Thursday, 19 June 2014

Contact Dyeing Silk Chiffon with Geranium Leaves and Petals

I had a go at contact dyeing silk last August and didn't achieve anything like the leaf prints I've seen on other blogs. Cutting back a hardy geranium which was going to seed, I remembered seeing dramatic prints from these leaves, on fabric dyed in ecobundles.  Had to be worth another try.
Some ecobundles are described as being simmered in a dye bath, a method I have not tried.  A bag of red geranium petals has been sitting in my freezer all winter. Frozen hollyhock flowers turned out to have lost much of their dye potential, so I hadn't bothered with these.  Still, a geranium petal dye had to be top choice for a test of geranium leaf printing. After a gentle simmer, the petal dye bath went ruby red.

For fabric, I used 1.5m silk chiffon, a very fine gauze which only weighed 25g. Half a teaspoon of alum was dissolved in hot water then topped up with enough warm water for the chiffon to float freely. I left it soaking for 24 hours to cold mordant.
A selection of fresh leaves and flowers from hardy geraniums was laid over half the cloth, then sprinkled with a few fresh red petals from this year's annual trailing geranium basket. The other half of the chiffon was draped back over the top, then folded into three lengthways.
Using a cut off length of plastic drain pipe as the core of the bundle meant I could flatten and press the leaves better than when I tried rolling a scarf around a wooden stick.  The garden string had a few minutes to soak in a jar of vinegar and rusty nails before being bound tightly round the chiffon.  The pipe was stood up inside the dyebath and the pot slowly heated up to 90 degrees Centigrade.
Taking off the lid an hour or so later revealed a blackened lump in a steamy stew.
"The horror! The horror!"  I was appalled.  The bundle had looked so pretty when it went in.
"That'll be the iron from the vinegar on your string.  Saddened the red petal dye alright, didn't it, Beaut?"  Elinor Gotland thinks she knows it all, these days.  She peered into the darkness of the remaining dye bath.  "Looks like the River Zaire on a humid morning."  As I pulled out my ruined ecobundle she positively chortled. "Wouldn't put your hand in there, a crocodile might have you!"
"Thanks for that, Elinor.  Cheers me up no end.  Like you know what colour the River Zaire is, anyway."
"If I don't nobody does.  Bloody nearly fell in it, jumping on to the Ngombe.  That river boat didn't so much stop at Lisala as slow down a bit.  The lower deck was like a floating market, no railings, kids everywhere.  Any Health and Safety Inspector would have forty fits."
"Now, I cannot believe you've been to Africa.  Surely it's far too hot for sheep?"  I may have protested, but I knew I was fated, before the dye began to run, to hear about one of Elinor's inconclusive experiences.
Sure enough, she returned with an old photo album and flicked through the pages.
"Look, here's one of me on the river boat.  After that picture was taken, one of the ladies corn rowed my fleece for me.  Put blue beads in it - I chinked like a wind chime under the fan in the third class bar.  Still sweated buckets, mind.  Half the crew slept on the roof, to get the night breeze.  We were on our way to film 'Apocalypse, In A Minute.' on location."
"Just sounds crazy to me." I snapped.
"A ewe cannot live with her hoof everlastingly on her pulse."  Her lofty look was guaranteed to wind me up.  Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in violence -- but more generally takes the form of apathy.  Leaving Elinor, the dye pot and my poor blackened ecobundle sitting on the patio, I spent the next couple of days in concentrated silence, trying to spin Polwarth fleece into laceweight yarn.  

When at last I unrolled the ecobundle, I saw a tranquil water way, barred by a black bank of clouds.  
Once the leaves were peeled off the cloth, they had left prints.  Elinor was very taken with the patterned chiffon and fancied it for a party outfit.
"A loose blouse, over a sheer silk tubular dress.  Low heels and amethyst jewellery. Gorgeous or what, Beaut?"
Now we were back on speaking terms, I had to know how the filming of 'Apocalypse, In A Minute' had gone.
"That film went totally tits up, Beaut.  Turned out Curtis, the location manager, had lost the plot. By the time we got there, he'd given people in Kinshasha the idea that he was a filmstar.  They were treating him like an A list celeb. Can't blame them, the closest they'd ever got to a night at the movies was an old cine reel of Charles Aznavour projected on the wall of the Catholic Mission.  He was milking it.  Shall I say, Mr Curtis lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts."
"The swine!"
"Anyway, he hadn't done his job. No hotels had been booked and tempers flared when the crew found the catering trailer hadn't been stocked.  After I heard some of them muttering about mint sauce, I had a mind to go.  Went my own road on my own legs."
"Elinor, you walked all the way home from Zaire!"
"To be honest, Beaut, I'd met some overland travellers in a bar and they gave me a ride in their truck.  In the tropics one must, before everything, drink beer."

The leaf printed chiffon turned out an exuberant and entangled mass of vegetation. After a wash, the black became more of a purple grey.  I am calling it 'Heart of Darkness'.  
Here, Elinor is reprising her role in Apocalypse - savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent.


  1. That is beautiful. I've never seen that done before. I shall file the technique in my mental filing cabinet for when I'm feeling brave.

    1. Glad you like it - I was thrilled. Sometimes serendipidity does happen.

  2. I'm really loving this scarf, Elinor looks positively prehistoric, hiding in a cave.
    Those flowers looked very promising the way they were laid out. I'm wondering how much colour would absorbed by wrapping and just steaming. How did your spinning retreat go?
    The madder workshop produced some delicious reds, corals and golds (with tin).

    1. Spinning camp was terrific - I haven't laughed so much in ages. I shall try steaming a variety of leaves and post the results. The madder sounds fab - how I long for reds :)