I have always been intrigued by using things from the garden and recycling things you would normally just throw away. My garden is not large enough to live off, a small holding would suit me better – maybe one day. A couple of years ago I started researching natural dyes and had a few (unsuccessful) attempts at dyeing wool on my stove. I say unsuccessful but had I been aiming for a dark grey then I could say I achieved my goal but I was not aiming for grey, dark for otherwise! It was also quite labour intensive and probably used a lot of electricity as well. So a few weeks ago when we were clearing out the attic I found my old aquarium and thought it would be ideal for a solar oven and while I was online looking for ideas on how to do that, I noticed a lot of people were using old jars, which seemed a lot easier and meant I could get started straight away. The aquarium will still be useful for larger items. Further research is called for, but for now it is quite happy sitting on the patio.
From my previous attempts at dyeing wool in a large saucepan on the stove I found the dye material was difficult to remove from the dye and got stuck to the wool. This time I have chopped up my dye material, put it in a net laundry bag in the jar with hot water and left it in the sun for a few weeks. When the dye is ready the bag can just be removed and emptied. I have decided against dyeing wool at the moment (I probably have enough yarn in my stash to last about two years) but thought it would make a nice change to have some naturally dyed fabrics to sew with. I make my own clothes to have something different to everyone else but then I buy the same commercially dyed fabrics that everyone else has. Due to the unpredictability of natural dyes each batch will be unique.
I decided to get going with four dyes from things I had in the house and garden. Spinach leaves for a yellow/green colour, plum skins for a deep pink/purple, avocado skins and stones for a pale pink, and black beans for a blue.
Then a late frost was forecast so I brought them inside for a couple of days.
It has become apparent that the black beans are not producing any dye colour, so I’m going to discard that one and either try again or find a different dye material entirely.
Meanwhile, I have dyed some cotton fabric on my stove top using turmeric for some almost instant results. Turmeric does not require a mordant and is good for dyeing plant material like cotton (apparently). I soaked the cotton fabric for a few hours. I mixed the turmeric powder (a whole jar) with a small amount of water to make a paste then added it to a large saucepan with enough water to cover my fabric and simmered it for an hour. Then I put my fabric in the dye, simmered it for another hour and then left it to stand for the rest of the day.
OK, so this was not a total success. I could say this was the effect I was going for but I would be lying!
In the pot it looked a lovely deep orange and when I rinsed it out (several times until the water went clear) it still looked a lovely deep orange.
So far, so good. Except that it did smell very spicy, so I gave it a cool machine wash with my Ecover non bio and…
…not orange! So, I probably won’t be making a fabulous garment from this, but it might be useful for quilting – or I might just re-dye it! I’ll probably re-dye it.
I should be able to do this. People have been dyeing wool and fabric for thousands of years. After more research, I decided to buy Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles by India Flint as there are many mentions of her work online. I had looked at it previously but it was more expensive than some others, but I now think I should have bought this one first.
Now I know where I’m going wrong! I really, really wish I had bought this book earlier. Apparently, boiling your dye stuff to within an inch of its life and adding fabric that has had a mordant applied only once the previous night with allum or cream of tartar, boiling some more, and expecting to be able to wash and use a newly dyed fabric immediately just does not provide the best result! So I’m going to take my time and do repeated mordants of alkaline and protein solutions on several fabrics at a time so that I can store them for later use.
In India Flint’s book she describes the best way to treat various different fabrics. She shares many new techniques she has devised to print flower and leaf patterns onto fabric using fabric bundles and hammering (with a mallet), how to dye with delicate flowers in a technique she calls ice flowers, even a way of using mud. She also uses many different mordants which are so different from the traditional ones such as sea water (which we have here in Cornwall in abundance) and soya milk! She also mentions solar dyeing using jars but she does not see the need to extract the dye first, you just add the (already mordanted) fabric at the beginning. She says that dyed fabrics need to mature or cure before use and it’s best to let the newly dyed fabric to dry in the shade before even rinsing let alone washing. That would have been useful to know earlier!
This book is very word heavy and also very beautiful with its muted colour schemes. I have over simplified the contents of this book. It is very inspirational. I’m so excited to get experimenting and I have high expectations of what I will be able to achieve, but I have to remember the keywords: ‘slow’ and ‘time’. I will update you.
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