Category Archives: Dye Plants

Mellow blueness

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The woad has been thriving in this time of rain followed by warmth.  (The potatoes aren’t doing badly either, as you can see). And that can only mean one thing, when free time opens up!

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I managed to obtain Jill Goodman’s A Dyer’s Manual recently, and had the benefit of others helping me to grasp the chemistry of fresh woad and how it differs from using indigo that has already been prepared from fresh plants by someone else. I came by the book at the annual spinner’s retreat where there were folk with interest and knowledge–perfect, and very helpful indeed.  So this time I felt I knew why I was adding air in the early stages of the process, only to then remove it in the de-oygenation process required to have the dye become fully soluble and able to attach to fibres.  Previously this has been a total mystery or had me feeling I had done something wrong, or both.

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I still had part of one package of hydrosulphite left.  I am pretty keen to have it be the last.  Hydrosulphite is a substance the earth could do without. But equally, since I have it, better to use it rather than let it become stale and unusable for this process.  So I tried two vats: one with hydrosulphite and one with fructose.  The picture above is grey merino fleece descending through the ‘flower’ on the surface of the hydrosulphite vat and into the yellowy depths below.

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This image is the fructose vat, which involved some guesswork on my part (no way to measure how much woad pigment there was in my solution). I am not experienced enough to have great judgment or to trust my own judgement.  I can measure temperature and I can measure Ph.  The complex part is judging the reduction (de-oxygenation) of the vat. This looked very promising to me!  That said, there were moments when I had realisations that gave me pause.  Jill Goodman, for example, seems to live in England and I suspect her conditions and mine are not the same. She goes from scalding leaves with boiling water through various processes to heating the vat to raise it to 50C (there was a lot of conversion to metric involved for me)… I did the processes concerned and still had a vat at 70C and decided in the end to put the vat in a sink of cold water and ice!

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This linen scarf did the amazing woad magic of going from yellow to green to blue when put out into the air.

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Both of my tied textiles dyed only on the outside and therefore were re-tied and re-dipped. The greeny-blue of the image above converted to blue very quickly on rinsing (you can see an image further down).

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Soon I had dyed my planned fabrics and imagined that the vat would be exhausted, because previous vats have yielded so little.  The next day it was clear that the hydros vat was not exhausted, so I adjusted Ph and temperature and set about continuing to dye. The fructose vat was still not reduced, so far as I could tell with a test dip, though again it looked promising and eventually looked much like the hydros vat.  However, it still had not reduced, and thus, was unable to dye.  In the late afternoon I decided it probably didn’t have any dye in it. Do not read on if you have a weak constitution–but one of the reasons for my belief was that I had accidentally boiled the fructose vat early in the process. Eeek! I had a very little hydros left, so added some to the fructose vat.  Then half an hour later, a little more.  30 minutes later, it came into order and began to dye, and I dyed using both vats until bed time using the only clean fleece I seem to have. The fructose-hydros vat dyed over two more days, as it turned out!

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I threw in more cloth and went to bed, feeling extremely pleased.  On the down side, I used hydros.  On the up side, it can only have been a matter of time before that fructose vat would have reduced.  I just needed to hold my nerve and be patient.  Maybe add more fructose. Admittedly, time is one of my biggest issues because I do have a day job and other commitments.  However, this is by far the most successful woad effort to date.  I now understand that I need to use a vat rather than direct dyeing for the woad to be wash-fast.  I think I now have a sense of how to tell whether there is dye in the vat (at all) as I process the solution.  The low concentrations of colour claimed for woad are not so low as to make it useless, and I have quite a bit of leaf.  One vat with 1.6 kg leaves and one with 900g leaves from one part of the garden where other things have struggled to grow well–and this is my second harvest from them.  I also have the happy sense that my understanding is sufficient to reach success with a fermentation/fructose vat given time.  The pigment from my previous crop of woad is in a different vat which has not shown promise even though I have been waiting for weeks.  But it still may!  And I am confident now that reduction is the main issue and not one of the other possibilities.  Very encouraging mellow blues–and more pictures to come when everything is clean and dry.

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Woad extraction

After my last, less than successful, adventure with woad, I considered the situation. I discovered thanks to the commenters on this little blog (thank you!) that my chickens enjoy woad leaves just like theirs do.  Then I finally figured out that some of my woad is in year 1 and in spring in spite of everything I have done/not done/failed to understand.   I decided to try Teresinha Roberts’ method of extracting the pigment from woad.  I figure this way, I know if I have any pigment before I go all out with complex methods of deoxygenating my woad vat.

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So from left to right you have woad before haircut; woad after haircut, a (big) bucket full of woad, and…

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half that woad washed.

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After that it gets less pretty.  Woad that has been added into hot water, now ready for the compost bin.  Since adding it to the compost I find not the appalling ‘pinky-tan’ I have been promised by some but some very nice pinks online.  Never mind.  Life is long and I can try all the things if I live long enough.  Goodness knows it seems that is my project!

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Woad liquid after straining out leaves.

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Wow!  Can that stuff make froth!!  I had acquired a stab mixer at the op shop last week and employed it until I feared for its health. Teresinha was pretty clear that you should use soda ash and not washing soda because it causes less froth.  I only had washing soda and slaked lime in the alkaline substances for indigo line of supplies and was not prepared to go out and find soda ash having given my last lot away to indigo dyers a the guild.  Next time, I might be more diligent!

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I gave it all night to let the foam subside, but there was still (very deep blue) foam next morning). Surely this is promising?  But why is the blueness floating, rather than sinking to the bottom of the liquid as in Teresinha’s pictures?  Have my washing soda crimes ruined everything?  (I know, I need my own soap opera).

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The first cut. Fingers crossed! This looks like blue to me.  But… Teresinha Roberts has the blue pigment settling to the bottom.  To me it looks like mine is all floating on the top, still.

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I thought time would sort it out but actually, two days later as I am trying to continue the process I still have this: the concentrating jar on the left and a jar of ‘discard’ woad solution on the right.  I say ‘discard’ as I am not throwing anything away just yet.

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And then… wonder of wonders!  I began to form an impression on day 3 that I might have some blueness.

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And closer up…

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Is it promising?  Is it??

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring in the dye garden

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I had a query from a lovely reader recently and it caused me to consider what was in my dye garden, which is also the flower and vegie garden, really.  So here is a little taking stock.  Woad is showing its capacity to self sow.  I have gone from struggling to get a seedling out of a hard won pack of seed, to finding I could get it to grow, to this… self sowing in the veggie beds.  Let’s see if these plants manage the summer.

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The one-year-old-woad is pretty big.  Pity I didn’t harvest it at the right time.  I still might have another go… but meanwhile some of it is sending up flower heads and the seeds will dye too! This is the woad-and-potato bed beside the peach tree.

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This is the woad-greens-rhubarb-you name it bed.  Flower heads rising in the middle top of the picture.

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The new raised madder bed, with added pansies, evacuated to this spot when their pot fell apart without warning.  I think the madder already likes this spot. Californian poppies are doing well in the old one.

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Speaking of pansies, I’ve been dead heading these regularly to use India Flint’s ice flower method on them.  They are in a yoghurt pot in the freezer, accumulating. I love my pansy dyed thread and have faced the fact that I don’t need kilogrammes of silk thread at this stage and therefore can happily use quite small quantities of dye stuff.  I have also been known to deadhead pansies in public plantings.  But it goes so much better when I don’t have company, as this kind of weirdness may offend one’s friends. In the top of the picture, the weld. Some of it died months back for no obvious reason–the main stem seemed to rot or be nibbled away.  Mysterious!

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And there are these pansies too. Only some of them make sense for dye but they are all lovely.  I am in favour of loveliness.

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Our E Scoparia has made it through the skeletonising caterpillar season and is now my height!

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Black hollyhocks old–

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–and new.

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Marigold seedlings coming up in a metal tub I salvaged off hard rubbish during winter.

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I do use rhubarb leaves to create acidic dye baths, but mostly rhubarb is for eating and not dyeing in our parts! And the rest of my dye garden is out in the suburb and other people’s gardens… I am a dye gleaner.

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Madder: the growing and the dyeing

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I have been growing madder for some years now without having enough to use for dye. It had to be transplanted when we moved house.  Then, I heard so much about how invasive it can be, I planted it in a half wine barrel and it really hasn’t enjoyed this spot.  I think people who find it invasive must have more rainfall or better watering practices, or perhaps all of the above and better soil. Then, it is amazing how many critters want to eat it despite the leaves being the texture of rough sandpaper!  I decided to divide and transplant finally.

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Here is the crop. Not too bad, but really, not a huge mass of roots.

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My beloved put three new garden beds in that will get dependable summer watering and generously agreed to one of them being a dye bed. When I had divided one of the rhubarb plants, re planted the resulting crowns and set out the new madder bed, I had a few roots left. I consulted my various manuals and washed the roots.

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Then, out with the dye blender (my parents scored this for me in their travels through second hand shops)!

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It went into the dye bath looking orange, but as I heated it, it became a deeper and deeper shade.

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At this stage, I put some silk embroidery thread in, in a zippered mesh pouch that has seen a lot of dye baths since it left the Body Shop and ended up empty in an op shop (and thence came home with me). This turned out not to be enough to keep out all the particles of madder!

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My goodness! I think this is the red I have been promised from madder!

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One skein dyed quite evenly and one streakily and both will be gorgeous in their own ways.

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After this point, I strained the dye bath through two layers of nylon next curtain, added mordanted grey fleece and got the kind of orange that madder often gives in an exhaust (to me, at any rate).  And now, I can’t wait to see if I can really get this madder thriving!  For other bloggers whose madder growing and dyeing is inspirational I suggest An Impartation of Colour and Jenny Dean and Deb McClintock (so many posts to read from Deb!).

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Walnut, weld and purple fountain grass

I went out to help with the local organic food co-op recently and came home with walnuts from the local food forest produce swap, with the nuts soon ready for eating and the hulls ready for dyeing:

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In the bucket, ready for their three week soak/fermentation:

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Post soaking and ready for the heat:

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With the application of heat, the dye bath grew darker still.  So in went my remaining suffolk fleece. It was with deep relief that I assessed the (acceptable though not delectable) smell of the dye bath.  It was a walnut dye bath that almost had me excommunicated from my Guild for cooking it up in the dye room when the Little Glory Gallery was open.  Ahem!

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Here is weld growing in the vegie patch:

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One of my plants wilted and fell over for no obvious reason, so I cut it out and set it to dry. I wondered if something has nibbled on its roots from below ground. Some days later I went out and found that the rest of the plant had died.  This time it is obvious that the main root has been chewed on or rotted away.  Curious.  I followed Jenny Dean’s instructions (more or less…) and due to lack of time, left the dye bath to sit for some days.

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Mum saved me her purple fountain grass–a whole wheelbarrow load.  I saw a post on Ravelry where a lovely green came from this plant just about when she was planning to cut hers back.  This was exciting!  For me, however–it gave only a fawn colour.  Sadly!

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Here is the walnut dye on the left and the fountain grass on the right.  It is a little more yellow-brown in life, but nothing exciting.  It went into the walnut exhaust.

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I now have two shades of brown Suffolk and some weld-yellow crossbred fleece ready to join a future colour knitting project.  May the rinsing begin!

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Harvest

There is a very large patch of dyers’ chamomile beside the Torrens River in a public park in the city.  I was going that way recently and decided I would deadhead the chamomile.  So I packed my secateurs and bags when I was headed that way again (en route to a day at WOMAD with friends) and took a detour. The summer has not been kind to this patch and some of it has turned black.  But there is so much of it, there was no way I could cut all the dead flowers.

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I had a lot of company.  Regular ducks and maned wood ducks and a coot and a top knot pigeon and some moor hens came to chat.  Most departed when I didn’t offer any morning tea.

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This young one was persistent, chatting on to me as I worked away.  Eventually quite a few of its relatives came along to make sure everything was OK and watch carefully from the other side of the path.

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I kept snipping out dead flowers as passersby stared or ignored me or hurried past in case my strangeness was contagious, and maintained a bit of a conversation with the young moorhen. Next day I had this to set out to dry in the heat.

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I can feel future dye baths coming on.  It has been a great summer of harvest.  We have had so many cucumbers!

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The rhubarb kept coming even though the summer has been hard on it.

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I have been out in the neighbourhood collecting saltbush seed.

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I even found a new kind of saltbush that the council has planted a little way away from my house.

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Friends had an open garden where they sold plants for an excellent cause.  I donated my collection of divided succulents, and they all sold.

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In March, we continued to enjoy local strawberries and bought the big box of seconds for the sheer delight of them.

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And now autumn has begun, the quince harvest has come in too, lest the possums eat them all… and the new season’s harvest is begun already.

 

 

 

 

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Adventures at Mount George

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Recently I was invited for a walk and blackberry picking at Mount George with dear friends.  We began by going past the ‘fairy’ homes.

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Clearly some small people have had a lot of fun here.  There were even letters for the fairy folk.

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Then we were passing through the creek where the blackberries ramble.  They are an awful pest in Australia, intentionally introduced initially (and still a source of free food) and then spread by every bird and beast, by water and trouser cuff and so on.

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I have many happy childhood memories of searching for free food of various sorts.  Clearly my parents had special talents in this area!  We picked many blackberries along the banks of the Yarra when we lived in outer Melbourne and there was a suburban block sized bramble at the end of our street, where Melbourne then ended.  And since then, in so many national parks and otherwise beautiful spots.  They are delicious but horribly invasive.

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Then, off up the mount to a favourite picnic spot of my friends’ in a rock formation.  I found evidence of other spinners at work.

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Right at the top, some austral indigo (indigofera australis) which I did not realise was native to our state.  And a spectacular picnic!

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Then on the way back, a stand of St John’s wort.  I picked a big bunch, and probably should have done the bush a favour and taken it all.

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It was a week of time poverty, so after some days in the fridge, I decided it was now or never and bundled up my St John’s wort, wrapping some thread in with the fabric for later use.

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On a whim, I put dried prunus leaves in the bath, and then began some days of cycling between slow cooking and wrapping in my trusty dog blanket in time with my schedule of many other things to do.  I am delighted to say that I think I really learned something from India about dyeing with this kind of plant, at Mansfield.  Where once I was experiencing an awful lot of mystery, now I’m able to apply a little knowledge and judgment–even if cramped a bit by other commitments.  With understanding, I find I can often manage those to my advantage.

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When I finally unbundled, there was some lovely purple and green.  The prunus bath was less exciting and quite brown (not a bad effect, but not purple either).  I decided to replenish the leaves and go again with some alum mordanted wool and see what happened.

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My hurried bundle has left a landscape of wrinkles and plant prints on some parts of the fabric.  I think I can have some fun times sewing this into something snug for winter…

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Quebracho and Dyer’s Chamomile

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I am on a project to create my own sock yarns this year using natural fibres.  As part of the dyeing–because I like wildly coloured socks!  I decide to dye some mohair and suffolk fleece.  I have some dyes that were gifted to–or abandoned in–the dye room at the Guild.  This time I chose Quebracho–which was not mentioned in any of my dye books but I assumed would require an alum mordant.  I organised that, and found to my surprise that the preparation of quebracho I had completely dissolved.  It’s a tree-based dye so I had rather imagined it was finely ground wood.  Wrong.  Interesting!  Then, a second surprise.  I thought it would be red, but actually, quebracho comes in a range of colours and I had quebracho yellow.

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Which was a shame, really, as my second dye pot was dyer’s chamomile.  Never mind.  Yellow fibres can be readily blended and overdyed and needless to say I have some fibre dyed with eucalyptus destined to join this blend which might blend beautifully…..

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The first dye bath from each came out rather splendidly and intensely yellow (quebracho on the right), and I was reminded that dyers’ chamomile always smells edible.  Also, that it might be the right time of year to harvest this plant again (I took secateurs to the dead flowers of a patch growing in a city park last year).  I love the smell of eucalyptus, but edible isn’t the thought that comes to mind!

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I ran exhaust baths with some of Viola’s (crossbred) fleece.  It had been in a cold alum mordant bucket for some months.  Perfect!  Ready to go at just the right moment! Another win for slow dyeing processes… and one step closer to an all natural sock yarn.

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Experiments with E Cinerea

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It all began with a trip to the Adelaide Hills to visit a friend who had just moved into a new house one weekend.  On the way, I saw a massive E Cinerea with a huge variety of leaf types and sizes.  On the way back, we made a brief stop to harvest a few of the leaves overhanging a car park.

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That evening, we went to my parents’ for dinner, and I asked my father if he had any metal disks.  He helpfully offered quite a range of recycled washers and then asked a lot of questions.  I underestimated his interest in understanding what I’m doing and how he could help me out!  This led him to suggest bottle tops (up there for thinking!  Why didn’t I have that thought? Surely I have heard this idea before…).  He also offered me clamps.  He really felt that bulldog clips (my suggestion) might not be strong enough.  He had a collection of tired old clamps he didn’t want, so I chose some and headed home with all kinds of ideas.

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There was ironing and folding and general faffing, until I crammed all I could into the pot.  The pot, it must be said, is not designed for G clamps in large sizes and numbers.

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I like the results a lot, though when you try any approach new to you, there is always a lot to experiment with. Perhaps the bulldog clips would actually be better?

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In this piece the holes in the piece of metal I used have allowed the dye bath in to create dots…

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I tried some silk…

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And I love these strips, inspired by Jude Hill’s indigo moons. Only different.  I found myself wondering what shape I would really like to create, and answering with the thought that the shape of a leaf is very difficult to improve upon.  I love leaves so much.  The second round hit the dye bath in double quick time!

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More summer preserving

The harvest is continuing round our place.  One friend dropped a bag of figs and grapes on the front doorstep.  I took a bag of plums over to hers on a run!

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Then I went to visit another friend who is house-bound after surgery, taking a care pack of salads and mains.  She asked me to deal with her nectarine tree.  It was so heavily laden!  I collected a huge bucket of fallen spoiled fruit (things such as this are known at our house as ‘chicken happiness’).  Then I picked fruit for my friend and another visitor, and then two more buckets.  Then I cleared fruit out of her neighbour’s gutter!  The tree was still covered in unripe fruit.

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I shared nectarines with two other households and then put our share in jars, since we have a young nectarine tree which is bearing enough to keep us in fresh fruit.  Oh, and there were more plums. Just one jar this time.

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There was also a handover of a HUGE bag of frozen hibiscus flowers from a dedicated friend, bless her heart!  They had to wait a couple of days, and then I decided it was time to use the only dependable looking big jar I had for them.  I wasn’t sure they would all fit, but in the end, with defrosting and squeezing … they did.

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In went fermented citrus peel water and aluminium foil water (thank you to India Flint for yet another ingenious use of kitchen discards that are neither worm happiness nor chicken happiness)… fabric, threads, and so on… (last week’s batch are here for size comparison).

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I filled another, smaller jar with kino from an E Sideroxylon I had been saving, and another (slightly less) large jar, albeit with a rusty lid which might not seal, with my mother’s dried coreopsis flowers. That was all the dye pot would take for processing.

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Three more for the pantry shelf.  It is so interesting to see such a deep green already developing in the hibiscus flower jar…

 

 

 

 

 

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