Monthly Archives: June 2013

Austral Indigo 1: Cold vinegar process

My plant-knowledgeable and extremely generous Katoomba friends harvested some Indigofera Australis for me recently, and I brought it home gleefully to experiment.  They have regular access to a place where Indigofera Australis is growing plentifully and where it is native.  I had one previous opportunity to try dyeing with this plant and it was fascinating but completely unsuccessful.  So, it was exciting to have another chance.  There were 112g leaves in my parcel once I stripped them from their branches.  They had been kept cool or refrigerated in the 7-10 days since they had been picked–fresh but not really fresh.  I decided to try two different methods.

The first is a cold process suitable for protein fibres only, using vinegar.  I have found it described online as a way to process Japanese Indigo to achieve turquoise by Dorothea Fischer and in a booklet by Helen Melville.  Japanese Indigo is a prohibited import and not available in Australia (no matter my feelings on the subject of Japanese Indigo as a dyestuff, this country does not need more weeds).  It does seem logical that this method should work on other indigo bearing species, even if Austral Indigo bears a lower proportion of indigo!  However, using the leaves fresh is a key element and my leaves weren’t as fresh as possible.

Since my last effort, my Dad bought me a cheap secondhand blender (which I planned to use for papermaking).  It made pulping the leaves so easy I didn’t even try cutting them up manually…


The water immediately went a vivid green, and so did the froth on top.


I began with a sample card and a small quantity of silk thread, and gave them a few dips before bed time, then left them in overnight and re-dipped in the morning.  Here they are before being further re-dipped, with every fibre on my test card except cotton one shade of turquoise or another:

IMAG1617 (1)

I also tried dyeing some wool, but even after a lot of dips my little skein is barely blue.  End yield: 2 lengths of blue silk thread, three lengths of grey-green-blue silk thread and some off-white-in-the-direction-of-blue-merino.  Clearly, as I had heard, Indigofera Australis is a low yielding source of indigo.  But this method was brilliantly simple, easy and non toxic.  I will happily try it again when my plants are a little bigger.



Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Eucalyptus Cretata

These trees were rather young and rather prostrate. However, the fact that they were helpfully labelled made me feel I should take an interest!


I took only a few leaves, which is one of the big advantages of the eco-print technique of assessing dye potential, as India Flint has emphasised.


The grooves on the bud caps are rather lovely, I think.  The sample print… not deeply exciting, even with some help from iron!

E Cretata


Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints

Plum Pine 3: Let the dyefastness testing begin!

Unbelievably, the plum pine is still fruiting, and I am keen to dye enough to be able to do some wash and light-fastness tests in the year before it fruits next time.  So I harvested again, picking up fallen ripe fruit from the ground until I filled the bags I had with me.  A man in white overalls who seemed to be working nearby was gripped to see me doing this and asked me all about what I was doing and why.  He was fully supportive of ‘making use of our natural resources’–as he put it–!

Early signs are that my silk threads dyed without alum will not be washfast. My mending has changed colour in only a couple of washes, and seems to be Ph sensitive, with pink without alum noticeably paler and purple with alum (the contrasting outermost ring on the right) turning blue in a mildly alkaline wash.


Only someone accustomed to dyeing with eucalypts, which are fast on wool and silk with no mordant, would think unmordanted yarns were a good beginning place.  So, I’ve had a mordant bath on the hob.  I did not have loads of anything much ready to mordant and dye except Bendigo Woollen Mills alpaca rich, so 200g of that hit the alum and cream of tartar bath along with smaller quantities of other yarns.

After removing the seeds, I had 2650g of fruit.  I was a bit gobsmacked by the quantity!  Never one to shy away from a challenge,   I put my fruit in a pot of rainwater with a cup of vinegar and simmered for an hour.  Then, I entered some handspun wool, some commercial alpaca-wool blend and some silk thread and silk/cotton 70/30 thread, all mordanted in alum and cream of tartar.  The colour takeup on the silk was dramatic and almost immediate!  I simmered for another hour and then left overnight.  The colour change overnight was again worth the wait.


Meanwhile, I’ve set up further washfastness and lightfastness tests…

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Filed under Dye Plants, Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing


Kurrajong trees (Brachychiton spp) are in fruit in the parklands and suburbs.  They are native to Australia, but not my part of it.


The seeds are edible when roasted, but the fact that they come nestled into their little boat-shaped pods in a bed of irritating hairs puts a lot of people off (I’m one of those people)!

We went for a run by Victoria Park Racecourse a few weeks back, and there were many. Some with glorious lichen-covered trunks.


Here is the whole tree…


And evidence that it is not on the verge of becoming a world-renowned dye plant.  In this image you can see my test piece, with half the leaves removed from it.  The smudges of colour you see have transferred through from other samples in the same bundle.  Nothing from the kurrajong leaves my beady eye could detect.



Filed under Dye Plants, Leaf prints

Eucalyptus Nicholii

I finally found E Nicholii, growing in Botanic Park. My beady eyes have been searching the suburbs of my city for this tree as I ride past, to no avail until now.


This is such a finely-leaved tree!  Perhaps I have failed to identify it if I have seen one fully grown, mistaking it for another kind of tree altogether.  I had one growing in a pot but it suffered too much through summer. It is also the only tree I have ever seen as the subject of a public notice at Guild, where I once saw a hand lettered note asking if anyone could supply E Nicholii leaves for a dyer. My friend’s godmother–another dyer–who lives in NSW, recommended E Nicholii as her favourite dye plant.  These are some of the reasons I was trying to grow it in a pot.  I have given that up and we have a tiny specimen growing in the corner of the back yard.  And now–the reason why people are so keen!  I think this print is sensational.


See that big black splodge?  I have wondered why I get one of these once in a while (and needless to say I have had a few theories).  Just recently the penny dropped.  Or should I say, the washer dropped–because that is what actually happened.  One of my dye pots has a glass lid with a knob screwed into the centre of it. All these eucalypt dye baths have eaten away at the metal of the screw and washers.  One washer recently fell off altogether, as the hole in it simply had been made too large for it to stay in position.  So… there has been an inadvertent contribution of iron to some of my dye baths, and some unintended black smudges where iron water drips down onto my bundles from above–since this lid is convex, I have preferred it when I have large bundles in the pot.  Aha!  Another mystery solved.  This may explain some of my surprise dye bath outcomes, too…


Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints

Dyeing in Katoomba–and some local-to-Katoomba eucalypt species

Just recently I had a short holiday in Katoomba (New South Wales).  I spent part of a day doing some dyeing with a group of friends who meet as a textile group.  One of my dear friends did a lovely job of organising a space to meet.  The group had a lot of great skills–with artists, a chemist, bush regenerators, plant identifiers and a librarian among them.  They had read and been inspired by Eco-ColourIndia Flint‘s fabulous book on natural dyeing in which she sets out the eco-print process.  But they had not had a great deal of success and some had formed the view that we have special trees in South Australia.  Of course, we do have special trees in SA, and so do they in NSW!  I tried to explain that it was far more likely a question of species than state boundary…

I love the stages in this process of setting up and bundling…


Cooking…  we ran one pot with vinegar, one with iron and one with onion skins (the orange bundles have spent time in the onion skin bath and then been moved to a different pot).


And then the big reveal!  It reminds me of that fantastic Judy Horacek cartoon… which by coincidence my friends have up at their place in Katoomba.  Please follow the link to be introduced to a wonderful Australian cartoonist–and to see the cartoon!  E Scoparia and E Cinerea on wool:


With so much expertise–and because my wise and sweetheart friends who were hosting our holiday as well as dye day had been out collecting and applying plant knowledge–we were able to try out some local species.  These samples are all on silk noil scraps, and have all been in hot water for at least an hour–just to test their potential really.


We couldn’t resist trying Indigofera Australis even though it didn’t seem likely a hot process would be ideal for an indigo-bearing plant.  It wasn’t, leaving almost no mark except when dipped in an iron modifier.  Here it is, before and after.  The yellowy-greenish tinge is an effect of photography indoors.  Sorry about that part.


E Radiata, the Narrow-Leaved Peppermint:


One of the especially beloved and tall local species is E Oreades, the Blue Mountains Ash–a truly local-to-Katoomba tree:


And finally, E Pulverulenta, the Silver-leaved Mountain Gum, is a vulnerable species in the local area.  As a result, people who want to make sure it lives on are planting it in towns, and this sample came from a street tree.  Dyers will now have an additional reason to support the conservation effort!


A big, big thanks to my Katoomba friends, and to the textile group for having me!


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

Saffron Milk Caps

My neighbour brought round edible fungi, including Saffron Milk Caps (Lactarius deliciosus) to share with us.  Such generosity!  These are an introduced species often found in conjunction with pine forests.  One was too large to be good eating, so into the dye pot it went, since its gills are so brilliantly orange–and even more so when cut or crushed.


I could not find a reference to this fungus as a dye plant anywhere so can’t pretend to be surprised that my test cards showed almost no change at all.  Perhaps a slightly more golden shade of white/cream.  Still…  that saffron milk cap was headed for compost in any case and just had a stop in the dye bath on the way there.

Yes, we did eat them, fried in olive oil and garlic with parsley.  Reviews ranged from ‘absolutely delicious!’ to ‘I’ll stick to the usual sort but they are OK’ at our dinner table.


Filed under Natural dyeing

Of moths and mending

I have a serious programme of moth management due to the amount of wool that is stored at my place.  It involves ziplock bags, careful wool storage, regular washing of clothing and pheromone traps.  However, there are noticeably more moths in this house than our previous one, and it has wool carpets.  This winter when I pulled out my woolens, the jumpers were all intact but one of my fine woollen undergarments had suffered some nibbling.  There is a small hole on the front:


And a small cluster of holes on the back.


I thought I might just leave them.  This garment is not outerwear and surely they wouldn’t run too far.  But then I thought of mending them with silk thread and overdyeing the whole garment in eucalyptus… and just when that was tickling my fancy, I dyed silk embroidery thread with Plum Pine and got colours that seemed like they might fit… and so I spent an evening working on my mending.


Since the moths gave me circles (more or less), I worked with that theme.  I’ve tried to leave a little extra thread at the outer edge of each part of the darn to accommodate stretch–which is what my Mum taught me to do when darning a sock.


The silk yarn I pulled out of the plum pine and vinegar dyepot the day after darning is a deeper shade, so I’m considering further embellishment with that, or the silk I dyed the night we worked with the indigo dyepot.  But for now, I’m pleased to have mended these holes… and on the same weekend as I mended a ravelled hem, for good measure.  This will be an initial washfastness test for the plum pine on silk, too…


Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

Plum Pine 2: Mordant and Modifiers

Having had success with a test dyebath, I made a point of returning to Botanic Park to collect more fruit on weekend, en route to celebrating World Wide Knit in Public Day.  I dyed some grey corriedale locks in my test bath and they went from grey to a dull brownish shade, so I opted for superwash + alum and silk as the most likely candidates for success. I mordanted sock yarn of antiquity (picked up at a garage sale) and prepared another dyebath.  I regard sock yarn as a no risk option.  If I knit socks for a friend, I can make an open offer to re-dye at any point they fade to an unacceptable shade (and I can ask how they’re faring under normal wear and washing).


The dye bath looked fantastic.


I ran two baths with this fruit, because the first one produced purple on my alum mordanted skeins of sock yarn (wool-nylon).  I pulled it out of the bath after dark and in artificial light it looked quite brown. So I dropped the skeins back in the bath for the night and put test samples into an iron bath and a vinegar bath. Next morning the sock yarn was purple! The exhaust dyebath was a lighter and browner shade of mauve.  I apologise for these photos but it’s winter here and sunlight is in short supply.


My tiny skeins of silk thread came out various shades of rose pink through to magenta too… and I have embarked on an embroidery project, so that was exciting.  The shades on the right are both using vinegar in the dyebath.


The modifiers were interesting: the wool+alum strand was noticeably more purple with vinegar and noticeably more brown/grey with iron, which is, I think, about what should be expected.  So… a promising beginning to experiments with a new dye plant–but with no sense yet of how washfast or lightfast it might be.



Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Plum pine 1

Podocarpus elatus is fruiting in Botanic Park.  I rode past recently with my beady eyes alert, looking for this tree.  I’ve investigated its qualities previously and discovered the fruit is edible.  And today, there they were, lying on the ground in plenty.  They offer plenty of weirdness by regular fruit standards, since the seed is outside the fruit.  One of the less common forms of fruit in my limited experience!  Here they are on the tree…


And on the ground below.


This is the tree itself.  It is native to Australia, but it is a rainforest tree.  For those who don’t know…  I am not living anywhere near a rainforest.  South Australia is generously described as having a Mediterranean climate.  Those less generous just call it a desert, and a fair amount of the state answers that description.


I tried eating one of the fruits and it was just as I remembered it from last time: subtle is the most I could say about the flavour, and the word ‘mucilaginous’ came to mind immediately.  If there is a commercial application for this fruit perhaps it would be… lubricant.  Or perhaps it could be the gumbo of Australian bush food desserts.  I tried leaf prints… but nothing too exciting came of it.


I twisted the seeds off the fruit and soaked the fruit overnight–pitting plums has never been so simple.  No change in the colour of the water.  I cooked them for almost an hour–water a deep plum colour by now–and then threw in a  sample card and some silk thread.  Soon after that, the alum mordanted wool looked almost blue, and the other fibres (cotton, silk, wool) looked pink.  After about an hour of heat, the alum mordanted wool was deep grey-blue, the wool was deep rose-pink and the other fibres looked paler shades of pink.


Needless to say, this outcome made me think I should go back to that tree 🙂


Filed under Dye Plants, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing