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?


Friday, 6 July 2018

Contact Dye Prints from Eucalyptus Leaves

Last April, I happened to see some bunches of eucalyptus on sale outside a florist shop. The owner explained that these were last stocks she expected to have until August, as the eucalyptus supply for the UK is grown in Madeira and Italy, where they leave the trees to grow new foliage for a few months after Easter. I bought one bunch of parvifolia, which is narrow leaved and another with pairs of rounded leaves, called cinerea.
I've read Australian bloggers describing hundreds of types of eucalyptus with widely differing dye potential, so I knew it would be a stab in the dark to have a go at dyeing with random species grown in the Northern Hemisphere. It does seem true that trees grown in the UK don't get enough sun to develop orange dye, as I only had green prints from a local eucalyptus. 


I finally got round to making contact dye bundles at the beginning of June, when a few weld plants had shot up flower spikes that wanted harvesting. None of the other garden dye plants were flowering, so I soaked some of the dried eucalyptus in hot water, to make the brittle leaves and stalks flexible, before laying them out on some fine wool fabric together with the weld spikes.
Some of the weld was was dipped in iron solution and some in copper. The fabric was laid out on a strip of greaseproof paper to stop dye going through the layers and another layer of alum mordanted wool was laid on top, sandwiching the plants. All the layers were rolled around a section of plastic drainpipe and bound with string before simmering for an hour or so in a dye bath of dried coreopsis. 
I left the bundle to soak overnight and dry out for a couple of days before unrolling, when I was astonished to see how well the two kinds of eucalyptus had printed on both the fabric above and the fabric below them. Once the two wool scarves had dried for a week and had a wash and iron, the eucalyptus prints still looked deep orange.



My companion, Elinor Gotland, trailed a dismissive hoof over the fabric.
"Why on earth aren't you using silk, Beaut? Strapped for cash this month?"
"Actually, Elinor, this fine wool gauze cost more per metre than Habotai. Anyway, I hardly have any left of the silk scarves that Mum hemmed for me."
"Well, her hard work is doing no-one any good sitting in a drawer. Get some silk out and use eucalyptus on it, can't go wrong with prints like these."
Privately, I had misgivings. I haven't used eucalyptus much, but past results on alum mordanted silk have been less spectacular. Following online discussions, I've noticed people often talk about adding rusty nails, spraying vinegar onto ecobundles and steaming them for several hours. I've found rust makes very black marks, almost burning holes in silk. Steaming isn't going to reach as high a temperature as boiling, maybe that stops the rust from being so savage. I may have a proper go at it eventually.


For the moment, I decided to try soaking some of the dried eucalyptus leaves for half an hour in plain hot water, some in hot water with vinegar and some in hot water with both vinegar and iron solution added, just to see if one might make better prints. This silk was folded in half lengthwise over the leaves together with some Dyers Chamomile flowers.
Of course, once I unwrapped it, I had no idea which leaves had been soaked in which jar. The prints were much paler than on wool and I reckon the darker, browner ones must have been soaked with iron, though there isn't a marked difference to show which had vinegar and which did not.
In the meantime, I had used the same three soaks for leaves rolled in a cotton shirt, mordanted with aluminium acetate. The prints they made are much dimmer than those on wool and far less dramatic than the colours from weld dipped in iron, coreopsis flowers or madder roots.
Again, I'd guess the darker eucalyptus prints with lots of little grey dots had had an iron soak. Hoping to get a clear idea of what was really happening, I made another roll with two wool scarves. This time, at the top end of the scarf sandwich, shown centrally in the photo, I put three cinerea leaves from a hot water soak, then three from hot water and vinegar, then three from hot water, vinegar and iron. After that, a circle of parvifolia leaves, with hot water from 12 o' clock to 4 o' clock, vinegar from 4 o' clock to 8 o'clock and vinegar with iron from 8 o'clock up to 12 o'clock. This roll was simmered in an afterbath of weld leaves with iron, to colour the borders.




I am not convinced that adding vinegar made any difference to the prints from either of these two types of eucalyptus leaf, whether on wool, silk or cotton. Adding iron made the paler prints on silk and cotton stand out more at the expense of saddening the colour, while on wool, any effect of iron appears marginal.
 "I still have plenty of dried eucalyptus leaves left and I think I'll save them for printing on wool, whatever you say, Elinor."
My companion judged the dye results by her own criteria and took command of the situation.
"I shall take care of this silk, since you don't appreciate it. It's what your mother would have wanted."