Friday, 24 June 2016

Making Plant Hammer Prints on Cloth Washfast

Hammering plants in a fold of cloth releases juices more akin to a stain than a dye; although the colours seem to transfer, over time, most fade to brown, like blackberry or beetroot juice.  This photo is a year old, it shows fennel leaf still green and lemon balm, sage and mint leaves quite blurred, definitely gone brown.  If a leaf pattern prints out sharply, it might seem that in itself is worth the effort of thumping away.  When you realise the cloth can't be washed without muddying the effect, the usefulness of the whole performance is limited.  To get a dye out of the majority of plants, they need to be simmered in water.  To fix that dye colour onto fabric, a mordant is needed, which binds to fibres, then also to dye molecules.  I've done little dyeing on plant
derived fabrics like cotton, which need particular mordants, mostly I use wool or silk. These latter are easy to mordant with alum, a common food preservative also used in most deodorants.  Weigh the fabric, calculate 10% of the weight and dissolve that amount of alum crystals in a jar of hot water.  Soak the silk or wool, then leave it to float for 24 hours in a bucket of water with the alum poured in.  After a rinse, it will take up dye from a plant bath.  
The picture shows a silk blind dyed with weld, slowly fading over years in direct sun.  Though plant dyes vary widely, generally, the colours last a good long while and tolerate an occasional run through the washing machine. 
I thought hammering a leaf onto mordanted cloth must release a little dye, while admittedly, it would be a far cry from simmering that cloth in a bath with the concentrated power of a great bulk of plant material. If a hammer print is mostly a stain, perhaps even that could be fixed to fabric if the stain itself picked up iron differently to unstained cloth.  Iron, either as water in which rusty nails have been lurking or proper dissolved ferrous sulphate, is also able to mordant cloth or to modify dye colours.

I tested out a variety of leaves by hammering them inside a fold of alum mordanted white silk, then simmering the cloth in a weak afterbath of weld leaves which I had been using to make contact dye prints with iron solution added.  The silk went a weak tea colour, the prints did not lose their crispness and have all come out as darker shades of grey/brown.  
It survived a hand wash, so I put the fabric through a washing machine wool cycle at 30 degrees centigrade with wool wash liquid.  The pattern survived and though the colours were not enticing, they did not fade after a few weeks in full sun.

Grand plan, now.  A big piece of silk which had had a splodgey and disappointing dip dye in a Japanese Indigo plant vat last year was mordanted with 10% alum. One rainy day, I gathered leaves from all around the garden and settled down in the kitchen with my hammer, ready to design a lovely pattern.  Big mistake.  The leaves must have been too full of sap, under the hammer, they just squidged.  Bugger. Never mind,
on a drier day, I tried again, just experimenting with whatever plant material looked a promising shape.  I had had a vat of dried weld leaves fermenting and expected a strong Lincoln Green from overdyeing the indigo, modified with a drop of iron.  Must have heated it too much or left it fermenting too long, because the weld did not perform well, another weak tea colour instead of yellow.
Anyway, the leaf prints are wash fast. Oak, cranesbill and blackberry leaves came up darker, ferns gave the most striking pattern.  Expect I'll come back to this idea for something else, some time when it stops raining.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Dyeing Wool with Clematis Leaves

My companion, Elinor Gotland, must have been exhausted by her sailing holiday.  She slept for two days solid, drank a pot of tea, then dozed off again in the garden. Waking with a start, she stared blearily at the mountain of greenery I had piled onto the lawn.
"Did I drop off?"
"Sleeping Beauty, you are.  To paraphrase Tennyson
"She snores, her breathings are loud heard
In palace chambers far apart.
Fleecey tresses snortily stirr'd
That lay upon her charmed heart."
"And who do you think you are, a handsome Prince to my rescue, slashing away all rambunctious with your secateurs? Can't a ewe have a little nap in peace?  And I do not snore."
"Oh eyes long laid in happy sleep!
Oh happy sheep, in garden bed!
Oh happy snore, that woke thy sleep!
Oh sheep, thy snore would wake the dead!"
"Oh, give over.  Before you ask, this princess would rather be woken with a cup of tea than a kiss.  You've not so much pruned as gone machete mad, Beaut.  What is this wasteland of savaged foliage?"
I stuffed a huge bag with tangled clippings, ready for another trip to the skip.
"Thorns, ivies, woodbine, mistletoes, And grapes with berries red as blood, All creeping plants, a wall of green Close matted, bur and brake and briar - all to surround you, oh Sheeping Beauty.  Well, mostly, this was a very vigorous clematis.  Next door had started worrying about their roof tiles being invaded. I've never really been sure what time of year to cut back a montana and it got away from me rather."

Truth be told, the pink clematis made the back of our semi look like a fairytale cottage every May and I hadn't had the heart to exercise proper control.  The flowers were over, half the plant is down now and the place looks awfully bleak.  Still, we both agreed the kitchen seems much lighter and brighter, now the back door is no longer approached through a tunnel of leaves. Though I hadn't heard of getting
any dye colour out of clematis leaves, there was little to be lost in trying.  I crammed a pot as full as I could, added water and simmered it for a couple of hours.  After sieving out the wilted leaves, the water had turned a pale ginger - see centre jar.  Adding vinegar to acidify the jar on the right made the fluid slightly paler, adding dissolved soda ash to alkalinise the one on the left definitely deepened the colour.
"Look, Elinor, when I alkalinised the whole pot, all the froth turned green!"  My companion did not get up to see, she just waved a limp hoof in a dismissive gesture.
"'Fran prunes, scarce knowing what she seeks: she boils the plant, drops wool in there. If colour flies into her yarn, She trusts to light on something fair.'  Misplaced trust, I'll bet. Heaven knows why you don't stick to the classic dye plants, usually beige from the others, isn't it, then Beaut?"
A skein of white wool weighing 60g and premordanted with 10% alum was simmered and left to cool in the dye bath.  I always worry that prolonged soaking in alkali will harshen wool fibres, but this Cotswold yarn seemed to cope ok and came out greenish yellow.  Not a bad result, next time I prune the clematis, I will
put a smaller weight of wool in the pot and see if the colour comes up better.  A silk scarf was contact dyed in the remains of the dyebath with a little iron solution and came up greener that the camera shows.  The leafprints were made by various hardy geraniums and new leaves from coreopsis plants not yet in flower. At the sight of silk, my companion finally got off her arse, hauling herself up among the clematis shoots with much fuss and groaning.
"I'd have thought you'd be all fit and limber, after a week climbing the rigging and tacking to and fro, sailing around the Mediterranean."
"Catamaran, motor, autopilot, party boat." With this, Elinor slumped into a fold of the scarf and shut her eyes again.  
All precious dyes, discover'd late,
To those that seek them issue forth;
For iron in sequel works with silk,
And draws the veil from hidden worth.
And o'er the hills and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim
Beyond the night, across the day
We chase those colours, bright or dim.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Hammer Printing Fresh Leaves onto Cloth

Putting a bit of plant material inside a folded calico cloth, then walloping it with a hammer, creates results surprising to those of us accustomed to simmering up plants to make a dye bath. The colour that mordanted wool takes up from a prolonged warming in a plant dye bath rarely corresponds to the original plant colour - for example, weld leaves turn wool acid yellow and acorns give pinkish shades.  After a brief hammering on a hard surface,
once the flattened plants have been scraped and peeled off the cloth, their colour seems to transfer direct.  In this trial, a bluebell and some violas printed blues, celandine flowers yellow and leaves printed green.  The more juicy and fat the plant, the more colour appeared on the cloth, a thick leaf print being a solid deep green shape, while a thinner, dryer leaf had detailed tracery, but released too little sap 
to create a clear image.  The bluebell was so squashy as to lose all definition and the hawthorn leaves were so young and fragile that parts of them got mashed into the thick weave of the calico, impossible to remove.
Trying to find a balance of detail and substance in a hammer plant print, my most pleasing results came from young leaves, freshly grown this May on deciduous trees. The next photo shows an 
apple leaf and a plum leaf.  The stronger prints on the left are on the cloths which were under the back of the leaves, the patchier, paler prints on the right are on the cloths on the top surface.  A similar effect occurs when you print from leaves by simmering them wrapped in an ecobundle with iron - the reverse of the leaf gives a much clearer print.
While hammering is wearisome and noisy, the results are
gratifyingly quick, compared to other methods of plant dyeing. Here is a close up, showing my record of the best kinds of leaves I tried this spring. Pretty as the effect is, the printed cloth can't be washed and a small trial last year suggested that all the printed colours will eventually
turn brown. Thinking there must be some use for hammer prints, I sewed the calico onto cards, using scraps of plant dyed silk to look like spring blossom. When the leaf prints turn brown, they will, after all, still be leaf prints, evolving all by themselves.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Crochet One-Skein Wonders for Babies - Book Review

"Getting broody, at your time of life?  I think that ship has well and truly sailed, Beaut."  
I put my copy of 'Crochet One-Skein Wonders for Babies' down on the table with a small slam.
"Elinor, there can't be many sheep who can act the total cow quite as well as you.  One of the many glories of 'my time of life' is having kids old enough to shovel in their own food, then wipe it off the other end without my assistance.  I'll have you know Storey Publishing sent me this book to review."
"Mmmoo - dy! Hot flush, is it, dear?"
Although not much interested in babies, I was greatly attracted by the notion of a One-Skein Wonder and had been leafing through the book with something special in mind.  A specially fabulous, multicoloured skein of handspun yarn, bought at WonderWool. Turning the shiny, heavyweight pages, there were plenty of large photos which illustrated the finished objects well, avoiding the temptation to focus too much on cute shots of the tiny models.  The editors, Judith Durant and Edie Eckman, had chosen their 101 patterns from dozens of different designers, which made for a good range of styles to choose from.  Divided into sections entitled Hats + Caps, Tops + Dresses, Bottoms, Bibs + Washcloths, Toys, Blankets + Sacks and finally, Bags + Accessories, the cut edges of the pages are colour coded by section with the name of the pattern on each page, written vertically down the edge.  I can see this would be really helpful, if you came at the book in the natural fashion, with a particular wish to crochet, say, a cardi for your baby.  However, if your starting point is one skein of wool, 100g in weight, with the characterful irregularity of handspun averaging out about worsted/heavy double knitting, then sorting out a project requires a bit more effort than just choosing from the pictures in one section.

As is usual, each pattern is written for a named brand of yarn and although the weight and length of a standard ball is specified, you have to guess from the photo whether a project is likely to be in lace or chunky.  Very useful to find at the back of the book an index to projects by yarn weight, so I was just in the process of flipping to and fro by page number, reviewing all those suitable for worsted.
My companion planted a hoof on The Pinwheel Vest, designed by Lorna Miser.
"Now there's a blast from the past.  Haven't seen a top like that
since the 70s."
"Oh, yeah.  Play that sax, daddio. This project is going to be one hip, hot, diggitty dog."
"Hate to bring you down, man," said Elinor, dryly.  "but it says the one skein you need weighs 200g."
"Drat, drat and double drat.  I'll just do the central motif in the 100g of groovy colours and then spin up some Black Welsh Mountain fleece to crochet the rest."
This pattern is given both round by round and as a chart, clear and simple, I only went wrong once or twice and soon worked out why. 
Though all measurements are given as both Imperial and metric, US crochet notation is used without a conversion table for the UK terms.  The glossary does describe how to do every one of the many stitches included and the book index is truly comprehensive. Despite my gauge working out considerably bigger than stated, I realised with mounting excitement that way more than 50g wool was left after the back wheel was complete.  I carried on, crocheting faster and faster, in order to finish before my 
ball of yarn ran out.  Made it, with about 50cm to spare.  Obviously, it would never take a whole skein to make many of these tiny baby patterns. This book would be very handy for using up leftover yarn of less than a whole skein, if an approximation of the actual yardage needed had been given for each pattern.  Second consideration, how come my Pinwheel Vest turned out nearer age seven size than 18 months? While I am ready to admit my tension is loose and my
judgement of handspun yarn weight is questionable, this is quite a disparity.  To get the crochet gauge correct, I had to go down from 5.5mm to a 4mm hook and use a double knitting weight yarn - well, ok, approximately dk, since this one was handspun too.
It seemed to me a cracking book, well organised and full of functional and pretty items, great for treating the tiny darlings in your life to a really wonderful one skein. Before committing to such a ringing endorsement, I thought I had better crochet another pattern, just to check the tension gauge issue.  These bootees came out exactly the size they should. Crocheting from this book has turned out great fun and I'm actually delighted that the Pinwheel Vest will fit my youngest niece.  She'll be such a hep cat. Had it come out even larger, I'd have worn it myself.  Better not let Elinor see the bootees.  Negative vibes, man.
Crochet One Skein Wonders for Babies
Edited by Judith Durant and Edie Eckman
£12.99 published in the UK May 2016
ISBN 978-1-61212-576-3