Friday, 19 September 2014

Dyeing with Yellow Cosmos Flowers

Cosmos sulphureus, better known as yellow cosmos, is just as easy to germinate as all the common pink and white kinds and just as happy flowering away for months with little attention. Unlike other cosmos, it is a great dye plant.  This year, my seeds came from the plant's homeland of America, sent in the post by another dyer, so I knew these cosmos had to be the right kind.

The flowers only last a few days, but being picked often, they have been plentiful.  The petals dry out quickly for storing.  This pot has a mix of the fresh and the saved blossoms from a week or two harvesting five plants. Like many other flower dyes, the colour floods out when they are simmered for just half an hour. Polwarth fleece, mordanted with 10% alum, always takes a dye well.  I gave it a simmer and an overnight soak in the dye bath and got a fresh, clear orange.
After hand spinning, the yarn was washed in Fairy Liquid. This is supposed to be a pH neutral dish washing up liquid, but I guess the dyed fleece must have been a little acidic. The more alkali added to the soaking phase, the more rosy the cosmos colour becomes, until it is almost a sunset pink. Still, alkali is not good for wool's texture or durability, which limits how much I'd use it.
Using a ratio of more than one to one fresh weight of flowers to wool improved the depth of colour.   Another dye bath with a Down type fleece came up stronger but duller, I think the surface of the wool fibres is structured differently to Polwarth. Adding more fleece to the spent bath for another simmer gave a nice creamy gold.
On Spinning Camp a couple of weeks ago, I saw a demonstration of how to spin from silk hankies. Intrigued, I bought a pack from Wild Fibres and cold mordanted them for 24 hours in water with 10g dissolved alum.  Silk hankies take ages to soak through, the thicker edges really resist wetting. In future, I'll give them a whole day in plain water first.  These were simmered with about 4:1 ratio of flowers.
This summer's experiments contact dyeing with hardy geranium leaves have been so rewarding that the afterbath was always destined to be tried as another background variation.  As described in earlier posts, leaves were scattered on wet, mordanted habotai silk, this time adding cosmos flowers, black hollyhock 
and red geranium petals, rolled round a section of drainpipe and tied up with string soaked in iron water. After a couple of hours' simmer, the silk on the outside looked a lovely dull olive green.  Leaving the roll to dry out, I dyed some more Down type fleece and put a few orange silk hankies back in to get their colour modified by the iron.  All more brown than green when dry, but once the silk had had a wash and an iron, the brown-olive cosmos dyed edges did compliment the contact dye.

The contact prints of the cosmos flowers are just orange smudges, this time, the black hollyhock petal marks are more blue than purple. The coreopsis flowers made their usual sharp prints, but shifted toward bronze, compared to the buds I printed last month. Bless the hardy geranium leaves - less colour now, but still making leaf patterning.
Here are the silk hankies.  Parts that never did soak through with mordant or dye have stayed white.  The one in front was soaked in dissolved soda ash for 20 minutes, which brought the colour up brighter and rosier. the one on the right went brown with the iron modified afterbath.  The layers will still peel apart, but it takes time to tease them out.  Preparing enough silk to spin a bobbin full would take time.
"Studying the Cosmos, is it, Beaut?"  Elinor Gotland tweaked the end of my first attempt to draft out a silk hanky for spinning. "This would be string theory, would it?"
"Any more remarks like that and you'll be experiencing a Big Bang."
"Be a love and stick the kettle on."  Now I looked, Elinor did seem a bit peaky.  She winced as the sun brought out an orange glow in the cosmos flowers.
"Cosmic rays bothering you?  Better have a drop of gin in that tea."
"Spot on.  Gravity feels very strong today.  I blame the dark matter."

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