My friends, there is going to be a little series on dyes of antiquity here on this blog. It arises from plant dyestuffs that have been donated anonymously to my Guild, which have come to me as the person currently teaching natural dyeing at the Guild. Needless to say, there are women at the Guild who know more about natural dyeing than I do and have decades of experience. Some are dyes used in antiquity (cochineal, indigo, kermes). Others are in packaging that predates metric weights in Australia, which came in in 1977. Certainly, safe disposal of mordants that are now regarded as toxic has had to be arranged. So I am using the word ‘antiquity’ both literally and figuratively–but I have a trove of dyestuffs which I would usually not have come across, and some of which I would not be prepared to buy if they were available. Some require identification. Some require research, so I can figure out how to dye with them. I decided to start with what I know.
There were bags of varying sizes containing eucalypt leaves. One was clearly E Sideroxylon leaves. Then there was the orange bag of unidentified leaves–possibly E Nicholii (which has clearly been in widespread use at the Guild in the past).
Then there was a lovingly stored and labelled small pack of E Crenulata leaves.
From time to time, people online ask whether you can store Eucalyptus leaves for too long. I don’t know. I tend to use what I have on a rotating basis, partly because I have seen what insects can do to stored vegetable matter! These leaves appeared to have been stored for a long time, but under good conditions. No signs of insect damage. They had clearly been dried prior to being bagged for storage. They retained some green colour. They were sitting on top of a stack of newspapers dated 1991. Was that a clue? I don’t know! A fellow Guild member who helped me clean out the cupboards thought they were probably older!
The E Sideroxylon leaves gave far more intense colour, partly because there were more of them. And possibly because the small fine leaves were not from an exciting dye species and the second dyepot was mostly relying on the small quantity of E Crenulata. Just the same, more of my white alpaca fleece is getting dyed, spun and ready to be knit all the time…
Meanwhile, I am preparing for a dyeing workshop at the Guild and deciding which of the dyes that have come to me are suitable for use there… I’m thinking madder, walnut, cochineal and logwood!!