Friday, 7 April 2017

Contact Printing with Dried Dye Plants

"Morning, Beaut. Lovely day." 
My companion, Elinor Gotland, came out to the greenhouse to find me transplanting dye plant seedlings into small pots. "I've brought you a cup of tea. Got to keep your strength up."
"Thanks. Quite what am I going to need my strength for?" 
Since I usually have to lure Elinor out of bed with the smell of fresh toast, I was already wondering what plans she had in mind.
"Those dyed silk scarves you make. Can't find any of them knocking about the house."
"There are a couple with autumn leaf prints in the craft shop, but all the colourful summer ones were sold out by Christmas."
"High time you restocked for the Easter trade. You could do a bit of ecoprinting today."
"Elinor, I can't make any more scarves til these seedlings have grown into proper plants. How about telling me what you want one for?"
"Since you mention it, Beaut, I'm off to an awards ceremony this weekend. A new silk scarf would be just the thing for swirling about in - you know how the cameras dwell on the nominees."

Drinking tea, we wandered round the garden. Plenty of manure top dressing was steaming in the sun, the grass was growing, but not a lot else. Elinor started eyeing up my tulips. I don't think they would print well and I like them just where they are. Better nip that idea in the bud.
"How about if I fetched my dried dye plant stores down from the attic?"

My companion looked dubiously at the shrivelled bunches of meadowsweet and papery spikes of weld.
"Are you sure we wouldn't be better off picking the tulips?"
"I've got a couple of sprigs of florist's eucalyptus too, they give fantastic orange leaf prints."  I said firmly, submerging the lot in a bowl of water with a splash of vinegar and some iron from a jar of dissolved ferrous sulphate. I found two silk scarves and a section of tubular jersey silk noil which had been mordanted with alum ages ago. There was even a big piece of fine wool gauze, lying forgotten at the back of the drawer. Might as well soak them all, dye them now and put in a new order from Whaley's. That afternoon, I poured hot water on bowls of dried chamomile and coreopsis and set about laying leaves and flowers onto the wet fabric and rolling it up round sections of plastic gutter tubing.

The string tying the silk noil bundle was black from being soaked in iron and used in dye baths many times before. Never mind, that jersey noil wasn't particularly nice. Putting the remaining dried meadowsweet into the water in the pot with this bundle, I turned on the gas.

Selecting some less stained string, I tied up the two habotai silk scarves . As extra protection, I thought I would try an outer layer of greaseproof paper on one of them, to see if it would minimise string binding marks and avoid having the outermost part of the silk roll dye differently to the layers inside it. Then I rolled paper round my expensive piece of wool gauze.
Lucky Elinor wasn't about, because the dried plants looked miserable, soggy and saggy after a few hours soaking. Even though they rehydrated very quickly and had kept their colour, the petals on the chamomile and coreopsis flowers clung to their centres making shapeless splots, not at all as pretty as they are when used fresh.
The last three bundles went into pots of plain water and all four were simmered for a couple of hours, left to cool overnight, dried out for a couple of days and finally, unrolled. I kept them another couple of days to cure, then rinsed them all in a few changes of water before putting them in the washing machine with a pH neutral detergent on a 30 degree wool cycle.

Not the most spectacular results, the first conclusion I can draw is that my dried garden plants don't print as well as when used fresh. The eucalyptus is supposed to dye better once dried. Parvifolia had only left faint brown prints on the silk and I wondered if it ought to have had longer heating at higher temperatures. 

Quite another story with this bold print Parvifolia eucalyptus made on the wool gauze. Wish I had had a bit more eucalyptus for that bundle. My own dye plants also performed differently on the silk compared to wool fabric.

Here are meadowsweet prints on silk and silk jersey. Faint but delicate tracery from stems and leaves, I particularly like the flower prints, a spot of iron for each floret. There were only smudges of iron to show where meadowsweet leaves, stems and flowers had been rolled in the wool gauze.

I found dried weld had printed better on wool than silk. The coreopsis flowers left orange/brown blotches on everything and the Dyers Chamomile made yellow ones. Thank heavens for their intense dye content, as the flowers brightened up the entire batch of ecoprints, turning the background of the piece of wool a particularly pretty pale yellow. The greaseproof paper stayed intact throughout the simmering process and did prevent string marks and darker dyes on the outer fabric on those bundles.

Which would Elinor choose to wear to the awards do? After all my efforts to get her some classy ecoprints on expensive silk and on even more expensive wool gauze, she preferred the cheap jersey silk noil that had had the old string leaving iron binding patterns and no protection from an uneven dye in the meadowsweet bath.

"It's offbeat, Beaut. Bizarre. Outre. I just know the cameras will pan in on this one."


  1. Well, I'm so pleased to see the sun and fresh plants coming, the dried stuff is just a back stop compared to them :)

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