Some years ago I needle felted a family of mushrooms and put them in our Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild’s Christmas sale. They sold, and while I felt happy that they went out into the world, I was also a bit sad to see them go.
A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine was in the Thrift store and saw a family of needle felted mushrooms in the display case. She took a closer look and saw my Ruby Slippers Creations card. She sweetly bought them for me and presented them to me at our Guild meeting. I was delighted!
This is very magical. Where have the mushrooms been all these years and what have they seen? So far they've been very tight lipped.
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.
When I was dyeing with Japanese indigo last summer I pre-mordanted one roving and some silk with alum so that I could experiment with over dyeing. I decided to raid the stash of frozen flowers I have stuffed in my freezer and use them to over dye the blue wool and silk and also some wool and silk which were a nondescript beige (I've forgotten what they were dyed with).
When I opened a bag of frozen French marigolds - oh my! - the scent of a summer garden. The green fibre and fabric is the over dyed Japanese indigo, the old gold is the over dyed beige and the yellow (actually brighter than shown) is white wool fabric.
My nature is such that I usually make small ‘useless’ things such as treasure holders, little bags, magic wand holders and small books. So it was an undertaking for me to make something large and useful. This ruana is knitted with Gaywool-dyed handspun and mohair as well as miscellaneous novelty yarns. It was simple to knit – two large rectangles, one longer than the other.
The runana is based on a pattern by Cheryl Oberle in Handpaint Country. After I’d knitted it I laid it out in preparation for sewing it together as was described in the pattern – the shorter rectangular piece sewn to the edge of one of the ends of the longer rectangular piece to make an L shape. When I looked at it I realized that most of my back would be uncovered and I’d have quantities of stuff at the front. Hmmm… This type of surprise is common in my creative life – oh dear, I didn’t expect it would turn out that way! It’s a good thing I never had my heart set on being an engineer…
I ended up sewing the longer and shorter rectangles together along their long edges, leaving about half unsewn so I could wrap the ends around my shoulders. Here is the front.
Even though my garden is sleeping my dye pot is still busy. For years, a group of alder trees has been leaning precariously over our community mailboxes. Last month they were cut down. My neighbours probably thought – oh good, now they won’t fall on our mailboxes. I thought – oh good, alder bark for my dye pot!
The inside of fresh alder bark (Alnus sp.) is bright orange in colour. You can see the intense orange on the very outer ring of bark on this stump and the orange colour of the rest of the wood.
After soaking the bark in water for several days I cooked it up for most of a day. In ‘Craft of the Dyer’, Karen Casselman says that allowing tannin containing dyeplants (such as alder bark) to boil can result in dull, dark browns rather than rich brown shades. She therefore advises keeping the temperature below 190F (88C) to avoid extracting an excessive amount of tannins. For the first dyebath I was careful to keep the temperature at 190F or below.
The large batt of wool on the upper left in the basket is the result of that first bath. I left the bark in the dye pot and let the pot sit overnight. The next day I cooked it up again for several hours and the result is the large batt of wool in the middle top of the basket. Wanting more colour I then boiled the bath for a day and let it sit overnight. The next day I put in a bit more wool (the small bit of wool at the top between the two batts), silk hankies, silk fabric and cotton. The silk and wool took the colour beautifully but the cotton was much paler.
When looking through my treasures I realized I’d accumulated a number of bits and pieces of eco-dyed wool fabric. So I decided to make a tabard-type tunic out of them. I’m not a sewer but just the same I want to make more of my own clothes with materials that I’ve naturally dyed. Here’s the front of the tunic.
Here’s the back.
And here’s the lining which is merino jersey dyed with henna. Such a lovely colour it’s a shame it’s hidden away!
The Japanese indigo stalks that haven’t been cut are covered with beautiful pink and white flowers. I’m hoping they’ll set seed for next year but it’s hard to say as my garden is bordered on the south by the forest and only the tips of the plants get several hours of sun on sunny days (and we have lots of rainy and overcast ones these days!)
The first dyeing I did used the thiourea dioxide/Spectralite method as outlined in Rebecca Burgess's book ‘Harvesting Color’. I decided to try the vinegar method. Different recipes list different proportions of ingredients and most use 25% or 10% acetic acid/white vinegar. I just have 5% white vinegar and the approximate recipe I used was:
200 gm leaves
100 gm fibre (though I was able to add more)
3 litres water
90 ml 5% white vinegar (30 ml/litre water)
I soaked my fibre overnight and the next morning picked stalks of the indigo and removed and weighed the leaves.
I cut the leaves into small pieces, put them in a pail and covered them with the water into which I’d mixed the vinegar.
I used a handheld blender to chop the leaves. After several minutes the water became bright green and I strained it through a strainer which I’d lined with a piece of silk chiffon. (I wanted to keep any pulp out of the dye bath and later put the silk into the dye bath to dye it). I covered the same leaves with water that had been mixed with 30 ml 5% acetic acid/litre water and blended once again. This was strained into the dye bath as before and the leaves squeezed out through the strainer. I put the leaves on the compost pile but I’ve read that they can be used to dye a pinky-beige. The liquid in the dye bath was a beautiful bright green.
I then added the fibre to the dye bath. I dyed a couple of rovings first to get the strongest colour. After soaking for an hour I removed them, being careful not to add any oxygen to the bath with dripping, added the rest of the fibre and left it to soak for an hour. As there was still some colour left in the bath I later added more fibre.
Taking the fibre out of the dye bath is magical! It turns from green to turquoise blue as you watch. This vinegar method produces a different colour than the thiourea method which gives blues similar to those given by the Indian indigo vat. Living as we do by the ocean, my fellow dyers and I call this lovely colour seafoam blue.
I have an Indian indigo vat which I plan to keep for cellulose fibres which dye very well in it but not so well with the Japanese indigo. However, I prefer the Japanese indigo for dyeing rovings as it’s gentler.
Summer is such a busy time of year for me with dyeing and caring for my large garden. Almost every day I have at least one dyepot or steamer on the hotplate on my deck. Bundles are ongoing.
On the left is a bundle with geraniums (which give the pink colour which may or may not wash out), pansies, yellow marigolds and osteospermum. On the right is Herb Robert. Top middle is pink hollyhocks; left middle Echinacea; long middle bundle is purple hollyhocks. The hard part is leaving them for several days before I open them! Then I let them sit for several weeks before I wash them.
I’ve been investigating the mysteries of Rudbeckia. I started off with some Cherry Brandy Rudbeckia.
The dyebath was a bright burgundy red and the wool came out like this! (The increasingly pale colours are from exhausting the bath).
I noticed that as I exhausted the bath the colour wasn’t just becoming paler; it was also becoming less gray. I thought of my experience last summer when a friend gave me some flowers and I added vinegar to the dyebath. The wool came out flat grey. I wondered now whether the green component of the dye binds with the fibre in a bath of any pH and the red binds only in an acidic bath. If both components bind, as they would in an acidic bath, then the wool would be grey. I thought that I’d probably exhausted a good part of the green component so I added vinegar to make the bath acidic. And I was excited to get this pinky beige.
Next I dyed with yellow Rudbeckias or Black-eyed Susans.
The dyebath again was red but a darker more browny red than the Cherry Brandy. And this is what I got. The beige wool on the left and the pinkish silk next to it were the first day’s dyeing and the rest of the beige silk was the second day’s dyeing. I don’t know whether this was because the red component of the dye ran out or because the dyebath was older (I’ve sometimes found that with other plants).
This year I grew Japanese indigo for the first time. My plants, grown in garbage pails to help protect them from rampaging slugs, are humungous. Rather belatedly I read the instructions that I should have done a mid-summer picking to keep them down to size and let them branch out for subsequent dyeings.
I was excited to do my first dyeing with my own home-grown Japanese indigo. I followed the instructions using Spectralite (I have thiourea dioxide for my pre-reduced Indian indigo vat) that are outlined in Rebecca Burgess’s ‘Harvesting Color’ and Rita Buchanan’s ‘A Dyer’s Garden’. I was delighted with my beautiful blues (the paler ones look whitish in the photo).
And something very exciting today. A friend gave me a planter of madder (top) and one of Lady’s bedstraw, neither of which I’ve grown before. I’ll plant these in beds where they can spread. The roots of the bedstraw can be harvested in late fall of next year. In two years I’ll have a madder party and we can all dig, clean and dye with madder grown on the Sunshine Coast!
This time of year our gardens are filled with beautiful flowers. Blossoms can be layered with paper and steamed to make lovely greeting cards, tags, wrapping paper and gift baskets. There are a number of different ways to eco-print paper and this is a description of a steaming method I use.
A variety of papers can be used as long as they’re not too glossy or fragile. Also good are tags, business cards (separate first), paper gift baskets, coffee filters. Presoak your paper so it’s thoroughly soaked through.
A pot can be converted into a steamer by inserting a bamboo steamer or you can use an electric roasting oven. A board on top of the bamboo steamer is optional but it does help to keep the papers flat. Whatever you use should be just for eco-dyeing and not for food. It’s usually best to do the steaming outside (or a well-ventilated place inside) as the smell from some plants can be strong. Pour in water part way up the inserted steamer and then take the steamer or board (if you use one) out of the pot.
If you want, lay a piece of saran wrap on top of the board or steamer. Lay out plant material over an area that’s the size of your paper and then use a spray bottle to spritz it with water.
Lay down a piece of paper on top of the flowers.
Cover it with plant material and then spritz it. Lay another piece of paper on top, plant material on top of it, spritz and continue building until you have all you want.
Put your pile of paper and plant material into the steamer. If you wish put a piece of saran and a board on top. Put rocks on top to press the paper and plant material down.
Once your pot is producing steam, allow the papers to steam for around 2 hours. Check periodically to make sure that there’s still water in the bottom and add some if necessary. After 2 hours turn the steamer off (without opening the lid so the heat and steam don’t escape) and allow it to sit for at least 3 or 4 hours. If the paper’s not too fragile you can leave it overnight. Then remove the paper.
Gently take the plant material off the paper and then rinse the paper in water in the sink to remove any small bits. Sturdy paper can be rinsed carefully under the tap. Handle the paper gently as it’s very fragile while wet.
Lay the paper flat on an old towel to dry. When it’s dry you can iron it if wished. However, don't iron it if you plan on stitching it as ironing can make the paper more brittle.