Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

Ditchling Museum Natural Dyeing Course – Woad, Japanese Indigo & Saxon Blue Day

Monday, October 15th, 2018

Unfortunately I’ve been seriously ill in hospital again, so the August session at Ditchling Museum was cancelled and we used the September session to harvest and use the woad and Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) before it was too late in the season. At this session we also used Saxon Blue.

After we had used the woad and Japanese indigo leaves for blue, we simmered the same leaves to make a dye bath for tans.

WOAD

One of the students brought some woad leaves, which were chopped and then we poured boiling water over them and left them to steep for about an hour. Then the liquid was then strained off  and the leaves squeezed well to extract all the dye potential.When the liquid had cooled to 50C, soda ash was added to turn the liquid from brown to green and the liquid was whisked until the froth became blue and then whisked further until it started to turn white again. We allowed the froth to subside and then added a reducing agent, sodium hydrosulphite, to remove the oxygen. When the liquid below the surface had become greeny yellow, the vat was ready to use.

NOTE: As woad is said to prefer soft water, it is a good idea to use rain water for woad vats. However, I rarely remember this and have always found the ordinary water from my tap produces a perfectly good woad vat. I have also read that the dye solution should be cooled quickly to 50C, so some people put the container of woad solution into a second container of cold water and sometimes add ice cubes to speed up the cooling process. This is not something I tend to do and my woad vats are always fine but they might be even better if I remembered to cool them down quickly.

Straining off the woad solution after the leaves had been steeped in the boiling or very hot water

Blue froth forming as the liquid is whisked

Results from the woad vat Left to right: cotton, wool, silk noil, silk fabric, cotton fabric, linen fabric with 2 wool samples

Results from the woad leaves simmered for a tan dye bath From left: NM wool, NM silk, NM cotton, NM linen, alum wool, alum silk, alum cotton, alum linen (NM = no mordant) Note: All the cotton & linen samples are actually pink, not blue, in tone

JAPANESE INDIGO

My Japanese indigo had already started to form seed, so the blue dye potential was reduced and the results were rather disappointing. Luckily, one of the students brought some of her own Japanese indigo leaves and we tried two methods – the usual vat method and the water and vinegar method.

In the vat method the Japanese indigo leaves are torn or cut up into small pieces, covered with cool to warm water and brought to simmering point over a period of about 1 to 2 hours. (Note that this differs from the woad method in that boiling water is not poured over the leaves, but they are first covered with cool to warm water and then heated gradually.) The leaves are then left to steep in the hot water for about an hour. Then the liquid is strained off  and the leaves are squeezed well to extract all the dye potential. When the liquid has cooled to 50C, the dye vat is then made in the same way as described above for woad. 

Cutting up the Japanese indigo leaves

The cut leaves

The water and vinegar method requires at least 200% fresh leaves and this method gives blues which may be less stable or permanent that the blues from the more traditional methods of dyeing with woad/indigo. However, this method requires only water and clear 5% vinegar. The vinegar should be added at the rate of about 15mls clear vinegar per litre of water. Harvest the leaves and process them immediately. Chop or cut up the leaves as finely as possible, preferably not using a wooden chopping board, as this may absorb too much of the precious dye solution, or process them with a little water in a liquidiser. Put the chopped leaves into a container and add enough water to cover them. Then add the vinegar and knead the leaves very well for at least 5 minutes until the liquid is bright green. Strain off the liquid and set it aside. Knead the leaves again in water and vinegar as before, strain off this liquid and add it to the liquid reserved from the first kneading process. Immerse the fibres immediately in the liquid and leave them to soak for about one hour. Then rinse them in clear water and air them. Finally, add a small amount of fibres to the liquid and leave them overnight to exhaust any remaining dye potential, then rinse and air them.

NOTE: I have read that some dyers use iced water without the addition of vinegar but I have not tried this.

This shows the fibres being immersed in the water/vinegar Japanese indigo solution

SAXON BLUE

Saxon blue or sulphonated indigo is an indigo extract made by dissolving indigo powder in sulphuric acid. The process was discovered around 1740. It is called Saxon Blue because the blues it produced resembled the blues of ceramic wares based on cobalt and Saxony was the centre of that industry.

Saxon Blue is used mainly for dyeing wool and silk and produces blues with a turquoise tone. Blues from Saxon Blue may be less fast to light and washing than indigo blues made by the vat method and deep blues from Saxon Blue have higher levels of fastness than paler shades. There is some disagreement about whether an alum mordant is needed for Saxon Blue. I tend to prefer to use an alum mordant, as this seems to produce deeper, clearer blues.

Saxon Blue is simple to use. Prepare the hot water for the dye bath and then just stir in some Saxon Blue liquid. How much one needs to use depends on the depth of blue required and the amount of fibre being dyed. I usually start with one or two teaspoons and then add more if necessary. Then add the fibres, bring the dye liquid up to simmering point and simmer gently for 30 to 45 minutes. Then leave to cool before rinsing.

The Saxon Blue we used was bought from Fiery Felts (see link under Useful Websites) and made by Helen Melvin. This gives excellent blues and a little goes a long way.

This shows some results on silk: top – Saxon Blue, below left – Japanese indigo vat method, below right – Japanese indigo water & vinegar method

Ditchling Museum Anniversary Open day

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

As I’ve recently been seriously ill in hospital again, I had to postpone the last Ditchling Museum natural dyeing course session but I was sufficiently recovered to be part of the museum’s open day on September 22nd. This was to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the opening of the new museum buildings and the museum offered free entry all day, with a variety of activities, a barbecue and live music.

Unfortunately the weather was rather cold and rainy in the afternoon but the activities offered by some of my dyeing course students proved very popular, even those that took place outside. Among the activities on offer were handspinning, weaving, stitching, paper making, mark making with botanical inks and handmade brushes and the opportunity to use an indigo vat.

We set up the indigo vat using natural indigo, soda ash and sodium hydrosulphite, with a stock solution on hand to top up the vat when necessary. We also offered a chance to learn some shibori techniques and the results brought smiles of delight to all those who participated.

The museum’s dye garden was not as spectacular as it had been earlier in the Summer but it was still flourishing and we had a display of solar dye pots using plants from the dye garden.

Part of the dye garden earlier in the season with yellow cosmos, French marigolds, yarrow, St. John’s Wort and safflower, with madder in flower in the background

An interesting way to display solar dye pot results, all from dyes grown in the museum’s dye garden.  (Photo courtesy of Sue Craig)

  

Ross Belton with his botanical inks and handmade brushes and some of his indigo-dyed fabrics in the background

  

Some results of mark-making with Ross’s botanical inks

  

Sarah Matcham and weavers

Having a go at weaving under Sarah’s supervision

  

Jane Ponsford and paper makers

  

Some samples of hand-made paper

  

Lottie Whyman with a young stitcher

  

Jennifer Nightingale demonstrating handspinning

  

The indigo vat in use. Zuzana Krskova and Jackie Sweet help unwrap a shibori-dyed tote bag, as it comes out of the post-dyeing clear water dip. Below are some results from the indigo vat.

  

  

All photos by Jonny Dredge unless otherwise indicated

 

 

 

2nd Revised Edition of “Colours from Nature”

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

I have recently revised and reprinted my book “Colours from Nature”.

It has 11 extra full colour pages with many more photos and it has a coiled (spiral) binding so it will lie flat for ease of use and an acetate outer cover to protect it from splashes.

Some of the text has been changed or expanded; for example: there is now a recipe for the indigo 123 vat, Symplocos leaf mordant is covered, there is a section on the alkaline extraction method and some of the recipes in the recipe section have been changed. (For more details about the book click on “My Books” on the home page.)

I feel this revised edition of “Colours from Nature” most closely represents my current dyeing practice and the dyes and methods I use personally. It is also the book I use as a text book with my students at Ditchling Museum.

At present this revised edition of  “Colours from Nature” can be purchased from D T Crafts in the UK (www.dtcrafts.co.uk) 

It can also be purchased in the USA from Botanical Colors (www.botanicalcolors.com)

 

One-year natural Dyeing Course at Ditchling Museum (4)

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

In this session we started sampling adjective dyes, which are dyes that require the use of a mordant, usually alum.

The dyes we used included two of the dyes introduced into Europe at the beginning of the 16th century from South & Central America. They are: Logwood (Haematoxylon campechianum) & Fustic (Chlorophora tinctoria). I had originally planned to use Brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata), another dye introduced into Europe from South America at the beginning of the 16th century, but this is currently unavailable because it is becoming endangered.

So the third dye we used was Sappanwood (Caesalpinia sappan), from India, Malaysia and South-East Asia. Sappanwood is the form of brazilwood known from the 13th century as a red dye in the East, where it was called “brasil” or “bresil”, meaning “glowing like fire”. It was also known in Europe from the late Middle Ages and was imported by the land route. An indication of its importance can be seen by the fact that it gave its name to the country Brazil. When explorers arrived in that part of South America, similar trees were found growing there abundantly, so the country was named terra de brasil after the tree. It gives colours very similar to those from Caesalpinia echinata, but with a slightly pinker tone.

The mordants we used were 10% aluminium sulphate for the animal fibres and 5% aluminium acetate for the vegetable fibres. We also experimented with symplocos powder as a natural source of aluminium from symplocos leaves and we used this with logwood and sappanwood on both animal and vegetable fibres. (See my earlier post “Symplocos leaves as a source of aluminium mordant”)

Note: for improved colour fastness from logwood on animal fibres, it is advisable to use 24% alum. 

As with the substantive dyes we tested, we applied colour modifiers to the fibres after dyeing.

LOGWOOD 50% (alum mordant) Samples in the following order: Top – linen, silk, cotton Below – No modifier, acidic modifier, alkaline modifier, copper modifier, iron modifier

LOGWOOD 50% (symplocos mordant)  Samples as above for logwood with alum 

I think 50% logwood was too high a percentage for the colour variations from the modifiers to be clearly visible. We should have used no more than 30% to show the effects of the colour modifiers.

SAPPANWOOD 100% (alum mordant) Samples: top – cotton, linen, silk Below –  as for logwood above

SAPPANWOOD 100% (symplocos mordant)  Samples: top – cotton, linen, silk  Below –  as for logwood above

FUSTIC 100% (alum mordant) Samples: top – cotton, silk, linen  Below – as for logwood above 

I was a little disappointed with the fustic results. I had expected much stronger colours and I think we probably didn’t simmer the dyestuff long enough to extract all the colour potential. 

It is always difficult in workshops, when one so frequently seems to be working against the clock, to allow enough time for all the stages and processes involved in natural dyeing. When working at home, it is important to remember that each process needs time and should not be rushed, if one wants the best results. The “look” of the dye bath will often indicate whether more time is needed for colour extraction or colour application and experience is also an important factor.                                                    

At this session we also made our first indigo vat, using washing soda or wood ash water as the source of alkali and sodium hydrosulphite as the reducing agent. We also made a vat using a stock solution.

As an experiment I made a stock solution using wood ash water instead of caustic soda. (See my earlier post “Making and using an indigo stock solution”)

I mixed the indigo powder into a paste with hot water as usual, then added it to about half a litre of wood ash water, which I had first heated to about 50C. I then added sodium hydrosulphite and left the stock solution to reduce. After about an hour, it became a dull yellow-green colour and when I used it to make a vat it worked quite well.

The stock solution made using wood ash water as the source of alkali

INDIGO vat made using one tablespoon of stock solution Upper samples soaked for 2 minutes and the lower samples soaked for 5 minutes Order of fabrics: cotton, silk, linen

All photos above by Ross Belton

On the “Show & Tell” table this session was a display of the little books made by Helen Gibbs and dyed mainly with various tree barks. They are really beautiful and just wonderful to touch and open.

Photos by Helen Gibbs

 

More from the one-year natural dyeing course at Ditchling Museum (3)

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.

 

Alkanet root before being chopped (Photo by Jennifer Nightingale)

       

Light and dark cutch blocks before being made into powder (Photos by Jennifer Nightingale)

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.