Friday, 31 July 2009

Instant dyeing the natural way

Top Row Persicaria Tinctoria top left
Bottom Row Golden rod flowers first left, flowers with ammonia, stems and leaves, stems and leaves with ammonia
Top Row Centre Golden Rod flowers over dyed with Persicaria Tinctoria and on right golden rod leaves and stems overdyed with Persicaria Tinctoria

Posted by Helen
Written on the 31st of July

I am busy getting ready to teach for a week at the Association of Weavers Spinners and Dyers Summer School-which event I have been getting ready for for weeks if not months. But yesterday I loaded the car and today pottered around doing bits and pieces and Enys came round to garden. The garden is reproaching me, full of dye that is not being used. I have dried armfuls of weld,Gensita Tinctoria and yarrow. But the Persicaria is going blue at the edges showing it is ready for dyeing and the golden rod in flower. SO................
100g of damp ( because we had had a lot of rain) golden rod flowers into one slow cooker, 100g of golden rod leaves and stalk into another. Topped up with 4 litres of water. About 100g of damp mordanted (8%Alum 7%Cream of tartar) Wensleydale added.
Both on "Keep warm" facility -this is about 80 degrees.
one hour later the flowers had dyed the Wensleydale a bright clear yellow while the stalks and leaves showed no colour at all
The tops of three Persicaria T plants were chopped off leaves stripped and ripped up into a pan covered with cold water put onto the gas stove in the kitchen as my electric rings are packed. Heated till hand hot. Left to sit for about half an hour while Enys weeded the over grown veg garden because I think she despaired of me ever doing it . I squeezed out the leaves, added 1 tablespoon of washing soda so the water went from a sherry colour with a blue tinge to a dark green. I started to beat the water with a whisk and the water went turquoise. I added 1 teaspoon of thiourea dioxide-this is quite a lot but I always reckon that the water is full of oxygen after all the whisking to precipitate the indogotin and needs it. I had to heat the vat up again as it had gone cold but after another 20 minutes it had gone a clear greeny yellow and dyed 50g of merino 18.5micron a nice blue.

Within one hour of picking I had bright yellow, blue and green fibres. Not bad for a "slow" process. Not only was the colour pretty quick but it only took me a few minutes to prepare the dye baths.In both cases while Enys and I were having a cup of coffee,one at the start of her visit and one at the end!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

More on Weld

I have just been reminded that Jenny Dean wrote an excellent account of dyeing with weld in Anglo Saxon times on her blog. I am ashamed to have forgotten this -just to many things to think about I suppose but that is no excuse really. The importance of Jenny's contribution, aside from showing that Anglo Saxons were a colourful lot, is that you can get a good colour with weld without using alum. She used woodash lye as an post mordant. You can find her work here

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Hi from Enys

Wish time would stretch, so much to do, just been collecting the flowers of Coreopsis and Dyer's chamomile, they are on trays on the window sills hoping for sun. Today was rain and more rain, whatever happened to Summer. The Echium vulgare in the garden is full of bees, so I've planted two more and am now going to plant more seeds and overwinter in the greenhouse. The roses outside the front of the house are being ruined by the rain, I'm having a good moan so I guess I must be tired - I seem to have been running around and getting nowhere fast, just like Alice in Through the Looking Glass. Never mind, Helen usually revives me on Friday's with lots of coffee.
Can't remember whether I told you this but the other week growing amongst the green peppers in the greenhouse I discovered some Amaranthus -Hopi red dye plants,I'd grown them last year and some had germinated and some hadn't, so I threw the compost left in the tray onto the green house planting floor and now I've got 3 big Hopi plants growing, they obvious like the greenhouse better than the great outdoors, and I finally got a photo onto the blog!! So here are a few more starting with a view of a small part of the garden- it was supposed to start with a view of the garden but obviously I haven't quite got the hang of it yet, but at least I got the photos on even if not in the places where I wanted them. A limited success. I'll have to have word with Helen on Friday.


Saturday, 25 July 2009

Weld: Dye from Leaves, Seeds, or Stalks?

Posted by Helen
First Year Florette
Mature Weld

Where is the dye in weld ( Reseda Luteola) ?
Recently I have seen a comment that most of the dye is concentrated in the seeds, (Judy Hardman, Natural Dyes) . (I reviewed her new book a few weeks ago and you can find that here) Dominique Cardon says that the dye is mostly in the seeds,inflorescence's and leaves, although traditionally the whole plant was always used which makes it bulky to store. Sue Grierson reports a 19th century source (Rhind) saying that the thick hollow stems of weld have little dye in them and to use the thin stalks (along with the rest of the plant).
According to Cardon the dyes in weld are flavones: luteolin and apigenin although mostly the former. It is luteolin that gives the strong light fast yellow that makes and made weld such an important dye plant. Grierson describes the colour as primary yellow but that she sometimes had to add soda to achieve this colour (by which I assume she means sodium carbonate or washing soda). Cardon reports that the yields of dye from weld vary enormously and puts this down to different strains, but I wonder whether it is also due to harvesting times as harvest weld too soon and the colour can be poor whereas it seems to go on giving colour till the leaves are withered . Once the leaves are gone in my experience there is no colour.
My friend Debbie Bamford has written an informative blog about weld with a picture of a magnificent specimen growing outside one of the outbuildings. You can find that here

On Friday 24th July I cut all the weld in the garden during a rare period of sunshine following very heavy rain in the previous few days.I mention this as Dominique Cardon says that the yield is improved after moderate watering although I am not sure our cloud burst could be described as moderate! Most of it has gone to be dried some for my own use some for sale but one stand I kept for an experiment.
When I cut the weld ,the bottom leaves were starting to go yellow and most of the inflorescence's had gone to seed which is when I judge weld to be at it's best. The seed comes from weld that grows wild locally -on areas of disturbed ground in the village where I live in North Wales weld has grown wild for many years. After I ran my first dyeing workshop here in 1995, the sister of one of my students, a lady well into her 70's, came to tell me that she used to pick weld to take to the teacher in the school in the village for all the pupils to dye with and showed me where to find it . Near this site Ladies Bedstraw ( Gallium Varum) grows wild too. Since then I have often found weld particularly on some rough ground later used for building. Ever since I first brought back weld it has grown in my garden sometimes more sometimes less. This year I have had four stands of self sown weld.
So while DH and I enjoyed a glass of wine in the early evening sunshine we split one stand of weld. The inflorescence's /flower heads and seeds into one pot. Leaves into another and stalks into a third. The stalks were quite fine less than 5 mm wide with the thickness of the wall about 1mm
Seeds/flower heads: 137.7g +3 litres
Leaves: 116g+2.5litres
and were soaked overnight
There was no discernible colour in the water after soaking overnight
Pots were put onto to heat at 10.39 and by 11.55 were:
stalks 90 degrees C
Seeds 60 degrees C
Leaves 60 degrees C
The colour of the dye liqour in the pots was a pale yellowy green and seemed to be the same.
I turned up the heat under the seeds and leaves and by 14.30 they were:
Stalks 90degrees C
Seed heads 85 degrees C
Leaves 85 degree C
Then I turned the heat off and left overnight.
The stalk bath had the characteristic weld smell.

There are a variety of ways to dye with weld. Cardon reports two methods used by French silk dyers. In one the weld was covered with cold water and heated for 15 minutes this was extracted before the process was repeated and the two extracts put together. In the other weld was covered with cold water and boiled for an hour.In both cases the plants were removed from the water. As you can see from my notes above I leave the plant materials in after heating and will also leave them in while dyeing but this is partly because I am not concerned with even dyeing as I shall be dyeing Wensleydale fleece. I have also,in the past, left weld soaking for several weeks when it fermented and gave quite an astonishing amount of colour.

I then checked Partridge who is a great fan of weld and he says to dye wool a fine yellow put wool previously mordanted in alum to boil for quarter of an hour and then let it lie all night . He adds pearlash ( wood ash lye-potassium carbonate which Liles says can be substituted by sodium carbonate).and tin to get a bright yellow.

10.08am Sunday 26th September
Added 2 litres of water to each dye bath
190gof wet mordanted (8% alum 7% Cream of tartar),Wensleydale to each dye bath -all I had. The dry weight was probably half that so I am using at a rough approximation 100% dye stuff to fibre.
The fibres in the seed head bath took on pale soft lemony yellow immediately. Fibres in the stalks and leaves bath look unchanged.
Started to heat.
Stalks 97 degrees soft yellow
Seed heads 72 degrees bright yellow-this is the strongest dye bath
Leaves 65 degrees soft yellow-this is the weakest bath
by 1 pm the difference in colour is very noticeable. The seed heads are in the lead with a bright yellow, the stalks follow on behind with a softer yellow but the leaves trail in third place the colour being softer and not as bright.

I browsed through my old dye books to see how different people dyed with weld. Something I should have done before I started not afterwards! Jill Goodwin in "The Dyers Manual" -the first dye book I ever brought- mentions both chalk and salt. Many Dyers of old she says used chalk and others salt. I have tried chalk-don't think it made any difference but not salt. Although it might be too late I removed a sample of fibres from each bath and added 1 teaspoon of salt to each bath now with the heat switched off.Colours of the dye bath

Samples from each dye bath with ammonia added on the bottom row.
Leaves on the left, seed heads in the middle, and stalks on the right. Once ammonia was added the difference between the dye bath was not very obvious. Salt added made no discernible difference samples second row. It should have been added in the beginning.

My conclusion is that there is more dye in the seed heads then anywhere else but still enough from all the other plants to make gathering the whole plant advisable unless you are very short of space.
Welcome to new followers. Your presence is appreciated.

Books I have referred to in the text are:
William Partridge A Practical Treatise on Dying published by Pasold Research Fund Ltd
Jill Goodwin A Dyers Manual Published by Ashmans Publication ISBN - 9780954440107

Liles, J N Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing The University of Tennessee Press

Sue Grierson The Colour Cauldron Published by the Author ISBN 0 9510132 11
Judy Hardman and Sally Pinhey Natural Dyes Published by Crowood ISBN 978-1-84797-100-5
John and Margaret Cannon Dye Plants and Dyeing Published in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew ISBN 1-871569-74-5
Dominique Cardon Natural Dyes Published by Archetype Publications ISBN -1-904982-00-5

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Dyeing the Greens

The photo of my samples above also has dyed fibres from half a dozen leaves of Chinese Woad (Isatis Indigotica). The orange fibres were for Dyers Chamomile with a touch of ammonia. The colour was so fabulous none of us wanted to over dye !

Posted by Helen

These last two summers I have run workshops in my studio using dye plants from the garden. This year I could only manage two workshops as I am teaching for a week at the Lincoln summer school for weavers spinners and dyers. The first one which I ran last weekend was Dyeing the Greens (The other is Dyeing the Blues on August 29th) As all natural dyer know greens are rare and even where you can get them they are mostly olive greens and dark greens. So I had great fun devising different ways to get there. We achieved green by modification of yellows from Elderflower leaves ( Sambucus Nigra), Dyers Chamomile (Anthemis Tinctoria), Mullien (Verbascum Thapsus) Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) Tansy (Tanacetum Vulgare)-this was at the last minute as someone said they had got some green from Tansy leaves -with either ferrous sulphate or copper sulphate made up by dissolving 2 g in 100ml of water (Jenny Dean's recipe). We overdyed Weld (Reseda Luteola) in Indigo, and used Indigo Sulphonate mixed with Fustic extract. Indigo Sulphonate is Indigo dissolved in concentrated Sulphuric acid and was discovered inthe 1700's and is probably one of the first chemical dyes. It is often called saxon blue and while it is not as lightfast as indigo itself it gives a fabulously strong blue with a slight green tinge. I use Jim Liles recipe in the Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing , but Trudy Von Stralen also has one in her book Indigo Madder and Marigold. Finally we ended up by painting some merino tops and silk cap with extracts using green, osage orange and fustic with a little logwood grey to make the green turquoise.
Welcome to all the new followers - I hope you enjoy the blog- do drop by and say hello

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Natural Dyes by Judy Hardman and Sally Pinhey

Posted by Helen
Just before I went off to the Woolfest I ordered this book-daft of me because I probably could have got it there. It has just been published so on the principal that a dyer can't have too many books I got it as soon as I saw it mentioned on another blog.

Judy Hardman writes about the dyeing while Sally Pinhey produced the beautiful botanical illustrations. Judy chose plants (I counted 59) that you could either grow in the garden or can find easily growing wild ranging from Agrimony to Yew. The book is similar in lay out to Margaret and John Cannon's " Plants Dye Plants and Dyeing" published in association with Kew Gardens and illustrated by Greta Dalby Quenet. In both cases the text is on the left hand side while the botanical illustrations are on the right. However Judy Hardman has also added some photographs to her text and pictures of some beautiful fair isle knitting scattered throughout.
The plants are listed alphabetically according to their English name with the Latin name underneath.
Judy then tells you a little about the use of the plant in previous times, some fascinating bits of ancient lore before telling you how to dye with the plant. At the bottom of the page are samples of dyed wool using the traditional four mordants: alum,copper, tin and chrome.
Judy's explanation of preparation are concise and mostly easy to follow although I found her instructions on cotton scouring and mordanting a little confusing . She is also very clear on the risks attached to using copper and chrome although I could not find any mention of the fact that chrome-potassium bichromate is a carcinogen. I was disturbed to find that on page 20 on the section on scouring cotton she says to use 24% WOF (weight of fibres) washing soda/caustic soda,the first of course is sodium carbonate the second sodium hydroxide and a powerful alkali. It is possible that boiling cotton in 24% WOF of caustic soda would destroy the cotton. However I have corresponded with Judy and she say unfortunately the editing failed and this should have read washing soda/not caustic soda. There are one or two other editing errors-elsewhere she mentions 8%cream of tartar and7% Alum as a mordant (the figures have been reversed) but she tells me she has a page on her website listing all the errors and that can be found here at
I disagreed quite fundamentally with her comment that that yarn dyed blue with woad or with Polygonum Tinctoria (now Persicaria Tinctoria) is likely to rub off on your hands as you knit because the indigotin is a contact dye. It may rub off but if it does it is because of faulty dyeing, a very common fault caused mostly by either over reduction or over heating of the vat. In this case the indigo white, the soluble form of indogitin, is too soluble and converts in the air too rapidly resulting in faulty bonding to the fibres. Here is link to Debbie Bamford blog on this very issue to prove my point!.

I was also a little baffled with her division of types of dyes into direct, mordant or substantive. Her definition of substantive dyes is that they are the vat dyes not as is normally defined dyes that will dye without an additional mordant. These dyes she appear to define as direct dyes.
What I like about the book is that Judy has plainly dyed with all the plants she mentions, and for example she is the first person I know who got colour from the roots of Iris Pseudocorus.
I love all the information about the plants, but I would have liked references to the primary sources and more about the dyes in the plants. However I like the fact she talks about solar dyeing, about dyeing for felting, and about lightfastness. She also has a large section at the back of the book devoted to a variety of layout for different types of dye garden including one for container gardens. I showed it to students attending a dyeing workshop on Saturday and they all were very enthusiastic about it especially two who are planning to have a dye garden.
It is a lovely book, a pleasure to have on my shelf and I was very glad, as I was about to chop meadowsweet for a solar bath while I had a glass of wine, to discover meadow sweet contained prussic acid so I deferred the chopping till after I had had my wine. Shame about the typos and the editing but it is rare to find a perfect book and this one will be a welcome addition onto a dyers shelf particularly for dyers interested in growing and gathering plants.
Natural Dyes by Judy Hardman and Sally Pinhey published by Crowood ISBN 978-1-84797-100-5

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Back from the Woolfest and awash with colour

Posted by Helen
Just room for the dog-but she was not impressed
Nearly ready-the top box makes a huge difference to how much we can take
The Stall set up- under the front table was the space for the dog
My inks and new textile fabric paints.I sold most of the sets and some pots but not as many as I hoped
Merino tops in 23micron. I sold a lot of these which was very pleasing as the Woolfest was awash in fibres for felters and spinners. Everyone seemed to be selling multicoloured plaits often of blue faced leicester.
I sold lots of my pottery and slate buttons-intriguing as last year I sold very few-you can never tell sometimes which way it will go This time I heard someone screech in excitement to her friend "where did you get those fabulous buttons?"-then hightailing it to the stall to buy some. I sold books but not as many as I had hoped of my new book "Colours of the Rainbow"
Our sales were down on last year overall.The organisers said they were very pleased with the number of people coming but we felt it was quieter than last year but it could be that this is because there are more stalls and people are spread out a bit more. People attending had a fabulous time they told me with enjoyable workshops and talks.
I hate that customer moment: The twowomen who practically pulled a silk cap apart while one explained to the other what it was ( I think)then threw it down on the counter before walking off.
I love that customer moments: "your pictures are stunning" comment and the two delightful ladies who came and talked to me about natural dyes and brought a kit each.

DH, dog and I lovely few days after the Woolfest staying in a secluded static caravan, one of two beside a fishing lake, and going for gentle walks-we managed one of about five hours alongside Ennerdale where the happy dog swam as we walked.I spent one day spinning, having managed to fit my Lendrum into the top box, sitting on the big wooden veranda of the static caravan looking towards a lake and the hills in utter blissful quietness, disturbed only by the cows coming in for milking and then tearing up the grass in the field next to us.

We came back from the Woolfest to see the garden ablaze with colour. Dyers Chamomile Coreopsis Tinctoria, Yarrow, Gensita Tinctoria and magnificant weld as well as roses and Lilies. Grass a mile high and the pond full of toads and frogs . The sparrows have taken over our bay tree as a roosting space at night and argue furiously and noisily about who sits where