Small annual and perennial garden flowers are blooming, and I couldn’t resist snipping a few, along with some leaves, for natural dyeing. The flowers fade quickly, so the decision is whether to leave them alone to die or to clip a few and dye.
So I grabbed a few pansies, coreopsis and cosmos along with a few geranium leaves, false indigo leaves, and some golden barberry. I used avocado pits and skins in the dye-pot and let them simmer for a couple of hours. I was looking for a little color booster in addition to the colors I would achieve by simmering the plants on fiber.
In this experiment, I used bundled silk gauze and cotton sheeting as a sandwich with leaves and flowers as the filling. I rolled it all around a small copper pipe, tied it with string and set it in the dye-pot. Then I clamped a square bundle of cotton sheeting with plants in-between, and handmade paper as well. Finally, I layered small torn pieces of a previously dyed large piece of Fabriano paper with small plant bits.
Bundles of paper and cloth were left to simmer in the avocado dye-pot for a couple of hours, then allowed to rest overnight. The paper turned out fairly waterlogged and did not achieve a great deal of color. However, I was very pleased with the silk & cotton sandwich. Some of those bright colors you see were golden correopsis, pink cosmos and leaves, along with a pinky tinge from the avocado liquid.
I get the biggest thrill when unrolling the bundled packages! You really should try this.
When you are a city dweller, and you live in an apartment or town home or condo, you are somewhat limited in what–and how much–you can grow. And what you can accomplish is all on a smaller scale than if you had a nice-sized garden.
So when I read that you can save wild rose petals–I have three bushes in front of my town home–and preserve them for use in cosmetics and jams, I got very excited. This morning, before the dew was gone, I gathered wild rose petals and stuffed them in a clean recycled jar. You are advised NOT to totally strip the bushes, leaving some petals for the bees.
While I could be making rose hip jam or rose water, I’ve decided to use the petals for “rose attar” or infused rose oil. The decision: whether to use organic safflower oil or my costly extra virgin olive oil. I’ve decided to use equal amounts of both oils. Pressing the rose petals tightly in the jar, I pour a mix of oil over the petals, leaving an inch of space at the top so the rose petals have room to expand. Tightly capped, I will steep the petals for about two weeks. I look forward to using the rose petal oil as a skin balm.
In the meantime, I have been steeping exhaust liquid from black walnut husk dyeing, and the mostly evaporated liquid is getting close to becoming walnut ink. Walnut ink was used at one time by scribes for writing on parchment, way back in the day, before ball point pens. Today, walnut ink is used by artists to create beautiful impressions on paper and canvas. You may be surprised to learn that both Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt used walnut ink in their paints. My tiny bit of walnut liquid will not yield much ink, but just enough for me to practice on handmade paper and recapture a bit of history.
If you would like to learn more about the history of black walnuts and their many uses–or about wild roses and their usage in cosmetics, medicine and food–I have provided links.
I incorporate natural dyeing with plants in many different types of fiber arts. I use mulberry silk skeins for hand-embroidery, wool roving for felting, silk ribbons and yarn for weaving. But I also enjoy “slow stitching,” and so it’s always good to have a small collection of cotton squares and crochet pieces for incorporating with free-form stitching projects, such as shown in these photos:
Cellulose fibers are treated differently from protein fibers when dyeing with natural plants. Mordanting involves several different processes, depending on your preferences. There are 2-step tannin/alum mordanting and 3-step involving tannin/alum and tannin again. Some folks I know use soda ash or calcium carbonate in their mordanting process. It all depends on preferences, water quality in your area and the types of dyeing you intend to do.
I experimented with alum acetate and calcium carbonate as mordants in preparation for using a saved madder exhaust bath and a newly prepared pomegranate dye bath. My intention was to build up a larger collection of hand-dyed pieces for stitching projects, as well as having extras to trade with other fiber artists.
Here are the results of the madder exhaust. You can see in the photos where the dye “struck” first, leaving a variety of madder shades–from salmon to deep pink–almost red–and a hint of raspberry. I included cotton scraps as well as vintage cotton crochet pieces from my stash to be dyed.
My second dye pot contained pomegranate, which came out in the photo below a bit lighter than in reality. These pieces are also cotton, and may be over-dyed later with other plants or perhaps eco-printed as samples in future experiments.
In any case, the pieces are bagged and labeled and ready to be used or traded.
It’s a bit early in Chicago to begin eco-printing with leaves and flowers. After all, I just procured my annuals and perennials from the local nursery, Mielke’s on Touhy Avenue. Terrific place to get your plants. Such a huge variety of plants and flowers and it’s a family-owned, long-time business.
Another reason not to eco-print so early is that the chlorophylls are not as strong as they will be later in the summer and fall. But I cannot wait. I am impatient when it comes to natural dyeing. So those chlorophylls have a big job to do besides getting their energy from the sun. Those green pigments are what helps dyers produce contact-printing on fabric. I don’t mean to obscure the fact that the photosynthesis releases oxygen into the air–the kind we breathe. And that animals and insects depend upon the plants for food.
In any case, by using plants for eco-printing or dyeing early on, the pigments may not be as strong and may not produce the intense colors some dyers expect. However, I was pleased with the results of the eco-prints achieved on cloth, using my own simple and very young garden plants, including geranium leaves, wild rose bush leaves, false indigo leaves and a few frozen spent tulip blooms, with a dash of golden barberry. My only addition to the dye pot besides water were yellow onion skins.
Recently I dyed fiber with mint leaves from my herb bed and black walnuts collected last autumn by a friend. Although I was pleased with both experiments–it was a first for me with mint and black walnuts–I decided to see what other colors might be produced by over dyeing with iron.
In perusing the many “natural plant” dye books at my local library, as well as those I have purchased on-line, I had read that over dyeing with just a pinch of iron could produce different shades. I divided my fiber lots in half, so I could retain the original black walnut and mint dyed shades.
Firstly, I mixed a concoction of boiling water and half a teaspoon of iron. Then I added the mix to the exhaust baths of each dye, which I had retained in Mason jars. Each pot was simmered separately with mint dyed fiber and iron mix and black walnut fiber and iron mix.
The results: mint with iron produced anything from pearl to steely grays and darker grays, depending on the fiber. Black walnut with iron produced shades of brown, from very light to very dark. (The warmest brown was obtained by the lace).
In my book, this was a successful over-dye session, and shades were about what I expected from the research.
You may have heard of chamomile as a soothing herbal tea used to induce sleepiness, but it also can be used as a natural dye–one of the easiest plants you can use to achieve natural colors, pale yellow.
The chamomile is a small daisy-like flower, which is often used in ornamental gardens. They may be used as a fresh plant–flower, leaves and stems–or they can be dried and used as a natural dye.
When I dye plants that are new to me, I dye very small amounts, so it was easy to take one ounce of dried chamomile (which is sold in our urban ethnic market) and have enough dye for a very small pot. I used two cups of boiling water for one ounce of dried chamomile. My plan was to dye scraps of ivory vintage linen, including one scrap which had been previously dyed with indigo. I boiled the small scraps (less than half an ounce of fabric) for 20 minutes along with the chamomile. Almost immediately I could see the light yellow-orange liquid color. After 20 minutes, I removed pot from heat and steeped the dye pot for 3 hours, then rinsed in clear cool water.
The colors were not surprising–pale yellow–but I was pleased with the results. I had read that you might get green when over-dyeing with indigo. Since I did not have an indigo vat going at the time, I used a scrap of previously dyed indigo linen. You can see my results below. If you are a new dyer, chamomile would be a great dye to try first. No mordants needed, no long cooking, and pleasing results.