Sunday, July 27, 2008

Back to nature....sort of.


Various things recently have rekindled my interest in natural dyeing. One was a discussion with a couple of people on different occasions about dyeing with woad and whether it is possible to grow woad here in NZ since it is a noxious weed in some countries. This inspired me to dig out my dyed samples from about 15 years ago. All I could remember was that it was a lot of work both in preparation and the actual dyeing compared to dyeing with synthetic dyes.
Next step led me to digging out of the bookcase several of my natural dye books for a few nights bedtime read and suddenly yearning to do some plant dyed yarns again.
The yarn harlot always talks about the addiction of the yarn fumes. Handling and yes even smelling those softly coloured dyed yarns took me right back to those 'cooking days' when the pot on the aga might possibly contain soup or simmering weld plants. Some of the smells were definitely not as attractive as food. NZ lichen and recent samples.

Now I have a dyeing shed and everything happens away from the kitchen (to my family's relief).
I've spent some (okay a lot) of my spare time mordanting yarn (in particular my alpaca yarns), simmering dyestuffs such as madder, cochineal, osage orange, sandlewood and dyeing. Because the processes are lengthy but need some pot watching, I've been listening to podcasts and hand combing. I discovered David Reidy's 'Sticks and String' podcast recently and have had some enjoyable listening going through his archives, as well as my usual time spent with Knitcast and weavecast. The sludge of osage orange left after the first simmering and dyebath.

The magical moments of natural dyeing... what is in the pot simmering won't reflect what the actual colour is going to be and even the dye liquid only gives you a little insight. Plus what you get is.... what you get, and the next skein dyed in the same pot will be different, how the colours exhaust can also lead to surprises, just leaving the skeins in the pot overnight can deepen or change the colour. Leftover sandlewood with cochineal .

The lichen samples below are dyed from the unique NZ sticta coronata and a small sample of this lichen goes a long way as presimmering it produces the pinks and purples followed by the fawns and pale yellows. It can be revitalised and colour altered with either an alkaline added or acid.
Although I've only be mordanting with Alum this time round, this lichen doesn't need a mordant at all. It also smells gently of the earth when you simmer it...
This is dyed on my handspun suri alpaca.

1 comment:

tumbleweed said...

i'm a little cautious about encouraging the use of any lichen unless it's gathered as a windfall, they grow so slowly and newcomers to the dye world tend to get over excited and rush out for mad harvesting. eucalypts on your side of the ditch are technically a weed and so can be used with impunity.
oh, and when i was wandering the west coast last year i met a woman at Hokitika who was growing woad in a glasshouse (to prevent escape)and using it without too much complicated processing to make very nice blues...the good thing about woad is that the plant also makes excellent green manure
best wishes
india (the tumbleweed)