Category Archives: natural dyes

Hardy Eucalyptus for printing in cooler climates

 Thanks to the discovery of the Eucalyptus eco-print by India Flint, many textile enthusiasts around the world have fallen in love with the wonderful prints achieved from the leaves of these trees. It seems however, that many believe we can’t grow the varieties useful for contact printing and dyeing in colder climates. It is also a widely held view that those that will cope with our winters will become a menace, quickly growing to enormous heights while stripping nutrients from the soil. 

My groups of dyers really enjoy contact printing and dyeing with native plants and trees. However, there is something magical about the colour and fastness of eucalyptus on wool that makes it so special and so many buy leaves from florists to achieve the wonderful burnt orange prints and long to have a free and ready supply.

Claire, one of the group,  brought an article about Kangaroot Trees  for us to look at (October 2015’s, The Garden). We got quite excited at the possibility of growing a eucalyptus or two as dye plants. However, we first needed to find out which would give us good contact prints as well as cope with various growing conditions, survive our winters and not outgrow our gardens. After reading the article and looking at the website, we realised, this Worcestershire nursery, stocks more than 50 species of hardy Eucalyptus. The owner, Hilary Collins, very kindly agreed to send us samples of six varieties. We chose the following based on their varied leaf shapes,  small to medium growing size (can be container grown) and hardiness.

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At our next meeting we bundled samples of each between pieces of silk and wool, sprayed with a little vinegar and water and then steamed the bundles for an hour.  Five of the six were juvenile leaves except the leaves of the E. pulverulenta, Baby blue which were adult.

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The results of all the samples were excellent. All varieties produced good colour, though the unusual small leaved species E. crenulata  produced greenish leaf prints with red stems, a lovely delicate combination. According to the catalogue this variety is hardy to -10, is tolerant of poor drainage and also has beautiful perfumed flowers.

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E. parvula or Small leaved Gum has nicely shaped pointed leaves, good colour, can be coppiced, is hardy to -20 and can cope with alkaline soils. This was a real favourite and one on my short list. This variety seems to be the most robust and adaptable of all the varieties we sampled.

E cinerea

E. cinerea or commonly know as Silver dollar has rounded leaves, a real favourite with florists, gives good colour and is hardy to -8 to -13. My sister keeps me supplied with foliage from her tree in London. It is a good variety though not as hardy as some.

E nicholii

E. nicholii or Narrow leaved Black Peppermint has lovely feathery foliage and is hardy to -15. It produced good prints contrasting well with the more rounded varieties. I think this varietyis probably my favourite.

E perirana

E. perriniana or Spinning Gum is hardy to -15, gave good colour and interesting prints. The only restriction would be the leaves form around the stem and so would be more difficult to use individually.

We were really happy with our results and are thinking about varieties which would be most suitable for our different gardens. I already have at least two on my wish list, though, with a move on the horizon I may have to wait a little longer!

If in doubt, re-do, add blue or both

Where did I read “if it isn’t beautiful it isn’t finished”? How many of us have piles if failed experiments or pieces that just don’t make the grade? Well this weekend some of us had a go at solving this little problem and it seems to me that bravery is what is required and perhaps a touch of blue!

We gathered for the last of the six monthly workshops this weekend and despite the rain there were some wonderful results. Claire bought a pile of eco printing experiments which she felt disappointed with or the colours just weren’t right.  They were re- bundled with more leaves for a second steaming and then a dip or two in the indigo bath. What resulted were beautiful pieces of silk and wool.

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Sue brought a eucalyptus wool shawl dyed on a previous month and folded and shibori tied the bundle before getting the indigo treatment. Again the teal colour and string marks added a new dimension to the already lovely piece.

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Lyn brought some of her handwoven cotton and linen pieces and some itajime and indigo brought contrast and depth.

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An old damask table cloth cut and hemmed became beautiful shibori table runners came out of the vat.

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Katie and Mary Ann experimented with iron, leaves, shibori and indigo also produced some exciting pieces and others took away wet bundles to be revealed in a later post.

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Everything is Turning Blue

 I spent the night watching the country turn blue and the day watching my garden turn various shades of the same colour.

The first indigo workshop of the year and blue seemed the general colour of our mood and the work. Wonderful combinations of leaves, mud, shibori and indigo made for a happy ending. Even the rain didn’t dent the creativity

leaaves and mud shadow play

leaaves and mud shadow play

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Eucalyptus and indigo

Eucalyptus and indigo

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Shibori stained glass window

Shibori stained glass window

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leaf prints and window itajime on silk

leaf prints and window itajime on silk

Winter Landscapes

I am gearing up for new works that will explore the world of trees.

Recent experiments on papers, with winter leaves, bound and simmered have yielded tones that reflect the winter landscape.

IMG_9308There is so little colour left in the windfalls

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yet they have given me, some lovely, ghostly leaf prints.

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Mark making with different potions are giving me ideas for bigger works

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though how to brew a larger landscape?

Eucalyptus Brews

I’ve been busy playing with eucalyptus gifts from my family. E. cinerea from my sister, which produces wonderful red prints and E. globulus, from Kate, from a felled tree in Hampstead.

E globulus has large leathery green sickle shaped leaves which gave colours from buttery yellow to pale orange and browns.

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The leaves were wrapped and bound in the cloth and around copper and steel tubes and then boiled in various brews. The copper brought out the golden tones and the iron in the steel gave muted greys and blacks. I even wrapped and bound bone beads and put them in the brews with interesting results.

The wonderful thing about eucalyptus on wool is that is substantive without the mordants normally necessary for natural dyes. I need to see how the beads keep their colour.

New Year and New Ventures

The holidays and family gatherings have come to an end leaving me, like many others, feeling tired, overindulged and yearning for Spring. The weather has been windy and wet and days are still far to short. New work is on my mind, though distractions and lack of a studio have hampered progress so far

Last summer a couple of students on one of my workshops told me about a monthly course  they had been going to in Herefordshire. Run by quilter, Ineke Berlin participants work on projects using her facilities and drawing on her expertise.  It seemed like an interesting idea which I then put to others. I had an amazing response and so the initial one day turned into two.We will gather, initially around my kitchen table and then will meet in my tented studio in the garden to learn new techniques, share ideas, and work on our projects.

During the first days last weekend we walked and gathered thoughts and leaves, took photographs. Back around the table we sat and wrote in our journals then stitched, marked paper and bundled leaves which we then steamed and simmered in our witches brew (a cauldron of simmered onion skins, left over tea and leaves) while we exchanged our stories, useful tips and drank tea. Though the trees are bare and shoots of Spring are only just appearing we managed to make some interesting paperwork.

 

It has been a great way to kick start the year.  Next month we will be looking at rust printing and fabric bundling.

Searching for Natural Indigo in India

The next day and a visit to Dastka Andhra, a project supporting and promoting hand weaving in Andhra Pradesh. We bought some samples of natural dyed fabrics and I purchased some handwoven kora (natural coloured) dupattas (shawls) for workshops next year. They will be good for both the mud resist and shibori.

Dastka samples

Dastka samples

Though hand weaving is their priority they are promoting the use of natural dyes including indigo.  Most of the indigo you come across in India is synthetic though presented as natural. Dastkar’s indigo fabrics are yarn dyed in fermented vats by a master dyer who is 90 and still working. Unfortunately, though he has taught over 300 people, there is no one to take over from him which is very sad.

I was lucky enough to  purchase some of his natural indigo to bring home. A tip I was told to test the quality of your indigo cakes. If you drop it in water they should float.  I can’t wait to experiment with different fermentation vats using this, next year

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Then on to Chennai and monsoon rains where between downpours I managed to buy some hand spun and woven silk before traveling down the coast to Auroville to visit  The Colours of Nature.

The founder of The Colours of Nature, Jesus Ciriza Larraona, went to Kashmir many years ago to produce silk carpets. Disappointed by the polluting dyeing methods he witnessed, he started to collect information from all over India on traditional dyeing techniques.

Eager to put his knowledge into practice he started a Research & Development Unit in Auroville, an international township dedicated to human unity, located in the south of India. The Colours of Nature is one of only few remaining natural dyeing units in the world, who are entirely focused on an environmental friendly, vegetable dyeing process. Their research in natural dyes is ongoing. Their specialisation is developing natural indigo fermentation and his dream is to develop his indigo fermentation on an industrial scale.

As well a his commitment to natural indigo fermentation Jesus has been experimenting with  other natural dyes for twenty years and claims to have a quick and fast alum mordanting process which he is keeping secret for the moment.