Friday, 9 October 2015

Contact Dyeing with Eucalyptus Leaves and Iron

"They lasted well, these lovely autumnal flowers.  Shame their leaves are falling now."  I emptied the vase into the sink.
"Pooh, that water stinks.  Take those festering stalks down the compost heap."  As I carried them outside, my companion called after me "I like a sweet scented bouquet, Beaut.  Give me roses and lilies, any time of year, Christmas included."

Sometimes that ewe pushes me too far.
"They weren't sent to you, Elinor, himself was given the flowers from his work. And you can shut up about Christmas, some of us like to enjoy things in their proper season.  Sure, the florist didn't pick those chysanths from her own garden, but she did a nice job of making the arrangement look as if she had."
"Are you having a laugh, Beaut?  Half the greenery in that bunch was eucalyptus.  Probably travelled half way round the world."
Elinor was exaggerating about the amount, but not wrong about the leaves.  Salvaging three sprigs of eucalyptus, a bit dried out and turning a rusty orange, I was thrilled. Anyone with an interest in contact dyeing with plants must have seen all those on line images of dramatically coloured eucalyptus leaf prints.  

For several years I have been eyeing up the two kinds of eucalyptus growing in my neighbour's garden, even more tempting since they have grown so quickly that leaves are hanging over the wall.  My natural nobility of conscience has prevented me from pinching any. Well, that and the fact that I've read that leaves from trees grown in the UK don't get enough sun to produce rich colours.
Ringing on the doorbell to make my odd request, I was greeted with such kindness.  Without a pause to ask why I wanted her eucalyptus, that lady had the secateurs out and was clipping off branches.  I have also read that the fallen, dry leaves are best, but bother that, time to mordant some silk with alum and find out what colours my three types of cut eucalyptus leaves had to offer.

Laying out some leaves, I folded the wet silk over and tried to place the same kind of leaf in the same place on the next layer, to sandwich the material for maximum dye absorbtion. Folding one more time, a couple of rusty nails and washers went in amongst some more mixed leaves, another thing I haven't given a proper trial before.  The silk was rolled up around a length of plastic drainpipe and tied up tightly with some string that had been soaking in a pot of water with rusty nails. Since there was already iron water in the yarrow plant dye afterbath I happened to have lurking about the patio, that did tot up to an awful lot of iron. Stuffing into the pot some extra prunings from a huge achillea plant
to supplement the dyebath, the bundle was simmered well below the boil for several hours. Next day it emerged looking very dark and was left to dry out in the greenhouse for a couple of days.  My ecobundles only get a really long time to cure if I forget about them and it doesn't seem to me to make a huge difference.  As it goes, this one was still a bit damp in the middle when I unrolled it.

The rusty nails had made really black splodges. The florist's eucalyptus gave orange and both the local types green prints.

After rinsing and a proper wash with a pH neutral liquid, a press with the steam iron revealed the final eucalyptus leaf and iron patterns.  Elinor always takes an interest in silk, clambering about among the leftover branches like some frisky Welsh koala bear looking for lunch up a gum tree.

"Best you pop over the road and invite your neighbour round for coffee, Beaut. These little round green leaf prints would suit me beautifully, dyed on a pink background.  Gales are forecast and there's bound to be some stag's horn lichen blown down for you to ferment."
"A very seasonal thought.  On the other hand, maybe you could buy me some flowers."


  1. I must say I agree with Elinor about inviting your neighbour in, not only for coffee, but also to admire the lovely prints! There's a kind of law, around these parts, called Mona's Law, that goes; Ask for leaves - and you shall have them. I do that door bell ringing once in a while, and people are amazingly nice about sharing their leaves, flowers and whatnot, if asked nicely. I've even got a couple of carte blanches, to just go in and help myself to what I need.

    1. Well, I did take the scarf round to show her. I am just wondering if I would be as generous with my plants. I'd like to think I would, but it might depend ...