Tag Archives: not tan again!

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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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

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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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Unidentified Eucalypt sample of the week

My attention was caught by another eucalypt in the parklands.  It was the colour of the flowers that attracted my interest.  I don’t remember seeing it in flower before.  Something about this purplish shade of pink caught my eye.

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The tree itself was rather unprepossessing at a distance.

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It seems to be managing to grow despite having survived multiple insults and lost limbs if not its entire primary trunk at some point in the past.

 

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On the other hand, this had clearly created an opportunity: the hollow at the base of the trunk had been chosen as home by bees, who were flying in and out the whole time I was watching (they would be the small blurs in the photo).

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I took a small sample and really…  this tree is safe from me.  The alum mordanted sample gave a good brown and the no mordant sample, a pinkish shade of tan.

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Rhubarb leaf and alum mordants, hot and cold processes

Way back in December I was thinking about hot and cold mordanting processes.  I decided on an experiment inspired by a post by Leena at Riihivilla which led in turn to a blog called From Silk Road.  There, Jarek shows experiments with solar mordanting over 28 days, and one of the mordants he is using is Himalayan Rhubarb. Mine is the good old fashioned European eating kind… but perhaps the same principles could be applied?  Jenny Dean certainly describes cold mordanting with alum and I have tried that previously with success.    I was also curious about the findings of Pia at Colour Cottage.  She has undertaken some experiments with rhubarb leaf mordant here and here and found it made no difference to dye uptake or lightfastness.  So disappointing!

I started with 1100g rhubarb leaves (and stewed the rhubarb with orange juice to go with waffles… mmmm).  Way more rhubarb leaf than necessary for the job, I think.    I have no way to know if I am even using the same rhubarb as Pia… but I decided to err on the side of plenty of rhubarb leaf and not committing a huge quantity of yarn. I created two, 25g skeins of Bendigo Woolllen Mills alpaca rich ‘magnolia’, left over from some past workshop I ran.  One was subjected to the classic heat treatment in rhubarb leaf solution (45 minutes on a bare simmer), left overnight to cool down and rinsed out.

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The other went into a glass jar for a solar treatment, which was quite hot at times.  It went into the jar on 16 December and our first 40C day of the year was scheduled for the 18th. I created two more skeins and mordanted them in alum, one using the hot process and the other packed into a bucket with a lid in the sun.  Here is the solar mordant rhubarb jar (and some iron soaking in vinegar water on the left), in December.  They’re sitting on a concrete surface with a concrete wall behind them.  I’m trying for thermal mass in a sunny spot.

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Things being what they are (by which I mean I have been too busy to think much about this experiment), I took the yarn out on 13 April 2014. Here it is before removal.  There was a little layer of mould stuck to the lid, for those who are wondering.  In retrospect, this would have been a great application for Stuff Steep and Store.

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Here is the yarn after removal from the rhubarb leaf solution.  I’d call that a dye and not only a mordant!

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Here is my solar process alum-mordanted yarn after similar neglect for the same period of time.

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Finally: my full selection dry and ready for use: no mordant, alum applied with heat, alum applied through solar process, rhubarb leaf applied with heat, rhubarb leaf applied through a solar process.

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Drive-by dyeing and mending

On my bike ride home from work (about a 40 minute ride), I pass just one Eucalyptus Cinerea. Well, there are two, but one is inside someone’s front garden.  A person has to have some boundaries!  The street tree had dropped a small branch.

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I decided I’d better collect it.  Usually I carry a calico bag in my bike pannier for such contingencies, but this was what I found when I scrabbled about in the bottom of my pannier on the day, so in went all the stray leaves I could find.

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This tree has had to contend with a lot.  It has had a  very strange pruning job designed to protect the electrical wires that now pass through its branches.  The pruning took out a lot of the canopy, but the tree is still standing.  For this, I am grateful.

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Recent events have caused me to reflect on the way I think about trees on my regular routes… like old acquaintances.  I think about them as I pass, the way I think of people when I pass near their homes without visiting.  I notice what happens to them.  I check them over when I have the chance.  I remember how they were when they were younger, or before that accident befell them.  It’s not entirely unlike the way I notice people I don’t know well, but see out and about in the neighbourhood regularly.

Further along, I saw that my “thanks for cycling” bunting had been ripped and some of it was lying on the ground.  Soon it was in my other pannier headed for the mending pile.

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A few days later, the E Cinerea made it into the dye pot and produced its usual dependable flamelike orange.  I also collected some ironbark leaves that had fallen in the parklands near where we had exercise class.  Once the E Cinerea was all but exhausted I reused that dyebath with the ironbark leaves, thinking I would save water and energy, but clearly this was not E Sideroxylon–it produced that sad, damp little pile of fawn alpaca on the right.

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I have come to regard this as a sign: The orange leaves in the picture below are the E Cinerea leaves, which have gone from silver-grey-green to orange in the dyebath.  The ironbark leaves, on the other hand, have remained a robustly green shade even after cooking.

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And, I’ve mended the bunting ready to hang it again on a suitable occasion…

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Eucalyptus Stricklandii

Eucalyptus Stricklandii is in bloom at the moment.

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There are a row of these trees growing along a main road near a friend’s place in the Northern suburbs, and I have admired them each time I’ve visited.  This time I stopped and sampled as well.  I wasn’t the only one. The tree was full of bees, but bees don’t understand about pausing graciously when someone offers to take your picture and make you famous (ahem!) on the web.

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There were also fully mature fruit:

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And fruit that were nearing maturity:

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Buds as well, since this is a eucalypt…

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And rather spectacular bark.

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Here’s the tree as a whole…

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And someone’s tenderly crafted home, fallen to the ground, neatly combining flyscreen wire with vegetation and paper that has been weathered until pliable.

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Cocoa and chocolate?  Chestnut and walnut?

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Holiday spinning

We had a fabulous holiday at Port Willunga.  In spite of the warm weather, I did a lot of spinning. I have three fat bobbins of naturally dyed wool waiting for plying and I three-plied this rather lovely wool and silk blend by Wren and Ollie, a relatively new local business.

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Here is the resulting yarn.

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It came with a tiny lucky dip batt. I spun it up finely and three ply was the theme of the moment. I could’t resist using the photo opportunities of the lovely beach shack we were staying in. The low turret on the front right seems to be an acorn cap, for those wondering about scale.

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Finally, I had several small batts of alpaca that began in natural shades of grey which I then dyed with eucalyptus, leavng the deepest grey in its natural state.  I turned them into a gradient yarn.

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One final photo just for fun…

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Eucalyptus Rummeryi

A eucalyptus windfall will often get my attention… and never more so than when the tree is one I have never tried and which a more knowledgeable person has labelled for the edification of passersby such as myself.  E Rummeryi is native to NSW but seen here growing in Botanic Park, slim, straight and already tall.

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Bark…

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Immature fruit:

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In flower, but quite high up and on a breezy day (this is a way of apologising for the quality of the picture)!

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Results from a standard dye pot…

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Harvest time: Eucalyptus Scoparia bark

‘Tis the season for bark collecting, again!  I’ve been out on my trusty bike visiting all the E Scoparias I know and investigating others that might prove to be (or not to be) E Scoparia. I pull my bike over to pack bark into a bag, trampling on it to crush it and make space for more, and filling again before loading my panniers.  Or, go to visit friends with my big bucket in hand and pick up whatever has fallen since my last visit.  Or, head out for a run, leaving my rolled up bag under a tree and pick it up to fill on my cool-down walk on the way back.  This E Scoparia, tucked in behind the foliage of a carob tree, is peeling lavishly.

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At home, I stash the bark in a chook feed sack, offering more opportunities for trampling which let me stack a lot of bark into one bag and get it into a form that will go into the dyepot with minimal fuss.

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This week, I found a new E Scoparia (at least, that was my hope).  I collected a bag full of bark and it is now soaking so I can test whether I have that right, in consultation with the dyepot. A friend who appreciates natural dyeing lives in this street–so I’ll look forward to telling her if she has a great dye tree at the end of her street! Blackett St:

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I also collected bark from this enormous specimen.  Last year I collected a lot of bark from this tree and then found I had one bag of bark that gave brown and not red to orange as expected.  I suspect that means this is not an E Scoparia.  Checking it out again today it is bigger than any other tree I believe to be E Scoparia and it has many more fruits visible and clinging to the stem.  My initial sense is that the bark smells different, too. The leaves give fantastic colour (at least they did before someone took a chainsaw to all the lower branches), but I am running a trial bark pot before the tree sheds the main part of its bark.  It is soaking alongside the other one as I write. Laught Ave:

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Next day, here are the dye baths, three hours in, presented in the same order as the trees from which the bark came. They look remarkably similar but smell quite different:

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Here are the (still wet) yarns that came from those dyepots, in the same order again.  Clearly, the second tree is not E Scoparia–or–for some reason its context means it doesn’t give the same colour.

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As I have had great results from the leaves of that second tree, I pulled the bark out, put some fallen leaves in, and re-dyed the tan skein…!

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Eucalyptus dyed gradient yarns

Some time ago I blogged about dyeing with windfall eucalyptus leaves. I had been dyeing over white corriedale and had quite a range of colours in the range of ochre and caramel through flame orange and… opinions differ about whether that really is red. Here it is, wet from dyeing and ready to be rinsed:

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I divided my fleece up into colour groupings, carded it and pulled a roving straight from the carder drum with a diz.  What a great technique.  You can find it on YouTube, but it was watching a friend from the Guild demonstrate it that really convinced me to try it out.  This Youtube video has an explanation of the same simple homemade diz my friend has made, so maybe she was inspired by that video.  Here are my rovings.  Creating these made me feel like I have learned a few things about fleece preparation.

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Then I created bumps of roving with segments of each colour, lined up to create a gradient from ochre through to reddish. Then, there was spinning and plying and skeining and washing–spinning being a craft of many stages–and now…

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I am so happy with this yarn! I can’t wait to share it with the friends whose sheep this wool came from.  Coincidentally, the week I finished this yarn, they invited me to their place for shearing time.

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