Friday, 21 April 2017

Dandelion Flower Dye on Wool and Cotton

I straightened up slowly after wrestling a particularly recalcitrant weed out of the lawn. Crumbs of earth spattered up against the back of my companion's newspaper as I flung the beast down onto the patio.
"April really is a cruel month for dandelions, Elinor. This one put up quite a struggle." 
She dusted off her crossword puzzle, regarding me with some irritation.
"You might look very savage all covered in mud, but I see the plant won. Carry on digging in that slap dash fashion, snapping off half the root and the dandelions will grow back in no time." Elinor stomped across the lawn. "Look, this one is already setting seed. Soon you'll have a whole new generation to contend with."


I flopped into a chair. 
"I've been saving the flowers, though I suppose I could have another go at dyeing with dandelion roots, lots of online sites list them as a source of magenta red. Don't know if I can be bothered, though. Last time I tried, I got no colour at all. Not even beige."
"Which of the 234 species of dandelion root did you try?"
"I have no idea."
"Well, consider this a great opportunity for a controlled trial, Beaut. I should think most kinds of dandelion have found a home in your garden."

My dandelion dyeing objective was much simpler, just the April project from the Plant Dyes for All Seasons 2017 Calendar. Though I've heard you can also dye with the leaves, it was only too easy for me to gather 300g of dandelion flowers, this being about five times the total weight of the small skeins of wool I planned to dye. All of them had been mordanted in advance with 10% alum. Wanting to double check the effects of shifting pH and modifying the dye colour with iron and copper, I decided I was already confident enough of the necessity of using a mordant for dandelion dye.


After simmering the flowers for an hour and sieving them out of the bath, I added the soaked yarn, simmered it for another hour and left it in the dye pot overnight. Next day, the wool had taken on a pale greenish yellow colour and I put one skein aside as my reference point. In the photo above, it is on the far right, with the other skeins described anticlockwise. The pH of the dye bath was already naturally slightly acidic and soaking the second skein in water with vinegar made it only marginally paler. Soaking the third skein in water with dissolved soda ash to alkalinise it made the yellow come up much brighter and clearer. Pouring the remaining dye bath into two pots, I added some iron dissolved in water to one and copper to the other. The fourth and fifth skeins were warmed for half an hour in these two pots before rinsing, iron modified the original colour to a grey green, while copper made it go bright green. I think that last is the nicest colour I got, very vernal.
Having gathered another whole kilogram of dandelion flowers, I remembered a previous occasion, when I wished I hadn't squandered expensive woollen fabric on such an unremarkable plant dye. This time, I used a long offcut from some cotton and linen mix curtains, which had been mordanted with aluminium acetate. Well wetted and rolled up around some blackberry, hardy geranium and lycestra leaves with some dried flowers of coreopsis and chamomile and bits of fresh madder root to add splashes of yelllow, bronze and red, the bundle was tied with string soaked in dissolved iron. Expecting the iron to turn the dandelion dye a dull green, I simmered the loose fabric at the top of the roll in the
pot of dandelions on its own, before standing the roll up the other way in the pot with the business end submerged.
After an hour or so simmering, overnight soaking and a day or two to dry, the roll was unrolled. Dandelion dye had made the loose part of the cotton/linen mix go a similar colour to the first sample skein of wool, the roots and flowers had contact dyed the colours I had hoped for and the leaves had made iron prints.



In this photo, the fabric is folded in half, with the part which was innermost on the roll showing. The outer portion gets a bigger dose of the iron from the string and the colours are thus more saddened and the leaf prints more dense.



It has been one of those months. Good in parts. Plenty of dry weather and a fair amount of sun, but not many of my dye plant seeds have done well. The coreopsis seedlings mostly curled up due to thrips in the greenhouse and three successive sowings with no germination have convinced me my saved weld seeds are no good. No use grieving. I have ordered a new packet of weld seeds and some plug plants of other kinds of coreopsis. With some embroidery, the duller end of the cotton print made a cushion to thank my friend BG, who gave me the curtain material. 



At last, the time is ripe.

Tomorrow we are off for the weekend of all wool festival weekends!

 Awake BG and with my Mum,
The happy road to Builth Wells run;
Shake off dull sloth and joyful rise,
For Wonderwool at half past five.

(Poetic licence there, we shan't actually leave til quarter to eight and I shall be driving.)

Friday, 14 April 2017

Dyeing Plant Prints on Boiled Eggs

With family staying over the Easter holidays, I have enjoyed coercing visitors into trying natural dyes on hard boiled eggs. A friend showed me this video, which makes plant printing on eggs look like child's play. In practice, the first challenge was to find eggs with shells that weren't naturally brown already. After opening boxes all along the supermarket shelves, I bought a dozen white duck's eggs, a red cabbage and one onion, which I bagged together with all the loose brown onion skins in the tray. Next, to take my visitors for a hearty dog walk in the great outdoors, armed with a tub for collecting small leaves and flowers. Then another trip to the supermarket to buy a multipack of cheap nylons - none at home, I forgot that I haven't had to wear tights for years.


Cutting 20cm lengths off each leg of the tights, we tried to flatten leaves and flowers against an egg, then pull the tube of nylon over and stretch it away from the egg to tie the spare material in a knot. Keeping more than one flower flattened in place did not go well. Plant material has a tendency to roll itself up during the stretching and the egg may catapult off.


"Cracking start, Oscar." My companion, Elinor Gotland, considers my younger relatives fair game for her rapier wit. 
"Did you fancy an omelette?" 

In the video, the process only takes a second, but on close observation, you can see that the tube of tights starts off stretched over one hand, the egg and the plant material go into that palm, then the spare nylon is brought over the back of the hand and knotted on the other side of the egg.

"There now, I said just to use one leaf or flower, keep it simple, eh, stupid?"
Elinor went over to critique the dye pots.
"Sure you've got enough onion skins in here? Don't want to mess anything else up, butty bach." 


Unfortunately for Elinor, she had underestimated my nephew, who is quite hardened to cruel and disparaging remarks. 

Half the red cabbage was chopped into a casserole pot and our remaining eggs were wrapped and put in with it. All we had to do now was rescue Elinor, add water and boil.


After ten minutes, the eggs inside must have been boiled, though their shells still looked pale. After twenty minutes, the onion skin eggs looked seriously sunburned, while the cabbage eggs had only the merest tinge of frostbite, as shown in the photo. Turning off the heat after 30 minutes, we left the pots to cool. 
The video says they should be refrigerated for another unspecified period, maybe the extra time helps dye uptake. Since the red cabbage eggs did look quite blue once cool, without refrigeration, we went straight in there with the scissors, snipping off the tights and peeling away the bits of plant.






The fine leaves of fern and fennel made my favourite effect, though broadly speaking, I think the best results came from thicker and more substantial bits of plant material. I ought to warn you, the whites of the eggs take up a bit of dye through the shell, though no taste of onion or cabbage.
Only two days time and there will be chocolate eggs. Face it, nothing else compares.


Friday, 7 April 2017

Contact Printing with Dried Dye Plants

"Morning, Beaut. Lovely day." 
My companion, Elinor Gotland, came out to the greenhouse to find me transplanting dye plant seedlings into small pots. "I've brought you a cup of tea. Got to keep your strength up."
"Thanks. Quite what am I going to need my strength for?" 
Since I usually have to lure Elinor out of bed with the smell of fresh toast, I was already wondering what plans she had in mind.
"Those dyed silk scarves you make. Can't find any of them knocking about the house."
"There are a couple with autumn leaf prints in the craft shop, but all the colourful summer ones were sold out by Christmas."
"High time you restocked for the Easter trade. You could do a bit of ecoprinting today."
"Elinor, I can't make any more scarves til these seedlings have grown into proper plants. How about telling me what you want one for?"
"Since you mention it, Beaut, I'm off to an awards ceremony this weekend. A new silk scarf would be just the thing for swirling about in - you know how the cameras dwell on the nominees."


Drinking tea, we wandered round the garden. Plenty of manure top dressing was steaming in the sun, the grass was growing, but not a lot else. Elinor started eyeing up my tulips. I don't think they would print well and I like them just where they are. Better nip that idea in the bud.
"How about if I fetched my dried dye plant stores down from the attic?"


My companion looked dubiously at the shrivelled bunches of meadowsweet and papery spikes of weld.
"Are you sure we wouldn't be better off picking the tulips?"
"I've got a couple of sprigs of florist's eucalyptus too, they give fantastic orange leaf prints."  I said firmly, submerging the lot in a bowl of water with a splash of vinegar and some iron from a jar of dissolved ferrous sulphate. I found two silk scarves and a section of tubular jersey silk noil which had been mordanted with alum ages ago. There was even a big piece of fine wool gauze, lying forgotten at the back of the drawer. Might as well soak them all, dye them now and put in a new order from Whaley's. That afternoon, I poured hot water on bowls of dried chamomile and coreopsis and set about laying leaves and flowers onto the wet fabric and rolling it up round sections of plastic gutter tubing.



The string tying the silk noil bundle was black from being soaked in iron and used in dye baths many times before. Never mind, that jersey noil wasn't particularly nice. Putting the remaining dried meadowsweet into the water in the pot with this bundle, I turned on the gas.


Selecting some less stained string, I tied up the two habotai silk scarves . As extra protection, I thought I would try an outer layer of greaseproof paper on one of them, to see if it would minimise string binding marks and avoid having the outermost part of the silk roll dye differently to the layers inside it. Then I rolled paper round my expensive piece of wool gauze.
Lucky Elinor wasn't about, because the dried plants looked miserable, soggy and saggy after a few hours soaking. Even though they rehydrated very quickly and had kept their colour, the petals on the chamomile and coreopsis flowers clung to their centres making shapeless splots, not at all as pretty as they are when used fresh.
The last three bundles went into pots of plain water and all four were simmered for a couple of hours, left to cool overnight, dried out for a couple of days and finally, unrolled. I kept them another couple of days to cure, then rinsed them all in a few changes of water before putting them in the washing machine with a pH neutral detergent on a 30 degree wool cycle.


Not the most spectacular results, the first conclusion I can draw is that my dried garden plants don't print as well as when used fresh. The eucalyptus is supposed to dye better once dried. Parvifolia had only left faint brown prints on the silk and I wondered if it ought to have had longer heating at higher temperatures. 

Quite another story with this bold print Parvifolia eucalyptus made on the wool gauze. Wish I had had a bit more eucalyptus for that bundle. My own dye plants also performed differently on the silk compared to wool fabric.


Here are meadowsweet prints on silk and silk jersey. Faint but delicate tracery from stems and leaves, I particularly like the flower prints, a spot of iron for each floret. There were only smudges of iron to show where meadowsweet leaves, stems and flowers had been rolled in the wool gauze.

I found dried weld had printed better on wool than silk. The coreopsis flowers left orange/brown blotches on everything and the Dyers Chamomile made yellow ones. Thank heavens for their intense dye content, as the flowers brightened up the entire batch of ecoprints, turning the background of the piece of wool a particularly pretty pale yellow. The greaseproof paper stayed intact throughout the simmering process and did prevent string marks and darker dyes on the outer fabric on those bundles.

Which would Elinor choose to wear to the awards do? After all my efforts to get her some classy ecoprints on expensive silk and on even more expensive wool gauze, she preferred the cheap jersey silk noil that had had the old string leaving iron binding patterns and no protection from an uneven dye in the meadowsweet bath.

"It's offbeat, Beaut. Bizarre. Outre. I just know the cameras will pan in on this one."


Friday, 31 March 2017

Visiting Tacoma and Spinning Targhee Wool Tops

I arrived in the USA just as it started to rain. The Tacoma bus pulled up outside SeaTac Airport with a strong smell of burning rubber, grubby snow sprayed up from the gutter and the men waiting in line pulled down their beanies, hunched their shoulders and swung aboard with a grouchy energy which seemed to me distinctively American - as seen on TV and films, only now in real life. Even walking in the cold dusk along wide, empty sidewalks was thrillingly strange. Well, it was til the wheel came off my suitcase while crossing an intersection with a dozen traffic lights, counting off the numbered streets, struggling uphill to reach the welcome safety of my Airbnb.


I'd heard that everything in America is bigger and perhaps that accounts for Tacoma's chief difference from Wales. It is called The Gritty City. Just imagine Neath Port Talbot on steroids. Vast freight trains crawl through town, enormous container ships on the Puget Sound would dwarf Cardiff Bay and instead of the South Wales Valleys, when the clouds lift, a whopping great volcano appears. Much like home, I was told real prosperity ended here in the 1970's and as I wandered up from Downtown through the neighbourhoods,Tacoma's style did seem half way between a nineteenth century boom town and an episode of the Jetsons. Maybe not much of it looks glossy, but oh, the vitality of the place, wish we had the funky graffiti, the activists founding public schools for art and science, the liberalism, the warmth, the doughnuts and coffee for breakfast.
The more people I met, the more at home I felt. Some were so interested in plant dyes, I was invited to give a presentation at a campfire dinner. Too nervous to eat, once I got into my stride and people were smiling, I fairly rattled along. Tacoma has a jam packed and friendly yarn shop with a massive selection of buttons and a knitting group rich in political satirists. Anticipating weak beer, Fox News and an alien ideology, I was so wrong, the local breweries are outstanding, conversation is as stimulating as the ginger mix in the Mad Hat Teahouse and you know, I came away thinking I might actually fit in better there than I do at home. Anyhow, I'll end this lovesong to the Pacific Northwest with a picture of the curious bark of a Madrona 
Tree, growing at Point Defiance. Thanks to Cheri for all her kindness, driving me along the coast trying to spot whales and sharing a place of such beauty. 
Lest I get carried away, I'll remind myself that America provides quite a challenge for anyone whose lifestyle choices include lots of smoking and loitering. The highlight of my visit to Tacoma was attending classes at the Madrona Fibre Retreat. The teachers were superb, I am still inwardly digesting the moments of illumination and dreaming up beguiling projects rather than sticking to a practice regime for my newly learned knitting techniques. 


Here is some Targhee wool I bought at the Madrona Retreat Market Place.The fabulous saturated red tops were dyed by Abstract Fibres. The millspun yarn is from Brooklyn Tweed. Targhee sheep are a new American breed, developed during the twentieth century during the shift from farming for wool to raising lambs. Not much fibre quality has been sacrificed, to the touch, the combed wool is irresistibly soft, still crimpy and full of bounce. I meant to read up all about Targhee and plan properly, make samples for some organised and intentional spinning - only I didn't.


Mouldering about at home, wiped out by the aftermath of a bout of flu, instead of tidying and cataloging my stash, I divided the red tops into three equal strips and have spent the last few evenings spinning them short forward draw, around 10 twists per inch, aiming to make 3 singles which would ply up at double knitting weight, to match the Brooklyn Tweed Arbor yarn.  The first two singles went well, this is a lovely wool to handle, very easy to manage. Then I lost concentration on the third section, spun it too thick and not nearly so even. Far from preserving long colour changes, I have ended up with a marbled and barber poled yarn.
Which is not far off the red Arbor dk weight and pretty much totally gorgeous anyway.
How lucky for me that I fell into bad company at Madrona, met the kind of woman who says, go on, buy both, when you can't decide on your shopping. Thanks to her, I do have another four ounces of Targhee tops in an equally glorious orange and grey colourway and may yet be able to write a considered assessment of this lovely fibre.



Here in South Wales, the days are lengthening and tomorrow the moon will be spot on for sowing weld seeds. The nights are still cold, so for now, I shall just blow my nose, brew up some honey and lemon, light the fire and remember Tacoma while knitting with American yarn.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Needlefelting Wool Fairies & Ladies with Lavender Bags

My companion, Elinor Gotland, sat watching me turn out my wardrobe in a fruitless search for 'something fabulous'.
"Give up, Beaut. High time you had a Spring makeover. We'll go shopping this weekend."
"Too late, Elinor. Tomorrow, BG and I are off to Carmarthen for the Merlin Festival."
"Ah, I wondered why the sudden urge to smarten up. Going in for the Magician Competition, are you? Which of you two is going to be the lovely assistant, wear sparkles and get sawn in half?"
"Actually, we've been invited to set up the Rich & Strange stall at the Fairytale Market in St Peter's Hall. The dress code is 'fabulous' and the theme for the whole event is 'Arthurian Legend'."
Elinor looked at my cupboard full of old jumpers and jeans. She sighed.
"BG can dress up as Morgana Le Fay and you'll just have to hide behind your spinning wheel, pretending she turned you into a toad."
It's my guess our invitation to the Fairytale Market came as a result of one of the Christmas Fairs, where we exhibited a tree full of needlefelted fairies and angels. I've been making fairies by the usual method, using Spring colours, silk and merino blends, bit of sparkle, carrying little organza bags full of lavender. Hopefully, customers shopping for Mother's Day and Easter presents will be enticed by the smell.

Though the thread tied round the waist gives a suitably blossomy, blousey effect, I got bored of making pretty pastel fairies and fancied doing some with a more chic and stylish look. A wide ribbon knotted moderately firmly gave a better defined torso, though it left nowhere to tie on any wings. The figure could still hold an organza bag, perhaps she was destined to be a Lavender Lady, rather than a fairy. I skipped the flowing tresses and pearl head band with dew drop decoration, instead needlefelting some locks of wool radiating out from the back of her head, so that they stood straight up round the face. Much more snazzy.





Tying fat pink silk thread in a bow round the back of her head didn't seem quite sufficient. Some kind of headgear seemed called for. A tiny oblong of black netting ruched up under a couple of buttons made the right sort of hat for a chichi Lavender Lady. And hats are fun to put together.


Adding a drop of lavender essence enhanced the scent of a small lavender bag. Grey hair for a modish, mature look. The lavender ladies can dangle from a coat hanger to perfume a wardrobe full of clothes.
Bigger bags and purple rinses, these girls are growing old disgrace-fully. I may not manage fabulous dress myself, but even Elinor agreed the Lavender Ladies should give the fairies in the Fairytale Market a run for their money.