Friday, 25 November 2016

A Trial of Dyeing with Dyers Chamomile Leaves

Another long, mild, dry autumn kept the plants in my dye garden flowering until I stopped picking flowerheads to let them set seed. By the end of October, the perennial Dyers Chamomile plants were still flourishing against a backdrop of faded annuals.
I did once try contact dyeing with whole stems of Dyer's Chamomile rolled in a silk scarf. The prints made by the leaves were a just pale blur of colour, definitely greener than the golden yellow you get from dyeing with the flowers. After clearing this border at the beginning of November, I had a huge pile of Chamomile clippings and once the leaves had been stripped off and crammed into a dye pot, they weighed about 1.5kg. After simmering for a couple of hours and sieving the greenery out, the water in the pot had turned a greenish yellow, deeper and more golden when I added some soda ash to alkalinise a sample in a jam jar.  
Not much sign of green in either jar, still, I added to the main bath a 50g skein of Polwarth wool yarn, which had been premordanted with 10% alum, then gave that an hour or so to simmer with a teaspoon of soda ash, just in case alkaline conditions helped. Considering there was a ratio of 30/1 plant to fibre weight, little colour seemed to have been taken up during the simmering, yet in the morning, when I pulled the wool out, it was definitely green. Must have happened with the residual heat in the pot working overnight. Even so, it seems the leaves only contain a fraction of the dye found in the flowers.  This photo shows the 30/1 skein of leaf dyed yarn (though the camera hasn't done justice to the green I see in real life) together with some locks of sheepswool dyed in a solar jar with only twice their weight in fresh flowers.

I forgot all about the Chamomile Leaf dye afterbath sitting in a pot on the patio. Rediscovering it this week while clearing up after bad weather, I was surprised to see no mould and sniff no evil smell. The leaves must have the same astringent properties as the flowers, which never seem to rot, even after months in solar jars.

Since the recent rainstorms have stripped the trees, I could gather any number of freshly fallen oak leaves while taking the dog for a paddle in the fields. Laying on top some of the madder stems I have been cutting back, the leaves were rolled in a silk scarf mordanted with alum, tied up with string soaked in iron solution
and simmered for several hours in the chamomile leaf afterbath. There was enough dye left in there to turn the exposed silk a muted green, stronger with the added iron than it had been on the wool with no iron.  Once it was unrolled though, I was disappointed to find that the oak leaves had not given me much of a dark iron tracery.

While I was rinsing and ironing the silk, my companion, Elinor Gotland, returned from her trip to London.
"You'd think Bridgend was an island if you listened to British Rail.  I've been on train diversions up and down the valleys, getting past those floods."  She threw herself down on the sofa and shut her eyes. I hastened to put the kettle on.
"You do look shattered.  How did your audition go?"
"Don't ask, Beaut, don't ask. 'Don't ring us, we'll ring you.'"
I put her cup of tea beside her.  She didn't even stir.  I added a slug of sloe gin.
"Lots of people have been delighted with your picture on our 2017 Plant Dye Calendar. I must show you all their messages, once you've rested."
Elinor opened one eye.
"See, I said that thing needed a bit of star quality.  Sold a few, have you?" 
She took a sip of her tea.
"More than a hundred, posted all around the world.  It's been amazing. I've ordered another hundred sets of calendar pages from the printer. Only trouble is, the colour hadn't come out quite right the second time, so I've had to take them back and get a new print run.  The printers think I'm a real fuss pot and say they won't be ready til Tuesday."
Elinor was no longer drooping like a dandelion in a drought. She had perked up and now noticed what I was ironing.
"Shame you aren't as picky with good silk. Didn't get much colour onto that scarf, did you?"
"I don't think there was enough strength left in my iron solution.  The oak leaf prints have left their brown dye, but no pretty iron pattern."
"Can't take the scarf back to the print shop, can you Beaut?"
"Never mind, there's always overdyeing."
"Or shopping.  Christmas is only four weeks away and I am a ewe on a mission to make High Street traders happy.  I bet you haven't even started sorting out presents.  You can drive us up to Cardiff in your car tomorrow, Beaut."
It's lovely to have her home.  Really.

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