Friday, 20 January 2017

Dyes from Red Onion Skins on Wool, Cotton and Silk

Though their own visible colour is a rather gorgeous purple, red onion skins are generally reported to give dull results when used for dyeing. None too thrilled by the dye results pictured out there on the internet, I've stuck to dyeing with the brown type of onion skins. However, having written an onion dye project for January in the Plant Dyes for All Seasons 2017 Calendar, I thought it was high time I checked the red skins out myself. With a mere 14g saved up in a paper bag, a small trial was all I planned. I made up a 10g skein of laceweight merino, cut a square of cotton from one of himself's old shirts, salvaged a little offcut of jersey silk and put them in a bowl of water to soak while I simmered the red skins for an hour in one of my casserole pots.  

The following day, I sieved out the skins. Though the dye bath looked an alluring deep red, I wasn't fooled. Dye baths that look red are sneaky buggers, I've never had red wool come out of anything but madder root dye, though I have had yellow, green and even blue from the wine red baths you get from simmering hollyhock flowers. My unmordanted samples were simmered for an hour and left in the dyebath overnight. Sure enough, no red to see next morning - here is what the results looked like.

The merino wool was an unremarkable brown, but the strip of jersey silk had taken on a rather lush shade of purple brown and how on earth did that cotton come out green, which is brighter in real life than my camera shows? I tried dyeing a number of small pieces of this cotton in the afterbath and they came out in a series of pale green to deeper green, depending on how long they had been simmered for. One more very successful rummage in a practically empty tray of red onions at the supermarket got me a massive 48g of red onion skins, enough for a proper dye project in my large dye pot. The thrill of this adventure dissipated as I pulled a lovely 50g of expensive silk jersey out of the simmering dye bath by degrees, revealing a gradient of plain brown, a colour much like the wool skeins. 

Later, a nice white cotton T shirt simmered in the afterbath just turned beige. I was sure it wasn't because of overheating the dyebath - my usual conclusion when I get an unexpectedly dull result. I had been scrupulous about monitoring the temperature for an exact hour of simmering. Where had that purple hue on the silk gone, why wasn't the T shirt green? Wondering if the green effect had something to do with the type of cotton, I guessed the previous cotton might have been mercerised.

Making a little test bath with a further 10g of red onion skins in a kitchen saucepan, I dyed small skeins of organic cotton yarn, mercerised cotton crochet thread, a strip of cotton T Shirt, a snippet of calico and another piece of the cotton shirt I had cut the original samples from. All of them came out red-brown, except the cotton shirt sample, which came out of the strong dyebath khaki green.

Well, this suggested the green did have something to do with that specific cotton shirt, but I don't know what. After my salutory experience with brown onions skins, which seem to dye best when boiled, I boiled up this red onion afterbath for a good long while with tiny skeins of laceweight merino wool yarn, bits of alum mordanted silk and short lengths of cotton yarn. Actually, I forgot I had left the gas on and damn nearly boiled the saucepan dry.

Boiling cleared the colour from the dye bath and put deep colour into the wool and pale colour into the silk, while the cotton came out with hardly any dye at all. Once again, not what I expected. I thought that silk took up dye best and would have been most strongly coloured and I can only suppose the wool sucked dye back out of the cotton.

Attempting to get some clarity through a standard set of experiments, I got my proper dye pans out to reheat these samples with alkali, which deepened the brown wool and turned the pinkish silk a shiny khaki, then iron and copper solutions, which darkened the colour, copper more so than iron. In the picture, the bottom skein is the unmodified original.

Scrubbing out my dye pots afterwards, I thought how stained they had got over the years. Then light dawned - that disappointing brown jersey silk colour had been simmered in a dye pot quite probably contaminated with residual iron from a previous dye session. Once I had collected another 80g red onion skins, I simmered them in a big cooking pot that has never been used for dyeing, as I am satisfied that onions are definitely food safe. 

Dyeing another piece of jersey silk, as I pulled out a little more from the simmering dye bath at frequent intervals, a gradient appeared that initially looked pink, deepening to red, with no sign of purple. As it cured over a few days, the colour on the silk shifted toward brown. Because it was a richer red shade than the first brown silk, shown on the right of this photo, I think that pot probably did have a bit of iron left in it. 

Dyeing a cotton shirt in the afterbath of the clean red onion skin pot, I got a khaki result, rather than the greens I had first time round.
Where did that purple and green go? Maybe the first small trial batch of onion skins came from a different kind of red onion. No way I can find out, the supermarket price tags always say simply 'Red Onions'. At any rate, onion skin dyeing has brightened a dark season. Here is a glamour shot, brown onion skin results on the left, red on the right. Change and decay, in all around I see. With no mordant, I wonder - how long will onion colours abide with me?

Friday, 13 January 2017

Dyes from Brown Onion Skins on Wool, Silk and Cotton.

Many thanks to everyone who bought a Plant Dyes for All Seasons Calendar. Since the January project is dyeing with onion skins, I thought I had better have another go at it myself, just in case any customers emailed me to ask for advice. Since the New Year, every time I have passed the supermarket, I've bought one onion, stuffing into the bag with it all the other loose skins from the onion tray. The self service check out is a great way of avoiding curious questions. However, questions there are. A friend of mine started a 'Dyes for All 2017' discussion thread on the UK Spinners Group on Ravelry - here. The Ravelry website has free membership, do come and join the group, no calendar purchase necessary. Anyway, first I was anxious I might have to be the calendar thread's 'expert', then as people arrived, I was delighted to find I'd be learning stuff from other dyers.

Part of the onion skin dye project I wrote for January was intended to demonstrate that plant dyes are taken up differently by different fibres. This is a photo of the test run I did before writing the calendar, deep orange silk at the front, golden wool in the middle and more muted cotton at the back. They were all dyed together in one pot. I hadn't actually appreciated that these colour differences depend, at least in part, on the fact that each kind of fibre takes up the dye at a different rate. Light dawned when BatOutOfHell posted on the Dyes for All thread 'I have found out the hard way that if you put silk in a dyebath with other fibres, the silk is greedy and sucks up the dye quickly leaving less for the other fibres. Cotton on the other hand likes a long slow dye bath and “sips” up the dye slowly.'

When I read this, I had just simmered 66g of brown onion skins for an hour and left them to cool overnight. Next morning, after sieving out the skins by pouring the bath through a colander into a bucket, I found I had 8.5 litres of deep orange dye bath. Ready for dyeing, a total of 72g materials had been soaked overnight -  two small skeins of laceweight merino wool, a piece of cotton fabric and a much bigger tubular section of silk jersey. None of these needed any mordant, as onion is a substantive dye. Vexing myself with some maths, I calculated that a fair share of the dye bath for one of the 5g skeins of wool would be nearly 600ml.

Working in a kitchen with the door shut against freezing winds, it is very comforting to know your steaming dyebath is nontoxic. Onion skin soup is supposed to be superhealthy - unless you are a dog. What is more, cooking skins don't smell anything like as much as the layers of onion flesh inside would. Anyway, I had no worries about using one of my ordinary small saucepans for this experiment. 

Putting one skein in the small pan with 600ml of the dye bath, all the other materials went in the main pot together, to fight over the available dye. Though it doesn't show up well in photos, the separate skein definitely took on a deeper colour that the one that was in together with the silk. The difference was most obvious while the two skeins were wet.

This is an important factor to understand. As BatOutOfHell said, to make fair colour comparisons, each type of fibre needs to be dyed separately with the same ratio of of dye to its weight. While it was dyeing, I put a wire loop through the tubular piece of silk, hooked it onto the cooker hood and hitched the fabric out of the dye bath, bit by bit. There was already a peachy colour on the silk after five minutes warming, more fabric was pulled up at 20 and 40 minutes and more again when I turned the gas off at 60 minutes and left the bath to cool overnight. It does seem that whatever their depth, there is also a qualitative difference in the colours on the different fibres.

While this wasn't a controlled experiment on the speed of dye uptake, you can see by the gradations of colour on the silk that it really does pay to leave things to soak in the dye bath overnight. The last section is much deeper than any of the parts that came out of the dye bath before and up to the end of the heating process.

Though it wasn't part of the calendar project, I thought I'd also double check the effect of modifying the colours. Three more unmordanted merino wool laceweight 5g skeins were simmered for an hour in the onion afterbath. As the plain bottom skein shows, there was still plenty of colour in there. The middle skein was then modified by heating briefly with iron solution, which turned it deep green, just as expected. The top skein was modified with copper solution, which only dulled it down.

So far, so very satisfactory. I got onto Ravelry, posted some photos (with much relief that my dyeing had turned out well) and caught up with other conversations on the Dyes for All thread. Does it matter if you boil the dye bath? People thought not. Now I have read and believed from experience that some plant dyes will be ruined by overheating. In fact, on the January page, I wrote about the difference between simmering and boiling and specified simmering for this project, thinking it was a sound principle and good practice for any dyer. Before chipping in with an opinion, I decided to illustrate the point, pretty confident the following test would be a felted beige disaster. 

I weighed out 5g brown onion skins and boiled the life out of them for an hour. Next day I sieved out the flaccid skins, put in a 5g skein of merino and boiled that too. Imagine my shock at discovering firstly, the yarn was perfectly alright and secondly, the colour on it was gloriously rich. Boiling had practically cleared all the colour from the dyebath. Must be a mistake, probably my scales had been inaccurate - they aren't great at the level of one or two grams. I weighed out 50g of onion skins and boiled the lot. Made a 50g ball of white Rowan Pure Wool into a skein, gave it only a couple of hours to soak and then boiled it in the dye bath. In this picture, the original simmered skein is on the left, the boiled skeins are on the right, all three had a one to one weight ratio with onion skins and one hour heating. The only conclusion I can draw is that, as far as brown onion skins are concerned, boiling improves the uptake of dye - substantially.

So, back to the Dyes for All thread to eat humble pie. Reading through the calendar projects, wondering what other humiliations I had laid up for myself, cold horror swept through me when I got to the October project. Oak galls do dye wool pinkish, but they are used as a mordant for cotton and linen, not wool and silk, as I have written. I am very sorry to have misinformed people. I do hope your onion skin dyes come out well.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Dried Buddleia Flower Dye - What Not To Do

I only started pruning back the buddleia in December - not entirely through neglect, I wanted enough long branches to make a structure for this year's Christmas Birdarium. The dried up flowerheads had stayed intact, adding considerably to the overall effect.

I was showing off photos of the Birdarium on Ravelry when a friend suggested using the buddleia flowers to make a dye bath. Though it seemed unlikely that these dessicated remains would have much dye in them, I checked out Jenny Dean's results.
Her bright yellows and greens persuaded me to get outdoors and finish pruning all the buddleia, despite pervasive freezing fog. The total weight of cold, damp seedheads came to about 600g. Crammed into a big pot, they were left to simmer while I took the dog out.
When I got back an hour or so later, the kitchen was a smelly sauna. The steaming pot didn't have an awful stink, just a powerfully plant-derived aroma with unfamiliar notes. Flinging open the back door, all those warnings about dyeing in a well-ventilated area came back to me rather too late. We usually live with the back door open and I hadn't even thought to put the extractor fan on. Hey ho, nobody died and when I sieved out the buddleia next day, the remaining bath did have a significant golden brown colour to it. Two 30g skeins of handspun Polwarth yarn, premordanted with 10% alum, had a gentle simmer and an overnight soak. After the wool had dried, the result of this 10 to 1 ratio of buddleia flower to fibre weight was a pale yellowish beige. Checking the pH, I found the bath was quite acid, but soaking a bit of the yarn in an alkaline solution made no difference to its depth or shade. Adding iron to the dyebath and briefly simmering one of the skeins again only modified its colour to pale greenish beige.

As I was downloading photos of these disappointing results, the computer made a strange new buzzing sound. A telephone icon popped up and one click revealed Elinor, waving gaily at me from the screen.
"Hiya, Beaut. Happy New Year!"
"Happy New Year, Elinor. Ooo, this is weird, seeing you just as if you were at home. Where are you really?"
"Still in London. We found this artisan bakery, perfect for all day breakfasts." The image on my computer wheeled round to show her friends, the Blewe Belles, packed round a wooden table, swigging tea and eating buns.
"They look happy."
"You don't. What's the matter, 2017 not treating you well?"
"Oh, I dyed yarn beige again. Overheated the dye bath, that might have destroyed the dye molecules and anyway, it was probably far too late in the season to be harvesting buddleia. Hope it isn't going to be a beige year."
Elinor frowned.
"Beige? Wrong word and wrong attitude, Fran. Get with the times. Beauty is all in the eye and the ear of the hipster." 
Elinor started footling about with the phone and my view was obscured by her hoof. "Call it sepia yarn, Beaut. Call it honest, real and retro. Here in the capital, taupe, tea and biscuit are old school authentic. Hold on, I'm sending you one of the latest shots from our portfolio." 

Friday, 30 December 2016


SPINOPOLY.  In case you were wondering, this game is an adaptation of Monopoly, played backstage by a troupe of singing, dancing sheep, collectively known as the Blewe Belles.  
At Christmas, my companion, Elinor Gotland, sent me a ticket for the opening night of their latest musical, 'Shepherdesses' Watch'.  Since she herself would be starring in it, I sat alone in the stalls, rigid with nervous anticipation as the curtain went up. Act One opened with The Flock Sock Knit and Natter. Elinor descended from the clouds on the proscenium arch and within minutes, it was clear the show was going to be an absolute triumph.

There were roars of applause and a standing ovation for Elinor's first number, 'Thank Heaven for Knits and Purls.'  The Blewe Belles sang backing vocals whilst tap dancing, twirling their knitting needles in band majorette style. By the end of the routine, those socks had disappeared, leaving the stage encircled by a woven braid of coloured yarn.

For me, the highlight of the show was 'Baa-baa, Barn Barbeque' sung accapella. Afterwards, I rushed round to the Stage Door to congratulate them all. Struggled my way through the crowds of autograph hunters, flashing my backstage pass at the doorman, only to find Elinor's dressing room empty. Bleats and shrieks were coming from the room next door and there she was, in amongst the Blewe Belles, slinging her wings over the back of a chair, just as SPINOPOLY came out of its box.
"Right, I'll be the Wool Marketing Board this time. Hiya, Fran, enjoyed the show, did you?" Elinor barely glanced up from doling out the money. "Have a seat, Beaut, I'll deal you in." 

The familiar London street names had all been changed for fibres of varying price and quality, from Herdwick Lane to Cashmere Avenue via Blue Faced Leicester Square. After the first few rounds, all the properties had been sold and I found myself not with four stations, but four Wool Fairs, for which I could only charge admission. The others got busy buying up sheep tokens for each parcel of land they owned and it was not long before I was bankrupted - landing on Gotland Gardens with a whole flock grazing.  No surprise to find this was owned by Elinor.

The Blewe Belles put up some stiff opposition. Elinor got stuck in the Sheep Dip, then she was landed with vet's bills and for a while, luck seemed to be running their way.

However, it proved to be a game of two halves. After a series of chance set backs for the other players, Elinor's ruthlessly competitive attitude secured her the final victory and total domination of the fibre supply. 

They might have lost the game, but none of the Blewe Belles had wasted their time. Getting up from the table, I noticed all that yarn had been knitted back into socks, ready for tomorrow night's show. To a chorus of goodbyes and hugs from everyone,  I hurtled out of the theatre into the cold city streets with barely enough time to catch the last train back to Wales. 
A most memorable evening's entertainment. I'm shattered now, though and will be more than content to see the New Year in at home - just possibly, playing SPINOPOLY.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Hyperbolic Crochet and the Pseudosphere

Warning - the author takes no responsibility for any sleep deprivation that may occur as a consequence of trying this at home.

I have a friend on Ravelry to thank for my hyperbolic journey into exponentially expanding surfaces. She posted a link to Gary Hayton's knitted felted Fibonacci Pseudospheres, which just beg you to imagine, wow, however did he make those? The title sent me off to rediscover the Fibonacci numbers and spend time pondering how they might be incorporated into a circular knitting pattern. 
Just as I was developing terminal brain ache, the same good friend explained that all you have to do to create a hyperbolic shape is to make increases at a constant rate. Starting with a magic loop of six double crochet stitches (single crochet in America), I began crocheting two stitches of heavy, inelastic tapestry wool yarn into every stitch, spiralling endlessly outwards.
The initially flat surface develops frills that wrinkle up together in three dimensions, mine formed a pseudosphere after about eight rounds. Watch this video and you'll see what I mean. Because I made two stitches into every one, the stitch count doubled with each round 6 - 12 - 24 - 48 - 96 - 192 - 384 - 768 - 1,526 - 3,072, so deciding to do the final round with crocheted picot edging in a colour change yarn took rather more time and yarn than I had bargained for. Running low toward the end, I finished the last stretch with a plain crochet edge.
Himself was pleased to refer to my new pet as 'The Golden Brain'. A bit more googling about led me through whole coral reefs created with crochet to the brilliant mathematician who made the leap from abstract hyperbolic geometry into tangible yarn constructions. In this lecture, she tells her story so simply, even I felt I understood negative curvature - until I tried to explain it to himself.

Much as I love my pet brain, I had no answer when asked what it was for. Daina made hers to teach students, the crocheted undersea world was intended to raise awareness of coral death due to pollution. Trying to dream up some function to justify my urge to go hyperbolic again, I crocheted a basic hat shape in coloured Romney handspun wool yarn.
Working two stitches into every one for a few rounds in a darker shade of the same wool created a frilly brim. All might have been well had I left it at that, only I carried on, using a wild skein of coreless corespun 'art yarn', only finishing at 2am, when I had used up the last of the wool.
Daina Taimina says in her lecture that Wolfgang Bolyai warned his son of the perils of pursuing non - Euclidean hyperbolic mathematics. 
The same might be said of hyperbolic crochet.
'For God's sake, please give it up. Fear it no less than the sensual passion, because it, too, may take up all your time and deprive you of your health, peace of mind and happiness in life.' 
Come on in, the water's lovely.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Knitting Humdrum Helix Hats with Ten Colours

I designed the Humdrum Helix Hat Pattern to make use of small amounts of yarn. Until I started digging through my plant dyed yarn, I hadn't realised quite how much was stashed away. The oldest skeins at the bottom of the basket were varying weights of Texere 100% wool, which I used to buy by the cone before I started spinning. Since many of them predate this blog, I've no record of what plants I used for dyeing this selection, though the shades of beige reminded me how often I accidentally boiled dye baths, mysteriously failed to get the colours I expected or found they faded fast.

Helical hat knitting is quick and easy and quite fun. When my brother asked for a hat for Christmas, it sounded like a perfect stash busting opportunity - until he said he would like lots of colours. Well, beige is a colour, in my wool basket, 'beige' covers quite a variety of colours, so I gathered up ten balls of double knitting weight Texere wool and decided to see how they would look all knitted into one helix. With a gauge of 18 stitches to 10 cm, I cast on 90 stitches from the largest skein, aiming for a 50cm hat circumference. After knitting 8cm of brown brim, I added another colour every 9 stitches, working the same method as the original pattern for four colours. I was soon spending more time untangling yarn than I was knitting it. Things went better working with all the balls on a flat basket in my lap, periodically turning the whole basket in the reverse direction to the knitting.

Having such frequent colour changes requires a little more concentration than I gave this hat. Once or twice, I must have missed a colour change and picked it up in the next round, because the sequence of stripes changes. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by how how much interest and subtlety the stripes of beige added to each other and how well they enhanced the brighter colours. The accidental changes of sequence also gave me pause for thought about the importance of which colours are put next to each other.

Once I got to the reductions for the crown, I reduced five stitches each round by knitting one then knitting 2 together on the even colour changes in one round and the odd numbered colour changes in the next. Having ten colours makes a far more dramatic helix than only four. It also means you need very little yarn in each colour - apart from the brim, there only has to be enough of each to knit five rounds. Having plenty of small skeins to use up, I've decided all my male relatives are getting a helix hat for Christmas this year.  Plus four bottles of excellent Welsh microbrewery beer. Here's the next Happy Helix, there's yarn for many more to come.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Making Iron Prints with Leaves on Silk

"Wow, Elinor, come and look at this photo!" 
"Turn off that computer at once. I'm not being funny, Beaut, but it's only a couple of weeks and all your family will be arriving."
My companion has been channeling her pent up energy into a pre-Christmas cleansing of the kitchen. Which would be fine, if only she didn't also want to involve me.

Elinor could not be persuaded to admire the glorious works shown on a facebook eco-dyeing group I joined recently. I had to leave the virtual world for the harsh realities of grot busting, but not without protest.
"You wouldn't catch those eco-dyers with a bottle of bleach. I think we should stop struggling with it and 'give nature a home' underneath the dishwasher."
"That's not eco-friendly, Beaut, it's just lazy. Put your back into it."
"I wish I could work out how to get such incredible leaf prints onto fabric, and without alum mordant. The descriptions are short on detail - there are obviously processes too familiar to the group to bother documenting in full. I saw a mention of soaking dried leaves in iron and vinegar. What can an iron blanket be?"
"Oh, get a grip, you rusty old hippy." Her look was pure steel. "Plug the hoover in - no, forget that - you'll want to save the electricity and use a dustpan and brush."

I have been musing upon plant dyeing with iron while wiping out crusty corners. Though I've been dabbling with it for a couple of years, there is very little I fully understand. I have noticed my jam jars of iron solution don't last forever. Even though they still look brown, after a while, they have stopped making such satisfactory dye effects as they did at first.  This failing strength occurred again a few weeks ago. It was the same for a home made jar of iron acetate solution created by soaking rusty nails in water and vinegar as it was for the latest jar, made by dissolving ferrous sulphate powder in hot water.  Since I add iron to each of my bundles of silk or linen by soaking the string I use to tie the roll up in the jar of solution, the actual amount of iron I've been using is pure guesswork. The best I can say is that dissolving about 10-15g iron powder in a large jar has lasted me one summer.

Jenny Dean writes in Wild Colour that it is fine to pour an occasional dose of iron into the earth. Doing this before didn't seem to upset any of my plants, so I emptied out the old jar onto the compost heap and made up a fresh solution. I brewed up a dye bath by simmering some dried coreopsis flowers and added a teaspoon of soda ash to make the orange come out brighter. All the silk scarves I possess have already been mordanted with 10% alum, because I try to use up all the mordant by doing a long cold alum soak for one batch, then another batch of half the weight, then quarter the weight, day after day for three days (midweek, when himself can make do with a shower instead of using the bath). Unmordanted fabric experiments will have to wait til next year. 

I tried dipping some small red bramble leaves in the new jar of iron before laying them on wet silk, adding a few weld leaves from an overwintering clump, also dipped in iron, and some scraps of onion skin.

Soaking the string in the iron jar, I rolled the scarf round a plastic pipe, tied it up and simmered it in the dye bath for an hour or two, left it overnight and waited a day or so for it to dry on the radiator before unrolling. The weld leaves had printed green, the onion skins had made brown blodges and the bramble leaves had left a tracery of iron to show where they had lain.

The edges and the outermost layer of the silk on the roll had taken up coreopsis orange colour, made browner by the presence of iron and rippled with resist and iron marks left by the string.

Not brilliant, but it proved the newly made jar was definitely providing better iron effects than the old one. Next, I thought I would try NOT soaking the string - a bold departure from my usual process. There had to be quite a bit of iron left in the coreopsis after bath, so I thought I would try a variety of leaves dipped in iron and laid on two scarves. One would go in the coreopsis pot, the other would be simmered in plain water. Onto the silk went iron dipped bramble, alpine strawberry and hardy geranium leaves, which have all produced prints for me before, some bits of fern and big green lycestra leaves and finally, fallen yellow gingko leaves. I have seen pictures of successful prints with these, though not got any myself.
As a bit of insurance that there would be some colour on both scarves, dried Dyers Chamomile and yellow cosmos flowers were rehydrated in warm water and dropped in among the leaves.  When peeled off the dried silk scarf out of the coreopsis bath, the bramble leaves had made clear traceries and the chamomile flowers had left deep golden shapes. Without an iron soak, the string had left pale lines in the orange/brown background of coreopsis dye.

Rather to my surprise, the scarf that had been simmered in plain water turned out better. On the pale background, lycestra leaves showed up as green prints, the flower colours were better displayed and even the fern left pale impressions. No sign of a gingko print, I was fed up with them, no gratitude, to think I grew that ginkgo tree from a seed.

I started guiltily as my companion came into the kitchen to find me idly sitting staring at the latest silk scarf.
"Oh, nice work, Beaut." She wrapped the silk around her shoulders, gave me an arch look and swung her britch as she sashayed across the room.  "I might take this one to London with me."
"Elinor!  Did you get that part you auditioned for?"
"You are looking at this Christmas's West End Singing Sensation."
"You're going to be in a musical?"
She twirled out of the scarf and into a curtsey.
"A musical called 'Shepherdesses' Watch'. Fabulous song and dance routines."
"Shepherdesses' Watch? Is it a Nativity Play - are you to be a sheep in the flock?" As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I'd put my foot in it.
"This, my poor, dear Fran, will be no ordinary Nativity Play, but an Extravaganza." She sniffed. "And an actress of my stature is not wasted on crowd scenes around a manger. I have my own solos and special choreography for flying on a wire."
She swept off upstairs to pack her bags, leaving me to wonder how a sheep of her stature could possibly get airborne.
Once I had waved Elinor off on the train, I walked home among bare trees, dry and crumpled leaves littering the pavement.  Darkness was closing in and not even tea time yet. At least with madam gone, I wouldn't have to spend the evening cleaning.

Ginkgo leaves still lay bright yellow on the garden path. One more try. I gathered a handful and left them to soak overnight in a diluted bowl of iron solution with a slug of vinegar.  In a vase were some dessicated branches of eucalyptus which a neighbour cut from her garden for me last year. Used fresh, they had made little green circles on alum mordanted silk. The dried leaves snapped off with a brittle click, but by morning, had absorbed enough fluid to regain some pliability. At the break points, there were dark lines - must be picking up the iron.

Acidifying a dye bath seems counter intuitive when you are used to flower dyes which generally improve in colour with soda ash to alkalinise them. I couldn't quite bring myself to add any more vinegar, though I did layer the silk with overlapping leaves of green bramble and lycestra dipped in the iron jar. Tied up with plain string, the whole roll has been boiled, not the usual simmering to avoid destroying a fragile flower dye, a proper low boil, for several hours. I did leave it in the pot overnight, though I haven't let it dry before unrolling. In the videos on facebook, the eco-dyeing group seem to be unpeeling wet leaves from their cloth.

Here it is, hanging out to dry. No marks at all from the ginkgo leaves. It occurs to me that in this process, the use of iron is apparent in two different ways.  Dipping weld leaves meant they printed green instead of yellow as a contact dye shape, though they did not hold iron to leave dark marks on silk. The same plant dye colour modifying effect probably accounts for the green prints made by lycestra leaves. Soaking dried eucalyptus leaves in iron has given pinkish brown prints instead of green, plus a dark iron corona, most apparent where the upper surface pressed againt a layer of the silk. The bramble leaves hold iron in a pattern more detailed on their under surface, though they add no apparent dye colour of their own.
I'll have to keep watching that facebook group and wait til next year to try some more eco techniques.  I might skip growing soy beans to make soy milk, but there's no shortage of local cow dung. The Turner Prize awaits.