Tag Archives: woad

Fleece processing, dyeing and spinning

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Over the holiday, more local fleeces arrived.  This is the view down into a chicken feed sack full of greasy fleece.  I washed, I dried wet fleece in summer heat, I even managed to do some carding. I now have various wools dyed with woad or indigo exhausts as well as good old naturally brown or grey wool. I have taught a few beginners to dye at our evening spinning group at the Guild in the last while (or at least, I’ve been one of the people helping them to learn) and sometimes people are just so overcome at being given wool.  In the future they will know that the real gift is time and effort. But I do try to let them know that I have a lot of wool and that I am happy to share.

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People were generous to me as a beginner spinner, and I love to share spinning (as well as wool).  I finally spun some llama fleece a friend at the Guild gave me in the spirit of adventure.  It came out OK but it did have a lot of guard hair in it, so I’ll have to give thought to what it might become.

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Here’s a another skein–woad on grey, I believe.

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And here are indigo and indigo dyed over yellows. I realise it is better practise to dye blue first and yellow after, but, well, I didn’t like the yellows too much and just decided to dye and see!  I love these colours. But my thoughts are beginning to turn toward eucalypts and their oranges and reds again…

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Plumbing the depths of indigo ignorance

Now for something totally out of its logical place in the order of things. Before I went to Allansford, I decided to go all out in exploring the depths of my ignorance.  It’s my observation of learners that many of us over estimate what we know.  We haven’t grappled with our own ignorance sufficiently to realise what a teacher has to offer us.  We haven’t applied what we think we know enough to realise where its outer edges are.

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I decided on an all out attempt to use my stock of knowledge and supplies to find the limits of my own understanding. I’d been itching to dye and unable to find time, so holidays were a gift.  I had multiple attempts to dye with woad and then turned over to dyeing with what indigo I still had.  I used up my remaining fructose, and couldn’t find more.  So I experimented with sad fruit from the bargain pile at the local shops. I also collected fallen fruit and such. I read all the books and instructions again.  I had no joy with the woad no matter what I did and in the end composted two vats.

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I tried a yeast vat.  It was quite something watching it fizz! In the end, I weakened and bought another package of colour run remover and rescued some indigo with that. between all these vats, I overdyed leaf prints I hadn’t liked much.  I dyed scraps and offcuts from old shirts that had been turned into drawstring bags.  I even tore up a very worn, patched and mended damask table cloth from the stash and dyed that.

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I achieved only soft blues, but soft blues are beautiful.

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I went to Allansford convinced that I was struggling with achieving reduction, and maintaining temperature, and quite possibly other things besides.  And it was really helpful to go, knowing this, and to be able to see that I had been aiming (mostly) at the right things, checking (mostly) the right things, and had some concepts right, but was applying them in wrong places.  It gave me a really strong sense of the limits of my own judgment.

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Some of the bits and pieces have already begun to re-form… a bit like my understanding of how to dye with indigo!

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Summer Dye Camp at Beautiful Silks

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Over the holidays, I went to a summer dye cap at the Botanical Studio run by Beautiful Silks, in Allansford (near Warrnambool) country Victoria.  I stayed in a cabin at one of the caravan parks by the beachfront in Warrnambool because the on site accommodation was booked out.  I haven’t been to Warrnambool since I was a child.  It was just beautiful.  The frisking around of many small people on skates and scooters and bikes had me in mind of childhood holidays at the beach.

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I arrived early and had beach walks and runs before dye camp each day and long strolls through town too.  My photos of scenery are a bit rubbish and really don’t reflect the glory.  Like me, my photos are largely focused on small lovelinesses such as lichen.

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After dark there was spinning and some experimental printing on paper.  Since I had the car to myself, I came with wheel and dye pot! I converted carding waste to yarn and knit some yarn bombs. One night I had a wonderful dinner with a couple of the other dye campers.  I taught one of them how to cast on a sock and how to turn a heel with short rows, and we talked blogging and dyeing and, well, everything.  Awesome and lovely.

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All round, it was a fabulous holiday.  But dye camp!  Dye camp was focused on indigo and woad.  We had Jenai Hooke from Eudlo in Queensland as our expert guide and instructor, and I learned so much.  There were some big fructose vats.  The method I really do want to learn. Perfect.  We learned how to start them, how to feed and tend them, how to dye in them.

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There was making of little vats so we could grasp the principles.

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There was a massive pot with leafy bundles in it. E Crenulata sent its spicy notes through us all on the first day.

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Who doesn’t love leafy bundles?? Some of my companions had brought along leaf printed samples, their own indigo dyeing, their hand made and dyed scarves and bags, samples of their wild and creative experiments in dyeing yarns, and of course their genius, skills, ideas and energy.  There was hand sewn and hand made clothing, spontaneous pattern drafting and people’s own clothing designs. There were three other women from Adelaide, hurrah! In short, I was among my people, and this seemed to be a shared feeling.

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There was ice-dyeing with fresh woad leaves.

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There was shibori.  Jenai is a shibori expert and teacher, and taught the basics to some of us with spectacular results (the others were too busy dyeing to stop for that!).  In short, there was dyeing.

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So much dyeing.  I could not believe the number of garments and other things that turned blue.  Light blue, mid blue, blue-black. Turquoise-green colours from the ice dyeing.   Oranges and browns from eucalypts.

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We ran out of drying space.

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I dyed bags.  I know, shocking.  I got deeper blues than before.  I believe I deepened my understanding. And it was good to be reminded of the complexity of the skills, the complexity of the process and the years of apprenticeship that would have been undertaken by historic dyers. A little humility is a good thing in the face of a large learning curve.

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I even dyed a linen shirt.  I pulled it out of the cupboard where clothes go awaiting reincarnation, and felt moved to try it on (it was an op shop find).  I decided it just needed a new button, and it was clamped and dyed and has been out in public several times already!

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Immense thanks to Marion Gorr and Elephant at Beautiful Silks for a wonderful learning opportunity and fabulous catering and company, and to Jenai Hooke for such wonderful education!

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41C in Adelaide

It’s 41C in my town the day I am writing. Things are much worse in other parts of Australia–where it has already been above 40C for over a week. And here’s what I did to prepare for 41C.

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Step 1: recommit to action on climate change.  This country (among others, some already going under the sea) will not be habitable for future life unless we succeed, and there are some rather specific signs of inadequate action both here and in other first world nations right now.  If in doubt, ask the Climate Council.  You know: scientists who know their stuff and know how to communicate.

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Step 2: water plants deeply.  Freeze water for the worm farms.  Ensure ample water and shade for the chooks (hens).  Put water in the fridge.  Make sure cool air can get into the house, if there is any, during the night. Invite friends who can’t cool their homes to come over.

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Step 3: wash fleece, because wool drying weather this good should be taken advantage of.  Dye fleece with heat-activated “cold pad batch” dyes and place in the right spot to maximise the heat it will get on the big hot days.  I have mixed up the last of these dyes I own and given away my fixative.  It’s been fun but I’m committing to plant dyes and just seeing out the chemical dyes I already have.

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Step 4: harvest woad.  Could you tell that was woad steeping in hot water in the first picture?  Extract pigment.  That second image of the blue froth with a coppery blue swirl in the middle? The most exciting thing that has happened when I’ve tried to extract pigment from woad to date.  I’ve read high summer is the best time to get blue from woad, and–this is high summer.  Add woad to indigo vat.  Rebalance Ph.  Do your best to create conditions for reduction. Stir carefully. That’s where things are at in image 3. Image 4 is some hours later. Keep warm overnight.  Place vat in a sunny spot first thing.

And on the day… stay inside except when tending living things and hanging loads of washing.  Check as the temp of the indigo/woad vat rises to 35 and then 45C.  Enjoy the sound of the inverter for the solar panels as it cranks out power from the sun.

 

 

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Colours of woad

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Now that everything is clean and dry, I thought I might show some outcome pictures.  First there was a linen gauze scarf.  I am hoping it might offer some portable sun protection for my neck over summer. Later there was some clamp action.

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These are handkerchiefs I made some time back from a buttery yellow sheet that passed beyond being able to be used on a bed.  I simply did not prepare for woad success and expected far less colour.  Then I remembered that I had intended to stitch and ye them with indigo…

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I do like the way they turned out!  I am still figuring out whether multiple dips actually does give me deeper colour.  If I am at the start of something and not having a – success experience with woad, I will experiment so I can make comparisons.  So far I have not been convinced that multiple dips gives deeper colour.  I am not sure whether my perception is incorrect, I have skipped a vital step, or I have prepared some of my vats in a way that means colour gets stripped out and re-deposited, which is how it seems to me.  It will be simple enough to run a test and figure out whether it’s my own eye and mind.  My technique will surely improve if I keep going.

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And finally, as the Ph of the vats dropped into the zone more suitable for wool and there was still colour, in went grey merino locks.  LOTS of woad dyed wool! So there is woad spinning yet to come.  Happiness!

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Mellow blueness

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The woad has been thriving in this time of rain followed by warmth.  (The potatoes aren’t doing badly either, as you can see). And that can only mean one thing, when free time opens up!

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I managed to obtain Jill Goodman’s A Dyer’s Manual recently, and had the benefit of others helping me to grasp the chemistry of fresh woad and how it differs from using indigo that has already been prepared from fresh plants by someone else. I came by the book at the annual spinner’s retreat where there were folk with interest and knowledge–perfect, and very helpful indeed.  So this time I felt I knew why I was adding air in the early stages of the process, only to then remove it in the de-oygenation process required to have the dye become fully soluble and able to attach to fibres.  Previously this has been a total mystery or had me feeling I had done something wrong, or both.

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I still had part of one package of hydrosulphite left.  I am pretty keen to have it be the last.  Hydrosulphite is a substance the earth could do without. But equally, since I have it, better to use it rather than let it become stale and unusable for this process.  So I tried two vats: one with hydrosulphite and one with fructose.  The picture above is grey merino fleece descending through the ‘flower’ on the surface of the hydrosulphite vat and into the yellowy depths below.

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This image is the fructose vat, which involved some guesswork on my part (no way to measure how much woad pigment there was in my solution). I am not experienced enough to have great judgment or to trust my own judgement.  I can measure temperature and I can measure Ph.  The complex part is judging the reduction (de-oxygenation) of the vat. This looked very promising to me!  That said, there were moments when I had realisations that gave me pause.  Jill Goodman, for example, seems to live in England and I suspect her conditions and mine are not the same. She goes from scalding leaves with boiling water through various processes to heating the vat to raise it to 50C (there was a lot of conversion to metric involved for me)… I did the processes concerned and still had a vat at 70C and decided in the end to put the vat in a sink of cold water and ice!

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This linen scarf did the amazing woad magic of going from yellow to green to blue when put out into the air.

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Both of my tied textiles dyed only on the outside and therefore were re-tied and re-dipped. The greeny-blue of the image above converted to blue very quickly on rinsing (you can see an image further down).

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Soon I had dyed my planned fabrics and imagined that the vat would be exhausted, because previous vats have yielded so little.  The next day it was clear that the hydros vat was not exhausted, so I adjusted Ph and temperature and set about continuing to dye. The fructose vat was still not reduced, so far as I could tell with a test dip, though again it looked promising and eventually looked much like the hydros vat.  However, it still had not reduced, and thus, was unable to dye.  In the late afternoon I decided it probably didn’t have any dye in it. Do not read on if you have a weak constitution–but one of the reasons for my belief was that I had accidentally boiled the fructose vat early in the process. Eeek! I had a very little hydros left, so added some to the fructose vat.  Then half an hour later, a little more.  30 minutes later, it came into order and began to dye, and I dyed using both vats until bed time using the only clean fleece I seem to have. The fructose-hydros vat dyed over two more days, as it turned out!

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I threw in more cloth and went to bed, feeling extremely pleased.  On the down side, I used hydros.  On the up side, it can only have been a matter of time before that fructose vat would have reduced.  I just needed to hold my nerve and be patient.  Maybe add more fructose. Admittedly, time is one of my biggest issues because I do have a day job and other commitments.  However, this is by far the most successful woad effort to date.  I now understand that I need to use a vat rather than direct dyeing for the woad to be wash-fast.  I think I now have a sense of how to tell whether there is dye in the vat (at all) as I process the solution.  The low concentrations of colour claimed for woad are not so low as to make it useless, and I have quite a bit of leaf.  One vat with 1.6 kg leaves and one with 900g leaves from one part of the garden where other things have struggled to grow well–and this is my second harvest from them.  I also have the happy sense that my understanding is sufficient to reach success with a fermentation/fructose vat given time.  The pigment from my previous crop of woad is in a different vat which has not shown promise even though I have been waiting for weeks.  But it still may!  And I am confident now that reduction is the main issue and not one of the other possibilities.  Very encouraging mellow blues–and more pictures to come when everything is clean and dry.

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Woad extraction

After my last, less than successful, adventure with woad, I considered the situation. I discovered thanks to the commenters on this little blog (thank you!) that my chickens enjoy woad leaves just like theirs do.  Then I finally figured out that some of my woad is in year 1 and in spring in spite of everything I have done/not done/failed to understand.   I decided to try Teresinha Roberts’ method of extracting the pigment from woad.  I figure this way, I know if I have any pigment before I go all out with complex methods of deoxygenating my woad vat.

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So from left to right you have woad before haircut; woad after haircut, a (big) bucket full of woad, and…

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half that woad washed.

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After that it gets less pretty.  Woad that has been added into hot water, now ready for the compost bin.  Since adding it to the compost I find not the appalling ‘pinky-tan’ I have been promised by some but some very nice pinks online.  Never mind.  Life is long and I can try all the things if I live long enough.  Goodness knows it seems that is my project!

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Woad liquid after straining out leaves.

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Wow!  Can that stuff make froth!!  I had acquired a stab mixer at the op shop last week and employed it until I feared for its health. Teresinha was pretty clear that you should use soda ash and not washing soda because it causes less froth.  I only had washing soda and slaked lime in the alkaline substances for indigo line of supplies and was not prepared to go out and find soda ash having given my last lot away to indigo dyers a the guild.  Next time, I might be more diligent!

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I gave it all night to let the foam subside, but there was still (very deep blue) foam next morning). Surely this is promising?  But why is the blueness floating, rather than sinking to the bottom of the liquid as in Teresinha’s pictures?  Have my washing soda crimes ruined everything?  (I know, I need my own soap opera).

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The first cut. Fingers crossed! This looks like blue to me.  But… Teresinha Roberts has the blue pigment settling to the bottom.  To me it looks like mine is all floating on the top, still.

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I thought time would sort it out but actually, two days later as I am trying to continue the process I still have this: the concentrating jar on the left and a jar of ‘discard’ woad solution on the right.  I say ‘discard’ as I am not throwing anything away just yet.

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And then… wonder of wonders!  I began to form an impression on day 3 that I might have some blueness.

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And closer up…

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Is it promising?  Is it??

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Woad in winter

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I realised a little late that I should have picked my woad earlier. But decided I had nothing to lose by picking it now.

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Then the chopping…

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Then the vat. How blue should the froth be, to be blue enough? These are the questions that plague my blue-dyeing!

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Eventually, I had a vat. The wool came out the same colour it was when it went in. The second vat had a lot more leaf to the same volume of water.

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I ended up with some blue-pale blue-bluish wool.

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And some silk thread that is more of a silver grey.  I swear it was blue after the second vat, but either subsequent re-dips stripped the colour back out, or it was fugitive.  Or I dreamed it. Well, they do say that woad doesn’t bear much indigotin, and harvesting in winter is not ideal.  But, am I allowed to be a bit disappointed anyway?

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Adventures in woad

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Woad has been one of the success stories in our summer garden.  Until two years ago I had no success at all growing a seedling. This summer, it has really grown and thrived.  So I have decided I can try a few things out.  I started with India Flint’s ice flower method.  She describes using it with with Japanese Indigo on silk here. It seemed logical to me that if it worked with Japanese Indigo, it should work with woad.  But logic requires consideration of all the facts, and I know for sure I don’t understand all the chemistry and plant magic involved.  So who knew what might happen? The last time I tried this, with some Japanese Indigo leaves, nothing obvious happened and I decided I just didn’t have enough leaf matter (and the leaves were tired and sad in any case).

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This time I was rich in leaves, though woad is a low-indigo plant. I followed the instructions.  After a night in the freezer, here are my woad leaves in filtered rainwater, with a little pre-loved raw silk and some silk embroidery thread.

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A while later, there were exciting signs of success.  A couple of hours later, the colour was deeper still and the embroidery thread was looking good too. Definitely deep turquoise–tending to green rather than blue, but that would be a happy outcome. I added more thread! That looked good too, so I added some more fabric and went to bed.  The next morning the woad leaves were very green, but the silk was not!

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I haven’t had a lot of luck catching the colours exactly, but…. grey is close enough!  The thread is a sheeny steely grey that I have obtained from Austral Indigo in the past by a similar method.  I really enjoyed stitching with it and now I have a new supply.  The smaller fabric that went in first is a darker colour and slightly green-grey.  the larger piece is a rosy-grey, perhaps.

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I forgot to alkanise as India suggests, which would have been a good idea: that might be the issue.  The silk is much worn and washed.  Contaminants?  The woad has had a hard summer? I have chosen a plant in its second year without much indigotin: that is entirely possible.  This method doesn’t suit woad?  I should have pulled the fabric and thread out sooner, when I liked the colour?  Further oversights on my part?  I just don’t know!

 

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