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.

8 comments:

  1. That is a very attractive grey...combined with the soft orange....

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    1. I think the leaf colours will look good together in a helix hat and I daresay the beige will make a background to enhance something more vivid - there's always a use for odds and ends eventually :)

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  2. Corkscrew hazel - Corylus avellana 'Contorta' - is usually sold as a grafted plant. Any shoots that arise from below the graft will be the species and not the contorted cultivar.

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    1. Thanks very much. Should I have planted it deeper? I remember it arrived as a twiglet in a plastic bag, my memory isn't good enough to recall whether there was clear evidence of a graft. I know it thrived in a pot in London for some years and moved to Wales with us.

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  3. that's why I stopped trying anything and everything in dyeing - there's only so much beige and "champagne" you want:) but I still find surprises here and there, so I do test small sample skeins sometimes.... once a dyer always a dyer?:) and if you can't stand beige anymore, you can always overdye with madder to make lovely soft reddish browns and brick tones...

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    1. Good idea. The Shetland dk isn't nice enough to deserve my precious madder stash, but it may not surprise you to hear I have other beige yarns ...

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  4. I don't care what she says, I love these caramel colours! And the grey is perfect too, would go nice with the birch pinks.

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