One Year Natural Dyeing Course at Ditchling Museum – First session

April 26th, 2018

The first session of this one-year course was on March 18th and I was delighted when I met the 12 students we had selected. The range of skills they represent include weaving, bookbinding, papermaking, basketmaking, costume designing, feltmaking and several other art and craft practices. Their interest and enthusiasm, together with their searching, intelligent questions make the group both a joy and a challenge to work with.

At this first session, after the students had talked a little about themselves and their creative practices, I gave a general introduction to the history of natural dyeing and the most significant dyestuffs and outlined the contents of the course and some of the techniques we would be covering. I also explained the difference between dyes and stains and emphasised the importance of selecting dyes with good levels of fastness, especially if producing articles for sale. We then set up some mordant baths using aluminium potassium sulphate for the protein (animal) fibres and aluminium acetate for the cellulose (vegetable) fibres. We also used tannin as a mordant and at the May session we will embark on mordanting using aluminium from symplocos leaves (see my earlier post on symplocos) and preparing wool and silk fibres with rhubarb leaf base.

The first dye we used was buckthorn bark. This might have been alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) or common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) but, as the label merely stated buckthorn bark, I couldn’t be sure which it was. Both give similar, if not identical, colours, so it didn’t really matter. (Note to suppliers: It would be very helpful to have the botanical names on the packets for accurate identification.)

We used wool, silk, cotton and linen yarns and pieces of silk, cotton and linen fabric and, as buckthorn bark is a substantive dye, we didn’t use a mordant. After dyeing, the samples were modified using 4 modifiers: an acidic modifier (clear vinegar), an alkaline modifier (soda ash), and copper and iron modifiers. Two sets of samples remained unmodified, one for purposes of comparison and the other to be over-dyed with indigo at a later date. This method of sampling will be used for all the dyes we test, with a few variations for specific dyes.

The students also wound more skeins and cut more pieces of fabric for later sessions.

The photos below show some of processes and the results.

                                                                                                                                      Wool and silk samples in the buckthorn bark dye pot

                                                                                                                                     Modifying the samples

The above 2 photos courtesy of Susan D’souza

 

                                                                                                                                                      Buckthorn bark samples

                                                                                                                                                      Buckthorn bark samples from left to right: no modifier, copper modifier, iron modifier, acidic modifier, alkaline modifier

                                                                                                                                                        Close-up of some buckthorn bark samples

                                                                                                                                                        Some more buckthorn bark samples

                                                                                                                                    Buckthorn bark yarns from left to right above: no mod, copper, iron, acid, alkali; fabrics below: cotton, linen, silk

The above 5 photos courtesy of Ross Belton

Note: I am extremely limited in what I am able to manage physically and this course would not be possible without the support of my wonderful assistant, Deborah Barker. I am so grateful to her for all her help in making everything run smoothly.

 

PS to One-Year Natural Dyeing Course at Ditchling Museum

April 19th, 2018

Please note that the closing date for applications for this course was February 28th and the course started in March. It is full, with a long waiting list, so no further applications can be considered. Sorry about that.

I will be writing some posts about the course soon, so you can see what we have been doing.

Soya milk – meadowsweet samples

March 28th, 2018

At last I have found the meadowsweet samples missing from the earlier post on soya milk, so here they are:

Top from the left: cotton yarn, cotton fabric, linen fabric – all treated with soya milk & dyed in meadowsweet

Below from left: wool treated with soya milk & dyed in meadowsweet, wool mordanted with alum sulphate & dyed in meadowsweet

For more details see the post:

Soya milk / soymilk solution – what is it used for? Is it a mordant?

One Year Natural Dyeing Course at Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft

January 13th, 2018

I am contacted regularly by textile students asking for advice and information, so it seemed that there was a need for a course that would give detailed information at a price students could afford. There is so much misinformation on the internet and I wanted students to have the opportunity to learn good practices, rather than being told that vinegar is a useful mordant or that beetroot will give a reliable dye colour. In order to price the course within the reach of most people, I am not taking a fee, so the cost is only to cover expenses. I am lucky in that I shall have an assistant to do the heavy work, as I would not be physically able to teach the course otherwise.

Course description:

“The aim of this comprehensive course is to teach participants how to prepare and use dyes from natural materials to dye both animal and vegetable fibres, following best practices to produce a full spectrum of consistent, fast colours. We will cover a wide range of mordanting and dyeing techniques and the use of colour modifiers; the dyes used will include all the classic traditional dyes, such as madder, weld, cochineal and indigo, and we will also use some dyes in extract form. Participants will learn how to grow, harvest, prepare and use plants for dyeing and how to test dyed samples for light- and wash-fastness. The course will also cover over-dyeing for compound colours and some decorative techniques, such as shibori and contact printing. This will be a hands-on course and the emphasis throughout will be on reliable, safe, environmentally-friendly methods. All materials required for the taught components of the course will be provided and participants will also be able to bring some of their own materials for small samples.”

This course is something I have wanted to do for some time and the hope that it might actually happen has kept me positive during the difficult months since my illness, so I am really looking forward to starting in March. 

Ditchling Museum is a very special place with excellent facilities for natural dyeing and Ditchling has a rich natural dyeing heritage; Ethel Mairet lived and worked here and was living in Ditchling when her book Vegetable Dyes was published; also, natural dyeing and weaving courses are run at the museum by Jenny KilBride, the daughter of Valentine KilBride, one of the members of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, who ran his weaving and dyeing workshop on Ditchling Common.

If you are interested in joining the course, whether you are a complete beginner or have some experience, visit the museum website or email lucy@ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk for more details and an application form.

Soya milk / soymilk solution – what is it used for? Is it a mordant?

November 13th, 2017

I am rather puzzled by the many references I have seen recently to soya milk/soymilk “mordant”as I would not describe soya milk as a mordant, rather as an assistant in certain dyeing and fabric patterning processes. In my understanding, soya milk has the same purpose in Japan as buffalo milk has on the Indian Sub-Continent – in both cases the milk solution is used as a binder or sizing agent, applied to fabric before mordanting or dyeing, in order to increase absorption and to prevent wicking and improve the sharpness of the outlines when painting or printing mordants, pigments and dyes on fabrics. Unlike a true mordant, soya milk solution does not form a chemical bond. I have never known soya milk solution to be traditionally applied to yarns rather than to fabrics and as far as I know it is not commonly used on woollen fibres. However, as my experience of using soya milk solution is not extensive, I decided to conduct some tests.

I prepared the soya milk solution as follows, using information from John Marshall, (http://johnmarshall.to/H-Soymilk.htm), who is an expert in this field. I soaked one cup of soya beans overnight in three times their volume of water and then, when they had swollen, I strained the water off and rinsed the beans. I then added water to the beans (again three times their volume) and processed the mixture in a blender until the beans were well ground. I then poured the mixture through a piece of fine cloth spread over the top of a bowl and strained off all the liquid. I repeated this process three times with the same beans, each time adding the blended liquid to the previous solution. The final combined solution should be about the same consistency as cow’s milk and must be used fresh; as soon as it starts to become sour it should be discarded.

I then poured the soya solution into a bucket and added the washed and wetted materials. If necessary, more water should be added to allow the materials free movement in the liquid. I left the materials to soak for about 12 hours, moving them around from time to time, then removed them, squeezed them well and left them to dry. I repeated this process twice more but leaving the materials in the soya milk for only 5 minutes each time. I then left the materials to dry and cure for 2 weeks before using them. I then tested the materials treated with soya milk in dyebaths of madder and meadowsweet.

The madder samples are below.

 

MADDER ROOT Top from left: linen fabric, cotton yarn, cotton fabric, silk fabric, wool yarn (all soya milk pre-treatment & no mordant) Below from left: cotton fabric (no soya milk treatment & no mordant), wool yarn (alum mordant) I think these samples clearly show that, while the soya milk treatment improved the take-up of the dye, it did not act as a mordant in the way that alum does. That is to say, it did not give the red colour associated with madder on an alum mordant and produced the sort of colour one would expect from madder applied without a mordant. While soya milk is certainly useful in some circumstances as a pre-treatment for fabrics, I think it is misleading to imply it can be used instead of an actual mordant and this may lead to disappointment.

Note: the meadowsweet samples, which I have mislaid, showed even more clearly that the soya milk did not really act as a mordant. Meadowsweet gave only a very pale colour on both the soya milk treated materials and the untreated materials but it gave a bright yellow on the alum-mordanted materials.

PS Below are the meadowsweet samples – found at last!

Top from the left: cotton yarn, cotton fabric, linen fabric – all treated with soya milk & dyed in meadowsweet

Below from left: wool treated with soya milk & dyed in meadowsweet, wool mordanted with alum sulphate & dyed in meadowsweet

Apologies

November 13th, 2017

I have been very seriously ill for the last two months and this has meant I’ve been unable to post on my blog. I am now at home starting the long road to what I hope will be a full recovery, so I should be able to start to write posts again soon. The following post on soya milk solution was prepared before my illness.

More about Symplocos leaves as a mordant

September 4th, 2017

Following on from my recent experiments with symplocos leaves as a plant source of aluminium for mordanting, I have done some further tests, mainly to try this plant mordant out on silk and cotton fibres.

After my last tests, I re-used the 50% symplocos mordant solution on a further wool skein to test whether the solution would still be viable as a mordant and I was pleased to note that, when I added a sample to madder and logwood dye baths, it produced a strong colour. This suggests that the 50% mordant solution could safely be re-used on a further batch of fibres.

This led me to wonder whether symplocos would still work if used at a lower percentage, so I decided to use 30% instead of 50%. I also decided to see whether the 30% mordant solution could be used more than once.

The main difference between mordanting animal fibres and vegetable fibres with symplocos leaves is the temperature at which the fibres are treated. Wool fibres are heated slowly to simmering point, held at this temperature for about an hour then cooled and rinsed. Vegetable fibres and silk are treated in a hot solution (60C/140F) but not simmered. The vegetable fibres must also first be treated in tannin.

I prepared two sample sets, each consisting of wool, silk and cotton fibres, and I treated the cotton fibres first in a tannin solution from oak galls. I then weighed the sample sets and worked out the weight of symplocos leaves I would need for 30% weight of fibres (WOF).

To prepare the symplocos mordant solution for all fibres, I simmered 30% symplocos leaves in water for about 45 minutes then strained the solution through a piece of very fine muslin cloth. At this point I saved the used leaves and re-simmered them, so that I could add this solution to the exhaust mordant bath after my tests and then use this on a further batch of fibres.

I divided the symplocos leaf solution into two pots – one for cotton and silk and the other for wool.

I slowly heated the mordant bath containing the wool to simmering point then held this temperature for about one hour. I then removed the pot from the heat and left the fibres to cool down.

The cotton and silk mordant bath was heated to 60C/140F and then removed from the heat. The fibres were then left to soak in the solution for about an hour.

I then dyed the fibres in madder and logwood dye baths.

The photos below show the results from the madder extract and logwood extract dye baths.

  MADDER

Left from top: 30% symplocos first mordant bath on cotton, silk, wool

Right from top: re-simmered leaves + exhaust mordant bath on cotton, silk, wool

Centre below : no mordant, 10% alum mordant

  LOGWOOD

Left from top: 30% symplocos first mordant bath on cotton, silk, wool

Right from top: re-simmered leaves + exhaust mordant bath on cotton, silk, wool

Centre below : 10% alum, no mordant

From these tests it seems that using the symplocos leaves at 30% WOF gives good results but that re-using the 30% solution may produce paler shades on some fibres, which could be less fast. Although 30% WOF works well on the first batch of fibres, I think it might be better to use 40 – 50% WOF if one intends to re-simmer the symplocos leaves and to add the solution to the exhaust mordant bath for re-use.

 

Some photos of the dye garden

August 11th, 2017

Dyer’s broom (Genista tinctoria) in full flower

 

Madder (Rubia tinctorum)

 

Woad (Isatis tinctoria) on the left at the back, lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) in the centre with yellow flowers and the purple flower heads of saw-wort (Serratula tinctoria) just visible on the right at the back

 

A first-year woad plant (Isatis tinctoria)

 

Wild madder (Rubia peregrina) rambling through the garden and beginning to form seeds

 

Saw-wort (Serratula tinctoria) with its purple thistle-like flower heads

 

Yellow cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) with its pretty yellow flowers

Yellow cosmos flowers give lovely yellow and rust dyes and I usually collect the flower heads as they begin to fade and then use them in a solar dye pot. For a rich burnt orange colour, add soda ash to the jar.

 

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

I set up a solar dye pot with goldenrod and after 24 hours a pretty lemon yellow is developing. I used the dead flower heads only because I just can’t bear to cut the flowering heads.

Symplocos leaves as a source of aluminium mordant

July 24th, 2017

Some plants are aluminium accumulators and can be used as an alternative source of alum for mordanting. Among them are clubmosses and I have written in an earlier post about how clubmosses were used in the past as an alternative mordant.

Another alternative source of alum comes from the leaves of  species of Symplocos. The leaves of Symplocos racemosa are used in parts of India as a source of aluminium mordant and in Indonesia Symplocos cochinchinensis is used in a similar way.

The Bebali Foundation is the organisation behind The Plant Mordant Project which aims to empower women in Indonesia by building partnerships for sustainability with rainforest communities and indigenous textile artists; the sale of dried Symplocos leaves for mordanting is part of this project.

The website www.plantmordant.org provides a wealth of further information on this project and also gives details of where to buy the powdered leaves and how to use them. This extract from their website explains the work of The Plant Mordant Project.

“The Plant Mordant Project offers natural dyers a unique opportunity to avoid mordants produced by industrial processes and make reliable colors 100% from plants. Powdered leaf from Symplocos trees can replace alum in conventional natural dye recipes and produce some exciting new colors. Natural dyers already chose plant dyes over synthetic dyes because they are aligned with their values, and the Plant Mordant Project offers an opportunity to extend the expression of these values by also using a plant-sourced mordant. 
.
At its source, the Plant Mordant Project builds partnerships for sustainability with rainforest communities and indigenous textile artists in Indonesia. Through its sourcing and sales of Indonesia’s traditional plant-sourced dye mordant, the Bebali Foundation (www.bebali.org) alleviates rural poverty and empowers women, saves rainforests, and supports the traditional textile arts. The Bebali Foundation brings to this project a decade of experience in the fields of conservation, indigenous culture, and rural livelihoods, while its partnerships with the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and the Indonesian Forestry Department, and its funding from the Ford Foundation bring world class scientific rigor and accountability.

I recently purchased some dried symplocos leaves from Couleur Garance in France and have begun to experiment with them. (www.couleur-garance.com)

Symplocos leaves can be used on all fibres; so far I have only used them on wool and I am pleased with the results. One thing to bear in mind is that Symplocos leaves also yield a yellow dye, so the yellow colour of the mordanted fibres may have an effect on the colours achieved from the dye pot. However, I found the colour difference on madder-dyed wool when compared with wool dyed on a traditional chemical alum mordant was very slight.

I used the powdered leaves at the rate of 50% weight of the fibres and simmered them in rainwater for about 30 minutes until they sank to the bottom of the pot. I used rainwater because the recipe stipulated “soft water” and I live in a hard water area. I then strained off the liquid and allowed it to cool to 40C as directed.

I washed the wool thoroughly and then soaked it in a weak solution of washing soda (soda ash) as directed in the recipe. (I suspect this washing soda soak is probably more relevant for use in areas where dyers may not have easy access to other wool washing materials. The important thing is to make sure the fibres don’t have any grease or dirt adhering to them.) I then added the wool to the cooled mordant solution and slowly raised the temperature to simmering point (95C) over a period of one hour. I allowed the solution to cool then removed the fibres and rinsed them. The fibres were a medium yellow colour, although the recipe said they would be a”pale shade of yellow”.

In order to be able to compare the effectiveness of Symplocos leaves as a mordant, I added samples mordanted with two other types of alum mordant – 10% aluminium sulphate and Kaltbeize AL, a cold mordant of aluminium formate, which I have written about in previous posts. I also added three further samples – two mordanted with different sources of tannin – blackberry leaves and shoots and oak galls – and one treated with rhubarb leaf solution.

 

This photo shows from l to r: 10% aluminium sulphate, Kaltbeize AL cold aluminium formate mordant (see a previous blog post), blackberry leaves, oak galls, rhubarb leaves, symplocos leaves

I then dyed all the skeins shown above in a madder dye bath.
The photo below shows the madder-dyed skeins in the same order as the undyed skeins above.
The photo below shows more clearly the difference in shade between the three types of alum mordant. The symplocos-mordanted skein is the third one from the left and it is only very slightly more orange in tone than the skeins from the other two alum mordants.
The second skein may appear slightly paler than the first skein but this is because the wool used for the second skein is more loosely spun and this may have caused the slight colour difference.
 My conclusion from this first experiment using Symplocos leaves as a mordant on wool is that they provide a useful alternative source of alum for mordanting, especially for those dyers who prefer to avoid manufactured chemicals and to use only plant materials. The colour obtained from madder on wool using a Symplocos mordant is virtually the same as the colour from an aluminium sulphate mordant and the initial yellow colour of the mordanted fibres seems to have an insignificant effect on the colour obtained.
I used the remaining Symplocos solution to dye two wool skeins an attractive shade of yellow but I intend to experiment with them to see if the remaining solution also contained enough aluminium to have a mordanting effect.

Some photos of the garden

July 1st, 2017

Although my garden is small, I try to cram in as many plants as possible and to make the garden as colourful as I can. I plant mainly native plants and plants with flowers that will attract bees and other beneficial insects. The garden always seems to be humming with bees and when sniffing the scented flowers I have to make sure not to disturb the pollen gatherers!

Here are some photos of the garden in June.

When the much-needed rain has stopped I’ll take some photos of the dye garden, which is beginning to look rather overgrown.