Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sheet bundles

There has been some more bundle cooking for my friend.  She handed over these massive bundles–they are bedsheets. We’d walked over to visit with a bale of straw for our friends’ hens… and walked back with the bundles and cartons of fabric.  I spent time helping a friend clear out her Mum’s sewing room recently and since then have been finding new homes for sewing machines, yarn, fabric and a wide array of other items.  Some of my fellow guildies were delighted to take possession of tapestry bobbins…

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Here are the parcels going into the pot, packed with dried leaves.  My friends have an E Scoparia at the end of their street, and that’s what was inside the bundle… leaves and some bark, too!


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Some time later…

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And being unbundled!

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One had remarkably little in the way of distinct leaf prints.  I am amazed that there was enough dye in those leaves to colour so much fabric.  Unrolling…

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Flapping about over the lawn, wet from the dye pot…

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The second one had some prints in closest to the centre of the bundle. 

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Glorious!  A third immense bundle has gone home with my biggest pot, for some time on a gas burner.  I love that big pot but it just doesn’t work with my electric burners.  This is going to be one fabulous set of sheets!

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Filed under Leaf prints, Neighbourhood pleasures

Early silkworm hatchlings: Week 1, day 2

Last year, the silkworms hatched in September.  This year, in August.  I am not sure if that has more to do with the micro climate in my front room or global warming.  I am sorry to report I believe global warming is more likely.  Last night I went out and picked young lettuce for them.  This morning, I’ve been out examining the neighbourhood mulberry trees.  In good news for my little tiny silkworms, they are in leaf.

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So, brace yourselves!  We are re-entering the silkworm rollercoaster for another season!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Neighbourhood pleasures

Dyes of antiquity: Carmine cochineal

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Cochineal is another of the dyes I received from the Guild and used at the workshop a while back.  In fact, there was a choice of cochineals.  In what I realise now was my ignorance, I chose ‘carmine cochineal’ because it was ground up and I was unsure how I could adequately grind the whole dried insects I also have.  As you can see, after an initial period of being dull ornage, the dye bath was an impressively shocking pink.  It turns out that ‘carmine cochineal’ is not a shade of cochineal but a preparation of cochineal boiled with ammonia or sodium carbonate.  I borrowed Frederick Gerber’s Cochineal and the Insect Dyes 1978 from, the Guild and found that the deeper red colour I had in mind when I saw the term ‘carmine’ could only be obtained from this preparation with the application of a tin mordant which I am not prepared to use.  the colours we achieved with alum were well within the range indicated by the included colour chart of wool samples (those were the days!)

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The colour range on this card (with madder beneath for comparison) is impressive even without tin. 

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We dyed organic wool. I dyed silk paj and twined string (the orange string was dyed with madder). 

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I brought the vat home with me and dyed a lot more fibre in an attempt to exhaust it.  Here is grey corriedale mordanted with alum and overdyed with carmine cochineal.

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And spun–three plied.  This is my first ever crocus flower, by the way!

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The magenta silk embroidery thread had maximum time in the bath, since I fished it out when removing the dyestuff (in its recycled stocking) prior to disposing of the bath!

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning

Socks for active toes

Last weekend I finished these socks–eucalyptus-dyed patonyle with a subtle indigo blue stripe at the cuff (I mention its subtlety since it is invisible in the image above).  We went to visit the intended recipient yesterday and I could wait no longer for the right moment to take a picture in daylight.

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There was less than a metre of yarn left when I finished these.  I handed them over and they were whipped onto enthusiastic feet in no time at all.  This was he closest to a still image I was likely to get.

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Pretty soon they were out into the chook yard with someone else’s shoes over them…

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Happily these fast-growing feet are the same size as those of an adult in the family–so in case they are outgrown they will still be of use.

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Then, up into the mandarin tree in weatherproof pants because of impending rain..

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And pretty soon my pocket full of socks had become a pocket full of flowers and beautiful leaves and we were heading home after some guitar playing, hot chocolate (or carob or dandelion, depending), chat and plans for a future shared meal and off into the evening with enough mandarins for marmalade and more.  Friends are such wonder and delight!

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Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

Dyeing red with dandelion–more speculation

Some time ago, there was quite a conversation about dyeing with dandelion here. Just in case the name of a chicory that I grow–Chicory ‘red dandelion’ might be a clue to some crooked turn in the path on this subject where names had been mixed up–I tried dyeing with chicory root here to no very exciting outcome.  I did a bit more research on the subject after our last conversation, and here is what I can add…

Accounts of how reds may be obtained from dandelions:

Winifred E Shand gives the account that got me started on the dandelions in my garden, in: ‘Dyeing Wool in the Outer Hebrides’ in Dye Plants and Dyeing–A Handbook (Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn NY, 1964) 64.  She says that to obtain ‘Dandelion (Bearnan Bride) Magenta (Taraxacum officinale) Use whole plant, boil for two hours, remove plant and boil wool for half an hour.’  The author clearly collected these recipes from other people, though she does refer to ‘most of the recipes which I have collected and tried out…’.  Mordants are mentioned in many recipes but not this one, and it is clear there are some  recipes she hasn’t tried out.  Those involving urine, for example, where her feelings on the subject are made known in plain terms!

There is a writer on Ravelry who states that she has obtained red from dandelion but was not using taraxacum officinale.  Rather, she believes the original Scottish plant was a red-veined form called Leontodon palustre.  Now known as taraxacum palustre (marsh dandelion) it clearly has been identified in North America and many other parts of the world.  It was thought to be a subspecies of taraxacum officinale in the past, and is known by a variety of other names.  You can read her account of how it was done, using a fermentation method, by searching for Purple from Dandelions on Ravelry.  That, my friends, is the end of all I can tell you about how to obtain red from dandelion.  On the other hand, I can point to a couple of  sceptics:

  • Hetty Wickens, Natural Dyes for Spinners and Weavers (Batsford, , London, 1983) 10-11 ‘Dandelion roots have always been a great disappointment to me.  Scottish dyers are said to have obtained magenta from dandelion roots, but I have only obtained a dirty yellow.  (My dandelions grew in Sussex).’
  • Ida Grae Nature’s Colors: Dyes from Plants (MacMillan Publishing, New York, 1974) 20 ‘Much mention has been made of the dandelion root yielding magenta.  I have never found it so.  One of my students from the East Coast [USA] says that a lavender-gray is sometimes obtained from this root.’

A number of authors I have read describe dandelion as a source of greens and/or yellows only:

  • Jenny Dean, Wild Colour: How to Grow, Prepare and Use Natural Plant Dyes (revised) (Mitchell Beazley, London 2010) 137 (Though see this post on Jenny dean’s blog which speaks to their reputation for giving magenta).
  • Karen Leigh Casselman Craft of the Dyer: Colour from Plants and Lichens (2nd edition) (Dover Press, New York, 1993) 134
  • Joyce Lloyd Dyes from Plants of Australia and new Zealand: A Practical Guide for Craftworkers (Reed, Sydney, 1971) 37
  • Alma Lesch, Vegetable Dyeing: 151 Color Recipes for Dyeing Yarns and Fabrics with Natural Materials (Watson-Guptill, New York, 1970) 41-42
  • See, too, the Harris Tweed Authority (this page has wonderful pictures of Scots women dyeing).

A couple of others I consulted offered no comment whatever:

  • Betty E M Jacobs Growing Herbs and Plants for Dyeing (Select Books, Missouri, 1977)
  • Rita J Adrosko Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing (Dover Publications, new York, 1971)

So there you have it!  Dandelions have many fine qualities but magenta dye may or may not be one of them unless, perhaps you can access Leontodon palustre


Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Bundle over-dyeing

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I began with this… a much worn and washed and somewhat faded and darned merino singlet.  There was also a silky merino infinity scarf, but the ‘before’ picture was not too exciting.

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And there were these… four bundles friends had wrapped up and prepared for the dye pot.  So much creativity…

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Needless to say, heat and eucalyptus worked their magic.

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By next day, I had these bundles to pass on to my friends at the local farmers’ market (where one was unwrapped on the spot)!

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My two were unwrapped on my happy return from Back Country, which seemed entirely appropriate to me.

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Here they are, wet and glorious, freshly unbundled.

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The silky merino was more red/yellow and orange–and the overdye full of greys and blacks and reds.

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Finding daylight and sunshine to photograph in has been challenging, but… I am wearing the scarf today at work and feel very snug and cheery about it.

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And the singlet looks even darker and richer than this photo, and the darning has receded into  the background quite suitably!

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Filed under Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Weeds, seeds and dyestuffs around the neighbourhood

When roaming my neighbourhood in the suburbs, I am sometimes just wandering and only incidentally finding dyestuffs I might want to collect and take home.  Sometimes, though, I go out with a concrete plan.  I was out and about one weekend in April looking to collect saltbush seed for propagation and dyestuffs for stuffing, steeping and storing. I had success in a couple of places with hibiscus flowers that had bloomed and shrivelled away, so I deadheaded a few neighbourhood hibiscus.  They went into a jar for dyeing purposes… and folk on Ravelry inform me that these are tropical hibiscus and not hardy hibiscus, from a North American point of view (good to know, as I have North American dye books and ‘hardy hibiscus’ is not a category I have heard here).


I also managed to collect saltbush seed, but by then it was too dark to take a picture.  Mostly because I was waylaid by caltrop.


I find this weed especially loathsome because it has vicious, large thorns which help spread its seeds around, and they are cunningly organised so that they break apart and lie on the ground with the spine of the thorn pointing toward the sky,  Which is to say, just about every thorn on a caltrop plant will come to maturity pointing toward any passing foot or bicycle tyre.  I have spent a lot of persistent effort eradicating it from a local park which sees a lot of barefoot children and passing bike traffic.  This was the first time I had seen it in this particular location, so I pulled out every single plant I could find and carried them away to the nearest bin I could find.  Three cheers for bin night.


On the up side… the caltrop was growing beside some miniature statice in a spot so unpromising that only tough customers like these two plants could make it there.  So… I gathered seed from the statice which I’ll try to propagate in due course too!


I’ve had my eyes open and it looks to me like it is time to plant these seeds–little plants are emerging in this unpromising spot.  The seasons are turning toward spring.


Filed under Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Slippers–and camellias–again!


Every time I think I can’t make another pair of Bev Galeskas’ Felted Clogs… I turn out to be wrong.  I made two purple pairs and a blue pair… one purple pair were felted as dinner entertainment in order to be a good fit for the recipient.  One blue pair await felting.  And this pair await a recipient.  I think the kicker is the number of people who speak to me about slipper love when it’s cold!  And perhaps, how quickly I can whip out a pair of these nowadays.  Long gone are the days when row 2 took me twenty minutes and I had to lie on the couch for the rest of the evening afterward.  Have I said before that I hope Bev Galeskas is a rich woman?  When I went to the web to get that link to the pattern, Ravelry said ‘Would you like to see 10525 projects made from this pattern and much more?’  I hope Bev did a great deal on royalties and that she isn’t facing the difficulty of some of those songwriters whose work only made other folk rich!

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And, not to be deterred by the comedy of errors of my recent camellia experiment, I decided I may as well pick up the remaining fallen camellias and preservation dye with them (the first such jar is looking good).  Some days, my goals have to be small!


Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

India Flint: ‘Back Country’ Barossa Regional Gallery

The South Australian Living Artists’ Festival has begun, and yesterday I went out to Tanunda to the Barossa Regional Gallery to see India Flint’s latest local exhibition, Back Country. Needless to say, I can’t show pictures of the exhibition itself, but India has posted some here and (later) here.  Her pages also include the poem the exhibition is named after, which speaks to my concerns about this continent of ours and of the planet.

Back Country contains works using a wide variety of skills, techniques and materials.  As you enter, you can see the eponymous poem painted onto the wall–in mud, perhaps, which is drying in a bowl beneath.  There are sculptures of found objects.  In the foyer, what looked to me like well worn and weathered metal parts of some kind of machine were arranged in a rather glorious horizontal triptych.  I wished I had my father with me—he would have known what those parts were or been prepared to voice his best guess equally confidently!  He is such a lover of all things metal, he would have been very entertained by some of the pieces on display, I think.  There was part of an old innerspring mattress–just some of the metal springs and their framing, mounted on the wall and titled ‘Sweet Dreams’–that made me grin.  So did the equally ironic rusted steel ‘snake’ and ‘string of pearls’.

There were many works on paper, some using eco printing (so far as I could tell); with or without stitched on textile fragments, others using plant dyes and other painting media, some bearing marks from metals.  Some were stitched, others treated with resin and made substantial and glossy.  Many contained repeating motifs–I wandered up and down one series painted and printed onto the pages of a book that might have been a dictionary entertained by the words peeking out from the paint and markings.  I love the way that each individual part of such a work has a life of its own that is in some way made different, more significant and more substantial through its relationship to other parts that are like it and yet unlike it.  A bit like human beings, really.

Rather wonderfully, there was one installation of bones suspended from the ceiling which had been partially coloured and (to judge from the list of works) treated with beeswax in a way that made them gleam in the gallery lighting.  It had been installed near an airconditioning duct outlet so that the bones were turning lazily in the afternoon sunlight.  I probably would have liked this installation if it hadn’t been moving, but the slowly twirling bones were particularly splendid.

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Turning to textiles… one of my favourite pieces was ‘groundsheet’, which the list of works describes as ‘vintage silk, pre-used cot sheet, plant dyes, stitch’.  The sheen of the silk formed the face of the work turned toward the viewer, while  another fabirc, which I assume was the cot sheet–perhaps flanellette–formed a light absorbing matte edge on two sides and seemed the have been stitched on as a backing.  I am always itching to touch and explore details, but respect decrees that I keep my itchy fingers in my pockets.  The leaf prints and resists on this quite large work were detailed, many rounded, and in a dark palette of greys, browns and blacks.  A similar palette and use of silk were evident in a series of smaller textile works using eco-printing called ‘ dust and sunlight’.  The effect of greys and blacks and the sheen of silk evokes silver in places in a way that gives a lovely gleaming, luminous quality to the paler parts of the work.

The work that seemed to me to have been set up as the feature of the exhibition can be seen at the link I’ve provided (with some of the works on paper on the walls in the background).  It is a floor length silk and wool dress suspended above a dark woollen blanket which has darker eucalypt prints on it (and a contrasting–cotton, I assume–darn in it).  The absent woman in the dress is surrounded by a suitcase and rusted enamelware, a common feature of Australian home life in the past that has largely gone out of fashion. To my mind, it gives an impression she is preparing to leave home. I don’t assume that is the artist’s intention–I have played in bands and had people explain to the songwriter what her songs are about–not!–while she politely listens with muted surprise…

I loved the dress.  It is sleeveless, the neckline and armscyes bound and stitched.  A small number of pleats below the neckline begin a cascade of complex folds and drapes.  I lack the language to describe the way this effect has been created.  Insets and piecing have been used in the lower parts of the gown to create volume which is gathered up and stitched in place to allow it to fall again in a different form of cascade.  The back of the dress features a shaping sash tie.  The upper part of the dress–which is not a separately stitched bodice, though at the back it is framed by the neckline and sash–features striking rust-brown and orange abstract contact prints.  There are small prints of gumnuts or buds and the odd leaf scattering down the fall of the fabric.  Yet there is quite a bit of paler colour–silver-grey and almost white, especially toward the hem (more evident in person than in the photo India has posted).  The contrasts are rather lovely.

So there you have it.  If you’re keen to see more images of India’s works on paper–you might like to look at fieldnotes on blurb: the preview will suggest what these works might be like–and of course, may tempt you to seeing more…

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The gallery itself is not exciting from the outside, though the inside was full of light, white walls and a lovely wooden floor.  It’s one of the myriad soldiers’ memorial halls built to commemorate Australian soldiers who lost their lives in the world wars.  They tell a story of many lives lost and so gravely missed from so many small rural communities.  This one has suffered a coating of grey spackle over its original frame, as the picture shows.  Since the new expressway from Adelaide to its north has numerous overpasses each named after a battle (some in Vietnam, some in Europe)… the futility of war and the realities of present wars were on my mind as I headed for Tanunda.

Inside the hall, the fallen were remembered with an intricately carved wooden memorial and pictures.  And right at back of the hall is a truly extraordinary pipe organ, which evidently used to live in the Adelaide Town Hall (a much bigger building, since Adelaide is the capital of this state).  It seems that it has only recently been restored and is soon to be celebrated with a concert.  It is certainly glorious in its restored state–gleaming, beautifully decorated and positively towering over an exhibition space. That room also contains a tapestry of the Barossa region called ‘Woven Recital’ worked by Katharina Urban (a member of my Guild) and the Barossa Weavers.  It includes images recognising the Indigenous peoples of the region, famous colonial women and men, and the wine tradition of the area as well as some of its current recreational activities—cycling and hot air ballooning.  There is also  a quilt depicting the Barossa Valley and celebrating its history of German migration , wine making , coopering and associated skills, religion, farming and famous buildings.  So, local folk–you have all of August to go and visit.  The Gallery is on Basedow Rd just off the main street, where I had never previously found it when wandering Murray St, Tanunda.



Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

How not to sew knits

Last winter, I believe… I bundled up this milky merino and dyed it.  Actually, I cut and dyed two different garments, and when I stitched the first one, I found the fabric had shrunk in one direction.  I think this was the appalling realisation that led me to put this garment aside for at least a year.

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One weekend a while back, I had a new sense of the possible.  If it has shrunk, waiting won’t make it grow back and I’ll just have to figure out what to do then, I thought.  I measured it against the pattern pieces.  I has indeed shrunk–but I pressed on.  I sat down to sew and that’s when I realised there was another profound sense of foreboding involved in my reluctance to start stitching this together.  Step 2 of Very Easy Vogue 9904 involves setting in an invisible zipper.  Suggesting Vogue’s idea of ‘very easy’ may have as much in common with mine as ‘the Vogue body’ has with my body shape!  I have applied a lot of zippers, albeit intermittently, but not into a knit fabric.  And not with any real pretence to invisibility.  I won’t catalogue all the things that went wrong.  I’ll just sum up by saying that sometimes a sense of foreboding is your subconscious letting you know–ahem, you don’t have the skills for this to go well!

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I set the zipper in by machine the first time and it was truly appalling.  In the end, I did it again by hand.  Decent!  I won’t bore you with all the missteps–in the end I hand stitched the hems as well, and I like them too.  Perhaps I should have dyed the thread, but I quite like the luminous stitches. I used dyed thread for the zipper after all the chat in the comments and so much practice sewing with embroidery thread.

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Speaking of which, right now… no wool garment story could be complete without darning.  Sigh!  I spoke to another friend who has been doing unprecedented levels of darning at her place this morning at Guild.

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In fact–I needed about six darns on this garment. Without washing or wear.

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Never before have I needed to darn prior to completing a garment!  But… I like the garment.  I would prefer it hadn’t required darning!  I’d make this pattern again, and the fit might be smaller than I intended and snugglier than I prefer… but it’s decent.  Even if it ends up being an underlayer, that’s better than staying on the chair where the moths found, it, not being finished!



Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing