Friday, 17 August 2018

Dyeing Wool and Silk with Deep Pink Hollyhocks

Last year, I planted half a dozen Double Maroon Hollyhocks and never saw a flower. It was a damp spring, the leaves succumbed to rust fungus and by June all the flower spikes had been completely destroyed. This year, expecting the worst and hoping for the best, I bought just a couple of young plants, put them out in a new location and watched with high anticipation as they flourished in the heat wave. Oh yes, soon I'd have the fun of dyeing this sequence of blues again. Only my lovely, healthy plants weren't Double Maroons after all. In July, the flowers opened to show deep pink rather than dark red petals. I was quite peeved and said as much to my companion, Elinor Gotland.

"Curse that garden centre and its staff of  gibbering bloody chimpanzees, more interested in servicing the tearoom than labelling their plant pots correctly. Now I'll have no blues again this year, just mouldy yellows and greens. A pox on those unbotanical idiots and their slapdash, carrot cake ways."
"Fair play, I'd torch the place, Beaut."

It's a great comfort to have a sympathetic friend. 
As the first pink hollyhock flowers passed their prime, I stuffed them into a jar of water with a length of alum mordanted tops. Might as well see what solar dyeing would do. The water turned an impressive purple, but I didn't get overly excited.

Reds and pinks are fickle flowers, promising much and giving little. Geraniums make a beautiful dye bath. Couldn't resist trying them again this year and as before, the bright red water in the jar soon faded to tea colour, leaving me with a bit of brown wool. The purple jar of hollyhocks had at least stayed colourful.
"Hey, Elinor, come and look at this. My hollyhock dyed wool has gone all stripey." 
After a few weeks in the sun, the colour in the jar of pink hollyhocks wasn't half as dull as I'd expected. I tipped out the flowers onto the compost heap and laid the tops out to dry.
"I've had splodgy, uneven colours out of solar jars before, but I've never seen anything dyed in stripes. Must have been visited by the fairies."
"It wasn't wool tops you put in there, muppet, that's wool with silk fibres blended in. If you ask me, it's the wool that dyed greeny yellow and the silk has gone pinkish. I'm not gonna lie, they both look crap."
I wasn't so sure.

By this time, a fair pile of flowers had fallen from the hollyhock plants. Heating them to hand hot in a pot of water made another purple pink dye bath. I've read about safflower dyes, where you have to go through a number of steps, dyeing wool to clear the yellow pigment, changing the dye bath pH and using cotton to pick up pink pigment before changing the pH again to release it into silk. Wondering if the wool had been a necessary adjunct to dyeing silk a hollyhock pink, I divided the dye bath into two pots and put a strip of silk fabric into each then added some mordanted fleece to the larger pot.

After gently heating them for an hour and leaving the pots overnight, I found the wool had come out a dingy beige together with pale purple silk, whereas the silk heated alone had taken up more dye and come out deeper purple. So the wool wasn't clearing any yellow colour, seems to me that the same dye simply comes out a different colour on silk.

I thought I'd play about with the pH anyway. Putting two samples of the dye bath into jars, I added vinegar to acidify one jar, which promptly turned brown/green, then used soda ash to alkalinise the other, which went deep pink. Soaking one end of the paler silk strip in each jar, after ten minutes, the ends had changed to green and deeper purple.

My companion came outdoors to find me getting busy with two paint brushes. 
"I'm using vinegar and soda ash to paint this silk with a green vine and purple flowers. Only it hasn't come off how I wanted."
"I've told you before, leave art to the artists. Stick to what you're good at and put the kettle on, Beaut."
Elinor has a thing about silk and from the speed she swathed herself in this lot, I suspect she rather liked the colours after all. One way or another, I don't think I'll get to keep these pink hollyhock dyes for long. So fragile and fugitive, I daren't rinse the silk, even ironing it seemed to dim the colours. Still, it's been altogether more interesting than I expected. 

Tea in the garden was considerably more artistic than my companion expected. I just bought a new tea set in Llandeilo. It's called 'Everyone looked up to Lisa' and it was made by Lindy Martin. I can't tell you how much I love it.
"One lump or two, then, Elinor?"

Friday, 10 August 2018

Attempts at Dyeing with Marigold Flowers

I used to grow pot marigolds as companion plants for tomatoes and I was sure that some years ago, I'd got a good orange dye colour from them. Only that was before I started keeping a blog, so I couldn't check. This spring, I sowed a couple of packets of marigold seeds.By June,the plants had big flowers with multiple layers of petals.

Here is a photo of one flower, laid on alum mordanted wool fabric in the middle of a circle of eucalyptus leaves. 

So many petals and such a bright orange, I thought these marigolds would easily be able to dye the thin layer of wool fabric underneath them. After rolling and tying up the fabric and simmering it for an hour, then leaving it to cure for a few days, I found the eucalyptus leaves had printed beautifully, but there were no marks at all on the wool to show where the marigolds had been. Still, hey ho, very few plants have a sufficiently intense dye concentration for contact printing. With my expectations downgraded and the sun blazing the whole way through July, it didn't seem too much to ask that a solar jar full of marigolds would dye a measly 10g of alum mordanted wool and silk fibre.

Not a lot of joy to be had from the jar by August, was there?.

Somewhat baffled, I thought it might help to have a proper look at the dye. No shortage of new flowers blooming and the sun still shining, so last week, I simmered a big basketful of marigolds in a pot of water. After sieving out the flowers, the remaining fluid looked, well, just like water - see the sample in the jar on the left? When I added some dissolved soda ash to the jar on the right, it turned bright yellow, convincing me there was actually dye in the dye bath. Big smile, I reckoned that all this time, my miserable results had been down to having the wrong pH for marigold dyeing. Haha - I put several teaspoons of soda ash into the pot and added a mere 10g of wool before simmering it in the alkaline dye for an hour. This time, the fibres turned a marginally deeper yellow than the wool from the solar jar. I'm disappointed. According to the book, marigolds should be able to dye their own weight of fibre a strong greenish yellow. Probably I've been growing the wrong species. No more casual picking up of seed packets with pretty pictures in the garden centre.  Next year, I shall be buying the old classic pot marigold, Calendula officinalis. Though the ones in the garden do look lovely.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Dyeing Wool with Hazel Bark and Hazel Leaves

Over twenty years ago, a corkscrew hazel (Corylus contorta) arrived in the post as a free gift with an order of seeds.  Though it has grown much bigger than expected and makes the whole area dry and shady, I value the drama it lends to the garden in winter, when straight yellow catkins hang down from the twisted branches like a Japanese woodcut. Once the leaves appear, I prefer not to look too closely, their warping and curling seems somehow diseased. I'd guess it must be a plant virus that causes the knotted growth of the main tree, because straight stems with normal hazel leaves have to be pruned off the bole every year to show the old, gnarly trunks. After himself had cleared the base of the tree this summer, I thought I would try dyeing some leftover wool skeins with hazel bark and leaves.

100g bark was peeled off cut branches and left soaking in a bucket of water for over a week, then simmered for an hour in a pot. As seems usual with bark, fermentation made the resulting orange dyebath acidic, testing at pH 5 with indicator paper. Adding soda ash to bring the pH up to neutral then alkaline deepened the colour almost to black. Three 25g skeins of unmordanted Shetland wool yarn were simmered for an hour with the bark and left overnight. One was taken out and soda ash was added to the pot before reheating the remaining skeins at neutral pH, then the secomd skein was taken out and the last was reheated with more soda ash added to give it an alkaline pH.

After curing for a few days, the three skeins were rinsed, dried and inspected.
"Creating beige again, Beaut?"
"Three shades of beige, Elinor. The pale one is from the acid dye bath, the middle one is from the neutral and the darker one was heated in the alkali bath."
"Only another 47 shades of beige and you might be onto something."
A whole bucket full of leaves soaked for ages before I got round to giving them a simmer. Even so, they all had to be sieved out through a colander before I could discern whether the dye bath had developed any colour at all. Just a tinge of yellow in the sample, more convincing once I had added soda ash to the dye in a couple of extra jam jars. Putting a good teaspoon of soda ash in the pot, I simmered three small skeins of wool yarn, previously mordanted with 10% alum. The larger skein came out to dry then I divided the dye bath into two, added copper solution to one half and iron to the other and heated the two smaller skeins for twenty minutes, one in each pot, before rinsing them.

 A lot of hazel leaves on a little wool dyed it an orangey beige, copper modification shifted the colour toward green. My companion leaped upon the iron modified skein.

"Woo-hoo, beat me on the bottom with The Garden magazine, at last, a shade of grey."
"Good job you enjoy seeing me suffer. This isn't a range of colours I'm on fire to dye again, next time the hazel needs pruning."
"Never mind, Beaut. You love an exercise in masochism." 
"I do not."
I might get into Sadism, though.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Types of Silk Fabric for Plant Dyeing/Ecobundles

I used to buy silk fabric from Whaleys of Bradford and my Mum would cut and hem it into silk scarves for me. Now I have inherited her sewing machine, but sadly, not her skills.

Last month, my companion, Elinor Gotland, decided I had better take up the challenge and unbox the beast.
"Seriously, Beaut, all this good silk is wasted sitting in a bag. Get that machine out, how hard can it be?"
Half an hour later and I was frowning over the manual again.
"What's up now?"
"The bobbin's run out and I need to learn how to refill it."
Elinor came over to look at the diagrams.
"Fair play, your Mum did all the practice exercises in the instruction book, see how neatly she's filed her sewing samples. Very organised, bet that's a big help to you now."
"No it is not, it just makes me feel even more inadequate. I can't work out how to make this clever machine do simple stuff on easy fabric, let alone hem silk scarves with the special roller foot."
"To be honest, Beaut, you have mangled that cotton." She stroked the waiting silk. "In this life, some of us have finesse, others are better suited to a hard hat and steel toe caps." 
 "You're right. This is awful. I shall give up dyeing silk scarves." I headed out to walk the dog, leaving Elinor aghast. That sheep has a passion for silk, she is my biggest customer, though she's never paid for a scarf yet.

I came home to find a nice cup of tea and a biscuit waiting for me.
"Have you thought of buying ready hemmed silk scarves, at all, Beaut?"
"Well, I've seen them advertised quite cheaply online, only, remember that time I bought 10 metres of bargain silk jersey noil and spent days trying to wash the horrible sericin smell out of it? It's too dodgy to buy silk without handling it first."
"What if I could recommend a really well reviewed online retailer?"
"Like who?"
"Dharma Trading."
"I've heard of them, but they're in the USA. How daft is it to pay shipping and duty buying silk from America, when really, silk comes from China?"
"Perhaps you'd prefer to buy yourself a camel and set off down the Silk Road?"

Resistance was useless. Elinor guided me on a virtual tour of the Dharma website, revelling in all the choices of blank silk scarf sizes and types.
"OMG, they've got silk charmeuse, absolute heaven."
"I don't know what charmeuse is, but I can see it costs twice as much as Habotai."
Elinor sniffed weakness and plunged in.
"You love Habotai, you know it's good, these hemmed scarves aren't expensive, be a devil, click the button, buy a dozen."
"Habotai is good quality silk, I'll grant you, but Dharma don't say if theirs is light, medium or heavy weight. The scarf sizes are given in inches, then suddenly they seem to have gone metric - who knows what 8mm means?" 
"Mum knows? Small problem there."
"Eight momme. It's an imperial measure. 8mm means that 100 yards of the silk fabric weighs 8 pounds. I like to have frocks made in 8mm silk, call it medium weight, no-one can see your knickers through it." 
"Alright, I'll get a few of those."
"You'll need several sizes."
I bought five of two sizes of Habotai scarves and inevitably, ended up with some more in crepe de chine, silk satin and even two in silk charmeuse. The whole lot cost me £160 and another £31 in duty, though it was no more trouble than buying within the UK. My package arrived within the week and the courier took the duty payment at the front door. Totting up the cost including postage, habotai cost about £8 per scarf and the silk satin and silk charmeuse scarves were nearer £15 each.

Pulling them out of their bags, the quality of the scarf fabrics felt lovely and the hemming was faultless. They all survived scouring in the washing machine 30 degree wool cycle and cold mordanting in 10% alum by weight, without ill effect. Just as the dye garden came into full bloom in the heat wave, the scarves were ready to dye. If you would like to know the details of my method of using fresh dye plants for contact printing, have a look at this blog from last summer. In brief, I laid one wet scarf on a strip of baking parchment, arranged plants such as coreopsis tinctoria, weld, Dyers Chamomile and madder roots on top of it, then laid another wet scarf on top, sandwiching the plants, before rolling all the layers round a section of plastic drainpipe.
After tying them up with string, the rolls were simmered for an hour or so, left to cool in the pot overnight and dried out for several days before unrolling. Then they had a few more days to cure, a rinse in the sink and a wash in the machine wool cycle with a pH neutral detergent and a hot steam iron.

It's jolly difficult to take a photo that really shows up the differences, but here is a shot of a crepe de chine scarf on the left that was sandwiched together with the habotai scarf on the right. Crepe de chine has a matte surface and a granular texture, whereas habotai is fine, smooth and shining. I prefer the feel of habotai, though I was delighted with how crisply the prints had come out on the crepe. In real life, it is easier to see that the fine detail of the same plants shows better on the crepe de chine.

Here are another matching pair of habotai above and silk satin below. I think both scarves have printed equally well, but now I have seen and felt the silk satin, I know why you would pay twice as much, the finished scarf just looks better. One surface has a furry lustre almost like moleskin, a greater weight and sheen than habotai, it is rich and soft to handle, rather than slippery. Apparently, this is down to the particular weaving technique that makes satin.

Finally, charmeuse on the left versus habotai on the right. Oh, the charmeuse. I read that it has a lightweight satin weave, but the stuff Dharma sells looks and feels heavier than their silk satin and seems even more luxurious to me. Plus I think it has taken the plant prints as well as the crepe de chine did.

Here are some more from the next batch, dyed in a bath of silver birch bark to colour the edges pink. Charmeuse at the top, crepe in the middle and habotai at the bottom.

"Pleased with your online shopping, are you, Beaut?"
"Very much so, thanks Elinor. You'd better pick your favourite scarf now, I'll be selling them all at The Big Cheese Festival in Caerphilly tomorrow."
"Maybe not. The hot weather is due to break tonight and we're forecast thunderstorms and downpours all weekend."
"Hey ho, maybe the visitors will take shelter in the Craft Marquee."

Friday, 20 July 2018

Queen Anne's Lace Flower Dye on Wool

Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota or Wild Carrot is one of those seasonal plants with white umbrellas of flowers that appear by the wayside in summer. I have often seen pictures on blogs posted by natural dyers and of course, read about dyeing with it in Jenny Dean' s book, Wild Colour. For years, I have been exasperating my companion by interrupting our walks to examine tall stems with the right sort of white flowers, only to find the large leaves of yet another Hogweed plant or the divided leaf lobes of Cow Parsley. Last year, I really thought I had discovered exactly the right flowers and leaves, only the stems they were attached to were smooth and mottled, rather than green and hairy.

"Don't pick that if you want to keep body and soul together, Beaut." My companion held me back with a firm hoof.
"Elinor, I know you're keen to get down to the beach, but I'll only be a minute."
"You are not carrying those plants around, they're Poison Hemlock. Or if you do, you can pass me the picnic basketPlato wrote about how philosophically Socrates drank the cup of hemlock that condemned him to death, but I'm just a hedonist looking forward to a flask of tea by the sea."
"This is really hemlock?"
"Don't take my word for it. Go ahead and pick some. It's all very noble, you and Socrates, ready to cast off the things of the flesh, dyeing to seek the truth of the eternal, but personally, I'm with Bertrand Russell."
"What's he got to do with anything?"
"To paraphrase, he said 'I would never dye for my beliefs, because I might be wrong'."
I was appalled.
"Bloody hell, an accidental hemlock dye bath could have been the end of me. I'm not ready to die for a yellow I could get from lots of other plants, I'll play it safe, this foraging isn't worth the risk."

As we walked on, our conversation turned to the pleasures of the flesh and their relative dangers.
"What's in the sandwiches, then, Beaut?"
"Cheese and cucumber or egg and cress."
"Fair play, sounds better than sex."
"I suppose a hundred years ago, women would have thought the sandwich option was much less risky."
"What, you think enjoying their egg and cress was preferable to the chance of becoming an unmarried mother and getting sent away or locked up in a lunatic asylum?"
"Always so dramatic. I just meant that in the past, sex carried the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. The appeal of cheese and cucumber sandwiches could only have been enhanced by the absence of contraception."
"There were other methods before the Pill. Women could have had sex and then eaten their sandwiches with reasonable peace of mind. Herbal contraceptives have been around for thousands of years."
"So have leeches, but doctors don't recommend them any more. I'd imagine you'd be safer taking hormones."
"Plants full of female hormones grow all over the world. In the old herbal remedy books, the real purpose of their decoctions was often hidden behind the label 'emmenagogue' which means something taken to bring on a period."
"If plants had actually prevented pregnancies, surely women wouldn't have just forgotten how to use them."
"Hmm, well, think men and think religion. Emmenagogues wouldn't have been the sort of thing monks grew in the abbey herb garden and dispensed to the locals on demand. If you were twenty years younger and lived a thousand years ago, you might have gone looking for Queen Anne's Lace for very different reasons. Its flowers and seeds are full of hormones. Even today, people try using them like a Morning After Pill."

Fascinating stuff. I ordered a packet of Daucus carota seeds online. They were small with tiny spines on them and rather than chew a teaspoonful, I sowed them in a seed tray. Last autumn, although most of the garden went neglected, I did clear out a border in the front garden, where an attempt to grow Hopi Blue Corn had failed to produce one worthwhile cob.
The tray of seedlings got scuffled into the bare earth and were forgotten until this summer, when despite the drought, maybe because of it, Queen Anne's Lace has done wonderfully well. That border has thrived with no special attention, though the 'wild meadow' vibe may not be to everyone's taste.
Having watched the plants develop, I now understand that the unopened buds are pink, the characteristic single deep pink floret in each white flowerhead is most apparent when they first open and slowly fades to white like the rest of the flower, before the structure closes up into a cage around the seeds. The feature that identifies this plant most reliably is the elaborate collar of green spikes under each flower.

And now, the dye. I simmered 150g of flowerheads in water for an hour and left them overnight. Next day, indicator paper showed the dyebath was naturally acidic at pH 5. The colour of a sample of the dye in a jar looked wishy washy, deepening to yellow with the addition of enough soda ash to bring it up to pH 7 and to gold at pH 9.
Adding a teaspoon of soda ash to the main dye bath, I simmered three 10g lengths of merino and silk blend wool tops, mordanted with alum. The resulting yellow is shown at the top of the next picture. One length of the tops was modified by heating with iron solution (left) and another was modified with copper (right), neither radically shifted the original colour.

"Think your Queen Anne's Lace dye was worth it then, Beaut?"
"It's just yellow."
"Not better than a sensually rewarding spot of physical intimacy?"
"Possibly not. I think I enjoy the plant and its history and significance more than the dye colour. I'll be collecting seeds next month and I'm going to keep them in this dish."
"Ooo-er, fnah fnah, take my advice and stick to sandwiches."
"Bog off, Elinor. I'm going to sow more Queen Anne's Lace for next year."

Friday, 13 July 2018

Mordants in Solar Jars

"Are you just stuffing plain, dry Merino into those jars of flowers?"
"It'll be alright Elinor, calm down, I've done solar dyeing this way before."
"What, with no scouring and soaking and mordanting, you expect that wool to take up dye properly? You're off your trolley, Beaut." My companion turned away, settled her specs lower down her nose and resumed waving her hoof in time to unheard music.

"I put some dissolved alum in with the water in the jar, so the sun mordants the wool at the same time as releasing dye from the flowers. Great short cut, quick and easy, especially with all this hot weather." I waited for some appreciation of my cleverness, but Elinor was now absorbed in her own work. I pottered over. "What's that you're reading?"
Elinor pressed her lips together and shook her head.
"Stop distracting me, it's only a few weeks til the performance. Were you not listening when I told you I'd be singing a solo for the Tabernacl Choir? I'm learning the score with the Musical Director breathing down my neck. He's such a perfectionist."
"I know, he gives the tenors a really hard time. I'm a bit nervous myself, Ethel Smyth's Mass in D is a big challenge for all of us."
"Oh, you've got nothing to worry about, hidden up the back of the alto section, copying Gwyneth's every note. You relax, go back to your jars and waste good wool for lack of preparation, I shall be totally exposed to the public eye and ear doing my solo and I do not intend to be second rate. Unlike some." At which, she returned to her humming and hoof waving, frowning diabolically at any interruption, even when I just raised my eyebrows and mimed drinking a cup of tea. Stung by my companion's remarks, I wanted evidence to prove that taking short cuts wasn't spoiling my solar dyeing.

I scoured, soaked and mordanted two 10g portions of blended merino and silk tops with 10% alum and put them into two jars, one with a rusty nail to add iron, and filled the jars with water. Then I tore off two more 10g strips of the same tops, giving them no mordant or soak at all before putting them into another two jars, this time with 1g of dissolved alum added to the water as well as a rusty nail in one jar. Finally, twenty Dyers Chamomile flowers were put into each jar and all of them stood together on the shelf in the greenhouse. The dry tops floated up to the top of their jars, but I reckoned they should soon absorb some fluid and sink down.

The sun shone in the greatest heatwave Wales has experienced in decades. Two days later, the unprepared tops were still floating and athough the fluid in their jars was more yellow, it already looked as though the solar dyeing was working better on the premordanted fibres. My companion was still busy trilling away at her solo and I thought maybe I'd go and practice the fiddly bits of the fugue in the Credo.

Five days in and the situation looked even worse for the short cut jars, where the wool still floated pale above an even more yellow fluid. Time I learned all those Amens in the Gloria. After a week, the unprepared fibres at last seemed to be taking up some colour and I had hopes that the all in one mordant and dye jars would work fine in the long run. No harm in giving all the jars a good shake, just to mix things up.

Two solid weeks of hot sunshine and temperatures up to 27 degrees Centigrade are almost unheard of in Wales.
"Come out of that greenhouse, Beaut. You'll boil yourself alive." I started guiltily and stood in front of the jars as my companion sauntered in. "More solar dyeing is it? Something I ought to see, perhaps?" 
No getting away with this, I had to explain the experiment.
"Looks like the mordant in the water is holding the dye in your short cut jars."
"I think the wool in them looks just as yellow as the premordanted wool now though, Elinor."
"Really? Shall we have a look?"
Before I could protest, the jars had all been emptied out onto the lawn.

"Well, the wool has all gone yellow, Elinor."
"Mmm, but not equally yellow. The short cut jars have not worked as well, the dye is second rate. And your rusty nails haven't modified the colour much."
"Maybe they didn't have long enough to dissolve iron into the water. The wool went really green with rusty nails in those jars of Dyers Chamomile that got left for months. It might have helped if these jars had been left a bit longer."
"Best you tidy this lot up. I must dash. Mustn't keep the orchestra waiting." My companion headed off to another rehearsal, calling over her shoulder, "Don't leave those nails on the grass, they'll bugger up the lawn mower."

I have to conclude that all in one mordant and dye solar jars don't work as fast as ones with premordanted fibres. Unless I intend to wait for months to get this much solar heating into a jar in an average Welsh summer, the short cut method isn't really a short cut at all. Possibly, the results would be second rate how ever long I waited. Now they are dry, I can see that the silk fibres have dyed more strongly in the short cut jars, making a deeper contrast with the pale yellow wool and a good airing has promoted the saddening effect of iron from the rusty nails.

If the results aren't quite what I had hoped, at least in the meantime I've prepared thoroughly for the choir's big event this Sunday. I'm intrigued to know exactly what Elinor will be singing. There's Always the Sun?