Once again, five guild members gathered in the kitchen and shared experiences of dyeing with plants, whilst the pans gently for about an hour. Extending the range of colours by using the modifiers was new to some.
We didn't expect a lot of colour from the fig or beech as the cold soak hadn't yielded any, but in the end we got a good range of soft and subtle shades.
I have got darker yellows from the ivy in the past, but it maybe that I used it at a different time of year. That is one of the fascinations about dyeing with plants - we could try the same plants in the summer and see whether we get different colours.
From L - R: Beech, Fig, Ivy
From left - right:
Standard colour, acid modifier, alkali modifier, on copper mordant, iron modifier.
Next dyeing day: Thursday
We will be dyeing with fig:
Beech and ivy:
The fig prunings have been soaking for a couple of weeks now and the water is looking, well, scummy, but there is no colour. The oak, which has leaves attached, has been soaking for just a few days, and the ivy will be chopped straight into the dye bath without prior soaking.
But all different shades of brown! Some people may say (and some people DO say) why go to all this trouble to produce shades of brown? Well, partly it is because we are just experimenting with what is available, and what is mainly available in January and February is tree prunings,
and partly it is so satisfying to produce colour, any colour, from plants that are around us. And when they have given up their colour they can go onto the compost heap, so have a pretty low carbon footprint.
I said in the first post that we would test a skein for lightfastness. Some natural dyes fade quite quickly - they are known as 'fugitive' and some wash out. Sadly, the beautiful berry colours of blackberries, sloes and other fruits fade very quickly. The skeins to be tested will be sandwiched between card, leaving a portion of wool exposed, and left in a sunny window.
Various substances can be added to the dyebath to increase the range of colours, or shades of colour obtained from one dye. These are generally known as 'modifiers'. Some dyes are pH sensitive so can be changed by the addition of an acid or an alkali and 'iron water' darkens or 'saddens' a colour.
Iron water is easily made by putting rusty nails into a jar and pouring on one-third distilled vinegar and two thirds water. Leave this for a couple of weeks and you get a good brown sludgy liquid. It can be topped up as it is used.
But where to find rusty nails?
He collects these on his magnetic collar and deposits them onto his cat flap - this is at some personal cost, as once they are there the flap sticks and he can't get in or out!
All parts of yew are poisonous so, rather than dyeing with yew in the kitchen I used an old slow-cooker in the cellar (these work very well whether the dyestuff is poisonous or not!). This dye bath hadn't yielded much colour after simmering for a couple of hours so the twigs were soaked and simmered on and off for 3 days.
Lovely warm browns. Again: on silk, basic colour, acid modifier, alkaline, copper and iron.
The apple prunings, from left to right: basic colour on silk, basic colour on wool, acid modifier, alkaline modifier, copper mordant, iron modifier. - more on modifiers another day.
A mordant is a metal compound which binds the dye colour to the fibre, usually making it brighter and more light and wash fast.
Alum is the mordant most widely used by craft dyers nowadays as it is non-toxic, though can be an irritant and should be handled with care.
I will include a skein of wool mordanted with copper in each dye bath - a copper modifier could also be used after mordanting with alum and dyeing.
On the apple dye, the acid modifier has not made any change, the alkaline one has turned the wool gold, as has the copper mordant (it is brighter than it looks in the photograph) and the iron modified skein is a grey/green.
The colour on the skein treated with the alkaline modifier is a bit patchy - probably because there was not enough liquid in the pan for it to move around freely, so parts of the skein have been subjected to more heat than others.
Each month, we plan to collect plant material from Winterbourne Botanic Gardens (supplied by the gardeners) and see what colours we can obtain on wool and silk. In January the fruit trees were pruned so apple wood was our first experiment.
The apple prunings were chopped up and put to soak in cold water for a couple of weeks.
Five of us assembled in the kitchen to see whether the apple wood would release enough dye to colour the fibres
and to eat cake (though, obviously not at the same time!)
The apple prunings were heated slowly until it reached boiling point, then simmered for about an hour. The mordanted skeins and silk were added to the dye bath and simmered gently for about 45 minutes.
Of the skeins that we dyed, one was labelled as the 'standard' colour, another was put aside to be tested for light fastness, two more will be overdyed with woad and madder later in the year, and three were treated to see if the colour would change with modifiers.
Results to follow...