Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

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

Saturday, 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

Sunday, 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

Thursday, 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

Thursday, 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.

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

Saturday, 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.

Symplocos leaves as a source of aluminium mordant

Monday, 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

Saturday, 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.

Reprint of “Colours from Nature”

Friday, 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)

 

 

Natural Dyeing Workshop at Ditchling Museum

Monday, 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 Masterclass

Thursday, 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.