Monday, 23 July 2007

Dyes from garden and hedgerow plants.

Thinking that there were probably very good reasons why a certain range of natural dyes were used in industry (madder, weld, indigo, cutch... etc) I was a bit dubious about the idea of trying other plants in the dye pot. I thought the colours might be rather boring and might fade very fast.

I'm glad that a workshop run by members of the Online Guild of Weaver's Spinners and Dyers this summer has pushed me into trying a wider variety of plants. The results were more colourful and less boring than I expected - and the dyeing process itself was unpredictable and fun. The photo above shows a range of interesting shades obtained on superwashed merino wool, mostly with "Hedgerow" plants, many of them generally called "weeds".

I was surprised to realise that they are similar shades to those in a commercial knitting yarn I am currently knitting into a jumper. It's a yarn by Twilleys of Stamford called "Freedom Spirit" which is two ply DK. Half the yarn is shades of orange through to brown, this is plied with another yarn of pale to deep green (shade 505). So I can already see the potential in my dyed wool. Another possibility is to spin a mixed colour yarn to use for weft in weaving, probably using a commercially produced worsted in a single dark shade for warp.

Here's some of the best results. In all cases the wool wash pre-mordanted with alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) and cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate). Firstly, the common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and then my dyed samples.

The colours shown, left to right, are first a yellow green on wool with only the pre-mordant, in the centre an olive green produced by adding a pinch (about 1/16th teaspoon) of iron (ferrous sulphate) to the dyebath as an after-mordant, and on the right, a gold-brown from using a pinch of tin (stannous chloride) as an after mordant.

The following pictures show Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium; syn. Chrysanthemum parthenium) firstly the plant in our garden, then in the dye pot, and in the third picture you can see the results of dyeing. This time the pre-mordant only sample is in the centre, on the left is a gold obtained by after-mordant of tin, and on the right a deep green obtained with iron as after-mordant.

I was very pleased with the results of using Feverfew, and look forward to finding out from a light-fastness test how they behave over time with exposure to sunlight. I expect fading of the colours, but how much, how fast, and what will the faded shades look like? The answers to these questions will inform my future use of this dyeplant.

Dock also gave excellent results, and has the reputation of being reasonably light fast. I dyed both with chopped up roots and with the leaves of the Broad Leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius). I only have photos of the samples dyed with leaves to hand. However, the root produced excellent results with a gold-brown and a dark greenish-brown.

The first picture is of the plant in our garden, the second shows results of dyeing.

There's something quite curious about these results. On the left of the picture are two samples dyed in June, before the plant flowered. The first with iron after-mordant, the second dyed in the same bath but removed before the iron was added.

On the right of the picture are samples from July, when the plant was in flower. The right-of-centre sample is the equivalent of the left-of-centre sample - the result of an hour's dyeing with dock leaves of wool pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar. But instead of a yellow-olive shade, here is a soft pale yellow with only the faintest hint of green. Why? Is some dye chemical that was in the leaves before not there once the flower spike is produced? The relative quantities of plant to wool were similar, so it wasn't a weaker dye bath. Possibly there is a difference from the fact that in June the leaves were soaked in cold water for a few days before dyeing, but there didn't seem to be much colour in the cold water before the dyebath was made. On the right of the picture, the strong gold shade was obtained from wool of this soft yellow when a pinch of tin went in the dyebath as after-mordant.

I am keeping record cards of my dye experiments, these are very useful already when I go to the tray of samples and wonder which one is from which plant!


Leigh said...

I'm finally getting caught up on my blog reading. I'm quite impressed with your record keeping. I wish I was that organized. I didn't do the hedgerow dyeing workshop and so am impressed with your results. Very interesting about the difference in colors based on when the plant was used. That could open up a whole new study project!

Kaz [curiousweaver] said...

Dorothy, I'm very impressed with your natural dye results and records. I was particularly interested in the Feverfew as I have that in my garden. Natural dyes give us such wonderful shades.