More thoughts on the 1-2-3 lime/fructose indigo vat

June 26th, 2017

I have been looking at various recipes for the 1-2-3 lime/fructose indigo vat, which was developed by Michel Garcia, and I made one interesting observation – in most of the recipes, the fructose (which is the reducing agent) is added before the lime (calcium hydroxide), which is the alkali. This surprised me as, when making 1-2-3 vats, I always add the alkali first. I wondered whether I was alone in this, so I was pleased to find that in Helen Melvin’s recipe the alkali is also added first. Helen is a very experienced dyer, with extensive practical knowledge of various types of indigo vats, and she has also attended courses led by Michel Garcia, so I felt I was in good company.

So why should I be surprised to find so many recipes in which the reducing agent is added before the alkali? Firstly, because it goes against what is, I think, the usual practice when making indigo vats; for example, when making an indigo stock solution, the alkali, in this case caustic soda, is added before the reducing agent; and when processing fresh woad leaves to make a vat, the alkali is added to the solution before the reducing agent. Indeed, the alkali is added first when making most types of indigo vats, so why would one change this order? The other reason why changing the usual order seems to me illogical lies in the name “1-2-3” vat, which seems to me to suggest that one would first add to the water one part indigo, then secondly one would add two parts lime (calcium hydroxide), the alkali, and thirdly three parts fructose, the reducing agent, thus maintaining the neat 1-2-3 order of both the proportions of ingredients and the order of adding them. (And also adding the ingredients in the same order as with other types of indigo vat.)

So does it actually make any difference whether one adds the alkali or the reducing agent first? One way to find out would be to do some experiments, so I made two small sample vats, for one adding the ingredients in the 1-2-3 order and for the other adding the ingredients in the 1-3-2 order. Otherwise, exactly the same weights of ingredients were added to each vat.

The photos below show the results. In each of the photos, the 1-2-3 order vat is on the left and the 1-3-2 order vat is on the right. The photos show the gradual progress of each vat and the final test samples. The vats each took about 1 hour to be ready for use.

The results indicate that the order in which the ingredients are added seems to make little, if any, difference to the final results. Although the vats didn’t look exactly the same at each stage, the dyed samples show that each vat produced samples of almost identical shades of blue. So I shall continue to add the ingredients in what seems to me to be the most logical order: 1-2-3.

For further information on indigo vats, see Helen Melvin’s excellent book “Indigo; The Colour of the Sea and Sky”, available from Helen at Fiery Felts (link on the right under “Useful Links”).

Reprint of “Colours from Nature”

May 19th, 2017

My book Colours from Nature has been out of print for a while and Search Press has decided not to reprint it. So I have taken over the printing myself, in collaboration with D T Craft & Design, who will distribute the book.

The book has just been reprinted, this time with a coiled (spiral) binding, so it will lie flat when in use. It has a new cover, a few more photos and also has added acetate covers to keep the card covers clean.

Colour throughout, including colour sample swatches and some photographs.

Colours from Nature is a practical handbook for dyers, containing full details of all aspects of applying natural dyes to animal and vegetable fibres, with emphasis on safe, environmentally-friendly methods.

The introduction explains the various categories of natural dyes and gives an overview of the historically important dyes.

The first half of the book covers the preparation and mordanting of fibres, dye bath preparation and the application of dye colour, with chapters on colour modifiers, testing for colour potential and light- and wash-fastness testing.

The comprehensive recipe section, which forms the second half of the book, is arranged according to colour, with recipes for over 100 colours and numerous colour sample swatches. It gives instructions for using all the classic, traditional dyes, including madder, weld, indigo, fustic, logwood, brazilwood and the insect dyes cochineal and sticklac, and also for using more common plants, such as blackberry, rhubarb, oak and walnut. The section on blue dyes has recipes for 3 methods of preparing and using indigo and woad vats, plus useful information for solving some of the problems encountered when using indigo.

Colours from Nature also includes details for creating some compound colours and for using natural dyes in extract form. The final chapter lists other useful plant sources of dye colour. Colours from Nature is a complete guide in itself and it is also an ideal companion book to Wild Colour. It contains information not included in my other books and many more recipes for specific colours on all fibres.

I am delighted that Debbie and Pete Tomkies of D T Craft & Design (www.dtcrafts.co.uk) have agreed to sell and distribute the book for me and they will also be dealing with wholesale orders. If you would like a copy of this book, or if you would like to purchase copies for re-sale, please contact Debbie at D T Craft & Design (info@dtcrafts.co.uk)

 

 

More Skeins for Ditchling Museum

May 16th, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I dyed a final set of samples for the Ethel Mairet project at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, following recipes in the 1916 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”.

Below are the details of the recipes and the results.

Samples of wool and silk were dyed following the instructions on p 103 Recipe no. 7 for MADDER Red for silk

A cold 25% alum mordant was applied and the fibres were allowed to soak in the cold alum mordant solution for 24 hours. 50% madder was placed in the dye pot, together with a handful of bran tied into a muslin bag, and water was added. The fibres were rinsed and then added to the madder dye bath. The temperature was raised gradually to just below a simmer, the heat was turned off and the fibres were then left to steep in the dye bath without further application of heat. When the dye bath was getting cool, heat was again applied until a simmer was reached. The heat was then turned off and the fibres left to steep overnight. They were then removed, rinsed and washed.

Further samples of wool and silk were mordanted with 2% copperas (iron) and dyed as above, as suggested in the above recipe for brown shades.

From the left: wool, silk, wool for brown, silk for brown

Samples of wool, silk, cotton and linen were dyed following the instructions on p110 Recipe no. 1 for WELD  Yellow for Silk

Wool and silk fibres were mordanted with 25% alum sulphate and the cotton and linen fibres were mordanted with 5% alum acetate. 200% weld was simmered for 15 minutes then the dye liquid was strained off into a dye pot and left to cool. When it had cooled a little, the silk and wool fibres were added and left to steep in the dye solution. They were then removed. The weld was simmered again with the addition of 2 teaspoons of soda ash and this solution was then strained and added to the first dye solution. The dyed fibres were added to this solution and allowed to steep until they had achieved a suitable depth of colour.

From the top: wool, silk, cotton, linen

Samples of wool and silk were dyed following the instructions on p121 for DYER’S BROOM

The fibres were mordanted with 25% alum sulphate. The dyer’s broom was simmered for 45 minutes to extract the colour, then strained. The fibres were gently simmered in the strained dye solution for 45 minutes and left to cool in the dye liquid. They were then removed, rinsed and washed.

From the left: wool, silk

Samples of wool, silk, cotton and linen were dyed following the instructions on p125 Recipe no. 9 for CUTCH Brown for Wool

The fibres were not mordanted. 15% cutch extract was dissolved in boiling water then gently stirred into a dye pot of water. The fibres were added and simmered in the solution for about an hour, then left to cool for a while.  2% iron (ferrous sulphate) was dissolved in boiling water then added to a pot of water. The cutch-dyed fibres were added to the iron solution and simmered for 15 minutes. They were allowed to cool, then rinsed and washed.

From the left: wool, silk, cotton, linen

Samples of wool, silk, cotton and linen were dyed following the instructions on p139 Recipe no. 8 for GREEN WITH INDIGO EXTRACT & WELD FOR WOOL.

Wool and silk fibres were mordanted with 25% alum sulphate and the cotton and linen fibres were mordanted with 5% alum acetate. They were first dyed blue using indigo extract (Saxon Blue). The fibres were simmered in this indigo solution for about 45 minutes then allowed to cool a little. The weld dye bath was prepared by simmering 100% weld to extract the colour. The solution was strained off and the indigo-dyed fibres were added to the weld dye bath and simmered for about 45 minutes. They were left to cool in the dye bath, then rinsed and washed.

NOTE: Although this recipe is specifically for wool, it was used on this occasion to dye all four fibre types. However, as noted by Ethel Mairet, indigo extract is less suitable for cotton and linen and these fibres did not take up much blue dye. The silk reacted better but the depth of blue on the silk was still less than that on the wool. This meant that the greens achieved were less blue and more yellow in tone.

From the left: wool, silk, cotton, linen

Dyeing with bracken

May 4th, 2017

It was interesting to read that one of the dyes used most frequently by Ethel Mairet was bracken (Pteridium aquilinum). In my garden I have several bracken or common fern plants which need to be cut back, so I decided to experiment with them.

I started with the old pruned leaves (see photo below) and was pleased with the results, especially from the alkali (washing soda) modifier.

Below are the results from this dye bath. From the top: no modifier, washing soda modifier, iron modifier, exhaust dye bath no modifier (All 10% alum mordant on wool)

For comparison, I decided to also make a dye bath from the new fiddle-heads (see photo below.)

Below are the results which rather surprised me, as I had been expecting the colours from the fiddle heads to be more yellow in tone.

From the left: alum mordant, alum + washing soda modifier, alum + iron modifier

I then decided to try a cool dye bath with the old leaves. I left the samples to steep in the dye liquid for about 12 hours and this cold soak produced the colours shown below.

Upper skein: no modifier, lower skein: washing soda modifier (Both alum mordant)

I then re-simmered the old leaves, strained off the dye liquid and added more skeins, this time unmordanted. The results are below.

From the left: no modifier, washing soda modifier, no modifier but skein simmered in the dye bath for a longer period of time.

Although the skeins are browner in tone than the photo suggests, these results were quite surprising, as I hadn’t expected to get deeper colours from the re-simmered leaves.

These experiments gave some interesting shades and I am not surprised that bracken was a dyestuff frequently used by Ethel Mairet.

Natural Dyeing Workshop at Ditchling Museum

April 10th, 2017

As part of the Ethel Mairet project at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, I recently led a workshop based around Ethel Mairet’s recipes for madder, weld, cochineal and indigo, which are the dyes she most frequently used.

I am extremely grateful to fellow-dyer Deborah Barker, without whose support and assistance with lifting and carrying I would not have been physically able to manage the workshop. The photos in this post were all taken by Deborah, for which I thank her.

We dyed wool skeins and used alum as a mordant, following the recipe below except in the case of cochineal, for which we used 20% alum, as in Ethel Mairet’s instructions in the recipe we used for cochineal.

ALUM MORDANTING RECIPE  (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Example of mordanting with alum –  ¼ lb of Alum and 1oz cream of tartar for every pound of wool. This is dissolved and when the water is warm the wool is entered. Raise to boiling point and boil for one hour. The bath is then taken off the fire and allowed to cool overnight. The wool is then wrung out (not washed) and put away in a linen bag in a cool place for 4 or 5 days, when it is ready for dyeing, after being thoroughly washed.

When we used iron as a colour modifier we followed the instructions given below:

IRON (ferrous sulphate) also called copperas  (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Copperas is mostly used for the fixing of wool colours (Fustic etc) to produce brown shades; the wool being boiled first in a decoction of the dye for about 1 hour, and then for ½ an hour with the addition of 5 to 8 per cent of copperas. If used for darkening colours, copperas is added to the dye bath, and the boiling continued for 15 to 20 minutes.

NOTE: to avoid the need for extra dye pots, sieves etc, we put the dyestuff for each recipe into a muslin bag, which could be removed once the dye colour had been extracted. In the case of madder, the bag of madder root dye pieces remained in the dye bath the whole time. A little more dyestuff was used to allow for the fact that some dye would be taken up by the muslin bag itself.

These are the details Ethel Mairet gives for madder in her recipe book:

MADDER (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Madder consists of the ground-up dried roots of a plant Rubia tinctorum, cultivated in France, Holland, and other parts of Europe, as well as in India. Madder is one of the best and fastest dyes. It is also used in combination with other dyes to produce compound colours. The gradual raising of the temperature of the dye bath is essential in order to develop the full colouring power of madder; long boiling should be avoided, as it dulls the colour. If the water is deficient in lime, brighter shades are got by adding a little ground chalk to the dye bath, 1 to 2 per cent.

Madder is difficult to dye as it easily rubs off and the following points should be noted.

  1. The baths should be quite clean. Rusty baths must not be used.
  2. Before dyeing, the wool must be thoroughly washed so as to get rid of all superfluous mordant.
  3. A handful of bran to the pound of wool, helps to brighten the colour.
  4. The wool should be entered into a tepid dye bath and raised to boiling in 1 hour and boiled for 10 minutes or less.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to look at Ethel Mairet’s own copy of her dye book “Vegetable Dyes” and discovered the following notes written in pencil by Ethel Mairet inside the front cover.

Madder must be fresh. Chalk essential for madder dye bath.   Mordant: 4oz alum ½oz cream of tartar. Wash after mordant & dye after 24 hours. Boiling water kills alizarin therefore put madder in cool water and keep under the boil.   Dye quickly. Bath 80C. Strong bath for short time (20 mins). Put in dye bath 5 ½ozs madder, a piece of chalk or lime, teaspoon sodium carbonate.

Recipe 1 Red (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with ¼ lb Alum to the pound of wool. Boil for 1 hour, let cool in mordant, wring out and put away in bag for 3 or 4 days. Wash very thoroughly. Then dye with 5 to 8ozs madder according to depth of colour required, and a handful of bran for every pound of wool. Enter in cool bath and bring slowly to the boil in an hour or more. Boil for a few minutes.

NOTE: as the water at Ditchling is “hard” we didn’t add chalk to the dye bath but we did add bran, which we tied into a muslin bag. We noted the comments made by Ethel Mairet in her own copy of her dye book and raised the dye bath temperature slowly to just below a simmer, making sure not to boil it.

Yarns developing colour in the madder dye bath

Madder for Brown (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

(1lb wool) Mordant with 1oz copperas and 1oz cream of tartar. Dye with 6ozs madder

Or: “If used for darkening colours, copperas (iron) is added to the dye bath, and the boiling continued for 15 to 20 minutes.”

COCHINEAL (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

The dried red bodies of an insect (Coccus Cacti) found in Mexico are named cochineal.

Recipe 4 Crimson (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with 20% alum or with 15% alum and 5% tartar. Dye in separate bath, after well washing, with 8% to 15% cochineal. Boil 1 hour. A slight addition of ammonia to the dye bath renders the shade bluer.

Samples dyed with cochineal

Recipe 7 Violet for Wool (1916 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with 2oz alum for 1lb wool. Dye with 1oz cochineal and 1oz of solution of iron in which the wool is kept till the shade is reached.

Adding the iron to the cochineal dye bath

WELD (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Weld, Reseda luteola is an annual plant growing in waste places. The whole plant is used for dyeing except the root. It is the best and fastest of the yellow natural dyes. The plant is gathered in June and July, it is then carefully dried in the shade and tied up in bundles. When needed for dyeing it is broken into pieces or chopped finely, the roots being discarded, and a decoction is made by boiling it up in water for about ¾ hour. It gives a bright yellow with alum and tartar as mordant ………… 8 percent of alum is often used for mordant for weld. A little chalk added to the dye bath makes the colour more intense; common salt makes the colour richer and deeper.

Recipe 2 Yellow (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with alum, and dye with 1 lb of weld for every pound of wool. Common salt deepens the colour. If alum is added to the dye bath, the colour becomes paler and more lively. Sulphate of iron inclines it to brown.

Samples dyed with weld

INDIGO

NOTE: In the 1916 edition of “Vegetable Dyes” there are recipes for indigo extract, for the ferrous sulphate vat and for various fermentation-style vats. However, there are no recipes for the hydrosulphite vat, which is the most common method of using indigo today. The 1924 edition of the book gives recipes for the hydrosulphite vat but I decided to use indigo extract, or Saxon Blue, in the workshop .

INDIGO (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Indigo is the blue matter extracted from a plant Indigofera tinctoria and other species growing in Asia, South America and Egypt. It reaches the market in a fine powder, which is insoluble in water. There are two ways of dyeing with Indigo. It may be dissolved in sulphuric acid or oil of vitriol, thereby making an indigo extract. This process was discovered in 1740. It gives good blue colours but is not very permanent, darker colours are more so than the paler. It does not dye cotton or linen. The other method is by the indigo vat process which produces fast colours but is complicated and difficult. In order to colour with indigo it has to be deprived of its oxygen. The deoxidized indigo is yellow and in this state penetrates the woollen fibre; the more perfectly the indigo in a vat is deoxidized, the brighter and faster will be the colour. For wool dyeing the vats are heated to a temperature of 50C. Cotton and linen are generally dyed cold.

 Indigo extract (4 to 6lbs wool) (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant 25% alum. Stir 2 to 3ozs Indigo extract into the water of dye bath. The amount is determined by the depth of shade required. When warm, enter the wool and bring slowly to boiling point (about ½ an hour) and continue boiling for another ½ hour. By keeping it below boiling point while dyeing, better colours are got, but it is apt to be uneven. Boiling levels the colour but makes the shade greener. This is corrected by adding to the dye bath a little logwood, 10 to 20 per cent which should be boiled up separately, strained and put in bath before the wool is entered; too much logwood dims the colour. Instead of logwood a little madder is sometimes used; also Cudbear or Barwood.

Note: Extract of indigo, also called Saxon Blue, is a mixture of oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid), precipitated chalk and finely ground indigo. It can be purchased ready made from Fiery Felts or DTCrafts. (See list of “Useful Websites” opposite.)

Samples developing colour in the Saxon Blue dye pot

GREEN (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Green results from the mixing of blue and yellow in varying proportions according to the shade of colour required. Every dyer has his particular yellow weed with which he greens his blue dyed stuff. But the best greens are undoubtedly got from weld and fustic.                 The wool is first dyed in the blue vat; then washed and dried; then after mordanting, dyed in the yellow bath. This method is not arbitrary as some dyers consider a better green is got by first dyeing it yellow before the blue. But the first method produces the fastest and brightest greens as the aluming after the blue vat clears the wool of the loose particles of indigo and seems to fix the colour. The wool can be dyed blue for green in three different ways;- 1st in the Indigo vat, 2nd with Indigo Extract with Alum mordant, 3rd with logwood with Chrome mordant. For a good bright green, dye the wool a rather light blue, then wash and dry; Mordant with alum, green it with a good yellow dye, such as weld or fustic, varying the proportion of each according to the shade of green required. Heather tips, dyer’s broom, dock roots, poplar leaves, saw wort are also good yellows for dyeing green. If Indigo Extract is used for the blue, fustic is the best yellow for greening, its colour is less affected by the sulphuric acid than other yellows.

Recipe 2 Indigo extract and weld for wool (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant 1lb wool with 4ozs alum and 1/2oz cream of tartar. Dye blue with sufficiency of indigo extract, wash and dry. Prepare a dye bath with weld which has been previously chopped up and boiled. Enter wool and boil for half an hour or more.

Recipe 3 Green for wool (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant with alum and cream of tartar, add to the mordanting bath a little weld or fustic. Dye with 6ozs fustic (or weld). Dye in a separate bath with indigo extract, a rather bluer green than is wanted. Then put into a yellow bath till the right shade of green is got.

Each student went home with 10 dyed skeins, eight dyed as in the recipes above and two dyed in dye bath exhausts chosen by each student.

The eight colours from the recipes given above. From left to right: cochineal crimson, cochineal violet, madder brown, madder, weld, weld + Saxon blue, weld + iron, Saxon blue

Some sample skeins labelled ready for the students to take home

Ethel Mairet Recipes

March 9th, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I dyed some more samples for the Ethel Mairet project at Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, following recipes from the 1916 edition of Ethel Mairet’s book “Vegetable Dyes”. The recipes and fibre samples were selected for me by the project co-ordinator, who decided that where possible each recipe should be used on wool, silk, cotton and linen fibres, even where the recipe was for specific fibres and not for all fibres. Most of Ethel Mairet’s recipes assume that the dyer has some experience, so the instructions are often brief and some tend to be little more than a list of ingredients. Also, as the recipes are often for large quantities of fibres, working out how to adapt some of the recipes for dyeing 10g skeins can be quite a challenge. (However, for dyers wishing to participate in the Ditchling Museum Ethel Mairet dyeing project, there is plenty of information on the Ditchling Museum website about mordanting and dyeing methods, plus some guidelines for adapting Ethel Mairet’s recipes for small quantities.)

My first samples were dyed in Fustic (Chlorophora (or Morus) tinctoria) which comes from the heartwood of a tree grown in South and Central America. It was one of the dyes introduced into Europe in the early 16th century, following the discovery of the sea route to the Americas at the end of the 15th century.

1. Samples of wool, cotton & linen were dyed following the instructions for dark yellow given in Recipe 2 on p114 (YELLOW FOR SILK). However, as the museum already had a sample of silk dyed following this recipe, I had only wool, cotton and linen skeins to dye.

“Work the silk for 1/4 to 1/2 hour at 50C to 60C in a bath containing 16% alum and a decoction of 8% to 16% of old Fustic. For dark yellow the silk is mordanted with alum, washed and dyed for about an hour at 50C, with 50% to 100% of Fustic. The colour can be made faster and brighter by working the silk in a cold solution of nitro-muriate of Tin for an hour.”  (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe was relatively simple to follow because the measurements are given as percentages. I decided to follow the instructions for dark yellow and to omit the final step using solution of tin.

The samples were first mordanted in alum. The wool sample was mordanted using 25% aluminium sulphate and the cotton and linen samples were mordanted using 5% aluminium acetate. The samples were rinsed well then dyed using 100% dried fustic woodchips.

2. Samples of cotton, linen & silk were dyed following the instructions given in Recipe 8 on p115 (YELLOW FOR SILK)

“(5 lbs) Work the silk through an alum solution of 1lb to a gallon of water. Wash in warm water. Boil 2lbs Fustic for 1/2 hour in water and in this work the silk for 1/2 hour. Lift and add one pint of the alum solution. Work 10 minutes longer, then wash and dry.” (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe required some calculations in order to adapt it for 10gm skeins. The samples were first worked in a solution of aluminium acetate then rinsed well. A dye solution of 40% dried fustic woodchips (Chlorophora  tinctoria) was prepared by simmering the wood chips in water for 45 minutes. The dye solution was strained and the samples were dyed in this then removed. Some of the remaining aluminium acetate solution was added to the fustic dye liquid and the samples were returned & dyed in this for a further 10 minutes.

The photo above shows from left to right: Recipe 2 p114 wool, cotton linen and Recipe 8 p115 silk, cotton, linen

3. Samples of wool & silk were dyed following the instructions given in Recipe 10 on p115 (BUFF COLOUR ON WOOL) This recipe uses a combination of fustic and madder root.

“(45 lbs) Boil 4 1/2 lbs Fustic and 1 1/2 lbs madder. Add 7 lbs alum and boil up together. Allow to cool a little, enter wool and boil for 1/2 hour.” (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe required some calculations in order to adapt it for 10gm skeins. 10% dried fustic wood chips (Chlorophora  tinctoria) and 4% dried madder root (Rubia tinctorum) were simmered in water for 45 minutes and then the dye solution was strained off. Approximately 20% aluminium potassium sulphate was added to the dye bath, which was simmered for 10 minutes then allowed to cool. The samples were added and simmered for 30 minutes.

4. Samples of cotton and linen were dyed following the instructions given in Recipe 10 on p126 (CATECHU STONE DRAB) 

Catechu is another word for cutch, which comes from the heartwood of Acacia catechu, a small thorny tree cultivated mainly in India, the East Indies and Southeast Asia. The dye is supplied as a powdered extract which dissolves in water. It should be mixed and stirred well to avoid lumps. Cutch does not require a pre-mordant. Logwood is also used in this recipe and this comes from the heartwood of Haematoxylon campechianum, a tree grown in Central America. Logwood was one of the most significant dyes introduced into Europe in the early 16th century, following the discovery of the sea route to the Americas at the end of the 15th century. The alum used in the recipe is for the logwood, which does require a mordant.

” (10lbs cotton) Work the cotton for 1.4 hour with 2 pints catechu (1lb catechu to 7 or 8 gallons water; boil and add 2 oz copper sulphate) in hot water, lift and add 2 oz copperas in solution. Work for 1/4 hour and wash. Add 2 oz logwood to a bath of warm water & work cotton in this for 10 minutes. Lift and add 1/2 oz alum. Work 10 minutes; wring out and dry.”  (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe required some calculations in order to adapt it for two 10gm skeins and some of it had to be guesswork, based on experience. 2 teaspoons of powdered cutch (Acacia catechu) were mixed to a smooth paste with boiling water then added to hot water, to which 1 teaspoon of copper sulphate was also added. The cutch mixture was simmered briefly then unmordanted samples of cotton and linen were added and worked in the solution for 15 minutes. The samples were removed and then 1 teaspoon of ferrous sulphate was added to the cutch dye solution and stirred in well. The samples were simmered in this for 15 minutes then removed and rinsed. 1 teaspoon of logwood chips (Haematoxylon campechianum) was simmered in hot water & then the samples were simmered in the strained-off logwood solution for 10 minutes. They were then removed and half a teaspoon of aluminium sulphate was added to the logwood solution. The samples were simmered in this solution for 10 minutes then removed and rinsed well.

A wool sample was dyed following the instructions on p128 for MADDER for BROWN

(For 2 1/2 lbs wool) Mordant with 2 oz copperas and 2 oz cream of tartar. Dye with madder (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe required some calculations in order to adapt it for one 10gm skein. The wool sample was first mordanted with iron (copperas), using a solution made by mixing half a teaspoon each of ferrous sulphate and cream of tartar in boiling water.  50% madder root (Rubia tinctorum) was simmered for 30 minutes then strained to make a dye solution, in which the wool was gently simmered for 30 minutes.

This photo shows from left to right: madder for brown on wool, buff on wool & silk, catechu stone drab on cotton & linen

Ethel Mairet Masterclass

February 9th, 2017

I am delighted to have been invited to be part of the forthcoming Ethel Mairet Masterclass at Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, organised in conjunction with Selvedge magazine.

This 5-day course runs from April 3rd  to April 7th 2017 and will give students an opportunity to experience working in the stimulating environment of the museum and to immerse themselves in the world of Ethel Mairet, in the charming village where she lived and worked.

More details are available on the Selvedge and Ditchling Museum websites.

Booking is via the Selvedge website. (www.selvedge.org)

I shall be leading the natural dyeing component, which will give students the chance to follow some of Ethel Mairet’s recipes, as presented in her book “Vegetable Dyes”. There will also be an opportunity to study and compare the different editions of this classic work. I was thrilled to find that one copy of the book even has Ethel Mairet’s own handwritten pencil notes on some of its pages and this really breathes life into her recipes.

Ethel Mairet’s importance lies particularly in her inspiration as a teacher and educator. In “Vegetable Dyes” she follows in the tradition of earlier professional dyers, imparting knowledge & sharing experiences in order to encourage dyers to aim for the highest standards in their work. Her comments give an insight into the working methods of the professional dyer in the early 20th century and on the course we will consider how Ethel Mairet’s work can inspire today’s natural dyers to improve their own practices.

Although “Vegetable Dyes” covers very many sources of dye colour, in fact Ethel Mairet herself used mainly the classic dyes, madder, weld, cochineal and indigo and these are the dyes we will be using on the course; they remain the most reliable dyes for use today and those which I recommend to dyers who wish to be sure of consistently good results. They are also dyes from which a wide range of shades and tones can be achieved and this is something we will be exploring on the course.

 

A range of colours from indigo, madder and weld

Although some of the recipes in the dye book require the use of chemicals which are no longer recommended for use today, many recipes are still relevant and useful. These are the ones we will be following to dye both wool and silk skeins and while some recipes may appear rather complicated, many are brief and relatively straightforward – at least they are when one has managed to adapt the quantities for smaller weights of fibres.  The two recipes below are typical examples.

CATECHU STONE DRAB (10 lbs cotton)

Work the cotton for ¼ hour with 2 pints catechu (1 lb catechu to 7 or 8 gallons water; boil and add 2 oz copper sulphate) in hot water, lift and add 2ozs copperas in solution. Work for ¼ hour and wash. Add 2 oz logwood to a bath of warm water & work cotton in this for 10 minutes. Lift and add ½ oz alum. Work 10 minutes; wring out and dry.

PINK WITH COCHINEAL FOR WOOL

(For 60 lbs wool). 5lbs 12 oz alum. Boil and immerse wool for 50 minutes. Then add 1 lb Cochineal and 5 lbs cream of tartar. Boil and enter wool while boiling, till the required colour is got.

Samples above dyed following some of Ethel Mairet’s recipes for weld, indigo, cochineal and madder

Students on the masterclass will also have an opportunity to see and study in detail the wonderful and ever-increasing array of colourful dyed skeins, which form part of the current Ethel Mairet exhibition. These have been dyed especially for this event by dyers from many parts of the world, following recipes in the 1916 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”, and each skein is accompanied by a description of how and by whom it was dyed. This collection of dyed skeins is a unique example of collaborative work from natural dyers who live and work in many different countries and cultures and it will remain a lasting tribute to a remarkable weaver and dyer, who spent most of her working life in the village of Ditchling but whose influence was far-reaching.

I am sure students will share my love of Ditchling Museum and I am really looking forward to leading a masterclass in such a very special venue.

 

 

 

Contact Printing on Fabric and Paper

November 27th, 2016

Contact printing using plant materials is often called eco-printing, which is a term coined (in her book “Eco Colour”) by India Flint, who developed this technique initially from her work with eucalyptus leaves. Inherent in the philosophy behind the eco-print as practised by India Flint is the acceptance of the changing conditions of life and therefore also of the printed cloth, which is the result of patterns made from living plants.

The technique seems deceptively simple and indeed, if used in its most basic form, by wrapping leaves and other plant materials tightly into a fabric bundle, which is then steamed or simmered in a dye pot, it is relatively easy to produce prints of varying degrees of attractiveness. Some of these basic prints can be pretty but at other times the final results just look like amorphous blobs and stains, which can appear dirty and messy.

However, in the hands of skilled practitioners this technique becomes much more complex and is a method of creating clear imprints of leaves and achieving other beautiful decorative effects on fabrics, clothing and papers.

Some traditional natural dyers have expressed fears that the results of eco-printing may not be light- and wash-fast and that this could bring natural dyeing into disrepute. I must admit that initially this was my concern, especially as some of the plant materials that may be used for this technique are known to have poor fastness properties. However, as I learn more about the contact printing technique it becomes clear that, if properly and carefully carried out using appropriate materials, this method of patterning fabrics can produce light and wash-fast designs, which can be very beautiful. It is also apparent that many of the more experienced eco-printers use their knowledge of traditional natural dyeing methods as the basis for successful contact printing.

Contact printing is not the same process as traditional natural dyeing and in each process the same colours will not necessarily be achieved, even when the same plant materials are used.  For example, some red and pink flowers, such as those of pelargoniums or fuchsias, tend to give rather disappointing yellow or brownish colours if used in the traditional simmering method of dyeing, but may give pinks and reds when used in contact printing.

In general, the best results from contact printing tend to be achieved if the fabric is mordanted first, usually with alum or tannin, or treated beforehand with soy milk, and if the cloth is wrapped around pieces of iron, tin cans or copper piping and then bound round very tightly. The tighter the bundle is tied and the longer one allows the bundle to mature before opening it, the better the results are likely to be. This is not a technique that can be rushed if one wants really good, clear results. The more time that is allowed between each step, the better and the faster the results will be. Time is of the essence and an intrinsic part of the process.

Recently, I was lucky enough to meet Fabienne Dorsman Rey, who is a talented and highly skilled creative textile artist, renowned for her work in the field of eco-printing and for her beautiful stitched pieces and delicate folded paper books. Fabienne is an inspirational and generous teacher and, after talking with her and looking at examples of her work, it soon became clear that I am merely a novice with rather limited experience in this approach. Indeed, the more I learn about the different contact printing techniques, the more I realise how much I still have to learn. Fabienne is also an experienced natural dyer and her work builds on and develops from her knowledge and expertise as a traditional dyer. In addition to gathered leaves and flowers and other plant materials, she also uses the more traditional natural dyes in her work, which is further enhanced by the subtle use of stitching and embroidery, giving her pieces added texture, depth and meaning.

Below are some images showing some of Fabienne’s work, including some prints on papers

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blog-dsc_1039_edited-1 “Pods of Tenderness”

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More about Fabienne and her beautiful work can be found on Facebook (Fabienne Dorsman-Rey) and here: http://exhibition-fromtheinsideout.blogspot.nl/p/fabienne-dorsman-rey.html

After meeting Fabienne I was inspired to experiment further with the contact printing technique on fabrics and papers.

I used silk scarves, pieces of cotton and wool fabrics which I first  mordanted with alum. I spread out the leaves and other plant materials on one half only of the fabric, added some iron nails or similar metal pieces, sprayed the fabric with clear vinegar then carefully folded the other half of the fabric over the top. I then rolled each bundle very tightly around either a piece of wooden dowelling, a section of copper piping or a large iron bolt and tied the bundles firmly with string. I decided to experiment with papers too, so I spread leaves and flowers between layers of various kinds of paper and then placed these papers between very stiff card, before tying them round tightly. I steamed the fabric and paper bundles for about an hour in a bamboo vegetable steamer, purchased specifically for this purpose, and then allowed them to mature for about a week before opening them up. Thicker bundles may need a longer simmering period and it is important to experiment to find appropriate steaming times for each type of material.

The photos below give some idea of what I have achieved so far. Many of the leaf prints are still not clearly enough defined and there is certainly room for improvement in this area. I think I also added too many plant pieces to some of the fabrics and this has made the designs too cluttered and “busy”. For my next experiments I will try adding some of the bundles to different dye baths, rather than steaming them.

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Two bundles ready for the steamer

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Bundles of steamed fabrics maturing before being opened

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Contact print on wool fabric using mainly rose leaves and wrapped round an iron bolt

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Contact print on cotton using eucalyptus and blackberry leaves with some iron nails added

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Three silk scarves drying on the line

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Silk scarves printed with eucalyptus leaves

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Silk scarf printed with wisteria and eucalyptus leaves

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The design on this silk scarf reminds me of a lion’s head but I can’t remember which plant materials I used

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Silk scarf printed with ivy and hypericum leaves (I think)

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Some printed papers

 

 

 

Ethel Mairet Dyeing Project at Ditchling Museum

November 23rd, 2016

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is situated in a beautiful setting in the charming village of Ditchling, near Brighton, in East Sussex . The impact of the many artists and craftspeople who came to live and work in Ditchling from the beginning of the 20th century onwards established this village as one of the most important places for the visual arts and crafts in Britain. The museum is a real treasure and well worth a visit, especially as it provides a rare opportunity to see special objects and works of art in the village where they were made.

The museum holds an internationally important collection of work by the artists and craftspeople who were  drawn to the village, including the sculptor, wood engraver, type-designer and letter-cutter Eric Gill, the calligrapher Edward Johnston (responsible for the famous Johnston typeface used for London Underground), the painter David Jones, the printer Hilary Pepler and the weavers Valentine KilBride and Ethel Mairet.

Ditchling museum also regularly has special exhibitions of the work of other artists and craftspeople. Currently, in addition to the exhibits based around Ethel Mairet’s work, there are three further exhibitions, relating to the work of William Morris and the Kelmscott press, to the artist, weaver and tapestry maker Tadek Beutlich and to the author and illustrator John Vernon Lord, who lives in the village.

As if all that were not enough, the museum also has a tempting shop and a cafe serving excellent coffee and cake. And the village itself is a delightful place to explore, with some interesting shops and good pubs and eating places.

As I wrote in an earlier post, this is the centenary of the publication in 1916 of Ethel Mairet’s classic work on natural dyeing, “A Book on Vegetable Dyes”. To mark the event, Ditchling Museum is inviting dyers to contribute to an ever-growing exhibition of skeins dyed following recipes from the book. Anyone in any part of the world can take part by simply following the links on the museum website: (www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk/event/dyeing-now/) Once the dyer has selected the fibre and the recipe, the skein is sent out for the participant to dye and then return to the museum.

As part of this focus on the work of Ethel Mairet, I shall be giving a talk at the museum about natural dyes in the evening of January 26th next year and also leading a natural dyeing workshop there on March 25th 2017. Full details of both these events can be found on the website: (www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk/what’s-on/all-workshops-events/

I have dyed ten cotton and linen skeins for the project and I recently made another visit to to the museum to see how the Ethel Mairet dyeing project is progressing.

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This is the framework on which the dyed skeins are displayed as they arrive

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The photos above show some of the dyed skeins in place

Below are some of Ethel Mairet’s own samples with their characteristic luggage labels

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The three photos below show some of Ethel Mairet’s work on display in the museum, Sadly my photos cannot do full justice to her vibrant colours and beautiful weaving.

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(All photographs taken with kind permission of Ditchling Museum)

 

 

 

Solar Dye Pots

October 11th, 2016

This summer, as usual, I set up some solar dye pots with my granddaughter, who is now 8 years old and becoming quite an experienced natural dyer.

In a way, I feel the term “solar dyeing” is a little misleading, because many dyes, particularly leaves and flowers, will give their colours quite well without heat, including heat from the sun. Indeed, in many British summers the sun rarely appears and when it does it often gives very little heat, but the dye pots still produce colour. I have even had good results from pots set up with dye and fibres in the depths of winter, including those winters when some of the solutions have frozen during the process.

For these dye pots, I simply put the dyestuff and an alum-mordanted skein in the jars and filled them up with water. For colour variations, I added iron nails to some of the jars and then made sure all the ingredients in each jar were below the surface of the liquid. As the weather was warm, I used cold water but adding hot water to start with will speed up the process if the weather is cool. I checked the development of colour on the skeins at regular  intervals and removed the skeins when I was satisfied with the depth of colour achieved. I then added a second skein and repeated the process. The water may occasionally need topping up but otherwise all one has to do is wait for the results.

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The above pots contain, from left to right: orange cosmos and coreopsis flowers, deep red hollyhock flowers and aster flowers

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These pots contain, from left to right: tomato leaves, calendula flowers with iron nails and mugwort leaves with iron nails.

Some of the pots (eg. cosmos and aster) had already produced bright colours in a week or so, while others (eg. helenium dead heads and tomato leaves) took longer to develop a reasonable depth of colour.

Below are some of the results on alum-mordanted wool .

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From left to right: aster flowers (1 week), orange cosmos & coreopsis flowers, helenium dead heads

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From left to right: deep pink hollyhock flowers, orange cosmos & coreopsis flowers (exhaust), calendula flowers + iron nails, aster flowers (2 weeks), mugwort + iron nails, tomato leaves

Note: Although I am reluctant to reveal the disappointing colour from the hollyhocks, I feel I must do so, as I suspect I will not be the only one to have had disappointing results from deep red hollyhock flowers. In general, I tend to use mainly the traditional, reliable dyes, with good fastness properties, especially if I am producing items for sale. I don’t include hollyhock flowers among these reliable dyes, as they can be very fickle in the dye pot; sometimes they give pink and purple shades, sometimes they give soft greens and then at other times they yield only beige and dirty lemon tones. I have tried various methods: freezing them, drying them, applying heat and cool dyeing and it seems no method can be guaranteed to regularly produce pinks or purples. So the colours from hollyhock flowers shown in my book, “Wild Colour”, are sadly not the end of the story and I apologise if they have led too many dyers down the road of disappointment. If it is any consolation, it is a road I have also sometimes traversed!