Friday, 25 July 2014

Coreopsis Tinctoria Plant Dye on Wool, Silk and Cotton

Flowers, buds, leaves and stalks of coreopsis tinctoria will all give a bronze to orange dye on wool mordanted with alum.  Last year, I had a brighter orange in the summer and duller bronze from flowers picked in September. Though there are two distinctly different flowers, I had read that both give the same colour dye.  This is a favourite dye plant of mine, worth a little more investigation.  Since it is just as easy to pick one colour of flowers then the other, I put one afternoon's harvest to solar steep in two separate jars.  After two days of hot weather, the deep maroon flowers had turned the water much more red.  The planned trial of dyeing cotton and silk as well as wool needed a further refinement.

30g of yellow and red striped flowers went in one dye pot and 30g of the red only type went in another.  Both were simmered for half an hour and left overnight. For a one to one ratio of flower weight to materials, to each pot I added 10g of cotton jersey, mordanted with aluminium acetate, 10g of silk chiffon and 10g of fleece mordanted with alum plus a length of yarn mordanted with iron and another mordanted with copper.  

I also put in a couple of meters of silk thread, intended for hemming the chiffon, but forgot it had had no mordant.  The pots were brought slowly back up to 90 degrees C for nearly an hour, then left overnight.

The yellow and red flowers clearly gave a lighter, brighter shade of orange, though I am not certain if that is just because they have less dye in them or more yellow pigment. The difference was most obvious on the wool, more subtle on the silk and the cotton squares went practically the same colour.

The unmordanted silk thread took up a pale gold, the iron mordanted yarn went brown and the copper mordanted yarn took more orange than the alum mordanted wool.

"Good butterfly colour, that orange."  Elinor Gotland was paying attention, now I had the chiffon out on display.
"Mmm, it looks lovely with chocolate brown and fawn. Orange suits brunettes best."
"I find grey goes with everything."  Elinor had the scarves draped over her shoulder and was shinning up the buddleia with extraordinary speed.  
The slender stem drooped alarmingly as she headed towards a blossom. Like watching a car crash in slow motion. I stepped forward just in time to catch her.
"Wouldn't want you to bump your proboscis. Or do Peacock butterflies have beaks?"
Retrieving the scarves, I set Elinor down on the lawn.  

Unable to soar away on butterfly wings, her earthbound departure was, nonetheless, worthy of a Monarch.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A Trial of Meadowsweet Plant Dye on Wool with Alum, Iron and Copper Mordants and Another Silk Scarf Contact Dye

Meadowsweet is an interesting plant.  The leaves are much like rose leaves, but it comes up in the hedgerow as one straight stem in spring and dies right back in autumn. A rose without a thorn, or big petals either, though the white blossoms do have a lovely scent.  Like sweet almonds. The leaves also smell good, in a different way.  I've read it was Queen Elizabeth I's favourite strewing herb, which means it got scattered on the floor along with the rushes, to sweeten the air.  Curious to think that the great flagstone floors of Tudor halls were not all bare and echoing, back in the day.  People didn't have baths and went for a wee behind the arras - they don't put that in the costume dramas, but it explains why she would have particularly liked meadowsweet.
The flowers keep their scent well when dried to make pot pourri.  Despite reading that the stems give blue colours, I have found meadowsweet plant dyes are unremarkable yellowish shades of beige, though they too, are tenacious, keeping their colour well.  The stems snap easily and long stalks with their heavy flowerheads are often flopped over along the path after rain.  I picked up a bunch of twelve stalks weighing 400g and decided to have another dyeing session. Materials comprised a small skein of wool mordanted with alum - boring, guess how that was likely to come out - and two more, mordanted in advance with iron and copper, same as I did with comfrey. The total weight of wool was about 100g, so this is the result of a four to one ratio of plant material to wool, the whole bunch, leaves, stems, flowers and all, being chopped up with secateurs, soaked overnight then simmered for an hour.

The dye bath was a cloudy orange, the alum mordanted wool came out beige, the iron mordanted wool a dark brown and the copper one was more greenish than my camera shows.  That wool has sat on the side since mid June and still, the meadowsweet flowers are dazzling in the sunshine and falling over in the rain.

That dark brown wool is the best of the bunch, I reckon.  Still trying to repeat the success of a previous geranium leaf contact dye print, I wondered if a meadowsweet dye bath might work in a similar way to the geranium petal one that went so black with iron.  This time, I used a fine habotai silk scarf instead of chiffon, hoping the prints would come out more distinctly on the closer weave.

Hardy geranium leaves were laid out across half the width, then the silk was folded over and rolled firmly round a piece of plastic downpipe, before being tied up with string that had had a dip in a jar of vinegar in which I keep rusty nails soaking, to provide iron.  The whole thing was stood up in a dye bath of 200g meadowsweet, 
simmered for an hour and left overnight.  Even the little iron on the string turned the whole dye bath dark, as well as the string and the visible silk.  I gave it a day or so to dry out before the big reveal.
These are my best leaf prints so far.

Better still, the dyes did not run during a soak in pH neutral silk wash liquid and a couple of rinses. Where the leaves were pressed against the silk there is a yellowy green and that meadowsweet and iron dye has developed a purple cast, more vibrant than the brown on wool. 

I have picked up another bunch of meadowsweet stems and am drying them to keep, not for strewing on the floor or making pot pourri, but to store for winter dye experiments.  

My daughter is home again and was persuaded to humour me by modeling my latest scarf for the blog. 

Now I would never have imagined that Elinor Gotland's nose might be put out of joint by this.

However, there have been signs that she intends to be acknowledged as the resident style queen.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Japanese Indigo Vinegar Method Dye on Wool, Silk and Cotton

Six Japanese Indigo plants are sharing two grow bags in the greenhouse.  Last year, I only got one survivor in the seedtray, though I did get lots of new seeds by bringing my one and only plant indoors to flower late in autumn. No such trouble with seedlings in the mild spring we have just had. More plants are out in the borders, but they haven't burgeoned as much as the ones under glass. Japanese Indigo is supposed to produce most dye given lots of warmth and food and water.  
Even so, after last year, I was very pleasantly surprised to see blue patches on the leaves as early as June.  Taking this to mean the indigotin was ready, the tops were clipped off four of the plants, which was quick and easy. The lower leaves were picked off two, which was more of a faff.  Have to wait and see which method of harvesting stimulates the plants to grow back best.  
Being rapt by colours I got before from the vinegar extraction method, I had promised myself I would be dyeing silk this year. Still, having the bounty of a glorious first harvest of 400g leaves and all the summer growth still to come, I decided to do a trial of dyeing wool, silk and cotton. No mordant is needed, just a thorough scouring wash with detergent.

My test subjects were two 50g skeins of fingering weight hand spinning of Polwarth fleece, two 30g strips of jersey silk noil fabric, one 100g strip of cotton jersey and a metre of cotton scrim.  The vinegar method gives two dye baths, one from the first soak and squeeze of liquidised leaves and a weaker one from repeating the process.  I processed my 400g plant matter in two sessions, so two primary baths and two resqueezed baths in total. 

Materials have to soak in the baths for about an hour, gradually changing from green to blue.  Just to complicate matters, I thought I would suspend the silk jersey and the cotton jersey in the primary bath, hoiking them up higher every 20 minutes, so that only the far end of each had the full hour soaking time, to see how much difference this made.  The silk, on the left, took up much more dye than the cotton on the right, but the longer soaking didn't have much impact on the depth or shade of colour.  The second strip of silk jersey and the cotton scrim were submerged in the reprocessed leaf bath.  

That session used about 250g leaves on about 200g of material. The other 150g leaves made two baths to dye the two 50g skeins of Polwarth.  Even given that the two sessions did not have precisely equal ratios of leaves to material for dyeing, seems to me that the vinegar method with Japanese Indigo dyes the strongest colour on wool, nice shades on silk and does not take well to cotton.

The second squeeze, reprocessed leaf baths gave a paler, greener blue to wool and silk and had a minimal effect on the cotton scrim.  All the shades are rather lovely, though I didn't get anything in that jade green I had last year.

After dyeing the wool, I poured the two afterbaths into one bowl and left two contact dyed silk chiffon scarves in it to pick up whatever dye was left. The pre-existing pale yellows led to a properly turquoise overdye effect.  After this, an iron water rinse shifted one scarf toward a brooding turbulence of pattern.  I knew these would catch Elinor Gotland's attention.  She has a thing about silk chiffon, it appeals to her dramatic sensibilities.

"Oooo, just like a stormy sea, Beaut.  I'd be the very picture of a mermaid with those scarves on and my fleece down round my shoulders."
"Have you been growing your wool?"  I peered at her topknot, which didn't seem to have changed much from its usual neat bun.
"Didn't bother with a full summer shearing, I just pin it up enough to keep cool.  Silk is very good for all weathers."  Her tiny hooves were busy with the chiffon.
"Alright, you can have the blue scarves, if you want.  Aren't mermaids supposed to be predatory creatures, singing and luring sailors to their doom?"

"Not in Wales, Beaut. Lots of people round the coast have a bit of mermaid in their blood.  Welsh mermaids get captured by fishermen. Sometimes they end up going home with them and having a family."

"Don't they miss the sea?"
"Always.  In the stories, they generally bugger off sharpish once the kids have grown up. There is a terrible curse on anyone who tries to keep them too long.  I've heard that imprisoning a mermaid made the whole town of Conway so poor, if a visitor tried to pay for something with a sovereign, they had to send across the water to Llansantffraid for change."
"I love those sorts of tales.  All symbolic, of course.  Female allure and mystery."
"Not much of a mystery to me.  The message in those legends is as plain as a stone in your hoof.  A girl can adapt to her circumstances, but a menopausal woman has to follow her own nature.  Or else."

Friday, 4 July 2014

Contact Dyeing Silk Eco Bundles with Leaves by Steaming

A good outcome always generates enthusiasm.  After the dramatic result of a geranium petal dye bath plus contact dye with geranium leaves, those plants have been quite brutally pruned for further experimentation. The suggestion of steaming an ecobundle without a dye bath sounded a very good way of finding out the true colours of hardy geranium leaves.  I laid some out on a piece of silk chiffon, rolled the bundle round the drainpipe just as before, this time, tying it up with plain string and only putting an inch of water in the pot to provide steam.

I left the lid on overnight after steaming the pot for an hour.  In the morning, I took the bundle out and let it dry for a day or so. The outermost silk must have been dyed by colours running in the dampness of the steam.  When I unrolled the whole thing, the inner layers were still white with the palest yellow leaf prints just detectable.  For one who had been rejoicing in the possession of a well established garden plant with great contact dye leaf print potential, this was a heavy blow.
"All an illusion, Beaut.  You thought you had something, now you think you don't.  Nothing really changed except your ideas."
Elinor Gotland can be a surprisingly deep sheep.
"So what is the truth of the geranium leaf, then, oh wise one?"                                               
"No-one can know a noumenon, Beaut.  Just piece together the phenomenon from your what your senses tell you and call that a geranium."
I sighed  "Not sure I follow, Elinor."
"Bit harsh.  I thought you were a friend."
"Immanuel Kant, you moody muppet."  Elinor pottered off to add fertiliser to the shrubbery, singing 'Rock on ancient queen...' sotto voce.  Not a bad imitation, if Stevie Nicks had had a Welsh accent.
Pondering on how to apprehend the inner reality of a plant through dye prints, I suspect deontological ethics may have no application here.

Not giving up on the contact dyeing ecobundle steam bath process, I picked a variety of material to lay out on another 1.5m alum mordanted silk chiffon.  Little sprigs of coreopsis plant and weld leaves and flower spikes, fronds of bracken, lady's mantle leaves and some purple pansies.

Plus a couple of geranium leaves. On the left, this is how they print.  On the right, the bracken came out quite well.
The whole thing looked like this, once unfolded.  Small, deeper orange marks from coreopsis, brighter yellow smudges from weld and blue splodges from the pansies. However, during a soak and a rinse, the background cloth took up a pale yellow and the blues turned greenish.  Steamed plant prints clearly are not dye fast.  
I cut both pieces of chiffon in half, to make four scarves and spent an evening rolling the edges to hem them.  The pale geranium only one really didn't justify the effort.  In a last ditch attempt to relive the glories of my earlier success, I put one of the pale scarves in hand hot water with a teaspoon of iron vinegar.  The colour darkened before my eyes. I probably should have whipped it out sooner, because all trace of leaf print has been subsumed, but I rather like the grey result. 

Here are Gold Dust and Pale Shadow of a Dragon.  And Elinor, my philosophical friend.