Friday, 21 July 2017

Dyeing with Impatiens Balsamina - probably

A couple of years ago, I was sent some seeds marked Jewel Weed, as part of a dye plant seed swop with a lady in America. Looking up the name online I was delighted to read that Jewel Weed enjoys damp shade, since much of my garden provides exactly that. The large seeds were easy to handle and the great majority germinated quickly in March indoors in a seed tray, then grew on strongly in an unheated greenhouse. Sturdy little plants with nice red stems were planted out in May in a border overshadowed by a tree, which gets little direct sun and stays damp. To my surprise, in summer, pink and purple flowers appeared from the leaf axils.
They were not the exotic orange tubular blossoms I had been expecting and there wasn't enough plant material to make a decent dye bath. Rather than spreading out and flourishing, the plants grew upright and looked meager. Later in the season, I saved seeds from the pods which had formed along the stalks and cleared most from the border, making an autumn soup dye bath of the whole plants along with some spent coreopsis plants. This dyed some fleece a gingery orange, which is pretty much what I would have expected from the coreopsis alone. The plants I left growing proved tender, dying off as soon as the cold weather set in. 
Since then, I have sown a few plants each year just to keep the stock of seeds fresh, always in damp secluded spots. Other plants have much more appeal, so this year was shit or bust. A dozen seedlings enjoyed the best of the 2017 sun in a well manured border.
Casting about for plants ready to dye with as part of my Tour de Fleece with the DIY and Dye team, I decided these mystery plants looked at their prime. Now or never. I lopped off all the tops and larger side shoots, a harvest of fleshy plant material weighing over 750g. The whole lot was simmered for an hour or so in water and left overnight to cool.
Sampling the dye bath in three jam jars, I added vinegar to acidify the one on the left, which made it paler. Dissolved soda ash alkalinised the one on the right, turning it murky and dark. Rather than meddle with pH in the first instance, I added three 25g skeins of alum mordanted Beulah wool to the unmodified dye bath, simmered for an hour and soaked overnight.
Here are the results. From the ten to one weight ratio of plant to yarn, the middle skein shows the original colour from the dye bath, the one on the left was warmed through with copper solution after dyeing and the one on the right with iron. I like the colours, though they are hard to describe, a soft peachy ginger, a deeper goldish ginger and a green tinged mid brown. One of the DIY and Dye team suggested the plant looked like a balsam and with a bit more investigation online, I think this plant must be Impatiens Balsamina. Wikipedia says it is also known as Garden Jewel Weed, which would account for the original confusion. This video says that unlike the other impatiens species, balsamina needs to be planted in sun. My plants definitely did much better in sun, though I'm not convinced they have earned prime garden space, needing such a high ratio of plants for a modest dye result.
There is a lot more to learn before deciding. Going back next day to empty out the samples of dye from their jam jars, I was startled to see that the bit of wool I left to soak in the apparently darker, alkaline jar on the right, had hardly any colour, while the scrap in the acidified jar was more vivid than the neutral jar. 

If the plants regenerate enough for a second harvest, I think acidifying a whole dye bath will be the next experiment. Just to see what colour might come from the afterbath, I filled a cotton T shirt with bits of other dye plants, rolled it round a plastic pipe and tied it up with string, before simmering the bundle in the (probable) impatiens balsamina afterbath for a couple of hours. That bundle has been slowly drying out for several days, so that this morning, I could tell the cotton had been dyed a murky greenish yellow, most unlike the peachy ginger wool. The bundle ought to be left to dry completely, but it has been pouring with rain all day today, walking the dog was a miserable trudge and no way am I going to get out in the garden to do some overdue, essential weeding. This afternoon, I gave in to curiosity, unrolled the T shirt and emptied out the flattened plants. Their prints have come out really cleanly, this will be a great gardening T shirt, totally cheered me up.

I was looking up my old posts on onion dyeing for a friend earlier this week, which reminded me that painting iron solution onto freshly plant dyed, slightly damp cotton causes a colour change which lasts when the fabric has dried, even after washing and wearing repeatedly. This T shirt was at just the right stage of dampness for a little impromptu art. I put a plastic layer inside the shirt to stop the iron painting soaking through to the front and expressed myself on the back with a paint brush.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Coreopsis Tinctoria Dye, Modifying pH, Adding Iron and Copper

I first grew Coreopsis tinctoria plants and started dyeing with them in 2013 and I've been saving seed to grow them again every year since. I'm sure that when I started, the flowers were mostly yellow with deep red centres, just a few plants having petals entirely dark red. I tended to ear mark those to save seeds from, after discovering in 2014 that their dye seemed deeper. 
This summer's flowers appear to have larger red centres, with more raggedy edges and some have tiger spotting or little extra petals twisting out of their centres. I think these changes look rather fabulous and guess the plants have hybridised somehow. Botany is not my subject. There can be no reason to think their dye properties might have changed, though I have been half tempted to blame the flowers for some recent unplanned results.
Coreopsis tinctoria is a lovely annual dye plant. Buds bulge and burst open so profusely, it is hard to pick often enough to keep the plants from going to seed. Simmer an equal weight of fresh flowers with mordanted wool, silk or cotton to get orange/bronze colours. Fill a solar jar with flowers and mordanted wool and it will only take a few weeks warmth for the dye to be taken up.

Rediscovering a jar of coreopsis and merino which had been brewing rather longer, in fact, forgotten since last summer, I emptied it out onto the lawn.
"Ych y fi! Has the dog been sick?" My companion, Elinor Gotland, gave the contents of the jar a wide berth. Though the flowers had disintegrated, they hadn't gone smelly and the merino was absolutely fine after a couple of rinses.
Spinning along with the DIY and Dye team on Ravelry for this year's Tour de Fleece I thought dyeing my Beulah yarn a glorious orange like this would be a splendid result to show off. Hoping to impress, I used twice the weight of flowers to wool and knowing coreopsis dye is pH sensitive, I added enough dissolved soda ash to make the dye bath alkaline, about pH 8. 
"That yarn looks less of an orange, more of a raspberry and you look like you've been sucking a lemon, Beaut." 
"I must have overdone it with the alkali. "
"I'd say sour beats sweet with coreopsis dye." Elinor strolled blithely past the heaps of wool, leaving me sighing bitterly and soaking a length of the yarn in vinegar. It had little effect. 

Might as well pursue my original plan to modify one skein with a brief heating in iron solution - top of photo, and another in copper - middle of photo. I tested a pinch of the merino at the same time. None of the modified versions are a patch on the classic orange - bottom right.
Ah well, I thought, at least I have been spinning a steady ten rolags of Beulah wool every night and the coreopsis will have more flowers tomorrow. Simmering another two skeins in a new bath - AAAGGH .... NO - the result was worse still - greenish brown?? (see right of photo) Presumably I didn't scrub the pot well enough and it still had traces of iron in it. Enough to spoil the orange, at any rate. The pink skein in the photo had been dyed with birch bark and while I was modifying that to purple in a copper solution - far left of photo, I modified the second greenish coreopsis skein, turning it chestnut brown. What no fruity or nutty remarks? Where had Elinor got to? 
We didn't meet again til the evening. Coming in with my watering can, I found her sunning herself in the greenhouse.
"I noticed you'd taken another fall in your Tour de Fleece, Beaut, still, no bones broken are there? I've put some of the Beulah locks in this jar, mixed up with the latest coreopsis flowers. You can spin them another time. Come on, pick yourself up, pedal that wheel, get back on your bike. It's a rather fine view from arriere du peloton."
"Thanks, Elinor, you're a pal."
"Hmmm. Press on with the next stage and you might even win the beige jersey."

Friday, 7 July 2017

Dyeing Wool and Silk with Dyer's Chamomile Flowers

Several days of great heat in late June covered the Dyer's Chamomile plants in flowers and bared the bones of my companion, Elinor Gotland. Looking very chic with her fleece freshly shorn, that ewe lay out baking herself in the dye garden. I marvelled at her from the lurking spot where I perspired in the shade.
"You should keep your fleece like that. It's very slimming."
"I'd catch a chill, Beaut, soon as the wind blew. I have such a delicate constitution."
"Delicate? It's 30 degrees today - don't know how you can bear this heat. I can't remember when we last had weather like this in Wales." 

Dyer's Chamomile Anthemis tinctoria is said to thrive in poor soil with sharp drainage. I thought my plants did well enough in our cool, damp climate til I saw how they burst into action with some sunshine. That evening, the picked flowers weighed over 100g and while the heat lasted, I could gather as much again every two days. Three consecutive harvests were simmered for an hour, then left in the pot and reheated for another hour with a 50g skein of millspun merino yarn that had previously been mordanted with 10% alum. The wool was allowed to soak in the pot overnight, then a silk scarf, also mordanted with alum, was rolled up round other bits of fresh plants from the dye garden, tied up with string and simmered in the afterbath.

Wool and Silk dyed with Dyer's Chamomile Flowers
The colour from the first dye bath came out a beautiful sunshine yellow on both wool and silk.

Wool and Silk dyed with Dyer's Chamomile Flowers and Iron

The second bath had a splash of dissolved iron added, which sadden the dye to green. The red patterns on the silk were printed from fresh madder root.

Wool and Silk dyed with Dyer's Chamomile and Copper

The third dye pot had copper solution added to it. This made the wool turn a warm green, while the silk heated in the afterbath turned an old gold colour. That may have been affected by some orange seeping out from all the sprigs of coreopsis rolled inside the silk bundle, but it is such a gorgeous colour I shall be trying the same recipe again.

You can tell by the big pictures how pleased I am with these Dyer's Chamomile results. Amazing what a difference a bit of sunshine makes. Of course, the weather has been cloudy and cool since then and my companion has been shivering ostentatiously and clutching an old shawl about her shoulders.
"OK Elinor. You can choose yourself a silk scarf. Not the green one, though. Himself wants that."
"That man, wearing silk? Me oh my, Monty Don eat your heart out."

Hope we get some more sunshine in July.