages.  My friend asked for short cuffs (well, I thought he had–), so that’s what he got.


I may have mentioned my devil-may-care attiutude to matching socks.  Happily my friend shares it, or he wouldn’t have scored this pair! 

Eventually I learned about sample cards from more experienced dyers on Ravelry.


I use milk bottles to make mine.  We don’t use this kind at home any more, so I raided a recycling bin at a coffee cart during the weekly farmers’ market to get these.


I keep my samples on a split ring, which I think I also saw on Ravelry, and it’s a great record of plants investigated.  Some have been identified long after being cooked in the dyepot.  A few have been identified correctly after an initial misidentification.  Some have been tried several times.


And there are still so many to try out!  In the lead up to the recent workshops, I collected leaves fresh and dried: from trees, from the gutter, from fallen branches.  I collected more bark too.  This one is Eucalyptus Forrestiana,  believe:


And I collected a few specimens I couldn’t identify… This one branched so high I couldn’t pick a leaf, but bud caps were raining down and lorikeets were having a great party high above me.


This one was a sprawling mallee near the railway line, and came complete with new holland honeyeaters protesting my invasion.  I hope they had chicks in there somewhere, and this was the reason they kept trying to see me off even though they are about the length of my hand.


This tree has fascinated me for some time: it gives a peach or apricot colour.  But I still can’t identify it.


So many possibilities for the future….


Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Knitting, Natural dyeing


I loved running workshops over summer, but it has also been a treat to return to my spinning wheel.  This skein began as grey corriedale fleece.  I dyed it in the grease with Earth Palette dyes, carded, and pulled a roving directly from the drum carder through a diz.  I have seen this technique demonstrated on YouTube, but I was only prepared to try it after someone from my Guild (who is a fabulous spinner) showed a group of us how she does it.

I like the colour, and enjoyed the process of producing roving.  Being able to dye in the grease is one of the things that has me returning to Earth Palette dyes. It improves my pleasure in scouring, and makes me content with scouring small quantities.   Does my impatience show?


One of the workshops I ran over summer was on ‘fancy yarns’–artyarns to the inhabitants of the internet–and it has been good to come back to spinning the kind of yarns I prefer to knit.  I love the challenge of artyarn spinning, and the results, but I am a plain spinner in my heart, apparently.  This is relaxing spinning for me and I’m enjoying relaxing a little.  The yellow/green/blue corriedale that I dyed at the same time has already become a beanie for a dear friend’s birthday, even though there will be no call for him to wear it for some months yet!

Dyeing over a grey base has pleased me so much that I want to return to trying it with eucalypts.  I guess I’d better get over myself about scouring…


Filed under Fibre preparation, Knitting, Spinning

E Kingsmillii subsp Alatissima

How spectacular is E Kingsmillii (Kingsmill’s Mallee; wing-fruited mallee)?


Perhaps the tree doesn’t seem obviously wonderful.  The buds are truly glorious!


And so are the flowers and the fruits.  It turned out I was photographing this tree outside the Botanical Gardens centre for plant diversity.  My eucalypt admiration was shared with a woman who came by and offered me more information, so I told her about this beauty being a dye plant.  It isn’t every day you get this kind of fun on your way to a conference!


And… for me this is a happy result, pulled from the copper at the Guild as a test during our workshop.  I am so prejudiced in the matter of red.  I just love it…



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints

Dyeing with black beans

At the workshops I ran recently at the Guild, I demonstrated black bean dyeing.  It’s a cold process that takes some days, so it isn’t possible to complete it during a workshop.  I had pre-mordanted my fibres in alum and chosen some 25g skeins of patonyle I acquired at a garage sale.  This is a superwash wool/nylon blend that is designed for socks.  It started out a cream colour rather than absolutely white.  The first workshop took place during a hot period.  It was 36C on the day and I was longing to have enough space for a bucket of beans in the fridge.  Travelling home with them in my car was not as sweet smelling as a person might like.  The resulting colour wasn’t at the high end of blues I have previously achieved with black beans, either.


For the second workshop, I used a different pack of beans from a different source, and when I looked at the bag, which said ‘1 kg black eyed beans, $3.40’–clearly inaccurate on the naming front–I couldn’t even remember where I found them.  Quite likely in an Asian grocery rather than a supermarket chain, looking at the label.  They had been packaged by someone who wasn’t working in a gigantic factory. I travelled home from the second workshop with soymilk and black beans in the front seat of the car.

The black bean colour was so lovely and so strong-looking by the evening of that day that I decided to throw the two skeins in the picture above in as well.


I used 3 cups of beans (about half the pack) and tap water (as rain water had not imparted any special magic the first time).  100g sock yarn dyed for $1.70 with the option to remove the beans from the dye bath before putting the wool in and make them into dinner!  My thanks to the geniuses who posted about their experiments online on Ravelry.

I’ve heard online that this isn’t the most lightfast dye known to humankind but I’ve dyed and knit two sets of socks with black beans so far and they’re doing well.  I figure socks don’t get a lot of exposure to light, and if they fade… I can cold dye them again to tune them up.



Filed under Natural dyeing

Another workshop done!

The second in my little series of workshops at the Guild went really well. There was yarn, fleece and roving dyeing.  Brown, orange, almost-red and maroon from E Scoparia (bark and leaves) and E Cinerea leaves, yellow from silky oak (Grevillea Robusta) using Ida Grae’s recipe from Nature’s Colors: Dyes from Plants, and the ever-astonishing purple from red sanderswood with alum.  I again used Jenny Dean’s method from Wild Colour and still got nothing like the oranges she suggests are likely.


Mysterious outcomes in natural dyeing are not all that uncommon (at least for me!), as the number of variables is so huge.  But this one is out of the box–purple!?  Since my last post on the subject, Jenny Dean has very generously been in touch with her thoughts on the matter.  She suggests this purple could be the result of alkalinity (but given I made no attempt to generate an alkaline bath, it seems unlikely it was seriously alkaline).

Or–and I agree with her that this is much more likely, even though I used 4 different jars/packs labelled “sanderswood”–perhaps the dyestuff  was never sanderswood to begin with.  The colour is very, very like the logwood results I have had, just about indistinguishable.  I am still not complaining about the result–I love purple and so did the participants.  I was hoping for purple on this occasion, as I have no more logwood–that I know to be logwood.  Perhaps there was a time in the past when a batch of “sanderswood” came to our Guild or a supplier nearby and all the different jars I’ve used ultimately can be traced back to the same mislabelled supply. This would fit with my experience of Eucalypts… it is much more likely that I have misidentified my tree than that the dye bath is giving a completely different colour.  Variation to some extent, however, is completely expected.

Here is the “sanderswood” just after I poured boiling water over it–Jenny says this looks like a logwood bath to her.  I bow to her much more extensive experience and wisdom, without hesitation.


I have the biggest chips in a little zippered mesh pouch that must once have held toiletries.  The smallest chips/splinters are in something that looks just like a giant tea ball.  I saw it for sale in a Vietnamese grocery where I was investing in greens, seaweed and soy products and immediately saw its possibilities.  The woman who sold it to me had an eye-popping moment (evidently she hasn’t sold one to an Anglo before), and asked me what I was planning to do with it.  I love those moments in Asian groceries, because once I’ve been ask the question and given my (admittedly bizarre) response, I can ask about the ordinary use of the device or food in question.  This one is usually used to contain whole spices when making a big pot of stock or soup.  This point was helpfully illustrated by a packet of soup seasonings–star anise and cinnamon and coriander seed were some of the spices I could identify right away.

People tried out India  Flint‘s eco-print technique on cotton, wool prefelt and silk.  I hope she will get some extra book sales as a result (if you’d like to acquire her books, click on the link to her blog and look for the option to buy them postage free in the left hand sidebar).


There were biscuits and icy poles and lots of chat.  I demonstrated soy mordanting and black bean dyeing.  And while we were at the Guild and using the copper, which is such a generously sized vessel by comparison with my dye pots, I leaf printed some significant lengths of fabric that I brought to the workshop bundled up and ready to go.  The copper really is copper lined, but I could detect no obvious impact on the colours.  Seedy silk noil:


Wool prefelt… the degree of detail is fantastic.  This is destined for felting experimentation by a dear friend who generously assisted me at the workshop.  Her practical help, support, constant grace and good cheer made things go so smoothly.  I also decided to start some processes before participants arrived, which I didn’t do at the previous workshop.  I think that helped.  But it was a fabulous group of people too.


And finally, silk/hemp blend, destined to be made into a shirt (by me, so it may take a while).  I am delighted with how it turned out, after many months of putting off the day.



Filed under Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

A story of a quandong and its mistletoe

One weekend recently we went to visit a friend who lives near the Aldinga Scrub. While I was there we went for a wonderful walk on the beach, making the dog and ourselves happy.  So I collected a couple of samples while we were out, as many local people, like my friend, are planting as many local species as they can around their homes.  I decided to try a quandong and its mistletoe.  In case you’re not from around here, dear reader, let me advise that in Australia, mistletoe is a big family of parasitic plants which will eventually (but usually slowly) kill their hosts.  It isn’t so much the romantic plant under which people kiss at certain festivals.  There are lots of mistletoes, and they are cunningly adapted to a narrow range of host plants.

I have a fabulous book on mistletoes, Mistletoes of Southern Australia by David M Watson, published by the CSIRO.  It has me in awe of these extraordinary plants, but has convinced me that I am unlikely ever to be able to identify them with confidence.  There are only 46 to choose from in this part of the continent, though, so the task is a good bit smaller than learning Eucalypt identification.  There are some mistletoes in the book that this plant is clearly not.  But as to which one it is… I have several candidates in mind.  And I don’t know which of the quandongs this is, either.  It doesn’t look like the favoured bush food species Santalum acuminatum to me.  But Wikipedia lists a lot of other varieties all called ‘quandong’!

Anyway, on to the leaf prints.  Quandong in flower, before:


After cooking with iron, which left quite an impression:


The iron may have made an impression, but this convinced me that this quandong isn’t much of a dye plant.  And now, the mistletoe, which is in glorious flower and will later create a rather impressive berry.  Before:


And after.  I think this leaf print is a good bit less glorious than the plant, but this is definitely a distinct print.  So the mistletoe has dye potential.


And that is the story of the quandong and its mistletoe for now…


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

Eucalyptus Erythrocorys


E Erythrocorys (Ilyarrie) is in bud at present. The buds are large, with impressive, unusually shaped bud caps.


I found a few flowers on one of the trees near a car park at work, but they were high up. The fruits of the previous season are still maturing, and they are just enormous–the size of a large apricot or plum.


The leaves are long, too.  I’ve experimented with this tree in the past, obtaining a mid-orange from dried fallen leaves. This time I tried leaf prints.  Before…


And after simmering with iron.  Another not-too-exciting result.


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

Eucalyptus Lehmanii bark dyepot

E Lehmanii (bushy yate) has a very distinctive arrangement of buds, flowers and fruit.  When I was a kindergardener, we used to put the long bud caps on our fingers and call them witch’s fingers and chase each other around.  I can’t pretend to have had any sophisticated critique of the concept ‘witch’ at that stage in my life!

I came across some planted as street trees while I was out doing a run with friends.  On the way back to our car, I managed to collect some bark–since it had helpfully fallen.  I also collected a few leaves.  I have a sample card from a previous experiment with bushy yate leaves from a friend’s property, which gave quite a strong orange-brown.

I used iron with the leaves, and the contribution from the iron on this occasion was really quite intense.  Before…


After… a result that won’t have me rushing out to collect bushy yate for leaf prints, but a result just the same.


And as for the bark pot… tan, again!  I would have to rate the biggest take home message from the series of bark dye pots this summer as being that alum really makes a difference with the Eucalypt barks I’ve tried.  With leaves, I seldom see any impressive difference between alum mordanted wool and plain wool.  I dye with E Scoparia bark often and have found no point in mordanting with alum (though this experience makes me think I should try again and double check). The bark pots, however, have given various shades of tan without mordant and much stronger browns with alum, and E Lehmanii is no exception. On the left, sample card from a pot of fresh leaves.  On the right, results of the bark pot, simmered for an hour and a half.



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

Things I’ve done with with plant dyed yarns…

When I was preparing for the natural dyeing workshop I ran recently, I mordanted a lot of Bendigo Woollen Mills yarn as well as some handspun in small skeins–25g or less.  Having all those small skeins of different colours in alpaca and wool and mohair, activated my imagination. Eventually it led to this…


These are madder-tipped, logwood-stemmed crocheted coral thingummies, inspired by Loani Prior’s ‘coral punk’.  When I say ‘inspired by’, let me confess.  I bought her beautifully designed and entertaining book Really Wild Tea Cosies with a Christmas book voucher I was given.  So I had the pattern.  But even though only one, basic, crochet stitch was involved, my crochet skills are decidedly remedial and I don’t happen to have a crochet instructor on tap.

I turned to Maggie Righetti’s book Crocheting in Plain English (I don’t have the new revised edition, needless to say).  Apparently sometimes I just can’t believe what I am reading… or perhaps I just don’t understand on the first eight passes.  I see students I teach with the same difficulties!  By the time I had finished this tea cosy and started on the next, I’d managed to figure out that I wasn’t doing what Loani Prior must have believed was involved in the one stitch involved in her cosy.  Luckily for me crocheting badly still produces a fabric of a sort.  I also figured out that for me, improvising a knit version of the pot cover itself was going to beat freeform crocheting one as the pattern suggests with my inadequate skill set.  So that’s what I did, and Loani Prior shouldn’t be held responsible for the outcome.  I like it anyway.


It has highly entertained people who watched me crocheting coral at parties (as one does) as well as those who have seen the finished object, many of whom thought immediately of a sea anemone.

Let it be said that at present coral punk is not alone.  Here is the present plain Jane of the tea cosy selection at our place: yellow from silky oak leaves and orange from eucalyptus–with the felted blobs spun into the yarn.  Pattern improvised.  Luckily, tea pots are just not that fussy about how you clothe them.


I’ve been branching out and using up some particularly strange art yarn spinning experiments.  This next one is commercially dyed mohair with silk curricula cocoons spun onto it.  Scratchy for a head, perfect for a teapot!  I was surprised how many people liked the look of the ‘hat’ emerging as I knit this at a picnic, riffing off Funhouse Fibers’ Fast and Fun Cozy.  Once again, that is to say, dispensing with the pattern when it became inconvenient.  I guess the hat admirers hadn’t felt the yarn yet.


And for anyone who is wondering, I have continued to dye with the logwood exhaust from the dyeing workshop.  I ran out of yarn for a while and dyed two, 200g lengths of merino roving.  This morning I pulled out another 100g of superwash yarn.  I think it might be just about done, and I only wish I had kept a record of the weight of fibre that has been dyed with what was a small quantity of logwood in the beginning!  This weekend, the second in a series of two natural dyeing workshops. I’d better eat my crusts and get my beauty sleep in preparation.



Filed under Crochet, Eucalypts, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Spinning, Uncategorized