Tag Archives: for the love of the Guild

Dupion silk

Oh. My. Goodness.  Dupion silk isn’t really my cup of tea.  I made my beloved a beautiful shirt from it for a big event once, but my one venture into wearing it myself was a brightly striped waistcoat made from a minimum amount.  But recently I went to the Guild and there were leftover dupion lengths on the trading table.  I walked away with the palest pieces for $3.  They were a lot bigger than I expected but with some sun damage.  The Guild was full of cheery folk eating cake and chatting on and admiring all manner of knitting and felting and spinning exploits.  There were conversations about mordants in which I broke the news about how toxic many of them are and turned down offers to give me some toxic variations on the theme.  I explained about the toxic waste dump where my Guild has been disposing of such chemicals for years now. I accepted a gift of some alum and cochineal extract (the kind my mother used to use for icing).  Then there was quite a conversation about woad, cultivation and uses, which was good fun–and I gave the person concerned (who was new to the Guild) the alum!   Anyway… I rode away feeling all activated and cheerful, and on my way home picked up a bucket from a skip, and from there the world was my oyster. Here’s the bucket on the back of my bike.


I rode through the lovely park lands and sampled all kinds of likely looking eucalypts as well as a sheoak. This one, with interesting bark and at least three different kinds of leaves.


This one I think is E Platypus.  I have heard of others getting colour from it: me, not so much, so far.


And some lovely silver-leaved varieties too.


Finally I collected E Cladocalyx bark and filled my bucket to capacity.  Here is the tree up close-ish.


Here it is from further away with the bike still there for size and a lot of the tree still not in the picture.


As I rode along the corellas were out grazing on one of the playing fields in the parklands (they are the white spots on the grass), with the city centre sprouting up in the near distance.


I arrived home and bundled up…


So pretty!


And then into the pot.


The various eucalypt samples from the parklands gave little colour (left), but my dependable friend E Scoparia dyed the silks a treat (right).


I soaked the bark and saved it for later. The prints are lovely and detailed…


I put the not so successful silk in for another bundling…


And remembered that my last experiments with clamping went better with less than maximum pressure… after the results were in!








Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

Dyes of antiquity: Opal Cochineal

Some time back, I started a series of posts using dyes that have been gifted to my Guild–or perhaps just abandoned there!  Among the haul of amazing dyes of unknown provenance and considerable age was quite an amount of cochineal.  It had so many forms of packaging and so many forms that I brought together all those with similar labels and packages… and this left small quantities of ‘opal cochineal’ (12 g) and ‘ruby cochineal’ (36 g).  I was absolutely unable to figure out whether these were marketing terms or actual descriptions of the dye qualities of the dried bugs themselves, and finally I decided to find out.

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Step 1: weighing the opal cochineal, consulting the dye books (I went with Rebecca Burgess on this one), and stitching my dried insects into a pouch.  I abhor stockings, so they only come my way from other people’s discards.  I found an antique nylon curtain in the stash and stitched up a double layer bag for the dyestuff to be sewn into.

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Into the dye bath!  When the mount of colour released almost immediately is so stunning, it’s easy to understand why this dye was so sought after (and of course, still is in some quarters).  I added small quantities of silk embroidery thread at different stages in the process, along side several batches of fleece from ‘Viola’, a silvery-grey English Leicester Cross. The thread looks just great.

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I love the colour from the first bath best, but tried to exhaust the dye, with three batches of fibre.  Total dyed weight: a whopping 72g.  Is it ‘opal’ in some special way??? Let me know if you have a view.

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Here is my little nylon sachet after its many steepings and soakings, heatings and coolings.  I had a chat with a friend at the Guild and she’s been cochineal dyeing too.  Maybe all our exhausted insects will go into one final exhaust bath.

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Fibre preparation

There has been a breakout of fibre preparation.  I got to the end of all my carded fibre.  So I started going through what I had washed and otherwise ready to spin.  Grey corriedale dyed with Eucalyptus Nicholii: before…

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Polwarth dyed with indigo.  Apparently overlooked last time I was carding…

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Here it is ready to spin.  Just one random batt.

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Then there was some angora (rabbit)–just a handful.  A Guild member was gifted this at the Royal Show last year by a rabbit breeder and since she couldn’t spin, I offered to dye it for spin it for her.  I dyed it prior to the workshop I ran along with a huge batch of fibres for the workshop participants.

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It was reeeeally short, and there was not very much.  So I carded it into some natural white polwarth.  Tweedy angora flecks?

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I managed to spin it into a singles before I went to Guild, then plied it up for her on the night.  Here’s a rough and ready photo.  She was delighted.  She is a tapestry weaver, so I feel sure this will find its way into a tapestry in due course!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing

Spinning workshop

Since readers have asked what happened to those batts and braids… I thought I would give a partial report at least, since that is all I can really do. The difficulty with creating a report is that I took photos in the first hour, and then forgot about pictures altogether.  There were other more exciting matters to hand, and there were a large number of passersby as well.  The braids and batts went to my Guild Hall for a workshop on textured spinning.  Here they are set out on a table ready for people to arrive, with batt makings at the far end (we made yet more batts at the workshop).

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I decided to start the workshop with getting people to try letting loose and spinning something that they normally wouldn’t spin.  There were many Guildies in this group who can spin fine, smooth, regular yarns with ease.  They are superb spinners with years of experience.  There are some who never spin anything above 5 ply (sportweight), some who spin for weaving (say no more) and some who have wheels that are not very well suited to spinning lumpy, bumpy or even simply plump yarns.  So our first exercise was spinning a fat singles.  I supplied batts that I hoped would make it hard to spin something entirely smooth and even because they were full of texture.

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I decided to break with tradition and play music for this part… I put on Fat Freddy’s Drop (a superb NZ/Aotearoa band and awesome live too)… and off we went.

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I got lucky and saw Fat Freddy at Womadelaide years back and then again when they came through my town and did a gig.  Unfortunately I couldn’t persuade anyone I knew to come to the gig (!), but it was so good… that… I danced.  You don’t know this about me, since you and I usually talk about craft and trees, but take my word for it.  I danced, enough said!  For the curious and those who indulge in digital music, I was playing Based on a True Story. 

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I am sure few of the Guildies present have ever used ‘fat beats’ in a sentence, but frankly, I wouldn’t either, if I hadn’t discovered that is what other people say about the music of the Freddies.  I was hoping that the music might have people out of their usual groove and trying out a new one… with their fingers dancing.  It seems to me that some of the bigger barriers to learning new skills involve the need to be patient while the pull to the familiar exerts itself, and this can be especially difficult for very skilled people, who are accustomed to being very good at a related skill.  Of course, some people get lucky and find it comes easily or that they can immediately understand how to transfer what they do know into learning what they can’t do yet.

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We moved on to corespinning and coils and all kinds of exciting stuff after this, but I have no pictures to prove it!

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Some people went with texture right from the start…

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Action shot!

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There has been some chat on the Guild’s Ravelry forum with pictures of further adventures in making wild yarns and nonplussing the (non-spinning) muggles… which makes me very happy!

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And… here we leave the workshop even though really, it had just begun at this point 🙂

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Filed under Spinning

Unnatural dyeing

I have been preparing for a spinning workshop at the Guild, and the time came to dye materials for the class.  I weighed and measured my merino braids and soaked them overnight.

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I used a cold pad batch dye made in my state for this process, so I mixed up dye the night before and then put damp braids into plastic bags ready to be dyed… and poured on the colours.

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Then–silk hankies and silk noil got the treatment.

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My many bags of fibre and dye went into the sun for a 44C day or two before being rinsed.  My stash of plastic bags unsuitable for other re-uses (and ditto for rubber bands and all kinds of saved-up stuff)–came into handy at last, along with virtually every bucket I possess!  The silk hankies and noil came out rather pastel shades, which was a real surprise.

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Some of my own silk cocoons got a dip in the dye too…

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And the braids came out wonderfully well.  Certainly more than enough fibre here for my workshop participants to be able to revel in playing with colour, texture and technique.

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Spinning

Week 6 Silkworm update

The silkworms are getting sooo big!

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A few of them have gone to silk already.

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Others are working on it.

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I took dozens to the guild where the white elephant table accepted them as their first ever consignment of ‘livestock’ and they went home with a spinner who has grandchildren staying (and a weeping mulberry tree).  Here they are in my basket ready to go…

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Meanwhile. the search for mulberry leaves continues. We went to the Himeji gardens yesterday but the mulberry trees were not fully in leaf.

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On the other hand, the gardens were beautiful even on an overcast day.

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And there were ducklings!

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In the end we made a trip to a nearby crash repairer where there is an immense mulberry tree hanging over a fence and dropping fruit… so I got some mulberries as well as plenty of leaves no one will miss.


Filed under Fibre preparation

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

Dyes of antiquity: Madder root

Three cheers for dried madder root!

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You may remember that I acquired some through the Guild.  I set out by pouring boiling water over it twice, and draining off the resulting liquid.  This is a strategy which is usually described as a good idea in order to help separate some of the brown and yellow pigments in the root from those which might produce red.  The resulting liquid was very dark brown.  I saved it for later experimentation.  I’ll get back to that!

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Every long term reader of this blog knows I can organise orange dye in a heartbeat, so I was hoping for red from madder.  When seen at the workshop I ran at the Guild, it was looking rather orange.

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However, time is needed.  And gentle heat.  This pot produced some light reds at the Guild. Once again, the cold processed alum, long steeped sample gave the most intense colour. Rhubarb (the two samples on the right hand side), not so much.

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I didn’t think it was done, however, so I took the whole dyebath home.  Happily, no mishaps en route.  Since then, I’ve been happily trying to exhaust this madder. I have overdyed grey corriedale. The fleece took up the dye differently in different parts of the locks (the weathered paler tips most of all).

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I turned it into roving while I kept dyeing…

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When I ran a dye bath with the rinse water… to my surprise it gave a strong red, stronger than the exhaust dyebath by far.  Here it is on the left, with the original dye bath on the right for comparison.

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I also dyed quite a bit of merino roving I happened to have put by, achieving three different shades. And some more grey corriedale… not bad going from madder root that might have been in those jars for decades.

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Dyes of antiquity: Walnut hulls


When these walnut hulls came home from the Guild hall with me, who knows how long they had been stored?  I can only give an educated guess to the time involved in separating them from the walnuts… or the year in which that might have happened.  In the meantime, insects had become involved… so I put them in water and put a lid on and left them to steep in mid to late May 2014.  As you may remember, I decided I should honour the effort involved in all that dye gathering and storage… and so over a month later, a dye vat emerged…

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The stinkiness of which was unholy.  It may become a legend in my Guild.  But not in a good way!  The dye that emerged was inky and impressive.  I rather wish I had saved some to try using it as ink, but in all honesty I didn’t have that thought on the day… my nostrils said ‘begone!’.  The dark brown skeins in the foreground are walnut.

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And here is my sample card.

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Interestingly, the walnut dyes, together with every dye I have tried on both hot and cold processed mordants so far, show cold processed alum as the most obviously effective mordant, with hot processed alum coming second.  The cold processed sample is noticeably darker than all other samples.  My eye cannot detect a difference between the hot and cold processed rhubarb leaf mordant samples.  In this case, I expected that since I used an overwhelming quantity of rhubarb leaf, achieving a dye effect and not just a mordanting… that these samples would be a stronger shade of brown.  I can’t detect a difference between the rhubarb leaf mordanted samples and the no mordant sample.  So far, I have to concur (sadly) with Pia at Colour Cottage in finding that rhubarb leaf is not terribly effective as a mordant, at least in the ways I have applied and used it.  I have enough mordanted yarn to continue experimenting for some time to come…




Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing

Dyes of antiquity: Usnea spp lichen

I could tell the Guild member who suggested that I be the one to use some of the plant dyestuffs that have been left at the Guild was as appalled as I was to see that there was a large plastic bag full of packs of lichens in one of the cupboards.  They were packaged up in such a way as to suggest they might have been purchased dried from a supplier in a time when understanding of the precarity of lichen was less widespread.  Concern for the wellbeing of dyers and the planet is widespread at the Guild now and I assume, it was widespread there in the past when levels of information were different, too.  I think it would be well recognised now that these are not sustainable dyes.  And to be honest, the descriptions of the colours some of these lichens will give made me wonder why anyone would disturb something so slow growing when there are prolific sources readily accessible in the suburbs.  No point asking now. No way to know when these lichens were harvested, either.  I am guessing, many years ago.


The only thing sadder than these lichens having been killed for dyeing would be composting them without using them at all–So I chose one of the types of lichen for which I could readily find instructions and began what is going to be a lengthy investigation. Out of the bag with ‘Usnea spp’ and into rainwater for a long soak.


I took Karen Casselman’s advice and steeped for some days in an alkaline solution before heating and cooling several times.


On the big day (9 days after beginning), I strained out the lichen—using a pair of preloved pantyhose which had been thoughtfully brought into the Guild for just such purposes to strain out all the itty bitty lichen particles.  Then the diluting, heating and dyeing began.  One of my new rolls royce sampler cards (two different mordants, two different applications of each) and 50g of Polwarth entered the pot.

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I simply don’t have the experience to know whether I did something wrong, or the age of the lichen made a difference, or what-but both my sample card and my fleece turned tan while the dye bath remained orange.

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Not so special, in my opinion.

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The stash of dyestuff also included many items that were labelled, and some which were identifiable without labels, and then there were some like this:


I checked with my sweetheart, who was a long time woodworker.  She said ‘looks and smells like meranti to me’. This looks quite unlike osage orange, sandalwood and logwood (all of which were present in the trove from the Guild).  I did a test… and nothing exciting happened. This batch of wood shavings went to the compost.


The rest was sorted out and repackaged and relabelled where necessary.  Ready for further dyeing adventures!


Filed under Natural dyeing