Tag Archives: madder

Needle books on the Murray River

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We went for a birthday holiday on a house boat on the Mighty Murray River.  I’ve never been on a house boat before and it was pretty funny to be in something with six bedrooms, but on the water!  We set out on a sunny day and it was just lovely.  And then, hours before sunset, the sky turned dark.  The river was anything but calm.  My capable companions decided it was time to find a mooring, and that the green tinge in the distant clouds was a sign of hail even though it is November.  And we moored just in time for powerful winds, amazing rain… the whole thing.

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Eventually things calmed down and for those feeling nauseous, that part subsided, and the sun set over beautiful river red gums.

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Last week I finally stitched these two little eucalyptus dyed needle books together with madder-dyed thread and they were in my sewing tin along with everything else, so they found new homes among my companions.  Here they sit on the obligatory holiday puzzle.

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It wasn’t all wild weather… there were naps and songs and stories and birthday cake and lots of delicious food and company, and beautiful views.  There were so many birds… cormorants, pelicans, ducks and ducklings, superb blue wrens, raptors of various kinds… fabulous!

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On our return we discovered that every single car (and a lot of houseboats) had been hit by hail the size of golf balls.  In November.  We’d had a summary phoned in on our first night out, but it was quite a sight in person.  After a safety check, we drove home slowly, with the light dancing off all the cracks from 17 major hits on the windscreen. Too many dents in the car to count! Just as well there were needle books to keep things a little bit sensible in between times.  A person needs evidence of the ordinary in these challenging times.

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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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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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Eco-printed scarves

I was rifling through some of the wool and silk items that I packed away protectively during summer, (when clothes m*ths are breeding) and realised I still have three scarf blanks that were given to me by friends. One is a wool gauze, I think.

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One is probably silk scrim.

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And the other looks like a finer grade of still quite open-weave silk.

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I had an idea for how they might find happy homes, and after some days of wishing but not finding time…

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These leaves were collected in the neighbourhood as they fell from trees lining a driveway.  And of course, eucalyptus!  One pot had a madder exhaust in it, because madder is never really exhausted as far as I can tell.

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Out they came…

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The silk scrim will need another dye bath, I think. The other two made me very happy–and this is good, because I planned for them to be part of my daughter’s birthday present.  I tried a different folding and wrapping strategy on the wool and love the way it came out.  The tie resist marks were great–

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There are leafy parts and abstract parts, parts that are burgundy or grey-black and others that are more orange.

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I tend to get more muted colours on silk, and this was no exception.  Still lovely, and just as important in this case, different.

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I hope she will like them both.  She lives in a colder part of the country and she does love a good scarf.

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And now… they have been folded, wrapped, tied with hand made string and placed in the post!

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Madder

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I still have some dyestuffs that have been given to me… and before I dig out my home grown madder, I thought I would use the last of the dried madder root I have.

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First, the boiling water soak and pour off (saving the poured off liquid for another bath, in my case).  Jenny Dean is my guide in the case of madder though I also read Jim Liles and Rebecca Burgess…

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I decided to try to manage the madder (as opposed to having little particles distributed through my fleece and yarn) by putting it in a recycled nylon stocking–which you can see at the bottom of the picture poking out of the dyebath.  First I added alum mordanted BFL-silk sock yarn.  The first fibres to enter are those likely to be most red.

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Over time the shade really does deepen.

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Eventually I decided to add fleece, as you can see.

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I did several exhaust baths, including one or two some days later.  Then I did one a week later and still got apricot!  I also tried a different method by which Jenny Dean (in her rather lovely new book A Heritage of Colour) achieves aubergine.  I was sceptical about this method.  Not because I doubt Jenny Dean really gets purple in this way–I am sure she does!  But because it calls for using judgment in the matter of mordanting and modifier, and I know my judgment is nowhere as refined as hers.  I further prejudiced my chances by using the poured off first bath rather than using the most powerful dye bath I could.  I had, you know, only so much madder, so many plans, and only a modicum of confidence to be going on with.  I kept looking at this brownish bath and thinking it was not succeeding.  To my surprise though–once the fleece actually came out of the bath and I pulled it from the rinse bucket, it clearly was a shade of purple.

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The sock yarn–made me happy.  It came out of the dyeing process all scruffy looking, reminding me to always do my own skein ties.  But I love the colour!

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Ply time!

A while back I had used almost every bobbin I own, each with a different colour of thread on it.

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Over time there were even more bobbins of singles than this pictures shows…  finally there has been a season of plying, skeining and washing, and now I have this pile instead.

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Logwood purples, purple-greys and purple-browns, a cochineal pink (and a cochineal-logwood exhaust), three indigo blues, two madder exhaust-oranges, and a coreopsis exhaust yellow.  I didn’t take good enough notes of the fibres–some are on merino roving (the madder), some on polwarth, some on grey corriedale. Maybe there is a little of Malcolm the Corriedale in there too!

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And there has been even more bee swarm action in the neighbourhood.  These bees have taken up residence on a rainwater tank, with some support from a ladder! And… I am so over tending the silkworms 🙂

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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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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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Natural dyeing workshop

I began the final stage of preparation for my natural dyeing workshop by packing the car to capacity the night before and steeping logwood and madder in hot water. These are more of the dyes that have been left at the Guild.  It seemed good to share them with other Guildies this way.

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I came through the parklands on my way to the Guild and stopped in homage to a few trees.  This one turned out to be E Tricarpa…

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The unpacking was quite a thing.  This is a view of the back seat of the car before unpacking.

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The steeped fermenting walnut hulls (another dyestuff left at the Guild) travelled in the front seat footwell, in a pot with a lid, in a big bucket in case of spills.  No spills.  Whew!! I put heat under them an hour before people arrived in hopes of getting it over with.  My friends, I will never do this again.  It may take me years to live down the smell this dye pot gave off!  At one point when a heater went on, someone told me they had found a dead mouse in the heater.  When I went to see, they were looking for a mouse they were sure must be in there because they could smell it.  Cough!  The women who were rostered on in the Little Glory Gallery in another part of the Guilds premises exclaimed.  So did the treasurer, who came in to work on the books and was similarly appalled.  Eventually walnut tailed off and a eucalyptus bark dyepot began to prevail.  The smell of natural dyeing had people who had come to the gallery wanting to come and see what we were doing all day!  I give you the walnut hulls I will be living down at the Guild for years to come.  They produced an inky dye.  Truly impressive.

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I set up a bit of a display table of yarns and knits, leaf prints, tea cosies, sample cards and books.

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People had their first go at India Flint’s eco-print technique.  Some had read the book but never tried it.  I don’t know how people can resist!  The Guild has a copper which had been repaired because we were planning to use it.  Use it we did!

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My Mum deadheaded her African marigolds for me through summer and they made a great yellow.

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I tried grinding the soaked madder in a blender as Rebecca Burgess suggests (the second hand blender was pretty challenged) and here it is in the dye bath, in its own stocking… we got some lovely reds.

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I used one of the bottles of pre-ground cochineal that had appeared in the dye room cupboard.  The colour was entirely startling!

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There was a pot of logwood that came out so deep it was virtually black.  There was a pot of E Scoparia bark that gave some burgundy on the first round and some tan for a skein added in later.  There was an E Scoparia leaf pot and an E Cinerea leaf pot–oranges of different shades.  The dye room at the Guild has four gas burners as well as the copper–so we went wild.

The wonder of unwrapping eco print bundles never wears thin!

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I used the opportunity of being at Beautiful Silks in March to acquire organic wool as well as silk noil twill and some silky merino for this workshop.  E Cinerea did its wonderful thing.

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And so did human imagination…

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The string print on the upper right of this next image was a lovely surprise…

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It was overcast and the results of the dye vats which were the focus of the day are seen here in all their glory drying in the Guild car park! These are eucalyptus and logwood.

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These are cochineal, madder and marigold.  I had mordanted some silk paj in alum and taken it along.  I tried eco printing it years ago and didn’t think much of the results.  Wendi of the Treasure suggested jewellery quality string (which sounds very promising to me), so I’d been planning to eucalypt dye them–but took this opportunity to expand my palette.  The silk went orange in the madder bath even though wool in the same bath was much more red–still good.

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People made their own series of test cards too.

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It was a day of happy experimentation, I think, the smell of fermented walnut hulls fighting it out with stewed eucalyptus bark notwithstanding.  The people who came were friendly, warm and generous–a delight to be among.  It was a treat to be in the company of other people who are fascinated by eucalypts and by the dye possibilities of plants. Folk were talking about what they might do with their cloth and how they might approach their neighbourhoods differently…  I hope that for at least some it will be the start of an exciting new journey.  By the end of the dye I was deeply weary.  I took the logwood, madder and cochineal baths home with me (after taking suitable precautions against spillage) and began some exhaust dye baths next day.  But by late afternoon I was down to twining silk string mindlessly and happily…

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