Monthly Archives: April 2013

On obtaining reds from Eucalypts

I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to get stronger colours, and especially red to burgundy, from Eucalypts.  I’ve had occasional, but not dependable, success.

I have had the thought that the temperature of a dye bath might affect the colour obtained from eucalypts several times.  In particular, I’ve had the thought that relatively low temperatures might be required to obtain reds. Bear with me in my ignorance about chemistry… I’ve had this idea when thinking about the way that madder turns toward brown if heated too much. The chemical constituents are not the same, but perhaps their reaction to heat could be.   I’ve had the same idea reading the inspiring Karen Casselman’s Craft of the Dyer, in which she mentions that tannin bearing plant dyes will move toward brown if overheated.  I’ve certainly obtained many oranges from boiled eucalypt dyebaths.  I had this idea about reds and temperature again reading this glorious and informative post by Dustin Kahn and her comments.  I had it when reading Ravelry and coming across very infrequent references to people achieving red from eucalypts of unknown variety, in which I’ve noticed slow cooker or crockpot methods seem to get success sometimes, suggesting low temperatures and long processing.  I’ve noticed that when I’ve achieved red or maroon shades I’ve considered temperature to be a factor sometimes.

I used to use two gas burners that would do ‘boiling hard’ or ‘blowing out’ with only luck in between, and a lot of turning on and turning off to manage my results.  Now that I have hobs that will allow relatively finely tuned temperature control, I think it is time to test this theory a bit more systematically. I’ve tried to test it before and been unable to replicate anything close to red. More recently I tested it again and felt that while keeping the pot at a simmer close to but below boiling is a good idea in order not to create felt, the lower temperatures I trued did not generate reds and sometimes were too low for good fixation. For the time being I am letting go of my temperature theory.  So what are the other factors?

It is beyond question that the variety of eucalypt will predict the range of colours that are possible.  I have best results with E Scoparia, E Cinerea, E Kingsmillii Alatissima and E Sideroxylon in the red range and of these, the best is E Scoparia bark in my own experiments.

I’ve found that sheer quantity of dyestuff to fibre is a factor in achieving any strong colour, certainly including red, but it is not a guarantee.  Dustin Kahn reported using 340g fresh E Sideroxylon leaves and stems to 10g yarn to obtain brick red (and then achieved yellow and orange on two other 10g skeins).  I am convinced that time is a factor.  Rebecca Burgess and Dustin Kahn both report heating their dyestuffs for long periods with cooling in between (which I have found changes the colour but not in a red direction necessarily). The redoubtable Ida Grae reports achieving red from E Cinerea only after 3 hours of simmering.

India Flint recommends acidity as influencing brightness of colour, but I have to admit having tried it without being confident it made a difference–hence, more experiments needed, preferably with higher acidity levels. At a recent workshop, we had two E Scoparia bark pots running.  We did a trial and put vinegar in one pot and not the other.  The no-vinegar pot gave brown on alum mordanted superwash wool and alum mordanted alpaca.  Brown surprised me, but I wouldn’t usually use alum.  We’d run out of unmordanted wool in the mix that day.  In the with-vinegar pot, grey handspun wool with no mordant came out burgundy, which was very exciting!  Polwarth locks with no mordant came out brilliant orange, and the alum mordanted skeins of alpaca and alpaca blends came out toward the red end of orange.  We cooked them on as low a heat as we could–but the no vinegar pot was bigger, so heat control was easier.

So… I am continuing to experiment with favourite species, no excessive heat (wasteful in any case), a high ratio of dyestuff to fibre and acidity.

Here are the latest findings: red on alpaca!  Burgundy on the wool samples, rosy pink and orange on silk thread.  The top sample used E Scoparia (dried leaves) and The lower samples used dried E Cinerea leaves, both with white wine vinegar.




Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing


It has been a time of preparation, lately.  I’ve been on a fleece washing project.  After months of thinking I should wash while it is still warm but feeling quite unable to begin, apparently the change in the weather (toward autumn) brought on the sense that fleece washing would be possible. I have washed all that remained of over 3 kg of grey corriedale and some white alpaca for good measure.  My motley collection of drying apparatus have all been in use.  I still have a lot of high-grease polwarth and a filthy corriedale to wash.


A bunch of friends got together to make passata and I was too sick to go and join in the fun.  However, my partner went along and I put the results up in these jars preparing for the winter.  The Fowlers Vacola outfit is steaming on the stove as I type.


Our freezer is full of pesto from all the basil of this summer.


I have some Lincoln locks sitting waiting for cold dyes to fix .  And I had better get ready to use the drum carder!


Filed under Fibre preparation

Leaf prints with rust water

I have continued my experiments with Rebecca Burgess‘ ‘fall dye starter’ from Harvesting Color. I admit, it is barely autumn here and I’ve actually been trying this out through our summer… but this is a mere detail, I hope! I tried these three lobed leaves which someone told me were from a maple (I know little about maples), and birch leaves–why not?

IMAG0662 IMAG0765

I like the results a lot, but I won’t bother with birch again. I also collected oak leaves and wrapped them.


Finally, I made a special trip to what I was confident was a maple to collect these exquisite five-lobed leaves.    I tried these on fabric cooked with tannin-bearing eucalyptus bark, which is not what Burgess recommends at all.


This produced hardly a smudge.  So, I may have to review my ideas about tannin.  Or on the other hand, I may have to reconsider my naive ideas about maples!


Filed under Dye Plants, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

The spinning continues

Unfortunately, it has been a time of illness and low energy round here just lately.  Fortunately, spinning provides solace and the level of exercise I’ve been capable of undertaking.

Here, some delicious black baby alpaca I bought from SpunOut at Bendigo (three plied).  It is called Handspinners Dream and, mmmm.  It was! Luxury fibre with a price tag to match.


I also finished some spinning intended as sock yarn–the purple yarn in the photo.  It is a true three ply yarn with high twist.  I spun it slowly since it has been on the wheel I take to the Guild only twice a month.  There have been many jokes about frog hair, and more than one person has asked me if I am really spinning, because the singles were so fine they couldn’t be seen from across the hall.  I will be so interested to see how this works out as  socks.  Despite all the joking, this is not too fine for sock knitting.  Since I have three pairs of socks on my needles at present and all three are still in the first sock stage, I may not find out for a while.  I have one still on the leg, one just past the heel and still on the gusset, and one almost at the toe.

Back to spinning though–and that is where my time has been spent lately–the purple sock yarn is from Ewe Give Me the Knits.  It’s her Superwash Merino/Bamboo/Nylon blend, especially for sock spinners.  Another lovely spinning experience.  I am warming up to spinning some of the fleece I’ve washed through summer after all this pre-prepared fibre.


Filed under Knitting, Spinning


A friend from work told me her 6 year old had said he wanted to try tie-dye.  So I invited them over!  In the end there were two 6 year olds and a 3 year old, and 4 adults of varying ages and stages.  We were spoiled for colour choices but had only two pots, so after some lovely parental problem solving we ran a red pot and a blue pot and transferred one garment from red to blue to make purple.  I believe this t shirt was worn to childcare every day for some days after emerging in all its glory onto a towel designed with a tie dye aesthetic in mind.


My random collection of op-shopped craft books came good when there was a request for a tie dyed square and after three readings of the instructions in Hilary Haywood’s Enjoying Dyes (1974) this emerged:


Fancy having a Dad who is not intimidated when you say you want a monkey face on your tie dye and instead creates this!


And of course, the classics reinterpreted:


I think the last time I tie dyed in this style would have been with Mum, in the 1970s. Just once.  It was an honour to be in charge of the dye pots and watch such fine parents encourage and be encouraged by their lovely children.

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Filed under Uncategorized

Waste not want not

Having made two shirts from my length of leaf-printed hemp/silk, I was left with a selection of mostly quite small pieces.  Other people have clever ways of designing that don’t leave waste but use the whole length of fabric.  Not me.  Maybe I’ll learn this one day.  But I have my ways.  I cut all the pieces into rectangles and squares.


Then I start piecing them together and matching sizes.


I stitch them into bigger and bigger pieces, until I can decide whether to make a bag or a cushion cover or whatever seems to suit the fabric and design.  Finally all I have left are useable pieces of patchwork.


And a really small pile of scraps.


And of course, the second shirt.



Filed under Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Sewing