Having discovered that plum pine had so much potential for colour, I felt obliged to test for lightfastness and washfastness. This is my lightfastness testing apparatus on the day I set it up: it is a none too sophisticated set of threads wrapped around card, inside a heavy card envelope with a window cut out of it, which has been sitting in the front window since 23 June 2013.
At the top, 3 silk thread samples, handspun Wensleydale, handspun Polwarth, two shades dyed on BWM alpaca rich and finally, two shades dyed on Patonyle (superwash woool+nylon blend).
After over a month in the (winter) sun, fading is quite evident. I realise now that I could have made a lightfastness test which made the results clearer, but you’re stuck with my limitations on this learning curve. If you squint, you can see the original colour at the sides. The fibre that performed best was the handspun wensleydale with alum. It was also the winner on the washfastness test.
I have to say that I think I have chosen well in using the bulk of the yarn I dyed for some slippers (they are Fibertrends Clogs), which might spend their lives tucked under a bed and come out only at night! Here they are awaiting felting…
And here they are after a wash at 40C, with some commercially dyed companions.
I decided the obvious way to test for washfastness was to wash. So I embroidered with the plum pine fruit–no mordant–silk thread, and with the plum pine fruit-with alum and cream of tartar on a piece of cotton… and added a little eucalyptus dyed silk thread for good measure. Not the best example of embroidery ever seen, but it will do the job. The two upper examples were purple (like the thread on the cards) when they went into a normal wash–30C with eco-detergent. One wash later, the no-alum sample is grey and the with-alum sample is green-grey. Eucalyptus shows its true colours yet again.
Yesterday I tried washing my sample cards at 40C with eco-balls (we have laundry variety here, as you will shortly understand) and they were still purple when they came out of the wash. Interesting… this made me wonder if part of what is going on here about Ph. Detergent would be more alkaline than eco-balls.
After 4 more washes:
You might remember that I did some darning with my early silk samples. They have not fared well either–but the mending is still doing the job! The pink is still pink, but much faded after what I would guess as being about 8-10 washes. The purple is blue, and paler.
I knit some test samples from my yarns. They fared better, washed with other woollens, cold with soapnuts rather than detergent (if anything, a slightly acidic wash). The sample on the right has two shades of plum pine with alum and CoT on BWM alpaca rich, with a band of cotton used to tie the skeins in between because this yarn took so much colour during the dyeing I was curious. The sample on the left has two shades of plum pine on patonyle (wool and nylon superwash sock yarn and a sample of handspun Wensleydale). One has gone from purple to grey and the other from purple to blue. Blue? Before:
After, with unwashed BWM Alpaca Rich in the background for comparison.
Well then. Not what you’d call really excellent washfastness. And some new mysteries to ponder, as usual.
Unbelievably, the plum pine is still fruiting, and I am keen to dye enough to be able to do some wash and light-fastness tests in the year before it fruits next time. So I harvested again, picking up fallen ripe fruit from the ground until I filled the bags I had with me. A man in white overalls who seemed to be working nearby was gripped to see me doing this and asked me all about what I was doing and why. He was fully supportive of ‘making use of our natural resources’–as he put it–!
Early signs are that my silk threads dyed without alum will not be washfast. My mending has changed colour in only a couple of washes, and seems to be Ph sensitive, with pink without alum noticeably paler and purple with alum (the contrasting outermost ring on the right) turning blue in a mildly alkaline wash.
Only someone accustomed to dyeing with eucalypts, which are fast on wool and silk with no mordant, would think unmordanted yarns were a good beginning place. So, I’ve had a mordant bath on the hob. I did not have loads of anything much ready to mordant and dye except Bendigo Woollen Mills alpaca rich, so 200g of that hit the alum and cream of tartar bath along with smaller quantities of other yarns.
After removing the seeds, I had 2650g of fruit. I was a bit gobsmacked by the quantity! Never one to shy away from a challenge, I put my fruit in a pot of rainwater with a cup of vinegar and simmered for an hour. Then, I entered some handspun wool, some commercial alpaca-wool blend and some silk thread and silk/cotton 70/30 thread, all mordanted in alum and cream of tartar. The colour takeup on the silk was dramatic and almost immediate! I simmered for another hour and then left overnight. The colour change overnight was again worth the wait.
Meanwhile, I’ve set up further washfastness and lightfastness tests…
I have a serious programme of moth management due to the amount of wool that is stored at my place. It involves ziplock bags, careful wool storage, regular washing of clothing and pheromone traps. However, there are noticeably more moths in this house than our previous one, and it has wool carpets. This winter when I pulled out my woolens, the jumpers were all intact but one of my fine woollen undergarments had suffered some nibbling. There is a small hole on the front:
And a small cluster of holes on the back.
I thought I might just leave them. This garment is not outerwear and surely they wouldn’t run too far. But then I thought of mending them with silk thread and overdyeing the whole garment in eucalyptus… and just when that was tickling my fancy, I dyed silk embroidery thread with Plum Pine and got colours that seemed like they might fit… and so I spent an evening working on my mending.
Since the moths gave me circles (more or less), I worked with that theme. I’ve tried to leave a little extra thread at the outer edge of each part of the darn to accommodate stretch–which is what my Mum taught me to do when darning a sock.
The silk yarn I pulled out of the plum pine and vinegar dyepot the day after darning is a deeper shade, so I’m considering further embellishment with that, or the silk I dyed the night we worked with the indigo dyepot. But for now, I’m pleased to have mended these holes… and on the same weekend as I mended a ravelled hem, for good measure. This will be an initial washfastness test for the plum pine on silk, too…
Having had success with a test dyebath, I made a point of returning to Botanic Park to collect more fruit on weekend, en route to celebrating World Wide Knit in Public Day. I dyed some grey corriedale locks in my test bath and they went from grey to a dull brownish shade, so I opted for superwash + alum and silk as the most likely candidates for success. I mordanted sock yarn of antiquity (picked up at a garage sale) and prepared another dyebath. I regard sock yarn as a no risk option. If I knit socks for a friend, I can make an open offer to re-dye at any point they fade to an unacceptable shade (and I can ask how they’re faring under normal wear and washing).
The dye bath looked fantastic.
I ran two baths with this fruit, because the first one produced purple on my alum mordanted skeins of sock yarn (wool-nylon). I pulled it out of the bath after dark and in artificial light it looked quite brown. So I dropped the skeins back in the bath for the night and put test samples into an iron bath and a vinegar bath. Next morning the sock yarn was purple! The exhaust dyebath was a lighter and browner shade of mauve. I apologise for these photos but it’s winter here and sunlight is in short supply.
My tiny skeins of silk thread came out various shades of rose pink through to magenta too… and I have embarked on an embroidery project, so that was exciting. The shades on the right are both using vinegar in the dyebath.
The modifiers were interesting: the wool+alum strand was noticeably more purple with vinegar and noticeably more brown/grey with iron, which is, I think, about what should be expected. So… a promising beginning to experiments with a new dye plant–but with no sense yet of how washfast or lightfast it might be.
Podocarpus elatus is fruiting in Botanic Park. I rode past recently with my beady eyes alert, looking for this tree. I’ve investigated its qualities previously and discovered the fruit is edible. And today, there they were, lying on the ground in plenty. They offer plenty of weirdness by regular fruit standards, since the seed is outside the fruit. One of the less common forms of fruit in my limited experience! Here they are on the tree…
And on the ground below.
This is the tree itself. It is native to Australia, but it is a rainforest tree. For those who don’t know… I am not living anywhere near a rainforest. South Australia is generously described as having a Mediterranean climate. Those less generous just call it a desert, and a fair amount of the state answers that description.
I tried eating one of the fruits and it was just as I remembered it from last time: subtle is the most I could say about the flavour, and the word ‘mucilaginous’ came to mind immediately. If there is a commercial application for this fruit perhaps it would be… lubricant. Or perhaps it could be the gumbo of Australian bush food desserts. I tried leaf prints… but nothing too exciting came of it.
I twisted the seeds off the fruit and soaked the fruit overnight–pitting plums has never been so simple. No change in the colour of the water. I cooked them for almost an hour–water a deep plum colour by now–and then threw in a sample card and some silk thread. Soon after that, the alum mordanted wool looked almost blue, and the other fibres (cotton, silk, wool) looked pink. After about an hour of heat, the alum mordanted wool was deep grey-blue, the wool was deep rose-pink and the other fibres looked paler shades of pink.
Needless to say, this outcome made me think I should go back to that tree 🙂