Natural dyeing workshop

I began the final stage of preparation for my natural dyeing workshop by packing the car to capacity the night before and steeping logwood and madder in hot water. These are more of the dyes that have been left at the Guild.  It seemed good to share them with other Guildies this way.

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I came through the parklands on my way to the Guild and stopped in homage to a few trees.  This one turned out to be E Tricarpa…

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The unpacking was quite a thing.  This is a view of the back seat of the car before unpacking.

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The steeped fermenting walnut hulls (another dyestuff left at the Guild) travelled in the front seat footwell, in a pot with a lid, in a big bucket in case of spills.  No spills.  Whew!! I put heat under them an hour before people arrived in hopes of getting it over with.  My friends, I will never do this again.  It may take me years to live down the smell this dye pot gave off!  At one point when a heater went on, someone told me they had found a dead mouse in the heater.  When I went to see, they were looking for a mouse they were sure must be in there because they could smell it.  Cough!  The women who were rostered on in the Little Glory Gallery in another part of the Guilds premises exclaimed.  So did the treasurer, who came in to work on the books and was similarly appalled.  Eventually walnut tailed off and a eucalyptus bark dyepot began to prevail.  The smell of natural dyeing had people who had come to the gallery wanting to come and see what we were doing all day!  I give you the walnut hulls I will be living down at the Guild for years to come.  They produced an inky dye.  Truly impressive.

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I set up a bit of a display table of yarns and knits, leaf prints, tea cosies, sample cards and books.

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People had their first go at India Flint’s eco-print technique.  Some had read the book but never tried it.  I don’t know how people can resist!  The Guild has a copper which had been repaired because we were planning to use it.  Use it we did!

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My Mum deadheaded her African marigolds for me through summer and they made a great yellow.

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I tried grinding the soaked madder in a blender as Rebecca Burgess suggests (the second hand blender was pretty challenged) and here it is in the dye bath, in its own stocking… we got some lovely reds.

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I used one of the bottles of pre-ground cochineal that had appeared in the dye room cupboard.  The colour was entirely startling!

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There was a pot of logwood that came out so deep it was virtually black.  There was a pot of E Scoparia bark that gave some burgundy on the first round and some tan for a skein added in later.  There was an E Scoparia leaf pot and an E Cinerea leaf pot–oranges of different shades.  The dye room at the Guild has four gas burners as well as the copper–so we went wild.

The wonder of unwrapping eco print bundles never wears thin!

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I used the opportunity of being at Beautiful Silks in March to acquire organic wool as well as silk noil twill and some silky merino for this workshop.  E Cinerea did its wonderful thing.

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And so did human imagination…

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The string print on the upper right of this next image was a lovely surprise…

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It was overcast and the results of the dye vats which were the focus of the day are seen here in all their glory drying in the Guild car park! These are eucalyptus and logwood.

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These are cochineal, madder and marigold.  I had mordanted some silk paj in alum and taken it along.  I tried eco printing it years ago and didn’t think much of the results.  Wendi of the Treasure suggested jewellery quality string (which sounds very promising to me), so I’d been planning to eucalypt dye them–but took this opportunity to expand my palette.  The silk went orange in the madder bath even though wool in the same bath was much more red–still good.

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People made their own series of test cards too.

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It was a day of happy experimentation, I think, the smell of fermented walnut hulls fighting it out with stewed eucalyptus bark notwithstanding.  The people who came were friendly, warm and generous–a delight to be among.  It was a treat to be in the company of other people who are fascinated by eucalypts and by the dye possibilities of plants. Folk were talking about what they might do with their cloth and how they might approach their neighbourhoods differently…  I hope that for at least some it will be the start of an exciting new journey.  By the end of the dye I was deeply weary.  I took the logwood, madder and cochineal baths home with me (after taking suitable precautions against spillage) and began some exhaust dye baths next day.  But by late afternoon I was down to twining silk string mindlessly and happily…

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

19 responses to “Natural dyeing workshop

  1. I just love reading about your work with natural dyes! I’ve got done madder that I want to try. Any suggestions?


    • Thanks! I think a good manual from a dependable author is a big help. Jenny Dean and Rebecca Burgess both have great, detailed information about madder. Many authors recommend soaking and rinsing to remove the yellow and brown tones (which can be used in a separate dye bath). After that, soaking for at least overnight helps if the root is dried… slow heating and keeping the temperature low help too. Give it plenty of time and use an alum mordant on your fibres. Good luck!


  2. It took forever to rinse the skein of logwood dyed wool from the workshop so that the water ran clear (and I still wouldn’t trust it knitted in colour work! ) and it ended up as a purple so dark you can only just see it’s purple. It’s a lovely colour. I imagine the left over dye bath had enough in it to give a fair bit of lighter purple.

    I’ve been wandering the streets looking at trees-unfortunately here in Colonel light gardens most of the trees are imported. Lots of jacaranda and London Plane. There are some huge river red gums around the corner, but I gather they aren’t very exciting, dye wise, no matter how much the local koala and lorikeets like them.


    • I had the same experience of the logwood, and have put more fibre into alum so I can use what is left! The more you look the more you will see… there is a lovely E Cinerea growing as a street tree right near the corner of Winston Ave and Edward Ave Melrose Park… that is the closest to you I can think of. Parks… friends’ gardens… Three cheers for you having a local koala!


  3. Being in the uk I’d never heard of using eucalyptus before, and I showed Gareth the pictures. He immediately scurried out and took leaves from all four of the eucalyptus that grow in the uk, none of which gave dye, so he’s now planning to grow cinnerrea in the conservatory next year solely for dyeing


    • PS people in Europe are using this same technique with trees and plants that are local where they live… So many experiments to be had!


      • to be honest I’m not terribly interested in hedgerow dyes, they give resullts that are too variabe and impermanent. since I dye for historical textiles they’re also not really authentic (dyeing was a professional business), but I was impressed by some of the colours I’d see from eucalyptus on the net, which is why I showed them to gareth, he’s the one who gets obsessive about these things – I’m afraid I’m a practical dyer rather than an experimental one and I do it because I need my embroidery threads to be a certain way, so anything outside my narrow range of historical requirements doesn’ get much attention


      • It’s all about figuring out what works for what you want to do, isn’t it? Eucalypt is a wonderfully substantive dye. But it will clearly never be authentic in the contexts that you use dyed thread 🙂


    • you may find that eucalyptus cinerea yields a different colour in the UK to what it does in Australia. I’ve had some fun with eucalypts growing in Scotland making completely different colours to those they might offer in my paddock at home.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bravo Magnifique résultat !


  5. SubmarineBells

    Beautiful colours! I wish I could have been there. The workshop sounds like a total blast, pongs notwithstanding. 🙂


  6. So awesome! Mad dyeing skills, and the stinky walnut hulls will be a funny story for years to come. Just adds to the experience. 😀


  7. Ohhhhs, I would have loved to play here with you! Please let me know if you are running a workshop again in 2016? Natural dye is magic and you are natural dye goddess!


    • Goodness me, that is very kind if you! I don’t have plans right now–I might run another workshop at my Guild, that’s about the extent of my teaching plans 🙂


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