More from the one-year natural dyeing course at Ditchling Museum

June 23rd, 2018

At this session we concentrated on dyeing with alkanet root (Alkanna tinctoria), cutch (Acacia catechu) and rhubarb root (Rheum spp.) All these dyes are substantive, so no mordant is necessary. However, we added an alum-mordanted wool sample to the alkanet dye bath, as this should give a lavender shade. As usual, we tested the dyes on wool, silk, cotton and linen fibres and applied modifiers after dyeing. As modifiers we used clear vinegar (acidic), soda ash (alkaline), copper water and iron water.

To simplify the process, we tied the alkanet root and the rhubarb root into muslin bags before adding the water to the dye pots. This means the dye bag can be removed from the dye pot once the colour has been extracted, so there is no need to strain off the dye liquid. The dyestuff in the bag can usually be simmered again for a further dye bath.

With the exception of cutch, the dye baths were prepared by simmering the dyestuff for about 40 minutes to extract the dye colour. Cutch is usually supplied as an extract in powder form, so it needs only to be carefully mixed with warm water and then stirred into the dye bath. It is important to make sure the cutch has dissolved completely, otherwise any loose particles will cause stains and spots on the fibres.

Cutch dye solution

Alkanet root dye solution

Rhubarb root dye solution

CUTCH SAMPLES 

Left: see below Centre: from top – linen, cotton, silk Right: paper samples

From left: no modifier, + acid, + alkali, + copper, + iron (photos by Ross Belton)

Alkanet root produces a less than pleasant aroma when simmered and without a mordant usually gives colours in the grey/green/brown range. The purple dye is best extracted by soaking the root in rubbing alcohol or vodka for several days or even weeks before simmering it for dyeing. However, the dyeing process produces unpleasant fumes and great care must be taken to keep the solution away from naked flames, as it could easily catch fire. And it cannot always be guaranteed to produce purples. (See my earlier post on Alkanet Root for more details.) Unfortunately, using an alum mordant did not guarantee purple either this time, so once again my experiments with alkanet had limited success.

In Japan, the roots of the purple gromwell plant, Lithospermum erythrorhizon, which look very like the roots of Alkanna tinctoria, are used and tend to more reliably produce lavender and purple shades.

ALKANET ROOT SAMPLES

Left: as above for cutch Centre: from top – linen, cotton, silk Right: paper sample

From left: as above for cutch (Photos by Ross Belton)

Rhubarb root is always interesting to use, as it reacts so positively to the modifiers and a wide range of shades can be achieved. And as an added bonus it doesn’t smell unpleasant either.

RHUBARB ROOT SAMPLES

Left: paper samples Centre: from top – linen, cotton, silk Right: as for cutch

From left: as above for cutch (Photos by Ross Belton)

Part of each session is devoted to assembling the dried samples from the previous month onto sample cards and it is always a pleasure to see the results from each session.

The tasks of mordanting and preparing samples is also ongoing and at this session we treated animal fibres with a rhubarb leaf base and also mordanted more fibres with tannin. We will be using these samples at a later date.

 

One-year natural dyeing course at Ditchling Museum: 2nd session

May 27th, 2018

At the second session of this course we continued washing animal and vegetable fibres and mordanting them with aluminium and tannin. 

We also dyed wool, silk, cotton and linen samples using walnut leaves and walnut hulls (Juglans spp.) After dyeing, the samples were then treated with an acidic modifier (clear vinegar), an alkaline modifier (soda ash), a copper modifier and an iron modifier.

Dyes from walnut leaves and hulls do not require a mordant, so the samples had only been thoroughly washed before dyeing.

 

1. Samples removed from the walnut leaves dye bath                                                                                                            

  

2. Samples removed from the walnut hulls dye bath                                                                                                                    

  

3. Samples waiting to be modified, with the modifier solutions in bottles                                                                            

I usually fill bottles with the modifier solutions in advance, so they are ready to use when needed. It is easy to adjust the quantity added, according to the depth of colour change desired. Start by adding a little modifier solution and then add more if the colour change is too insignificant. Keep the unmodified sample to hand, in order to check that each modifier result gives a slightly different tone and all are a little different from the unmodified samples. With some dyes the differences in shade can be quite dramatic, while with others the differences may be difficult to discern.

 

4. Results from walnut leaves  

Above: cotton, silk, linen Below from left to right: no modifier, + acid, + alkali, + copper, + iron ( each with wool & silk on the left & cotton & linen on the right) 

(Photos 1, 2, 3, 4 by Ross Belton)

Some notes on dyeing with walnut hulls:

Fresh green walnut hulls, if used before they turn brown, can give lovely rich deep browns but dried walnut hulls usually give paler browns. As we only had dried walnut hulls, we conducted a further experiment with them to attempt to achieve a deeper brown by making the pH of the dye bath more acidic. So after simmering the walnut hulls to extract the colour, we added clear vinegar to about pH4 and then dyed some fibres in the usual way. This produced a deeper brown. 

  

5. Results from walnut hulls 

(Photo 5 by Zuzana Krskova)

Above: silk, linen, cotton Below as for walnut leaves with extra samples far right showing the results from the dye bath to which vinegar to pH4 had been added. Note that the colour on the wool and silk samples is considerably deeper but the cotton sample shows little difference.

Note: Adding some oak gall solution to the walnut hull dye bath also gives a deeper brown and this is an attractive grey/brown. The oak gall solution can be added to the walnut hull dye bath either in addition to the vinegar or instead of the vinegar. (As a rough guide, add about 250mls oak gall solution per 2 litres of dye solution.) I often use an oak gall exhaust solution in this way.

Although walnut leaves and hulls can be used without a mordant, one of the students added an alum-mordanted wool skein to the walnut leaf dye bath and was delighted to find it dyed a lovely rich yellow colour. Mordanted samples can be added to any substantive dye baths and will often give slightly different colours than those on unmordanted fibres. However, using mordanted fibres does not necessarily mean that the dyed colours will be more light-fast. Indeed, walnut leaves give faster colours without a mordant and using an alum mordant reduces the light fastness. (See Gill Dalby’s book Natural DyesFast or Fugitive for more details.)

In general, dyes from walnuts are more suitable for animal fibres, unless copper or iron modifiers are used. 

At this session we also had a “Show and Tell” table. The photos below show some of the items on the table, all made by the students using the natural dyes we have sampled so far. 

 

(Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

 

(Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

 

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.