My dye pot has been simmering away on my deck. Winter, when my garden is asleep, is a wonderful time for bark dyeing. Last summer a friend gave me some apple bark peeled from pruned branches and I put it to soak in a back corner of my deck. And forgot it… Months later I rediscovered the fermenting bark (oh dear!), boiled it for hours with the top off to get rid of the smell and then put in the fibre (pre-modanted with alum). It was gorgeous – in sunlight the mohair roving shines like burnished gold.
The beautiful arbutus tree (Arbutus menziesii) is one of the distinctive features of the Sunshine Coast. Sadly a number are dying to diseases but many still remain.
The reddish-brown bark naturally peels away in thin strips and these litter the ground beneath the tree where they can be easily gathered by dyers.
I put some gathered bark in a pot, poured hot water over it and let it sit for 2 weeks before adding the water and bark to the dye pot. I allowed the bark to come to a boil and then let it simmer for 7 or 8 hours. I added the fabric and fibre (pre-mordanted with alum) when the dye bath had somewhat cooled and allowed them to soak overnight. The next day I heated the bath to just below simmering for several hours and let the fibre and fabric sit in the bath for the next day. More beautiful earth colours.
Next, I raided the treasures in my freezer – bags of frozen flowers from last summer’s garden. I made a dye bath with some coreopsis flowers that were so generous with their colour that I did four batches all together. It was very interesting – the wool came out of the dye bath a golden colour and as I rinsed it turned orange. In ‘Craft of the Dyer’, Karen Casselman reports getting gold from coreopsis and sited a couple of examples of dyers getting orange. I got a beautiful range of shades as I exhausted the bath. The wool in the bottom of the basket is from cherry twigs. What incredibly beautiful colours come from plants!
Despised by many as pesky weeds, dandelions have long been appreciated by herbalists for their healing properties. I look forward to the first fresh dandelion leaves as an early spring green and love their bright yellow flowers in spring.
I gathered dandelions from the roadside and ditches (my own small patch of ‘lawn’ grows only moss!), simmered them gently for a couple of hours and then added the fibre when the bath had cooled. I held the bath below simmer for 2 hours. It dyed a beautiful soft golden yellow.
Karen Casselman says that to obtain a bright clear yellow (rather than a golden yellow) from fresh yellow flowers, they should be processed less than 45 minutes from the time the flowers and fibre go in to the time they come out, and the temperature should be kept under 190F. I followed this for a fresh batch of dandelion flowers. At the end of 45 minutes the colour was clear yellow but paler than I wanted so I let them stay in the bath for 15 minutes more and then removed the flowers and let the fibre stay in the hot coloured water for 2 hours. This resulted in a beautiful bright clear yellow. You can see the difference in colour between the first bath on the left and the second on the right.