Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Outcome of Attempt at Contact Dyeing Silk and Wool

It is now Sunday night and tomorrow will be the big reveal.  Naturally, I stumbled upon good instructions for contact dyeing only after having a go last weekend.  This article advises folding silk rather than rolling it up and three months waiting. Three months!  I have been peering hopefully at my efforts every day and only able to resist unrolling them over the weekend because I had family staying.  

Anyway, some pictures I just found this evening show contact dyeing fabric wrapped in black plastic.  In their clear plastic covering, the sun may have been leaching away the probably not very lightfast colours as quickly as the plants can leak them into my silk bundles.  
My final excuse is that all three experiments have been growing mould since Friday.  Even if this adds to the colour mix, it can't be doing the protein fibres any good.  

Bank Holiday Monday - the greenhouse was hot as an oven. I fished the warm wool and unappetising plant remains out of the solar jar, rinsed the fleece about six times and had it dry in an hour.  The geranium petals looked pretty spent, fawn and soggy.  The wool nearest to them was the deepest ginger.  The coreopsis flowers were brown but intact, with a rather dingy orange colour wool around them.  The tansy and chamomile flowers still looked intact and bright, with a more lemony wool beside them and the hollyhock petals (which gave blue in a conventional dye bath) had the palest wool around them with purple at the tips.  
Three months wait probably was needed, especially for the last three plants.
This was never going to make a rainbow shawl like Goldilox's.  Never mind, press on, I have the week off and am growing bored of knitting socks.  On Tuesday, I carded the fleece with a bit of silk and spun the finest single I could manage, trying to use the varying shades on the locks of fleece sequentially from deepest to palest. 
Navajo plying is a method of looping lengths of a single thread of yarn like a lazy daisy embroidery stitch, so that as you put in twist, three strands are spun together.  Three ply gives a rounder wool cross section than plying two singles together and Navajo plying means the colours don't mix within the strand, only along the length.  Worth having a go and I really enjoyed doing it, once I got into a rhythm.  The resulting yarn was very uneven in twist and thickness.  What the hell. Call it an art yarn.  No, not enough bling.  I'll call it a poetry yarn and name the colourway 'Mellow Fruitfulness' 

Now, the results of the silk scarf bundles.  

First, the alkaline steam bath longitudinal roll. From the top, a rather fine purple from the magenta hollyhocks, substantially different to the range of blues I got from the same flowers in a dye bath.  The chamomile/tansy mix left only a pale yellow, tending to green where the leaves and stalks had been.  Coreopsis dyed the silk a muddy yellow, not much like the warm orange of a simmered dye bath.   Finally, red geranium petals gave pink.  This method has given colour, but if I do it again, I'll use fewer petals and hope for more pattern, less splodge.  I don't admire it as a scarf, but the silk looks lovely as shades on jars with candles in them. Lighting them is a nice consolation for dusk coming ever earlier.

They'll certainly fade fast outdoors.  Ay, in the very temple of Delight Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine.  To continue the Keats nomenclature, these two shall be known as 'Cloudy Trophy' and 'Joy's Grape'.

Lastly, the frivolous leafy mix with a handful of geraniums and coreopsis, tied up with wool soaked in vinegar from a rusty nail pot.  No leafy print - in retrospect, I expect you'd have to press it flat to have much chance of that. Still, I love the grey pattern from the iron.  The acid environment has dotted purple spots out of the red geranium petals and a clearer yellow from the coreopsis.  

Such success is, of course, unrepeatable, though I will be trying for a similar effect.  I name this scarf 
'Writ on Water'. 
Since I can't be sure the colours will last til Christmas, I shall have to wear it.  

Does my carbon footprint look big in this?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Contact Dyeing with Plants on Silk and Wool

Last week, I was singing of summer in full-throated ease, yarrow flowers leaping out of 
the grass.  This week, as the season of mists approaches, even the sunshine feels subdued. I am melancholy, irascible, not at all a mellow fruit.  Skip Keats' Ode to Autumn, let's have the Ode to a Nightingale.  
Here, where women sit and hear each other groan, where but to think is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyed despairs.  I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, but, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet.

'Embalmed darkness' brought to mind those fabric and plant bundles for contact dyeing. I've seen some astonishing images of 'prints' of leaves and petals and rust on cloth, others that just look mouldy.  Darkling I listen.  Guess each sweet I must, as I haven't come upon clear guidance for the method. OK, sure, specific results depend on the season, the plant, the place.  Experimenting is the way forward, but how to begin?  A site that describes the processes would be a real find.  It must be out there, probably one page further into a search than I have troubled to read.  I'll have to make do with guessing from blog pictures.

Privately, I reckon quite a few people used dyes that looked purple when they took the photo, but had faded to gray by teatime.  How can I be so rude? Because I have enough skeins of cream/beige/tea brown to make a Dulux colour chart. Berries make irresistible red and purple baths, but are just fugitive stains.   

There are more things I can't fathom - if you roll up a variety of plants in cloth and tie them up with string, why wouldn't the colour from the ones in the middle soak through all the roll?  Especially if simmered in a pot of water, and even if you did just steam or leave them in the sun.  Is there enough sun on offer in Wales to extract any dye?  Some splash on vinegar and call that a mordant.  Hang on, I need to pause for breath before getting too bitchy.  I do realise I've blogged a fair bit of misinformed codswallop myself, but this flies in the face of reason.  Vinegar alters pH which changes plant dye colours, but it doesn't make them stick.  Even a potentially fast plant dye is just going to wash off. Why not premordant with alum?  'I don't want to bring toxic chemicals into my home, ecodyeing is soooo natural.'  Well, I take my hat off to anyone who manages life without washing powder.  Except then you'd see I never use shampoo, as it is sooo toxic too.  
OOO bite that lemon.
If transience is part of the deal, I wish the proponents of contact dyeing would be more up front about it.  I can enjoy a skyscape or a cream cake without being half in love with easeful Death when they are gone.  Enough Rushworth, cease your ratty maundering and go with the flow. Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: Already with thee!  tender is the night, And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne.  

I shall attempt to make a rainbow silk scarf, another all leafy patterned and while I am at it, I shall eco solar contact dye a rainbow of fleece to spin.  The inspiration for this last is from a cracking good blog called Dyeing to Spin.  I'm not in Goldilox's league, but - if you are going to flash - flash hard.  There follows my best guess, fully detailed methods, but they may turn out to be 'what not to do'.  Results won't be out til next week.

First, the preparation.  Two cheap silk scarves weighing 10g each, one white and one I dyed in a meadowsweet dyebath last year.  Mordant, because without this, what little colour the fibre picks up soon fades.  Half a teaspoon of alum and a pinch of cream of tartar dissolved in a jar of boiling water.  I added enough warm water to make it 60 degrees centigrade, put the scarves in and left them all day Saturday.
The wool is about 100g of leftover coarser locks I sorted out of a raw Jacob fleece.  They got put in a laundry bag, had a brief hot soak with washing up liquid to lift the dirt and lanolin out, three hot rinses and then into the mordant from which I had just taken the scarves, with another half a teaspoon of Alum. Slowly heated up in a saucepan to 90 degrees and left to cool.
Sunday morning, I plundered the garden. Not to freeze or dry and store away, all for the here and now pleasure of it.  From the left, red geraniums, coreopsis, last of the dyers chamomile and a few Double Magenta hollyhocks.  The white silk scarf had had a good rinse to stop any loose mordant grabbing the dye instead of the cloth.  It was still wet, to provide a starter of water to extract the dye.  If this process goes the same way as a dye bath does, then the hollyhocks should give blue.  I haven't tried the chamomile yet, but the books say the leaves give green and the flowers yellow.  As should a head of tansy, which I haven't used for dye before, because I don't like its smell in the garden.  In dye baths, the coreopsis gives orange and the geranium - well, it looks like it might give me red.  A rainbow!  To try to keep the colours separate, I rolled the scarf longways.  Actually, I had to get both the offspring out to help.  

The plasticised garden wire down the middle was purely to suspend it in my steam bath.  One kettle full of boiling water and a teaspoon of soda ash to make the steam alkaline.  In dye baths, I've found that brings up the hollyhock blue toward purple and makes yellow and orange flower and leaf dyes more vivid.  Given how much simmering it usually takes to extract dye and then get it into wool, I am not madly confident this is going to work, so I kept the pot steaming on a low heat all afternoon.  
Next, the fleece.  Rinsed of loose mordant and layered in a big jar with the same sequence of plant materials, topped up with water and stood in the greenhouse. Again, I am full of doubts.  Surely, even if the sun shines enough to extract dye, the colours will all mix in the water and the wool will end up brown.

Last of all - dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth! No more the fever and the fret.  I blithely snipped some melodious plot of beechen green and shadows numberless.  A spray of fennel, a willow shoot, two ferns, a tendril of hops and a few hazel leaves, sprinkled with the last geraniums and coreopsis.  A vision, or a waking dream.

I rolled the whole thing round a stick and lashed it together with wool that had been soaking in a pot of vinegar and rusty nails.  Put it in an old washing up bowl with some stones to keep it above the level of some water with a splash more vinegar.  
Clingfilm cover to keep the moisture working and off to sit in the greenhouse, with the wool jar and the steamed scarf, which is now hanging up inside a plastic bag.  Before I am soured again by a mouldy result, I shall post this blog. Contact dyeing was good, it felt more like art than craft.  More like poetry than prose.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Yarrow Plant Dye

Yarrow, arrowroot, knight's milfoil, staunchweed, woundwort, bad  man's plaything, devil's nettle or death flower. Officially, Achillea millefolium.  An herbaceous perennial, native to the Northern hemisphere, spreading by rhizomatous growth.  An invasive wildflower, as you might say, but not an unwanted weed.  In my 'Complete Book of Herbs' by Lesley Bremness, it gets a wonderful write up. Yarrow speeds up the composting, activates disease resistance in plants growing nearby and staunches bloodflow from wounds.  I have been looking out for it for ages.  Last summer, I found a few plants along the edge of the playing fields. While I was waiting for the seedheads to mature, the man on the mower 
drove along six inches nearer the fence and had the lot.  I couldn't even find seed for sale, so  I bought one of its larger relatives, Achillea Coronation Gold, which is doing very well in the garden.  Walking home last Saturday, I suddenly noticed wild yarrow, flowering all along the kerbs on our street. 
 I suppose that it was there all the time, getting mowed with the grass verge, only able to flourish now because of the July heat wave.  The dry weather turned the grass brown all round the edges. The yarrow must have coped better and sprung up faster with the rain we have had since.  You can see the little feathery basal leaves at grass level. 

Sunday morning early, taking the dog for cover, I strolled out to pick a basket full, before the song of the mower could be heard in the land.  No-one was wounded and bleeding, I don't need anything under my pillow to help me dream of my husband and nor do I plan on using the stalks to read my fortune in The Book of I Ching. Instead, I soaked the lot in rain water, ready to make a dye bath.
These are two 50g skeins of wool I spun from the fleece of a local Suffolk sheep.  Although they look quite cuddly and creamy, up close they are more 'durable, but discoloured'. The fleece's value is more in the intangibles, being a generous gift, the origin of my suint vat and having grown on a sheep who lives not much further from home than the yarrow. Whatever colour came out of the dye bath was likely to be an improvement.  As for any other properties the plant might impart - well, who knows, the resulting knitwear might sort out heavy periods and protect against witchcraft. So many powers are ascribed to one small flower.  It used to be a 'sacred herb'.
The wool was mordanted with alum and Cream of Tartar and the chopped, soaked yarrow was simmered for an hour or so on Monday night.  The two were combined for a simmer and left overnight to soak.  Three cold rinses, hang up to dry and voila - golden brown wool. The yarrow made it smell lovely, too.  The compost heap got the benefit of the leftover plant material.  I'll just have to wait and see if it does rot down any faster than usual. 

Steve pointed out that our very own kerb had a strip with yarrow leaves visible, though badly set back by his weekly lawnmowing.  Very sweetly, he dug out some lumps of turf from his cherished verge and laid them in a bit of border I had cleared. Not in full sun, but safe from the mower.  Next time I slice my finger while cooking, I can smile through the pain and nip out to pick a leaf and see if it stops the bleeding.  
I shall knit Steve magic socks. When he wears them, his inner Druid will release power to foretell the weather and he will never get caught without an umbrella again.   At any rate, his feet will smell nicer.

Friday, 9 August 2013

A Trial of Hollyhock Petal Dye

These hollyhocks are Double Maroon, now blooming in my garden.  Pretty stunted, compared to the ones growing in a thin strip of dust beside a wall, only a couple of hundred yards down the road.  The books say Hollyhocks like deep, rich soil and can manage a bit of shade. Having forked out in March for six good looking rosettes, kept them in large pots in the greenhouse til the worst of the cold weather was over, then planted them out with a nice handful of cow manure each, my results do not back up the prior intelligence.  Suffice to say, I am not struggling to harvest bucketloads of petals. 
My sister Pip visited on Saturday, bringing a big bag of dried fallen hollyhock petals from her friend Claire's garden.  I put the kettle on, told my son to make the sandwiches and disappeared off to weigh out 40g and put them in a pan of cold water to soak.  Pip could tell I appreciated the gift. Apparently, these petals are from self seeded plants, enjoying the sunny South East of England and putting on a fabulous display in shades of red and pink without any special attention.

First thing Sunday, I brought the pan up to a simmer for half an hour.  Once it had cooled, I put in 40g of wool, mordanted with Alum and Cream of Tartar and left it to soak.  The books I have both say that different coloured flowers give different coloured dyes, but one author said there would be yellows and browns on wool with this mordant, the other showed a spectrum of purples. Hooking the wool up for inspection after a cold dip in the deep red bath, it looked to be turning greeny yellow. Interesting, though it doesn't show so well in the photo. Time to give it a little simmer.
While the rain poured down, I did an internet search on hollyhock dye.  A couple of blogs showed a sophisticated, pale, turquoise blue, others, shades of grey and mauve.  This paper from India studies ultrasound as a method of getting hollyhock dye into wool and cotton, rather than using heat.  The authors discuss the chemistry of chelation, fixing various dye molecules onto the mordants.  I infer from their work that firstly, strong chemical binding leads to the good wash and light fastness they discovered, and secondly, that all hollyhocks are likely to contain several different pigments, not just a single one, like indigotin in woad.  
The Indian study used deep pink flowers and described bright green results on wool using the same mordants as me.  Sure enough, I found my wool had gone green after heating.  I put another 40g skein into the afterbath, simmered it up and left it to soak overnight.  I got a paler, but tonally similar green (better than the photo suggests) and decided that was the best of the bath used up.

That same afternoon, when the rain stopped for a bit, I went out to look at my own Double Maroons.  Ten flowers had actually curled up and fallen to the path and two more were loose enough to be fair game. All were still quite fresh, so they just got simmered straightaway.  Although much larger than the dried ones, and a frilly double petalled variety,  twelve flowers didn't seem much, so I only put in a test skein of 12g alum and cream of Tartar mordanted wool.  

The dye bath was another deep magenta red, but this time, the wool came out blue.  A series of 12g skeins have been simmered and soaked over the past few days.  The first skein, far left, had a greenish cast not present in the second skein, leading me to guess that the yellow pigments might get fixed on to the mordant most easily and thus cleared from the dyebath first.  The cold soak in the dried flower dye bath made the wool yellow, before heating moved its colour to a good green, presumably due to taking up a blue pigment.  When the third 12g skein came out with a mauvish blue, I thought I might get an increasingly red series, trending to purple, but the next two were a simpler blue in successively paler shades.  The final skein has a greyish lavender cast. These colours are excitingly complex.  
Finally, I had to see what changing the pH would do.  One end of each skein was put in water with vinegar and the other end in a solution with soda ash. Alkali turned the blue into green and the green into brown (centre of photo).  Acid provided the final flourish - purple and lime green.  I should get the alkali result from washing anything I make with these skeins in washing powder, which is generally alkaline.

Hollyhocks are like a familiar, kindly Great Aunt, much loved by later generations who would never suspect she had run a farm, brought up a family and taken in an evacuee, pretty much singlehandedly during the war, simultaneously saving the life of her premature son by keeping him constantly in a homemade papoose. Private strengths and deep qualities to fathom beneath a cottage garden appearance. Next year, I'll plant some more in the sun by the new wall.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Overdyeing with Woad on Weld, Coreopsis, Apple Leaf and Bracken Plant Dyed Wool

Anyone following this blog could guess I have a considerable stash of test dyed skeins of wool squirreled away.  The palette so far is limited - blue from woad and shades of brown to yellow from everything else, except the fabulous orange coreopsis.  I'd be the first to admit some stuff lacks immediate appeal.  Time to relight the fire.  Oh yes, bring on the magical mystery woad, that should spark things up a bit.  

The top row shows some wooden buttons that didn't pick up much woad first time round. Next, a square of white cotton and a skein of pale woad dyed alpaca wool for something I am working on.  Then a grey yarn, which is my spinning of the beloved Gotland fleece blended with silk.  Bottom row is for trying out woad overdyeing - a skein of bracken dye, a sample of apple leaf dye, coreopsis afterbath, coreopsis first bath, then two yellow skeins from a weld afterbath and weld first bath.
The woad plants are coming on nicely in the garden.  At the beginning of July, I picked over a kilo of leaves and followed the instructions on the website for extracting the woad, because I want some to keep til winter. The process involves precipitating out the blue dye by leaving an increasingly concentrated solution to stand in jars.  Theresina writes that the leftover fluid will still have a little woad in it.  
After all that growing and harvesting and extracting, I was not prepared to tip even a tiny amount of woad down the drain, so I saved all the supernatant, deoxygenated it with Spectralite and dipped in this yellow skein of weld dyed wool. The classic weld/woad overdye gives a colour called Lincoln Green. This picture shows the skein drying, after the lowest third had the first dip, when the woad bath was strongest, then it had a second woad dip including more of its length.  I loved the really good strong green and the fine, clear, lighter shade.  You can see why it was so popular in the Middle Ages.  There turned out to be much more dye in the 'waste' solution than I had anticipated.
The woad plants have now flourished again. They got a lot of love, fish blood and bone and dutiful watering through all the hot weather. Last Saturday, I picked another 750g of leaves and went through the extraction process a second time.  In the evening, I put loads of stuff to soak overnight.  This time, I intended to make use of all the woad left in the bucket.  If there was enough, I planned to get the wooden buttons, cotton square and alpaca properly deep blue, make some more Lincoln Green and also find out what marvelous change woad might bring about when overdyed on my other plant dye colours. 

Happy days with the light blue alpaca and white cotton.  Not deepest indigo, but a good solid blue result.  The buttons haven't really turned out well, despite advance soaking and three woad dips. My Gotland and silk mix got dipped in sections to vary the shade. The ball on the left above shows how the saddening effect of the grey is offset by the lustre of the wool. The silk took up woad very nicely.  I shall spin some more of that and try it with other dyes.

I have been doing more bracken dyeing each month (first on left). There hasn't been much of a seasonal change in the colour so far and loads of new bracken fronds are still growing.  This abundant supply of beige makes me particularly pleased with the green I got, shown in the second skein. Overdyeing my palest weld skein in a rapidly diminishing woad vat didn't give as good a result as the first Lincoln Green, as seen in parts of the skein next to it.  Clearly, you need a powerful dye of both weld then woad for the real Robin Hood look.  I decided to hang on to my last bright weld skein for another time.

Finally, the results of the small test skeins of Coreopsis, coreopsis afterbath and apple leaf dye.  They got dangled in the first dip, while the woad was strongest. The steam from the woad bath must have given them all an alkaline effect, as even the undipped parts changed colour a bit.  I wouldn't have predicted chestnut brown from blue and orange.  It is a good rich colour, but the coreopsis alone is better. The coreopsis afterbath plus woad went grey, which didn't thrill me, but my friend BG loves it, so I'll have to do some for her next epic needlefelting creation.  She is planning on covering a whole sofa.  The apple leaf soft mustard got brighter in the alkaline steam and the dipped part is a nice green, not too far toward the blue end of the spectrum.

So, a hell of a lot of woad didn't precipitate out in my extraction process. Hey ho, I have made good use of it.  Plus, I do have woad saved at the bottom of two jars now.  No idea how much, but I shall find out when the time comes to use it.