Friday, 19 February 2016

Dyeing Wool with Dried Double Maroon Hollyhocks

The colours that come out of a sequence of afterbaths when dyeing with fresh double maroon hollyhock flowers remind me of the sea.  Previously, trying to preserve spare flowers by freezing them seemed to kill off the blues, leaving only greens and greys.  After dyeing the skeins in this photo with fresh flowers, while my plants carried on blossoming last summer, I laid the spent petals on a tea towel to let them
dessicate before being put in a paper bag.  In January, with a design in mind to weave a wave, I put my last couple of hundred grams of scoured Speckled Face Beulah fleece in the bath to mordant with alum for 24 hours, while my stock of 50 shrivelled hollyhocks soaked in plain water. Next day, the fluid had turned deep maroon, much like the original colour of the flowers.

The flowers had half an hour at a very gentle simmer, as boiling destroys the blue pigments, just like freezing.  For such fragile molecules, once you have them fixed onto wool, I have found the colours surprisingly light and wash fast. Sieving petals out and slopping them into a net bag to stay in the dye bath, I added about 50g of wet, alum mordanted fleece for an hour's simmer and an overnight soak.  The wool turned a familiar blue, though not as deep a colour as fresh flowers have offered.
Repeating the process with four more portions of 50g fleece showed that drying the double maroon hollyhocks had preserved a muted version of their original colourway, better than frozen ones did.  Combing condensed the shades - this is flash photography, not quite true to the real appearance, but you can see how the blue tones change, rather than just getting paler.  
Spun worsted and Navajo plied, hopefully, you can just about see colour changes in each strand of yarn on the niddy noddy.  Making mixtures of fleece shades on the hand carders and spinning rolags into chunky two ply gave the adjacent, irregular, puffier yarn a more uniform colour .  I have been building another driftwood triloom.  Since reading a comment made about the last one, ideas have been washing around my mind about harps and harpies, wondering, did those lethal sirens sing intending to lure ships onto the rocks or was their song an end in itself? Winding my yarns around the pegs, the colour changes were too subtle to give the sea weave any unwanted tartan effect and the heavier, loftier yarn seemed a better base to needlefelt into.  So, the final yarn 
construction went three rolags of each shade in turn, spun longdraw and Navajo plied.  
To add emphasis where the sea weave wrapped round the nails on the plank symbolising shipwreck, I dissolved soda ash to make an alkaline solution and painted it onto the wool.  Bit of a potch to get the dry fibres to soak it up from the brush, still, the resulting green colour shift exploited this dye's pH sensitivity.

My harpist or harpy was constructed same way as the small fairies, except using a whole batt of drumcarded fleece for a long full skirt.  A florists's wire running down from the head meant it could be held in a Fibonacci curve; carded, Down-type Beulah fleece did needlefelt onto the woven yarn with all the volume and texture that merino tops lack, yet my efforts dyeing blues from maroon hollyhocks lacked the weight of the sea I had imagined.  Standing back to see the final effect, I had to acknowledge these soft colours from dried flowers do lack the definition I had from dyeing with fresh material.

"Perhaps the pale green you chose to decorate this sitting room has sapped their strength. Didn't like to say at the time, but this green never was a cheery choice."
Sod it.  I got out the roller and painted the back wall white.  It took three coats.  
Once I had hung the loom up again, my companion, Elinor Gotland, eyed it critically.
"Fair play, the room is less gloomy, bit of a shame your harpist still looks like a triangle of mist."
I scraped flakes of white emulsion off my nails.
"Mist might be dangerous enough at sea, but nebulous risk is not my idea of what harpies are about.  How can I give her the inexorable power of a big breaker?"

Asking a Gotland sheep for advice got me a predictable answer. Grey Gotland locks dyed with woad did add lustre, body and depth of blue.  Hooray for a considerable stash of past experimentally dyed fleece and even more hooray that I have got organised enough to find stuff.  
"Loving the fish, Beaut."  
I knew my companion would appreciate a little drama.

"Now she's a 'Belle Dame sans Merci', isn't she, Elinor?"
"Aye, doing her own thing without consideration for others.  Don't you go getting ideas, Beaut, that's no way for a middle aged woman to live."
"Ha, you're just worried you might have to start making your own cups of tea.  This could be the end of your days as Belle de Laine Sans Souci." 


  1. always odd that red, cabbage, whatever,gives this the acid or alkali mordant effect?

    1. I've wondered why the red stays in the bath, not on the wool. I didn't condider whether mordants themselves affected pH, that's a whole new area to find out about.

  2. There are some lovely hues there, and a beautiful finished piece. All that's missing is Mt Fuji!

  3. Red cabbage is very ph sensitive. I found a salt mordant gives a good red especially with blackberries.

    Susan (Pembs).

    1. oo really? My blackberry dye went brown very soon. Definitely try salt this autumn.