Friday, 31 July 2015

Dyeing Wool with Rose Mallow Flowers

Some plants are thriving in this exceptionally wet July.  I have never seen so much meadowsweet, which generally confines itrself to ditches and damper verges.  I grew some rose mallow plants from seed this spring and they have all done well, especially this one, which gets the most light, though no-one would say, full sun. Jenny Dean and Rita Buchanan both write that pink and maroon dyes can be had from rose mallow petals, advising minimum heating and long soaks in the dye bath.  Altogether a rosy prospect. Enough to get me out in the rain collecting every open flower, only lingering to rub the blackfly off the madder, which is really enjoying all the sheep manure I mixed into the earth in that big barrel, behind the mallow.
Not a vast haul of plant material, but since these are perennial plants, there should be more and more flowers in future years. Heated very gently, to about 60 degrees, the petals lost their colour leaving a pale yellow dye bath.  Being as this was just a test run, I only added 15g of merino tops, premordanted with 10% alum, heated the pot up to 60 degrees again and left it alone.

The fibres turned a silvery blue green.  Next day, it was still raining.  Alkalinising the water with soda ash made the dye bath look much stronger, but not a hint of pink, the wool just changed to yellow.  Adding iron and vinegar turned it beige.  My companion, Elinor Gotland, joined me in my gloomy inspection of the results.
"Is this all you've got done while I've been away?  I thought now you'd retired, the house would be full of colour, spinning, yarn. How did you get on in the Tour de Fleece?"
"Well, actually, I crashed out in the early stages.  Did a bit of knitting when the puppy was asleep."

Elinor followed me out to the greenhouse, where we discovered none of the tomatoes had ripened yet.  I sighed.
"Why must you climb up on the vines?"
"Same reason you've put your spinning wheel on the dining table, Beaut.  A bored puppy is a dangerous beast."
"I'll be so glad when we can go out walking, rain or shine.  I'm going stir crazy at home and so is she."
"When all the world is wet, Beaut,
And all tomatoes green;
And every dye a beige, Beaut,
Wait for the pup's vaccine.
Then no more chewed up plants, Beaut,
It's down the dunes away.
Young blood must have its course, Beaut,
And every dog her day."