Tag Archives: Indigofera Australis

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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A little more embroidery

My needle and I moved on to another little indigo dyed bag that arrived at our house as a printed calico bag full of bath salts. Here it is on a table in a coffee shop, in progress.

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I love the way the silk thread has a little sheen over the matte background of the calico.

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This one is stitched with silk thread dyed with cold processed austral indigo (silvery grey), indigo, eucalyptus cinerea exhaust and plum pine.

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I like these subtle colours, even though some of them felt really disappointing when first they emerged from the dye. They work beautifully in this context, I think.  Another lesson in life from the dye pot!

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Indigofera Australis crop of 2014

Last year, I tried a cold vinegar process on some indigofera australis. The result was very pale blue, but just the same, blue, especially on silk and linen.  I thought this time I’d stick to silk.  I also found a direct dyeing method described online and decided to try it out on my indigofera australis.

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My friend and I stripped the leaves from the stems and into the blender they went.

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Pretty soon we had finely mushed leaves.

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I tried both the  vinegar method and the direct dye method with no success to speak of, even after repeated dippings.

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Remember that the wool on the right of each sample card has been mordanted with rhubarb leaf, so wasn’t white to begin with.

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Well, I thought I had nothing to lose by leaving the leaves and the liquid to sit for a few days and trying again, so I reunited the pulverised leaves and the two dye baths.

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I thought I’d try hydrosulphite, the last resort in case of indigo failure, in my case.  I warmed the liquid and strained out the leaves.

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I have recently received a Ph meter as a gift, so I aimed for 10.5 and added washing soda in solution until I reached it.  The result was a striking yellow.

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However… absolutely no blue whatsoever, not even an improvement on samples I thought I might overdye for improved colour.

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Time of harvest?    User error in the process?  The Ph meter isn’t properly calibrated?  The thermometer is out of whack (it certainly didn’t agree with the one on the Ph meter, so I knew one of them must be wrong–and I now know it was the thermometer)?  I have no idea, honestly.  I’ve decided to leave my one Japanese indigo plant to keep for seed…

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Drawstring bags

I have been using up smaller scraps of indigo dyed fabric. I decided on lined drawstring bags. The kind I like to use when carrying small knitting projects around. The linings allow the use of all kinds of little scraps.

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These outers use some of the hemp I dyed with indigofera australis as well as the last of my wax resist indigo dyed fabric, and some with a delectable Australian designed print.

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Here is the other side:

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And here they are with cords drawn through their casings:

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I also made some larger bags with small pieces of leaf printed recycled linen and another Australian print.

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Surely this is the last of the famous brown ramie shirt and those hemp jeans! And I have found use for some pre-loved cord as well.

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Waste not, want not, with a side serving of the election

I live in a society so wealthy and so wasteful, in global context, that any selection of actions I make about waste reduction can feel a bit arbitrary.  I see so many missed opportunities every day!  But still the principle that waste should be avoided is beyond criticism, and the principle that I should do what I can, is likewise sound.  So this election night, I took the eucalyptus-printed silk/hemp scraps from my previous foray into shirtmaking (I was piecing them together back in this post) and the scraps of my skirt adventure, and created bags from them. I love bags.  I love making them, giving them and carrying them around.  I seldom leave home with less than three, a curious fact I’ve decided to relax about.

Skirt bag 1: has already gone to an enthusiastic new owner who cooked a fabulous dinner for us last night:

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Skirt bag 2 is with me now and soon to be introduced to someone I am confident will like it:

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I decided to line the hemp/silk bags on account of the method of piecing I had chosen and being unsure of the fabric’s propensity to wear.  I had leftover silk noil from various workshops and from making pillowcases.  Apologies for the dodgy pictures taken after dark, indoors, with a flash.  Some bloggers are so impatient!

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There were some small sample pieces that had indigo australis and local eucalyptus leaves printed onto them and then an iron afterbath in the Blue Mountains.  I took these pictures just before they vanished into the interior of the bags to be seen only by the new owners, whom I hope will enjoy having this treat inside their bags!  I personally am the kind of person who revels in pocket linings made of treasured fabrics, whether they are organic flour bags or were formerly part of my late Grandmother’s extensive scarf collection.  Needless to say, I love a bag lining with a story.

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I like these bags a lot. The weight of the fabric with the lining works well, to my way of thinking.  I could feel the urge to give these away before they were off the sewing machine, so here are pictures on an overcast morning!

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This next one has been rated suitable as a gift for my mother-out-law, who is apparently generous enough in her assessment of my skills to talk to her friends about my crafting sometimes.  She has friends who have been weavers and dyers for years.  She herself has been a wonderful garment creator for decades and keeps thinking she has given it up and then changing her mind, so her judgment may not be unbiased but I am flattered by it nonetheless.  Her bag has been finished with a strip from a heavy weight ramie shirt found at an op shop (thrift store)–beautiful fabric and sewing skill but an appalling garment I felt no compunction about cutting up and redeploying.  Most of it became another bag complete with interior welt/flap pockets which had been a beautifully crafted feature of the front of the shirt.  Sadly they were an offence against fashion even to me, and I don’t hold with fashion much!

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And for gratuitous images, I have these of our hens.  They don’t stand around waiting for their photos to be taken when there are earwigs to be found.

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However, they are glorious, and they are also blissfully ignorant of the election that was taking place the day I snapped their pictures.  We were planting and pruning and mowing and they were seeking insects and seeds.

I feel deeply sad that the people of my country have elected a government that thinks we need to pay less international aid to fund infrastructure here; that expresses routine contempt rather than compassion for refugees taking desperate measures to escape their mostly war torn homelands and get to our shores; that thinks roads are a higher priority than public transport; that cares little for renewable energy and plans to fund it less; and that has expressed little interest in participating in global efforts to halt or turn back environmental devastation or climate change.  Here’s India Flint on the subject, should you wish for more.  I haven’t made a habit of commenting on the state of our nation here, but I felt the need to mark the day.  There will be some serious further consideration given to the forms of action that might be needed in the coming period at our house and in our community of friends.  Thinking about the state of the world and our impact upon it, in all their complexity, will continue to be crucial.

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Embroidery for the heart, from the heart

One of my friends is a poet, and a social worker.  She has spent years dedicating herself to the wellbeing of the people in the locality where she works, a place where poverty and violence have taken their toll, creating tough lives.  She witnesses people’s skills and talents in the face of difficulty and enables the bringing into existence of new connections, new skills, new capacities and new lives.  She helps those who must escape violence to make that difficult, vital journey into new lives without abuse.  I am full of admiration for all that she can do and all that she is.

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She has been facing some powerful challenges of her own in the face of government budget cuts and policy changes.  I have been thinking of her a great deal.  There is one poem in particular that brings her solace.  I decided to embroider it for her.  It has been a pleasure to spend so many hours thinking of her, holding her in my heart and wishing her well.  I’ve stitched the words on hemp dyed with indigofera australis and thread dyed with indigofera for blue and silky oak for yellow.

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Guess what I saw in Sydney…

I’m in Sydney on holiday and today I went to Taronga zoo, which is on Sydney Harbour. The views are spectacular.

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So are the animals. I especially loved seeing some of the nocturnal native animals like quolls and bilbies, but there wasn’t a lot of point in trying to take pictures. Likewise for the spectacular but small corroboree frog. However, one of our national emblems was entirely obliging.

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And… There were so many beautiful plants. Including Austral Indigo. Here it is in between some trees, growing in grass. Can you pick it out? This plant is about waist high. It is not a dense shrub by anyone’s measure.

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And while we’re looking at native plants… Sydney is a great place for banksias. Here is one lovely specimen.

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Austral Indigo 2: Hydrosulphite vat process

My second experiment with Indigofera Australis was a hydrospulphite vat. Robyn Heywood from the Victorian Handspinners and Weavers Guild has made her experiments with Indigofera Australis available online. I was delighted to be able to see the records and samples of the Victorian Handspinners and Weavers dyeing group at their Guild Rooms when I was in Melbourne last year.  It was really inspiring to see the variety of methods they had used and the range of colours they had achieved.

Robyn Heywood has trialled this method as well as the cold vinegar method and provided instructions.  So, since I still had some hydrosulphite left from my last indigo vat, I decided to try it.  Robyn Heywood soaked the leaves… apparently it is too much to expect that I would follow instructions exactly.  I blended them and left to soak for a couple of days. Here they are 18 hours later.

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Robyn’s proposal was to leave them in a warm place.  I created one the first night by sitting my vat in a bucket of warm water, and then since the days aren’t warm right now (17C maximum)– the best I could do was a sunny spot.  48 hours later–or so–I started in on the preparation of the vat.  First, I sieved out the plant matter.  Then, added washing soda.  Now for aeration.  I went with the trusty blender method, which I was sure would introduce a lot of air.  Before:

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After:

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I watched sceptically, but indeed, the bubbles did turn from green to bluish!  I prepared a hot water bath to raise the temperature of my vat.  I put the jar into it.  I turned away, and a few minutes later there was an almighty crack as the jar came apart.  Rude words were used.  On the down side, I now had glass shards I couldn’t see in my dye;  evidence of poor judgment on my part; a  broken jar and a clean up job.  My dye bath had at least 1.5 litres of water added to it, so probably now had three times the amount of water I had decided on (that sounded like a weak vat to me!)  And it was now in a stainless steel dyepot, along with whatever contaminants it contained after being rinsed out.  On the up side, the bath got to 50C almost immediately and the bubbles were still going blue.

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‘Press on, how do I know what will happen?’  I thought.  ‘Don’t be wasting that precious dyestuff’, I thought.   I got out my trusty milk crate/felted blanket dyebath insulating system, filled up one hot water bottle which promptly sprung a leak; filled up another hot water bottle, sprinkled on the dye run remover, applied hot water bottle and felt blanket to vat and walked away.  ‘Que sera, sera and all that’,  I said, sighing.  Well, I need not have sighed, because the vat turned a vivid yellow.  In went some silk/cotton thread and a piece of hemp fabric.

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They came out bright yellow and turned green and then blue-ish almost immediately.

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And so, to re-dipping, gleefully (and repeatedly).  Yield: several lengths of silk thread in shades of blue and grey, and a piece of pale blue fabric.  I have plans for them.  I am not sure whether this amount of leaf would always have produced a pale shade and to what extent my accidentally diluted dyebath contributed.  But, some blue resulted, and that part is excellent!

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Austral Indigo 1: Cold vinegar process

My plant-knowledgeable and extremely generous Katoomba friends harvested some Indigofera Australis for me recently, and I brought it home gleefully to experiment.  They have regular access to a place where Indigofera Australis is growing plentifully and where it is native.  I had one previous opportunity to try dyeing with this plant and it was fascinating but completely unsuccessful.  So, it was exciting to have another chance.  There were 112g leaves in my parcel once I stripped them from their branches.  They had been kept cool or refrigerated in the 7-10 days since they had been picked–fresh but not really fresh.  I decided to try two different methods.

The first is a cold process suitable for protein fibres only, using vinegar.  I have found it described online as a way to process Japanese Indigo to achieve turquoise by Dorothea Fischer and in a booklet by Helen Melville.  Japanese Indigo is a prohibited import and not available in Australia (no matter my feelings on the subject of Japanese Indigo as a dyestuff, this country does not need more weeds).  It does seem logical that this method should work on other indigo bearing species, even if Austral Indigo bears a lower proportion of indigo!  However, using the leaves fresh is a key element and my leaves weren’t as fresh as possible.

Since my last effort, my Dad bought me a cheap secondhand blender (which I planned to use for papermaking).  It made pulping the leaves so easy I didn’t even try cutting them up manually…

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The water immediately went a vivid green, and so did the froth on top.

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I began with a sample card and a small quantity of silk thread, and gave them a few dips before bed time, then left them in overnight and re-dipped in the morning.  Here they are before being further re-dipped, with every fibre on my test card except cotton one shade of turquoise or another:

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I also tried dyeing some wool, but even after a lot of dips my little skein is barely blue.  End yield: 2 lengths of blue silk thread, three lengths of grey-green-blue silk thread and some off-white-in-the-direction-of-blue-merino.  Clearly, as I had heard, Indigofera Australis is a low yielding source of indigo.  But this method was brilliantly simple, easy and non toxic.  I will happily try it again when my plants are a little bigger.

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Dyeing in Katoomba–and some local-to-Katoomba eucalypt species

Just recently I had a short holiday in Katoomba (New South Wales).  I spent part of a day doing some dyeing with a group of friends who meet as a textile group.  One of my dear friends did a lovely job of organising a space to meet.  The group had a lot of great skills–with artists, a chemist, bush regenerators, plant identifiers and a librarian among them.  They had read and been inspired by Eco-ColourIndia Flint‘s fabulous book on natural dyeing in which she sets out the eco-print process.  But they had not had a great deal of success and some had formed the view that we have special trees in South Australia.  Of course, we do have special trees in SA, and so do they in NSW!  I tried to explain that it was far more likely a question of species than state boundary…

I love the stages in this process of setting up and bundling…

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Cooking…  we ran one pot with vinegar, one with iron and one with onion skins (the orange bundles have spent time in the onion skin bath and then been moved to a different pot).

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And then the big reveal!  It reminds me of that fantastic Judy Horacek cartoon… which by coincidence my friends have up at their place in Katoomba.  Please follow the link to be introduced to a wonderful Australian cartoonist–and to see the cartoon!  E Scoparia and E Cinerea on wool:

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With so much expertise–and because my wise and sweetheart friends who were hosting our holiday as well as dye day had been out collecting and applying plant knowledge–we were able to try out some local species.  These samples are all on silk noil scraps, and have all been in hot water for at least an hour–just to test their potential really.

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We couldn’t resist trying Indigofera Australis even though it didn’t seem likely a hot process would be ideal for an indigo-bearing plant.  It wasn’t, leaving almost no mark except when dipped in an iron modifier.  Here it is, before and after.  The yellowy-greenish tinge is an effect of photography indoors.  Sorry about that part.

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E Radiata, the Narrow-Leaved Peppermint:

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One of the especially beloved and tall local species is E Oreades, the Blue Mountains Ash–a truly local-to-Katoomba tree:

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And finally, E Pulverulenta, the Silver-leaved Mountain Gum, is a vulnerable species in the local area.  As a result, people who want to make sure it lives on are planting it in towns, and this sample came from a street tree.  Dyers will now have an additional reason to support the conservation effort!

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A big, big thanks to my Katoomba friends, and to the textile group for having me!

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