Tag Archives: orange again

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

Eucalyptus Nicholii

On a public holiday some time back, I had a picnic in the Wittunga botanical gardens with a friend.  It was an overcast day, and my phone was in for repair, so I took my Mum’s old camera.  In case it isn’t obvious, I am apologising for the quality of the photos.   Last time I went there thinking about dye plants was a long time ago.  This time, we parked and almost as soon as I stepped out, I could see that there were trees that could be E Nicholii all around the carpark.  They were indeed E Nicholii and they were many and very large!


I couldn’t really get a picture that gave a sense of scale.

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These were huge trees with many little leaves.


Luckily for me, they had dropped twigs and leaves on the ground below…


And later… into the dye pot they went!


Lovely–and justly famous as a dye plant, I think.



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints

Spinning, mending and a gift of hand-knit eucalyptus-dyed socks

I keep thinking I’ll get knitting on some big project or other… but I seem to keep spinning instead. Alpaca dyed with eucalyptus keeps happening…

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There has been some random polwarth spinning from batts I prepared some time ago (and full of nepps they are too!) Love that maidenhair fern, a gift from my mother that is really thriving at present.

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There has been dull mending that doesn’t warrant a picture, but I seem to have had a small release from my usual functional approach.  This extremely utilitarian apron must date back almost 20 years… it is that long since I made my living baking and kitchen-handing.  I think I bought it second hand.  It had been discarded because one of the tapes was missing.  I long ago replaced it with some bias binding sewed in half, which I assume was on hand at the time.  It certainly isn’t a match for the other tape!  And the apron itself has had a hole for a very long time.

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Not any more.  I now use it for spinning–to catch all the random fibres and dirt and little bits of dried plant that drop from any fleece I have prepared myself, no matter how many rinses.  I also mended this wool knit on the train one morning, beginning as I waited at the station.  Just a little hole up by the neckline.

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I bought this garment years ago from Soewn Earth.  It has faded quite a bit, but I am still enjoying it… and considering whether it might be time for a re-bundle. First–across (with eucalyptus dyed silk thread)…

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Then in the other direction…

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Maybe later some embroidery for sheer decoration?  And finally, some socks for a friend with several new jobs and rather small feet.  She hasn’t had a pair from me in ages.  I put these in the mail to be a surprise parcel.  Sorry about the office desk pictures on an overcast day.  Once I finish a gift I get impatient to have it meet its intended recipient.

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They succeeded in being a surprise and she sounded delighted.  It’s midwinter here and they arrived in the week prior to the longest night of the year.  Perfect for chilly nights.

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Filed under Knitting, Sewing, Spinning

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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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

Happily spinning alpaca

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I have been happily but slowly dyeing an entire white alpaca fleece with eucalypts. I’ve been dyeing it without washing it, what’s more! The washing stage comes after dyeing instead, treating the dye bath as stage 1 of the cleaning process. I love the way muddy tips create a resist which will produce a sunny yellow which shows wonderfully among all that flame orange.


I have a lot of black alpaca too… this I have already washed.


On weekends sometimes there is fibre processing and vegetable harvesting–this is one of the last of the capsicums.


Then, of course, carding.

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Out in the back yard when the weather is sunny.


I’ve been spinning up more colour changing yarns and including some of the black alpaca… and that is the entirety of the lemon crop beside the skein.  Can’t wait until the fruit trees grow up a bit…



Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning

Dyes of antiquity: Eucalyptus leaves

My friends, there is going to be a little series on dyes of antiquity here on this blog. It arises from plant dyestuffs that have been donated anonymously to my Guild, which have come to me as the person currently teaching natural dyeing at the Guild.  Needless to say, there are women at the Guild who know more about natural dyeing than I do and have decades of experience.  Some are dyes used in antiquity (cochineal, indigo, kermes).  Others are in packaging that predates metric weights  in Australia, which came in in 1977.  Certainly, safe disposal of mordants that are now regarded as toxic has had to be arranged.  So I am using the word ‘antiquity’ both literally and figuratively–but I have a trove of dyestuffs which I would usually not have come across, and some of which I would not be prepared to buy if they were available.  Some require identification.  Some require research, so I can figure out how to dye with them.  I decided to start with what I know.

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There were bags of varying sizes containing eucalypt leaves.  One was clearly E Sideroxylon leaves.  Then there was the orange bag of unidentified leaves–possibly E Nicholii (which has clearly been in widespread use at the Guild in the past).


Then there was a lovingly stored and labelled small pack of E Crenulata leaves.


From time to time, people online ask whether you can store Eucalyptus leaves for too long.  I don’t know.  I tend to use what I have on a rotating basis, partly because I have seen what insects can do to stored vegetable matter!  These leaves appeared to have been stored for a long time, but under good conditions.  No signs of insect damage.  They had clearly been dried prior to being bagged for storage.  They retained some green colour. They were sitting on top of a stack of newspapers dated 1991.  Was that a clue?  I don’t know!  A fellow Guild member who helped me clean out the cupboards thought they were probably older!

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The E Sideroxylon leaves gave far more intense colour, partly because there were more of them.  And possibly because the small fine leaves were not from an exciting dye species and the second dyepot was mostly relying on the small quantity of E Crenulata.  Just the same, more of my white alpaca fleece is getting dyed, spun and ready to be knit all the time…

Meanwhile, I am preparing for a dyeing workshop at the Guild and deciding which of the dyes that have come to me are suitable for use there… I’m thinking madder, walnut, cochineal and logwood!!


Filed under Eucalypts, Natural dyeing

Milky merino: Second effort

I decided to use the scraps from my milky merino to make a singlet for a small friend. One inspiration was the discovery of another E Cinerea nearby on a suburban street.  It is beautiful.


It is covered in new growth, whose leaves are larger and teardop shaped rather than the rounder heart shape that is usual for mature leaves.


I have to say milky merino is a glorious fabric to use for eco-printing.  It takes colour in a most spectacular fashion.  I bundled up one night and unbundled a day or so later.


I love the way the fabric took on a golden creamy colour where it did not absorb a direct print.


Action shot!


I created a pattern from an existing garment and set about cutting and sewing it from the fabric.


The finished garment is sooo cute, and so tiny I need to find a different recipient for it.  I should have recognised the difference in stretch between the garment I measured up and the milky merino…!




Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

Whatever became of the dress?


Well, my friends, true confession time.  I sounded out a lot of people about the second skin frock, on and off line.  Their, and your, ideas were full of genius.  If I’d had ten of that frock I could have made ten different lovely garments from it.  But I didn’t!  I still could not overcome the fundamental issue—believing I’d wear it no matter how lovely it was.


I turned it into a series of what India Flint calls ‘infinity scarves’, though a  little less fancy than the model we created in Melbourne.  Three of them.  Two have already gone to happy homes, in fact I saw one in use yesterday.  It had a leaf print from a white cedar (Melia azaderach var australasica) leaf, pale green, which my friend had particularly appreciated.


One has been hand-pieced to manage the top part of the garment, and naturally it’s my favourite.  I’m surprised to find that the clean, shiny white of the silk and cotton thread stitches against the dyed fabric is pleasing to the eye.


I’m now left with only a small pile of little scraps.  Each time I come past them, I think ‘pincushion’.  So there may still be another object to emerge from what was once a frock…



Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

The unbearable cuteness of stranded colour knitting


After all the three-ply colour spinning there has been around here, I started to itch to use those colours in knitting. I settled on these, the Tingvoll slippers by Kristin Spurkland. I began them before I went to Melbourne in March.  I found that knitting them over breakfast in  a cafe in Melbourne triggered a conversation every single day, and usually with another keen knitter.  It made me feel right at home, even though I was far from home and essentially, I was in the cafe because there was nothing for breakfast in the cupboard where I was staying!

Even the soles are cute.


I knit these in Corriedale.  Yes, Malcolm the Corriedale.  The orange is dyed with eucalyptus, and the yellow with my mother’s coreopsis flowers.  While I was in Melbourne, I found myself frustrated by how slowly it was all going and how hard I was finding it to read the charts.  In the learning zone I was in spending my whole day at a workshop–I started to explore.  By the time I was flying home I had found that I could knit withe one colour in each hand–picking the yellow (‘European style’ as some call it here–yarn in the left hand) and throwing the orange (‘English style’, as some call it here–yarn in the right hand).  Best of both worlds!  I love that phenomenon: learning one new thing opens the doors to learning others.  Delightful.


They are smaller than I had hoped, which just shows I settled on this wool and this pattern with no real thought for sizing and not much attention to the instructions.  Clearly it would be a good idea for me to quit spinning finer than I like to knit!  I think they are destined for a small child of my acquaintance.  She is a fine appreciator of hand knits.  Her Dad says when he told her I might be knitting her slippers, she was ‘beside herself!’ Apparently she likes the felted clogs I knit him so much she tries them on a lot, even though he has some of the largest feet I’ve ever knit for…


Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

Sampling eucalypts


As we drove home from exercise group last Saturday morning, it became clear that a big part of a tree had been cut down beside a warehouse-style business near home.  A big chunk of tree canopy was lying on the footpath.  I didn’t think I had sampled the tree in question, but there are several in that area that look like E Scoparia, but have been pruned to branch very high–out of reach.  There isn’t much hope of my identifying this one–it has no fruit, flowers or buds on it right now, though it does have red twigs and white-barked branches and leaves the right shape for E Scoparia.   I have had some success with leaves from the gutters on that street, but not right where these branches were lying.  I went back and applied my secateurs.


To my sadness when I actually stopped I could see that a tree had been felled and that its trunk had been taken away.  The very base of it was all that was left, and it was clear that a large section of the root mass had rotted away or become diseased.  Just the same… the continuing loss of trees around our way feels relentless. This week someone else aggrieved by the felling of three massive trees on one block which I posted about recently took a spray can to the fence of the block in question.  One fence had something I can’t fully reprint here: ‘What the f*** have you done?’, and the other fence said the neighbourhood was in mourning for the loss of the trees and that planning laws should be changed.  I thought I would take a photo but this morning there was a chap with a paintbrush taking it out less than 48 hours after it went up.

But this is no reason to allow all the leaves of this felled tree to go to commercial composting if I could dye with them and then compost them.  Needless to say, after this flame orange result, I went back and cut all I could get into a chaff bag (that’s a very big sack, in my terms). As a bonus to my visit, the tree had been felled beside an E Cinerea, so I picked up every last leaf that had fallen from the E Cinerea too.  I’ll be running a workshop at my Guild in June and I’ll need to bring a goodly amount of dye material.


This next eucalypt was standing in the parklands in North Adelaide.  I went there early one morning for an appointment so had a walk before my appointment.  I decided to sample it because India Flint suggests silver grey leaved eucalypts are promising dye plants.  The buds were so pretty!


Clearly when it flowers there are many flowers… but not yet…


The tree was an interesting shape…


There was the intriguing feature of two different coloured trunks coming from one lignotuber.


And I just can’t explain why there were so many land snails, but I love land snails.


The result in the dyebath was a pale apricot.


Then there was this tree, growing on the far outskirts of my workplace just outside a car park.  It seems like a box (one branch of the eucalypt family) to me.


It was gloriously in flower, full of bees and birds.


When I went back in the evening, I realised there were a few of these trees and there were also fallen branches.  Well worth sampling, in my view!


I loved the colour from this plant, and I used a dyeing strategy India Flint described in Melbourne.  Far less energy use and potential for fibre damage… and clearly this may become my new normal way to dye with eucalypts!



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing