Friday, 24 May 2013

A Trial of Apple Leaf Dye

So it's goodbye to George Cave, Katy, Sunset and Deacon.  In May, I should be soft pruning the espalier apples, pinching out growing tips that would overburden the frame and rubbing off the aphids.  No greenfly, but no apples to come this year. Within a fortnight, all four trees have to come out for the digger to complete the footings for a garden wall.  

It seems a bit like rendering the children down for soap, but I plan to keep the wood and use the bark to make dye baths in winter.  In her book, Wild ColourJenny Dean writes that apple leaves will give shades from mustard to brown, depending on the season they are picked.  Before I add leaf picking and drying to my to do list, I thought I would run a trial of spring apple leaf dye.  I picked about 300g of fresh leaves, put them in a cloth bag and jumped up and down on it to break them up a bit.  The bag went in a bowl of water on Saturday, by Sunday, the water had a significantly yellow tinge. Seemed to be worth proceeding, so Tuesday I gave the whole lot a couple of hours simmer.

At Wonderwool, BarberBlackSheep had a small display of skeins of Gotland fleece blended with other wools. Some had been dyed.  The greys of the Gotland harmonised the dye colours.  Though the term is 'saddening', the effect is far from miserable. 
I have been practicing spinning semi-worsted with Gotland blended with some of the rougher white wool I sorted out from a Jacob fleece. The first sample for the trial is a 25g skein of this wool. Coarse wool and low twist has made it very hairy, think I might increase the twist for the next practice run. The other two skeins are pure new wool double knitting from  
All were mordanted with Alum and Cream of Tartar.  Total weight 75g, so the ratio of fresh leaves to dry wool was 4 to 1.

On Wednesday, once the pot had cooled, I drained and squeezed out the bag of apple leaves.  The water had gone an unappetising murky yellow. Anyone looking at it would agree this horse was not fit for work.

I put in the wool and simmered for a couple of hours then left it to cool overnight.
After my experience with the larch bark dye changing colour in the wash, thanks to the alkaline nature of washing powder, I have decided to treat  some of all my dye skeins with an alkali afterbath.  That way, I can predict what would happen if I dyed wool for something I intend to wash.  I made an alkali solution of cold water with half a teaspoon of soda ash and left one skein in it for half an hour or so, then rinsed with plain water.
Sure enough, there was a significant colour change.

Here are the final apple leaf dyed skeins.
Far left is the original dye bath only.  Middle is the Gotland/Jacob blend and though the spinning isn't great and the colour is not wildly exciting, I do like the saddening effect. Nearest is the skein that had an alkali afterbath, much brighter and stronger colour, although in practice, some more dye appeared to leak out into the alkali bath.

Fair play to Jenny Dean, the spring apple leaf dye colour really is like mustard.  I think I will dry a big bag of leaves and store them in the loft for winter.  Before New Year, I shall plant a Brave New Avalon. 


  1. These colours are gorgeous - well done!

    1. Thanks - I have just sawn down Deacon to the stump, but its leaves are in the bag and I'm going to use the frame for a trellis.

  2. Excellent idea - waste not want not!

  3. In the bottom picture you have 2 skeins. One a brighter mustard than the other. What made the difference? Soak time? Amount of alkali?

  4. The brighter skein had a soak in alkali after dyeing, the duller skein is the same dye bath but no alkali treatment.