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.