Saturday, 29 December 2007

Inks, post Christmas blues and watching the Titanic

Both the DS's have gone back to normal life one to job and v.busy social life, and the other to finish his PH.D. DH has gone off to work so as soon as I could I went to investigate the "inks" I had made before Christmas. I had put a tablespoon of dye chips, except for the saffron which was 1g , added 100ml of water and put them into jam jars in the slow cooker which were making dyebaths for 48 hours or so. Then I filtered them through coffee filter papers into glass spice jars and left them till today.
Left Column top to bottom. Saffron, Cutch, Walnut with iron added, logwood with iron added ( surprising! and I have now added some washing soda to get purple).
Right Column. Cochineal with tin added after filtering & ammonia. Cochineal with iron & ammonia, Black oak -disappointing as an "ink" ,Cochineal with tin added at the soaking stage.
You can see from these samples how watery and runny the " inks/paints" ( I am not sure what to call them!) are so I thought that I would try and see what "stabalising" with gum arabic means. ( see previous post)
I hunted out some old dusty gum arabic and tried to find a reference in my dye books to using it. I am sure Liles has it in but could I find my Liles? Could I heck. In the process I found I have no less than two copies of Bemiss! Who is not a lot of use in this case. Nor were my other dye books although I must confess my search was a bit cursory. There was nothing in Cardon, nor in Jenny Dean's, nor in Susan Bosence books for example although I am sure I have seen a recipe somewhere.
I tried dissolving a few lumps of gum arabic in water in my studio microwave , but in the end heated them, stirring in a small pan till no more would dissolve and then added the resulting solution to my "inks". It did not make much difference and in the end I added in the order of 1 tablespoon of gum arabic solution to 50ml of " ink". I was planning to go back after I had eaten but succumbed to the temptation of watching The Titanic sink on BBC2-why I cannot think as it is a lousy film apart form the sinking bit which is quite dramatic so I put it down to being still post bug as as my legs still feel a bit jelly like it will have to do as an a excuse. So I will have to wait till tommorow to see whether I think there is any improvement . I have painted with dye thickened with gum tragacanth which makes a sort of textured paint so it will be interesting to see the difference between the different types of thickener.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Medieval Inks, buckthorn bark and being laid low with a nasty bug.

This is just a quickie as I have been laid low before and after Christmas with a horrible bug. Fortunately I was okay over Christmas itself but a new bug laid me low this morning. At least I will not be putting on weight this Christmas.

I have been doing a little research into inks and find that they are stabalised with gum arabic but so far there has been surprisngly little information in my dye books and I have had more luck researching online. So far I have only come across the standard walnut ink, brazilwood, iron and vinegar and a comment that greens and blues were made but that they were difficult.

Making Woodash
A few weeks ago I put about three to four inches of woodash lye into a bucket and filled it up to the top and produced a weak woodash with a pH of about 9 . That this was not enough is evident because I put 200 go buckthorn bark into a pan covered with the weak wood ash lye and left it on my heating Pad ( ones that are used for wine-these are flat pads which get warm). When I briefly checked on Christmas morning it was covered with mould and the pH was neutral at 7. Fortunately we have had a lot of very cold days and have had a lot of woodfires so I was able to fill a bucket three quarters full of woodash and this is now producing a wood ash lye with a pH of 12. I suspect that I will have to restart fermenting the buckthorn bark so I have lost a week. Very annoying as I am dyeing merino 100's for my next workshop.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Projects, painting with natural dyes and a felted stream

Picture above "Seascape" is painted with natural dyes with pastels over the top. And some samples of painting with natural dyes

I always find that the period between the end of Christmas and the start of the new year is the time for a bit of play and this year two projects have started growing in my mind and giving me something to look forward to after Christmas when I have a tendency to slide into post Christmas blues.

Natural Dyes as Inks

One project has been triggered by a fairly casual remark but has set off a train of thought. Last week I went to visit the studio of a local artist I met recently who paints vibrant and vivid landscapes of the Welsh countryside-his name is David Brightmore - and his work can be seen ( if the new website is up) at David showed how he works and paints using acrylic inks over shapes and pieces which he then peels off to reveal textured and patterned surface which he then works into further. I mentioned as we were chatting that I paint with natural dyes, which I initially learnt to do at Colour Congess but I have been working on it ever since. David said "could you make me up some natural dye inks in primary colours"? My first reaction was well natural dyes don't work like that colour wise , and in any case they tend to go off and smell. This is because I am a bit of a slob and leave the dye materials in which in the course of time go off. Cochineal is the worse for this as the smell is really dreadful after a couple of weeks. Then I got to thinking as, as so often happens, I walk the dogs in the hills. Firstly on the colour problem. Cochineal with tin will give reds, bright yellow I am hoping to get from black oak bark - I have some in soak now, because dyes like weld go greenish when painted onto paper and saffron , absolutely gorgeous as a paint, is on the orange side. Blue is the most difficult as I paint with an indigo concentrate and as David knows nothing about dyes I don't suppose he would appreciate having to keep it in a reduced state. I am wondering whether I can use Indigo sulphonate of which I have some ( made from indigo and sulphuric acid) or from logwood with woodash lye which in my water gives a blue, but a dark blue. You can see how fascinated I have become. Then I mentioned to a friend , Debbie the Mulberry Dyer who is very knowledgeable about historical dyes who told me she has a recipe for a medieval ink. I wonder what the definition of an ink is?

Filtering baths to create inks

On the problem of smelly baths suppose I filter the baths ? At the moment I have very concentrated baths in jam jars in my slow cookers where they have been for twenty four hours hopefully the continuous but gentle heat will extract the dyes. I almost never boil natural dyes as this dulls most colours. If you are wondering why I am not using extract dyes for this-well I could but as you need very concentrated dye liqours using extract dyes is an expensive way to do this. Furthermore extract dye do not respond to colour modification such as with copper and tin as well as do dye baths made direct from plant materials.

As I make my marzipan icing -yes late I know but I do have to drag myself in from felting/dyeing to cook-I find my self turning the problems over in my mind and and I think that I will do some research into ancient and medieval inks.
Second project?
Well that is a felting one and I think I will keep it for another day

Update on the hunt for black

I met someone yesterday w ho has givien the phone number of someone who will be cutting the alders by the riverbanks in North Wales. He thinks they might be prepared to let me chip off some bark for black. He also told me ( having spent a life time working with trees that when you cut alder it is white but goes orange in the air. hmm!

I was told by a friend that this blog was nice but very technical and only for the serious dyer! :( - Oh well it keeps me happy!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Scarf from the merino tops & silk dyed in buckthorn bark

Buckthorn bark. This is still happily fermenting away and is currently dyeing some yarn for a friend. She is keen on tapestry weaving and over the past few months I have popping yarn into pots for her. Altogether the 100g of buckthorn bark fermented in wood ash lye has dyed 200g of merino tops, a length of silk and about 50g of yarn. The length of silk , satin chiffon and some of the merino tops has now been been turned into a scarf. Inthe photograph on the left you see the felt side which is made with mostly the merino tops dyed in the buckthorn bark although there are some other colours and a very red silk cap layer. The silk became quite orange during the felting process. I call this scarf felted silk but you will sometime see it described as Nuno felt, from , I understand , Japanese meaning new. Although I have been felting silk for ages the process still seems like magic. You lay out on one side of the silk fabric a very fine layer of merino wool in this case with fine layers of silk caps ( raw silk) on top of the wool . After spraying the wool with water and rubbing with olive oil soap, you gently rub the single layer of wool fibres. The wool fibres push through the silk fabric and appear as a fine froth on the reverse side of the silk and as you continue felting the wool starts to shrink. The silk of course does not shrink so begins to wrinkle. In this scarf I achieved a seersucker like effect which is really attractive. ( At least I think so)

The person who commissioned the scarf wanted on that was dyed in autumn colours and I felt very happy with the result. I wish you could feel the texture as the combination of satin chiffon and merino wool is really soft and comfortable and the satin sid eof the silk fabric has a high sheen. In fact it was because I was wearing a scarf made from this combination that she asked me to make two scarves for her. The other one was blue but the time was so tight for getting it for her I did not have time to photograph it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

A dyers cautionary tale

Two days ago I shot in to my studio and turned off two vats before going to my mother in law's funeral. This latter event must have distracted me as as instead of turning one bath off I turned it up. This morning I went into my studio and realised immediately I had burnt a pan of raspberry colour merino tops. Then I saw there was ash on the floor. To my horror I realised that my electric ring was red hot, the wonderful old teak bench - originally an old school chemistry lab bench- had a hole burnt right through it, I am still feeling somewhat shaky at what might have happened. If it had been anything else but teak I think my whole studio would have gone up in flames but as it is as you can see I have a hole. Still have not confessed to dh!
The fermented buckthorn bark is still giving colour. I added 100g of merino tops and within two days the tops were a deep gold that changed to orange in the air.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Fermented Buckthorn Bark and being excited.

Today I took the merino wool fibres and silk ( satin chiffon) out of the fermenting buckthorn bark bath. The fibres were mostly a deep gold except for where they had been exposed to air where they appeared a brown so I expected a change in the air but I was astonished to find the fibre changed to a deep orangey red. The silk has gone a more burnished gold/orange. The wool feels a little rough after being in alkaline environment for a week but not too bad and I will felt some next week to see how it goes and also to keep a sample and see whether it disintegrates.

I then did a colour modifiation tests. From left to right alum, alum and ammonia, copper, copper and ammonia, tin, tin and ammonia iron, iron and ammonia and now I am gazing at a row of deep reds. I am so excited the colours are just gorgeous and having spent so long struggling with the madder red which I find difficult to get I am particularly thrilled to get a good red.

Now I want to try alder buckthorn to see if the colour is different! Or better, and I will do some lighfastness tests.
Disappointment with madder
I have also been fermenting madder chips after a prolonged soak expecting to get the garnet reds which you are supposed to get with fermenting madder. I heard about this at Colour Congress but have never managed to get anything particularly wonderful. However I haven't tried since I got the heating pads so I htought I would try again but I just got a standard orange . :( (oh well you can't win them all!) & The pong in the studio is aweful! In fact thinking about it it may have been because the temperature was too low. I had a big stainless steel vat on top of the heatingpad, with 300g of madder, and 300g of merinot tops in. The heating pad could not really cope and the water was cool -only in the upper twenty degrees C. The bath went mouldy so after three days I took it off the heat pad and heated up to 60 degrees C
I think I shall to retry with a smaller quantity or get heat pads that will heat up the larger vats.
That's all for now . Back soon .

Thursday, 6 December 2007

So what about the white oak bark?

I mentioned at the same time as I was trying black oak bark ( yummy bright yellows-fabulous greens with indigo) that I had also been given white oak bark. I soaked it 2 days, heated it in a slow cooker, one day, added fibres and heated again for 1 day. A yucky beige/yellowy/brown/ nondescript colour not worth photograhing was the result. yuk!

Fermenting buckthorn bark.

Last Sunday, a week after I started fermenting the buckthorn bark chips in woodash lye, I topped the chips up with more water, added lye to keep the Ph at about 8. I actually added a bit too much and it was pH 9 however when I added 50g of premordanted wet merino tops it went back to 8. I just hope that a week in a fermenting alkaline vat won't destroy the fibres. For good measure I also added a piece of satin chiffon, although I thought that with both the wool and silk in together I might not get such a good colour on the silk, as happens with madder. However I was in a "what the hell mood" so in it went!

The stainless steel pan the chips are in are still on a heated pad. With more water in the temperature has dropped to fairly consistent 35 degrees C rather than the 40-45 degrees I was getting with just a little fluid.

Something a bit odd is happening. As you can see from the photograph, ( taken with a flash so the colours are a bit on the red side ) , the fibres where they are submerged are a deep golden yellow. Where they are exposed to the air a reddish brown.
The fabric to the left is the silk. The wool is to the right front and at the back right there is a small amount of the cotton muslin holding the chips exposed too. The unmordanted cotton is a good yellow too! You can also see the thermometer sticking out.
Incidentally the buckthorn bark dyed the normal way overdyed in indigo has given some lovely greens . The exhaust yelllows overdyed have given a turquoise. When the fibres are dried and we get some sun (!) I will put up a photograph. So all in all I am very pleased with the colours from buckthorn bark. A most underated dye plant at least by me until now.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

More on Buckthorn and black oak bark

I got very excited the other night. I had added the buck thorn chips back to the water, heated them slowly ( this is all in the slow cooker so generally for 12 hours or so) added some raw silks such as silk laps I had at the bottom of my mordant pot and left it on for another twelve hours. I added a dessert spoon about of ammonia. The silks went a wonderful deep russet red but alas alas it all seemed to rinse out. The rinse water was a blood red at one point. The wool in the bath was better and here is a picture of it.
The black oak bark 50 g of which I put into soak some three days ago and heated has so far dyed 200g of merino tops. The first 50 g was quite a deep yellow with a green tinge. The second which I left on by mistake on low ( again in the slow cooker) overnight has gone a golden yellow. Now I am going to over dye these in indigo as I have a commission to make a green felt bag but fortunately not till after Christmas!
Here is the full range of colours from black oak bark.
I have always wanted to dye with black oak bark so I am really excited to have done so and find the colours so beautiful. The significance of black oak bark is that it is light fast. As light fast as weld apparently so in this respect is very important. I just have to be able to get a good supply of it! This particular batch of black oak came from Earthues via Debbie the Mulberry Dyer so if anyone in the UK wants to try this she should be able to let you have some.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Online shop and buckthorn bark

Hurray! My online shop is open. T'is a small thing but it will grow! I have always wanted to have a shop but the idea of standing behind a counter all day is another thing so a virtual shop is ideal for me. Anyway it is open and if you want to felt with naturally dyed fibres this is the place for you. and of course if you want to buy one of my pictures or books.

The only problem with a shop and a blog is that I swear my eyes are going square! However I love my blog and can't think why it has taken me so long to get here and do one. Mind you I notice that nothing very much is getting done in house and garden.

Update on the Buckthorn bark.

I have uploaded the yellow fibres dyed with buckthorn bark. It is a lovely soft golden yellow but goes orangy/pinkish with ammonia. I tried the full colour modification a la Fred Gerber. The original mordant was Alum @ 8%A 7%CT. Then I split it into 8 pots with about 50ml of dye and a drift of the merino tops. I added a grain or so ( it is not terribly precise I am ashamed to say) So the first sample is alum only. 2.alum + ammonia. 3.Tin. ( ie stannous Chloride. 4 Tin+ ammonia.5 Copper ( copper sulphate) 6. Copper + ammonia 7.Iron ( ferrous Sulphate) 8. Iron + ammonia. The copper and ammonia is a nice colour a sort of purplish brownish pink. Very much the colour the birch trees look at distance when they have lost their leaves. The fermenting one is still bubblin gently away at about 45 degrees C and a pH of 7. I dropped a tiny drift of merino fibres in and for the first two days these looked a deep brassy yellow now they appear to be taking on a russet hue.
I am really looking forward to seeing the fermented result and then I shall try it with alder buckthorn and I hope beechwood ash, the first I have ordered and the second I shall have to create using beech wood chips which now no less than three woddturners have promsied.
I discovered that a friend Debbie has a 1lb of blackoak bark. This too I have never tried and I really want to having heard what a fantastic lighfast yellow it makes and is very strong. So Debbie gave me 100g to try out along with some whitebark oak she bought in error to see whether that gives any result. These two are now in soak so I am hoping to dye with them over the next few days. Black oak bark has not been possible to get hold of till recently and not at all in the UK and I know that Bill Bailey, a member of natural dyes online harvested a lot, which he sold to Hillcreek Studios & Aurora silks. This particular batch came from Earthues.
Back to brief comment on woodash. Hi Leena I think that juniper is an alum accumulater and so works as alum mordant ( but I could be wrong).

Monday, 26 November 2007

woodash lye

Leigh said she did not realise that there was a difference in wood ash lyes. I don't know that there is and Leena commented yesterday that it may have been just the ash of local trees. However when researching for my indigo book I did find that the recipes for fermented indigo called for a wood ash lye from oak. But I managed perfectly well without it. Yesterday I had a stall at an art fair and met up with a friend who as well as making fabulous baskets ( which I use on my stalls) has a husband working in a oak frame business. They reconstruct ancient building etc. as well as building stunning summer houses in oak. She feels he can get me oak chips to burn and possibly beech. Another wood turner ambling past my stall also said he could get me beech chippings so I may be able to try these all out. Incidentally wood ash lye is not difficult to make. There are all sorts of fancy instructions for dripping water though straw etc but I find just pour water onto a thicklayer of woodash in a bucket and leave for a few days does the trick.

The buckthorn bark is bubbling away the pH has now dropped to between 6-7 and the temperature has risen to 45 degrees C.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

On the left Buckthorn bark and water on the right the same but with woodash lye.
The Bark with woodash lye has now been sitting on the heating pad for two days and the temperature, initially 50degrees C dropped to 40 and has stayed there, just dipping below on the first cold night. The pH of the woodash lye was 11 so I was surprised this morning to find the bark on the heat pad ( dyebath 2) fermenting with bubbles on the surface. The pH is 7-8. The liquid looks a strong reddish brown. I am not sure I am supposed tobe fermenting the brief recipe in Dominique Cardon simply says cover with warm woodash lye for 8 days. It is an old Dutch recipe apparently so if there are any dyers dropping form Holland it woud be interesting toknow if they know of this. Thanks Leena for your comment about lye. I think ( and hope!) you may be right but it would still be interesting to try and get some beech ash just to see if it makes a difference, I suppose it depends on what happens at the end of all this. The Buckthorn bark has to stay heating for 8 days then the wool needs to be immersed iin it for a week turning occasionally. I assumed it should be topped up with water because I have only covered the chips so there won't be much liquid otherwise.
The bark covered with water had a prolonged heat in a slow cooker at the keep warm temperature which keeps it well under the boil. I rarely boil as it so often dulls the colour. Now it loooks rather like rhubarb root what my a friend calls an unky yellow, in other words mustard. I shall dye with that tommorrow I hope.
I am off to an Art Fair now car all loaded so must dash.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Updates on purple loostrife and alder.

I have been eyeing up the purple loostrife bath has been sitting on the floor of the studio for the past week because if not quite the inky black of the eucalyptus bath it is a dark charcoal now. I have been wondering whether the bath is better when it has been left giving the iron time to form the iron tannin complex that I understand gives the black. So today I put in 50g of merino tops and have left it heating gently. If you put a finger and thumb in it feels almost as though the bath is slightly thick and you can rub a black slime between your finger and thumb.

In answer to Leena's comment I have used logwood for black and have a very good recipe which Jenny Dean helped me develop and it gives an excellent black with iron ( I used it in my picture Rising Sun ) but I need a black for my medieval hat maker who can't use logwood and also because I want to see whether I can get the colours you are supposed to be able to get from such plants as Pl and elecampane. My final reason that my dye garden will be opened next year and I want a sample of every dye plant in the garden. My work may be cut out as Enys who does the garden has gone to America is meeting up with a professor of a botanical garden with a view to getting exotic seeds The dark green sounds very interesting and I shall try that as a dark green is so useful. Thanks Leena

In the meantime I decided so see whether I could get hold of any alder bark, none of my suppliers seemto have it, but my eye was caught by alderbuckthorn (Frangulaa Alnus)Much excited I looked up the name and found it is a variety of buckthorn not an alder and is not a dye I have used very much. As I browsed through the pages I found you could ferment the mature berries of buckthorn for a lightfast purple At this moment my thoughts digressed and I found myself remembering a time not so long either when I thought I knew a lot about natural dyeing. Now the more I do the less I seem to know. Anyway that is a digression . On reading about alder buckthorn I was interested to find that if fermented in beechwood ash lye it would give a madder type red. I dived into my dye box and found at the bottom a kilo of buckthorn bark-then I discovered you could do the same recipes with buckthorn bark as for alderbuckthorn So Dye bath 1 is 200g of buckthorn chips which I put into soak. The water went bright yellow immediately. Dyebath 2 is 200g of buckthorn covered with woodash lye.-2.2litres. This I then heated to 50degrees C hauled out a hot plate and placed it on it as the recipe said to cover the chips with warm wood ash lye ( it should be beech ash but I did not have it) for 8 days. This time the liquor turned bright red.

I feel very excited. What is it about creating colour that is so life giving? I just love it. :)

I want to get some alderbuckthorn and also some beech ash for beech ash lye. In fact I can't wait and am racking ny brains for someone who works in beech.

The recipe incidentally came from Dominique Cardons book Natural Dyes which represents for me £75.00 very well spent even if the chemistry is mostly over my head!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Blacks Alder and a Nice Day

Today has been one of those days that happen occasionally when everything nice seems to happen. I went to visit a centre in Ruthin ,a nearby medieval market town , called the Chiron Centre ( website up soon)and took with me two of my pictures. The sense of peace and a beautiful space was quite overwhelming. beautiful wood beams, wattle and daub walls painted gentle creams . Every window showed stunning views, one over the medieaval buildings of Ruthins market place with a view of distant hills beyond one way , and a view of complex roof shapes with the outline of the Clywdian hills against the sky the other. Angela who has opened this glorious place for meetings, gatherings, alternative therapy, yoga etc has offered me an exhibition and two workshops in the new year. Then I return to find that I have two lovely comments on my blog. I have been loving my blog it is keeping my mind focussed, however having lovely supportive and informative comments too is the icing on the cake. Thank you Bettina. Leena and also Leigh who hasen't popped into today but has many times over the past two weeks.Onto the alder. It seems to be that a lot of iron is needed to get the black, as apparently three were statutes about it use as black because of its effect on fibres.20-25kg or alder bark are added to iron filings with 6 litres of vinegar to 1lb of rusty iron with one twentieth of the liquor being decanted three times a day and poured back in -presumably to aerate it. Thsi was left for at least a month. ( Dominque Cardon Natural Dyes p426. I must read Jenny Jeans recipe for blacks becasue she has a number in her latest book and she did a lot of research on the medieval blacks. My trouble is is that as I dye very fine fibres ( merino64's and 100's ) I neither want to do a lot of overdyeing as it felts nor do I want a lot of iron as it destroys. hum!May be I ask too much! And I quite want it to be local too so alder would be very nice. I was so interested to read Leena's comment tha the leaves were use for a tonic for the animals- so often dyes and natural medicines seem to go together. Black is not only difficult in natural dyes though my GP mentioned to me that she often sees people who have a skin reaction to synthetic black dyes as there are very few. Just to cheer us all up I have uploaded a photo of my boiled madder from the chips that gave that fantastic red. The only thing is that the photo come out quite pink in colour when really it is burnt orange . It was heated overnight but at just under the simmer. I was surprised to see it still had so much colour but it was in soak for at least a week between being used for the red and oranges and being used again.

More on Purple Loostrife and Indigo books

Well the purple loostrife has turned out a very pale grey on wool, a charcoal on silk. It was paler than I thought it would be as the bath is a black and seemed to be full of colour a little bit surprising. It could have been because the plant had really gone to seed so all the energy has gone into making the seeds , could have been because we had so little sun this summer. Could be because of course it contains very little dye. I will have to try and make sure I dye with it earlier next year.
My dh thought it was white.
Incidentally the yarn is not handspun by me but by Elaine Williams of Trefriw Woollen Mill who has a lovely dye garden. She is a very busy lady running a family business so sends me her handspun yarn and I dye it for her.
I have had an email from another dyer suggesting alder bark as a source of black. On reading about this I find it was a source of good blacks... a softer and bloomier black *......... not as harsh as some others, although it was considered destructive for fine wools, but of course it would be local ( the very name is considered celtic) and my source for much of this information Dominique Cardons book says that a silk dye works owned by Joshua Wardle in the 19th Centruy used bark cut in Cheshire, the county next to here. The bark has to be cut in spring and I would need to find a local source I am not sure I can cut bark form trees on someone else land.
A couple of weeks ago I adverised my indigo book the Colour of Sea and Sky, The Art of Indigo dyeing on natural dyes online and sold a lot of books very quickly. It s quite exciting to find them whizzing off to Australia, The Falkland Islands , Trinidad, Hawaii, Canada and the USA amongst others and I have a sense of invisible connecting lines linking us all to one another. Yesterday I got my first feedback, an Amercian Dyer sent me an account of her first days experience of using my instructions for the reduction bath-my favourite- she had a huge success with it and gives me a thrill to know that my instructions work adn the book has given pleasure too. An indigo vat is so much easier taught visually than anything else. Thats a thought maybe I could done on this blog .hmm
*Dominique Cardon Natural Dyes p 426

Friday, 16 November 2007

Dyeing for a Hat

I have just had a very nice commission to dye 300g of merino for a mediaval felt hat . We have settled on the madder brown but instead of using the madder chips to boil with after all the other colours have been extracted I am going to boil the chips straight off after a soak of a few days at least. I have not done this except by accident when the resulting colour was absolutely fabulous some years ago and the person for whom the hat is intended is more than happy being herself very familiar with madder colours. So yum! ( I think I will sneak in 100g for me!) In fact late as it is I think I will sneak out to the studio while DH is watching Children in Need and put the madder into soak.

The purple loostrife is rinsed. A huge amount of colour rinsed off and as I suspected I will be left with a pale grey. A photo will appear when the fibres are dry.

We have had two very cold nights here ( well for us) one night of a heavy frost with crisp grass and white roofs). The Japanese polygonum is however looking very happy and in full flower!Someone on Natural Dyes Online said she suspected that it is hardier than generally thought and it looks as if she might be right. The last of the woad looks a bit limp but is still hanging in there so I hope to get a play with that on Sunday.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

leaf abstract

Having spent so much time on black-very odd for someone who really likes colour- I rebelled yesterday and made a piece of felt. I have been working on a whole series of felt pictures on floating leaves for an exhibition in December , the autmn leaves floating on the surface of water or in the small streams that abound here. There is one that goes across the road where I walk the dogs sometimes. I wasn't thinking of anything when I made this felt just laying down fibres and adding layers of colour with lots of raw silk. The picture above is the result. I realised then that my subconcious had made a floating leaves pictrue but here the leaves are fragmented and broken down. I like it but I have to admit the photograph is not brilliant and does not do justice to the complex colours.

Yet more on black

Yesterday morning I added 1 teaspoon of ferrous sulphate ( iron) 1/4tsp at a time to the purple loostrife bath. Where the iron hit the liquid , it immediately went a dark navy blue and I went on adding, till with stirring, the whole bath went black as you can see and then left it very gently heating. This bath I took off the heat this morning before I had a day out with DH and I will have a look at it tomorrow.However this is not black or at least I don't think so Presumably a higher concentration would have been black but I had 600g to 100g of fibres, cutting earlier in the year could have made a difference. It looks as if the merino tops will be a light grey a very pleasant and useful colour to have as greys tend to have a lilac tinge being the exhaust of logwood baths and therefore not very lightfast. However I will go on heating the bath as more colour may come out, this is what I did with the eucalyptus leaves but then the eucalypts are well known for needing a long soak/heat to produce their colour. The silk hanky may be black but I will rinse it and see. So purple loostrife does contain a lot of tannin-that immediate change to a dark blue seems characterstic of high tannin bearing plants. I have tried a few this summer-my eucalyptus leaves, staghorn sumach and acorns to name a few

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

More on Black

The purple loostrife was soaked overnight and today has been heated gently. The water is a very strong yellowy brown . This seems to be a characteristic colour of any plant containing a high level of tannin so I am optimistic that I may get my much desired black. If you think that I being a bit bizarre about black this is because for the natural dyer it is a most interesting colour to get. Black clothes were bequeathed in wills in Tudor times and I am always searching for a good black for a medieval hat maker Rachel Frost who wants a black that is historically accurate. I made her a wonderful very dark grey in cochineal, oxalic acid and iron which is Fred Gerber recipe but Rachel found it was not very lightfast which given it was cochineal and iron was most surprsing and I was embaressed I had not done a lighfastness test on it. In answer to Bettina I have tried iris root and got nothing -just a pale yellow and this was after some chopped iris root had been in soak for over a year in a small jar. ( I had forgotten about it) . It seems to be such a common story that iris root (iris pseudoorus give black that I have three thoughts on it. 1. is that someone said it gave a black and many other natural dyers have just picked this up in their list without trying it. 2. It only gives black in certain circumstances such as growing in a tannin rich environment such as a bog which means with added iron it will give a black. 3.I am not a good enough dyer!
I haven't tried meadowsweet. Is it supposed to give black?
If you are getting fed up with black so am I a bit so I went out to my studio and made a very colourful piece of felt just to make up for it. Will post a picture tommorrow

Monday, 12 November 2007

Well I have finally done it-cut down the purple loostrife although when I look at the colour sample I wonder why I bothered. I think I became slightly obsessed with this one, although I am always on the look for a black and this is supposed to be one that gives a black. Well it is now all chopped up and in soak. All 600g of it. Chopping it up felt very much liking chopping weld and I have had a very good colour from weld at this stage that is with the seeds heads formed but green leaves still on the stem. So I am hoping.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Loostrife and lighfastness tests.

Still not managed to cut down my purple loostrife ! Thank you Bettina for your reassuring comment on this. I was teaching this week and taking my pictures into be framed and also some to a new gallery so I tell myself I have a good excuse. The frustrating thing is I am dying to try it, the more so because the fastness test I did on the purple loostrife and the eucalyptus leaves both with iron added have come out very well. Be prepared before you look a the pictrue and be disappointed. ! These are not the bright vibrant colours one hopes for. The pl flower heads gave a greyish green really a fantastic colour for landscapes ( one always wants a few sludgy colours) the other is my wonderful inky black from the eucalyptus leaves. You can tell how useful this is by the fact that as a out of 100g there is only about 20g left as it keeps being used The fibres on the right hand side are one dip of indigo as a control. The top thirds of the fibres weere covered and I stuck the whole lot to the pane of a south west facing window- for what was meant to be a month but was actually two. There is no loss of colour hooray hooray! means I can use the black in my landscape and the sludgy colour too. I was hoping to get more black with the purple loostrife whole plants and iron.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

purple loostrife and madder

It has been a frantically busy day but as far as the blog is concerned the so important event is that I still have not managed to cut my purple loostrife. By the time I cut it down the whole energy of the plant may have gone into producing seeds and the dye will have been lost. In the meantime of course both the woad and the japanese polygonum need to be cut too before any frost. However although it is cold and windy here it is not frosty so they may last a little bit longer.

I have had an email about madder. Quite unrelated to the blog she say she cannot get more than terracotta with a madder extract and has been advised to add calcium tablets - I think chewable calcium tablets and bring the pH down to 4 or 5. This seesm very low to me but I think it is worth a try just to see what happens. I wish I had 48 hours for every day to do all the experimenting I want to do because now I want to try this.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

More on Madder

I have had an email asking me what the pH of the madder bath,which gave the red,was. I did not know but belatedly realised that the spent bath was sitting outside my studio waiting to be used for brown, so I tested that and found the pH was about 6. I assume that the pH would not have changed much and I was quite surprised that the bath was so acid. Then it occurred to me that the bath had definitely fermented when I first dyed with it. It had bubbles on the surface and the sweetish smell of a fermented bath. I know from studying fermenting indigo vats that fermentation produces lactic acid so that the pH goes lower so I wonder whether the fermentation lowered the pH
Is the production of a red due to :
1.low pH,
2.Fermentation which releases the red dye and causes a lowered pH
3..Long soak giving the red with its lower solubility a chance to appear.
4..All three
It makes one realise how very very complex a dye madder is. I think I will try adding vinegar to reduce the pH for the next experiment without the long soak.

Monday, 5 November 2007

This week has turned out to be a very busy one. I have two students coming on Wednesday and again on Friday and I suddenly have the opportunity to go to a School art fair, where teachers meet artists with a view to having them as artist in residence. The bore about this is having to get crb checked. Which if anyone is reading from abroad means a police check to see if you have nay criminal record before you can work with children and which takes months. I have been very much in two minds about this as I only teach adults,but the organiser initially not more than politely enthusiastic lit up when I said I was a felter and natural dyer. If some paid work came out of it it would be very good! Especially in the dead months of January and February!
I really want to dye with purple loostrife. The past two years I have used a few flowers but when I read more about it in both Dominque Cardons book and also in Rita Buchanans I found that you wait till the flowers have stopped flowering before using the whole plants. However everything is happening at he moment and the purple Loostrife is looking more "seedy" with yellowing leaves everyday. A frost is forecast for tonight so I think I must cut it down tomorrow at the latest Tomorrow I also need to get some pictures to the framers for an exhibition in Theatr Clwyd in December. This is probably the only day this week I can go and they need at least three weeks for frames. And of course I need to tidy up my studio and get ready for students!

Probably if I just get on and do it it will all happen!

Madder update. having dyed 50g of yarn to a fantastic red I added 100g of merino tops hoping to get more red. Instead I got a standard madder orange. I can't believe that 300g of madder would only dye 50 g of fibres ( or perhaps I can!). I think I ought to think about chopping up the roots as the Redpaths recommend ( former owners of Renaissance Dyers) or try the ground madder again. As well of course as the long soak. Hmmm In the meantime really old and very used old madder chips are now being boiled for hours in a slow cooker to get the brown.. These chips have already been used as a cold bath over three months to give some fabulous terracottas and oranges so it will be interesting to find out what else is there. More fibres are in the bath I got the red from and being heated gently to about 80 degrees C

Saturday, 3 November 2007

I meant to write this blog yesterday, but there was a lot happening , and on top of it my dh went down with the mother of all man colds and leaving me with reproachful dogs.
I have spent about six years trying all sorts of different ways to get a good red with madder. as i could not get anyhting but a reddish orange. I assumed the problem was that I have very soft wate. So I added chalk, lime water, washing soda, altered temperatures, pH, talked to people , listened to loads of advice such as grinding the roots , fermenting madder for 8 days and got beautiful colours terracottas, rusts, deep orangy reds and after leaving a bath on high overnight instead of switching it off, wonderful coppery reds with brown tones BUT NO RED!
DH and I and dogs went off for a weeks holiday in September. Just before I went I noticed a bowl of soaking madder chips I had forgotten about. I put them into a bin with a lid. When I returned I covered with water, added some mordanted wool, put the heat on very low and forgot about it. About four hours later I checked the bath and found the wool was a deep red.
I thought that it was probably the very long soak had bought out the red in the madder chips as the red dye has a lowere solubility than th eother colours , but now I wonder also whether fermentation did not have a role to play. Especially as the bath Iused yesterday was fermenting. Anyway on the 14th October I put 300g of madder chips into soak. Yesterday I put the bath onto heat and about four hours later this yarn appeared! It is good to know I can replicate the results.
yeay! One triumphant dyer!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

This huge clump of madder has now been washed. The soil washed off easily with a hose with a spray attachment . The slightly spongy roots look orange. The centre of the root clumps have lots of very red looking roots. Now I am starting to dry some.
I have dried sone in a very cool fan oven for about six hours. More are on top of my boiler and some I will dry on the drying rack in my studio. I would like to think of a way of steamng them. I have read of a method where a clay oven is heated till red hot. Then the wood is removed. It is then packed with madder roots which are pressed and water is sprinkled on top. I read this in Dominique Cardons book and will have to look up the references. The idea is that the chemicals in the roots change and moe towards the red ones so you get more red dye.

This is Enys digging the madder roots ( not me)

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


I have started this blog today because today Enys who grows the dye plants, both in my garden and in hers, dug up the madder. We think that the madder is about five years old, or perhaps six we are not quite sure , so it is about time to we saw what this wonderful plant has produced. Now I have a garden tub about half full of thick orange roots all of which need washing. Then I plan to split them , to dry some in a very cool fan oven, to try steaming some although I am not sure how, and finally to use some straight away.

I was going to put a picture in but blogger just won't do it. Not a good start.