Native mistletoe

I went to collect some mistletoe – Amyema? – from river red gum (Eucalptus camaldulensis) nearby; I’ve been watching it carefully over the past few months, and the sight of amistletoe pot lorry parked on the last remaining patch of undeveloped land had me heading off with secateurs and collecting bag.

After pruning a few shoots, I noticed there were plenty of dead leaves on the ground, dark brown and crisp. They were surprisingly easy to tell apart from the gum leaves, as they were thicker and more curled in their dry state – and more brittle. I’d soon collected enough for an experiment.

Both fresh and dried leAmyemaaves were given their own pot to soak in overnight. The next morning, the fresh leaves had started to ferment, and there was a waxy film on the surface and the sides of the pot. Simmering for an hour produced no noticeable colour (just an unpleasant smell), so I turned to the dry leaves. The liquor was already a deep brown before cooking, and after an hour the yarn was added. It had already been in a E. sideroxylon dyepot and had only picked up a smidgen of colour. This time, however, the yarn took on a straw colour.


Eucalyptus cinerea

E cinerea1E. cinerea is about the only eucalyptus I’ve had success with in the dyepot. Although many sources advise that a mordant isn’t necessary, I wasn’t going to take any chances: 50:50 alum + CoT to 15% wof it was again. The leaves were dry and had been lying at the side of the house for a few months in the hope that some extra sun would improve the colour. They were placed in the pot along with their twigs, normal tap water as opposed to filtered, and simmered for about an hour. The liquid was a pale apricot colour, as opposed to E. sideroxylon which gives a deep, chocolate-red as E cinerea 2soon as it hits the water.

I persevered, and after straining and adding the yarn the liquid started to change and it was clear I was going to get something interesting. Unfortunately I can’t adjust the colour in the photo to reflect the true shade: a coppery-tomato. Reminds me of a stick of copper wax when I did some brass rubbing years ago.

The second photo is a bit more true; these were a couple of hanks I’d dyed before Christmas, both cinerea.

Not a common tree in nearby suburbs, but definitely worth hunting for and stocking up on the leaves.

Betel nuts

The sight of a packet of betel nut slices in an Asian supermarket immediately brought an image to mind of someone smiling widely, teeth and gums a deep red… and the resulting red stains on the footpaths for miles around. If something can stain a footpath in New Delhi, it must be able to dye wool…

My first attempt was on a leftover skein that was used for tying other projects – an op shop purchase of someone else’s handspun from long ago. I usually find that this takes the dye more strongly than what I actually want to dye.

The betel slices were placed in a jam jar and soaked overnight, with the occasional stir. The next day they had swollen nicely and were then added to the dyepot and simmered for an hour. After straining, I added the above-mentioned skein, 10% wof alum-mordanted, and simmered for a further hour or so. The brew smelt like rooibos tea and had a similar colour. I added a spoonful of bicarb at the end to see if it did anything, but not this time. Most of the colour came out, leaving the wool dyed light pinky-brown (left).betel

They chew the nuts with lime… alkaline extraction! The second time I soaked some more slices in water with added bicarb. It was definitely darker, so left it overnight and repeated the experiment with some of the tricky Finn x Romney x Corriedale handspun, mordanted as above. As you can see (right), the second dyebath was more successful at obtaining a deeper colour. The tie-up skein performed to its usual standard by taking on an even deeper colour (centre of ball).

Tagetes minuta dye

Tagetes minuta3Tagetes minuta, aka Peruvian mint, huacatay, stinking Roger… and a noxious weed in many parts of the world. It does however have some interesting uses: seasoning, herbal tea, medicine, garden stake and dye.Tagestes minuta leaf

I obtained a plant without knowing anything about it last year at an open garden. It grew to the prescribed metre high, flowered briefly, then disappeared in winter. This year several offspring appeared and grew exceptionally well – to over 6’2″ (they’re taller than me, and that’s when I stopped measuring). Fantastic! But what about the dye?

I had a couple of balls of wool from an op shop. They looked like handspun that had been previously used, then unravelled. The strands stuck to each other like a cross between a limpet and velcro and have several knots after washing, drying and re-skeining.

Left to right, 1) undyed, 2)uTagetes minuta dyesnmordanted & dyed with 400% wof dried tops, 3 + 4) 50:50 alum-CoT to 15% wof, dyed with 200% fresh tops and 200% dried tops respectively. Once cool, they were washed with soap nuts; there was no noticeable colour loss. You can see that the yarn used to tie the skeins took on more colour.

The next skein was from a Finn x Romney x Corriedale fleece. I’ve always had trouble with this one, even with commercial dyes. So I added a few more fresh tops to the dyepot, then a few more. What the hell; they’re going to seed anyway.

minuta dye

Madre de oveja! I’ve yet to test for light-fastness, but this colour is intense, no other word for it. I noticed in this skein and the test ones above that the dyeing tends to be patchy, and think this may be due to the tip end of each lock, but can’t say for certain. Not that it detracts from the overall wow-factor. Will definitely be using the other three or four plants drying in the shed.


Alice in Wonderland

I can’t remember which book or movie it was, Alice scarfbut there was Alice, trying to make her way through the first door after drinking the potion that made her smaller. The floor had black and white tiles, chequer-board fashion, and because the floor was sloping, perspective made the tiles smaller in size the closer to the door they became.

I tried to copy this effect with a tencel scarf in block weave; the finished piece isn’t how I’d imagined it, but interesting nonetheless.


Using the same alpaca yarn as in the previous post, mordanted with alum 10% wof, the next lot was dyed with henna at 50% wof. The powder was mixed into a paste, then added to the pot and simmered fohenna .jpgr about an hour. It took considerably longer than this to strain the liquid through double muslin, but has probably saved even more time that would have been spent trying to get the fine particles out of the yarn. This is destined to be the weft to go with the dahlia-dyed yarn.

The powder was purchased in an Indian deli in the city centre, source of alkanet, too, until the shop closed down, but one (of many) advantages of such a multicultural city is that  henna is never far away.


dahlia potI only had a few small dahlia plants in the garden, but a local enthusiast came to the rescue with what must have been about five kilos of freshly lopped flowers – plenty to experiment with. I don’t know what percentage of the weight of a fresh flower is water, but as they dried, so it became clear that 5kg wasn’t going to go as far as first thought. However, the results were pretty amazing.

The first dyepot contained 220g semi-dried flowers in darker shades, simmered for an hour. After straining the liquid, I added two skeins each of 50g commerically-spun whdahliasite alpaca, mordanted  with alum at 10% wof. They were simmered for another hour, then one skein was removed. A generous spoonful of bicarb was added to the pot, turning the remaining skein copper. I wasn’t able to repeat the effect with the remaining dyepots, but got very acceptable results nonetheless. The photo shows them paler than real life.

The second picture shows the same yarn mordanted with alum/cream of tartar 50:50 to 15% wof, then dyed with dried pomegranate rind. It came out much softer; maybe because of the CoT? Not an inspiring colour per se, but blends in well with the dahlias for a warp.warp