Friday, 11 April 2014

Solar Dye Jars of Wool with Tansy and Coreopsis used to Needlefelt a Celtic Knot Footstool

Tansy flowers smell awful.  I would not cook them up in a dyebath, but having plenty in the garden and being curious about their dye potential, I tried solar dyeing in a sealed jar. Last August, I used a mixture of plants in one jar.  It was only left in the greenhouse a week, but the weather was hot. 
The process was successful enough for me to set up another couple of jars in September, with a view to keeping them rather longer. This fleece was from the back end of a Dorset Poll sheep, 100g in each jar, scoured and mordanted with 10% alum.  The two litre jars were filled with layers of fleece and flowers and then topped up with with water.  A bit of rusty tin can added iron for exotic experimentation.  I thought coreopsis flowers in the other jar would surely give a strong dye, but by October, the colour was not impressive. Probably too cold in the green house, so I brought them indoors to stand above a radiator.  

Sometime last winter, the tansy jar brewed over and leaked smelly froth which made a black stain on the windowsill.  Not the result I hoped for from the iron experiment.  Both went out to the garden to be dealt with later.  I rediscovered them in March.

After six months in the jar, the coreopsis flowers had gone squishy and brown, but they separated out of the fleece quite easily with a few rinses in a bucket. Once dried, the wool was a familiar orange gold. This is a reliable dye plant, even harvested late in the season and used without heat.  The tansy jar was beyond vile.  It stank so badly the dog hurried off, anxious she would be falsely accused.   
Little flower heads were enmeshed with the wool fibre, gritty, slimey and revolting.  I very nearly binned the lot, but the colour was, well, lurid sage, definitely not beige. Six rinses and out to the greenhouse to air.  A week later, the smell had gone.  Sorting through, most locks were good enough to work with, lots of interesting shades.  Though the fleece was relatively rough, Dorset Poll is a pleasure to comb and the process got rid of all the bits of tansy.  

I found this stool in a junk shop. The sandpaper I used cost more than the stool itself, but the wood under that varnish was worth it.  
Couple of coats of beeswax brought up the grain.  A length of boiled wool army blanket was stapled on to the frame, wrapped underneath and over the top again.  Stuffing to make a cushion between the two top layers used up another 500g of a short stapled Down fleece I can't card or spin.  

The celtic knot panel design comes from George Bain's Methods of Construction.  I used white threads for the guidelines shown in his drawing.  The curved lines need to be divided into twelve equal parts, so I marked the threads with eleven dots in black marker pen.  A couple of pokes with a felting needle lightly secured the threads to the fabric.

I needlefelted lengths of handspun Hebridean fleece firmly into the seat cushion, copying the main lines of the design.

Once I no longer needed the dotted threads to find the right spacing, I pulled them off.  Next, the inner lines of the knot and finally, did the strip that weaves under and over the others to join the sections into one continuous line.  Putting the yarn on a darning needle and threading it under and over was a big help when it came to filling in the colour with graded shades of the tansy dyed roving.

Filled in the background with the coreopsis dyed wool, but of course, there was no padding to needle felt into along the sides.  

Not a problem, I combed lots of coreopsis dyed locks, spun a bit of yarn and made a double crochet piece to sew along each bar and wrap underneath to tidy up the base of the stool.  All neat and satisfying. While needlefelting is an addictively mindless/mindful task, I plan to invest in a multiheaded felting tool when I go to Wonderwool.  Only a couple of weeks to wait now.

In the meantime, I can put my feet up.


  1. That is a truly beautiful piece of work. I love Celtic knots


  2. Yet another amazing work of art!

  3. When I joined the natural dye groups on ravelry I discovered your blog, and I've lurked ever since... but now my admiration cannot be contained any longer: your creations are so beautiful! (ok, I know, I'm sounding like a gushing schoolgirl.) This footstool and the spiral cushion especially are favorite of mine, the flowing of colours and shades so fluid and eye catching they really seem painted! (there goes another exclamation mark... troubling.) The different shades of green you obtained from the tansy flowers are very interesting... the brew in the jar may have been uberstinky and disgusting, but it was worth it, I think. Looking forward to your next creation :).

    1. How nice of you to write this! Plant dyes are uneven, at least mine are, but this can be turned to advantage with needlefelting. It really shows off shades and it doesn't matter if the fleece was quite rough, it still looks and feels lovely. Greens don't pick up very accurately on my camera, the tansy greens are more vibrant in real life. Despite the honk, I am bound to have another go with it this year.

  4. The work that went into this piece of art is impressive. It is just beautiful!

  5. What a great pattern and a wonderful piece of furniture. Great colours and congratulations on persevering and beating the Tansy flowers !

  6. Simply stunning,congratulations

  7. I can tell I'll be visiting for inspiration regularly... More beautiful celtic knot work, more needle felting.