Category Archives: Dye Plants

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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Summer in the dye garden

Summer is a brutal time here in South Australia, and as I was writing, we had just had a record breaking heat wave where we were up over 40C for four days. In my case, however–not facing bushfire, and I feel for those who have and who will.  People have already died and summer is young.

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I took some photos before the heat wave… Hollyhocks, whose flowers have been going into the freezer as they fall.

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This year’s woad looking splendidly leafy.

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Last year’s woad flowering and seeding for all it’s worth.

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Our very own E Scoparia.  Last year, skeletonising caterpillars left just the veins of every single leaf in a lightning fast attack, but it has come back.  2015-12-13 12.11.31

Weld in flower (with rhubarb beyond).

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Japanese indigo seedlings, now blessedly in the ground.

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Cotinus looking like it will make it.

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The madder looking the worse for wear.  In Spring it was more like this…

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And the pansies, may they rest in peace (they didn’t make it through the heat wave), which have given a splendid collection of tired old flowers to the freezer.

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There is more… and I have been roaming the neighbourhood collecting bark and fallen hibiscus flowers and considering the other options too…

 

 

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Happy unbundling

Before I went to Mansfield, I had a moment of imagining what it would be like to return from a sewing circle and re-enter the world of work at the crunch point of the year.  So I took some steps to create things to return home to. I gathered leaves and retrieved saved leaves.

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I decided on a well used round table-cloth I’d been given.  Much loved and much washed and presumed (by me) to be linen.

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No round tables here.  It was destined to be ripped and turned into something new.  I added in woad leaves and seeds as well as E Scoparia leaves and continus nipped from a tree that hangs over a fence.  Here is a stuff, steep and store jar of woad seeds where the silk thread within is turning purple, with a continus leaf for colour comparison.  Wow!

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The bundles went into the dye pot on the day I left home.  Just as I headed out to a laundrette to deal with a laundry crisis that reorganised my last day at home and shall not be detailed here.

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I pulled them out of the dye pot as I went to the airport. Finally, some time after I returned, unbundling time arrived.  The Euc prints are wonderful!

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I just love linen!

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The woad leaves and seeds left traces of green and burgundy and purplishness. But only traces.  The bundle may have been a bit too loose. Ah, but those few continus leaves gave purple!  Who knew?  Well, I didn’t!  But now I am glad I bought one on special at a nursery last winter.  It had lost its leaves and was not a prepossessing looking plant at the time, but now… well… I need to let it keep growing, clearly…

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Spring Sewing Circle 2

This time, a little more about dyes and dyeing at the Spring Sewing Circle.  In the main street of Mansfield, there was a great two colour display of pansies.  I am not sure what the passersby made of me deadheading the purple pansies… I suspect no one noticed from their car. I took them along to the day’s sewing circle with me after they had spent a night in the freezer and this produced an impromptu class in dye chemistry from India.

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Once a selection from the three kinds of water available had been made, I tucked the remainder of the blooms into some raw silk (the pocket bag from an op shop suit).

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Into a clean yoghurt tub they went with some silk thread.

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The colour got bluer…

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Overnight it became turquoise.

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It came home in my bags, and surprise!  The water at home really does have the capacity to create greens.   My last experience of this was not an accident or a one off. Thread that had been quite blue and fabric that had been purple and blue went green immediately on rinsing.  I’m not complaining–these are great colours!

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There were many incidental marvellings at the beauty of plants and fabrics…

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I had a lesson in mordants I hadn’t used before, and some help with my issues with milk.  Very exciting.  Sure to lead to all manner of future experiments.

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I had an unexpected visit to a laundrette (laundromat?) on the day I left home, and found one just doors from a rather good op shop that benefits Medecins Sans Frontieres.  I spent the time my quilt was washing there and scored a long sleeved t shirt, which was the subject of these experiments.  Greens… oranges… iron…

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Using this technique for all-over colour and pattern is something I notice others doing to great effect but often don’t attempt.  I’ve realised that when buying fabric I tend to plain colours or picture prints, and evidently I have carried this over into my own dyeing. Workshops are for learning so I tried stepping away from my habits a bit.  It’s interesting to observe how entrenched some of my habits are.

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The back of the t shirt.  These last two photos show the garment laundered and dry.

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For those who can’t resist the idea of pictures of food… picture this as afternoon tea!  Extraordinary.  India turns out to have the kind of fine cooking skills capable of making everything delectable.  She also has the capacity to turn a few ingredients that might be mere sustenance in other hands (I am not knocking sustenance) into something irresistibly delicious.  Macaroni and cheese much better than a restaurant meal.  Just saying.  We have an onion, garlic and dairy free household and India was kind enough to load me up with garlic and butter and other fabulous things we can’t share at home for the duration.  Such happy pleasures for me and such generosity and skill from her.

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