Dried English walnut and fresh black walnuts

Juglans regia et Juglans nigra, getrocknete echte Walnüsse u. frische Schwarznüsse, nogales secos y nogales negros frescos, gallchnónna triomaithe is gallchnónna dubh úr

We came across a couple of nut trees whilst out walking doggie, and I (mis-)took them to be pecans. Why? We have not so far away a huge pecan that I had (mis-)taken for an ash. Confused? Well, I’d only ever seen one pecan tree, in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and hadn’t really retained an image of its leaves. The aforementioned pecan tree nearby is however a real specimen – tall and spreading and grand. Just like a large ash, but different. Back to the nut trees… looking at the fruits I’d managed to collect, they were clearly a different shape to pecans, and when I cut them open, that confirmed what they were. They were left in a bag for a few days and started to go mouldy, but were still full of potential. All three went into the dyepot at once and produced some beautiful, deep shades. One fruit would probably have been ample for the small amount of yarn, but it was only an experiment (this time). 

fresh J. nigra fruits

These colours reminded me of a previous experiment with J. regia leaves: rich browns and deeper shades on the unmordanted yarn.

dried J. regia fruits

The next dyepot involved some dried English walnuts that has fallen from the tree prematurely last summer, or maybe the summer before, or the one before that. Whichever, it was in much hotter weather. The fruits were still whole, but dried and had not grown to full size. Four or five of them were thrown in to soak for a few days, then boiled for a bit before the yarn was added to simmer (the colour of the liquour suggested it was ready).

A different range of shades, and different again to the earlier experiment with leaves. Worth repeating, but I’ll be wanting to try some fresh J. regia next year.

Yerba Mate

Ilex paraguariensis

My other half having used this in a soap recipe and commenting on the yellow it turned, I had to try it on wool. I have a fair stock as this is one of my favourite drinks, when I remember that maybe I shouldn’t drink so much coffee.

Unfortunately I have been unable to get a photo of the true shades. I’m not very savvy with image manipulation, granted.

I’ve tried to zap up the greens a bit, as in the original photo they appeared very yellow, but have gone a little overboard. Maybe an indication of what they become? Or refraction at its most mirage-inducing?

Second down on the right – mordanted + bicarb modifier: this actually came out a lighter moss-green (i.e. not so limey) with brownish tones. It’s counterpart on the left, unmodified, is a pale grey-green. Bottom-left, unmordanted and unmodified is just grey, although a grey that you don’t find naturally in fibre, and on the right, a more greenish grey. Worth repeating? Definitely, for the greens and greys if required in a project.

Cobra’s saffron

Mesua ferrea, bois de fer / nagas de Ceylan, Nagasbaum, palo de hierro

Another find in an Indian spice shop. This one looks like Szechuan pepper, but a saffron colour and not spiky. There just had to be some dye potential in this one…

When I first goolged the name, I didn’t come up with much info. A recent bit of research however revealed that it’s not only a culinary spice, but also an ingredient of nag champa incense. Nice.

It wasn’t long before the water in the dye pan had turned a golden yellow, so I expected to get yarn of a similar colour. The hue deepened as time progressed, and when the experiment was finished it showed more pinkish tones, mainly from non-mordanted, NM + vinegar modifier and mordanted + vinegar modifier. Acid to bring out the red (pink)?

A worthwhile experiment? Yep, as he colours are sufficiently different from other yellows. I now have to try some of the spice in cooking…

Borage flowers

Borago officinalis, fleurs de bourrache, Borretschblumen, flores de borraja, bláthanna borráiste gorm

And another Persian deli (while I was on my way to the Indian spice shop and the Indonesian supermarket), and I was glad to find one nearer to home, i.e. on the same side of the city. If you’re from elsewhere and are familiar with the dimensions of Adelaide, that last comment may raise a laugh, but it’s all relative. I once moved from a large apartment to a bedsit. Walking from one side to the other seemed to require the same effort, if not time.

So, the spice aisle, or rather wall. It wasn’t long before I’d come across a packet of borage flowers – a packet of blue. These were somewhat more expensive than the myrobalan, and the packet only contained 30g, but I just couldn’t resist. There’s at least half left over for their original purpose – herbal tea.

The colours aren’t so deep, but subtle and not ones you get from the majority of plants. They remind me of woad seeds (but paler), and of course there’s some resemblance to alkanet (same family). Try as I might, I couldn’t get a photo with their true shades, but this one is the closest. The Fe-modified skeins are pure grey in real life.


Terminalia chebula, myrobolan, Myrobalane, mirabolano

Every time I go to an ethnic deli, I spend some time walking back and forth along the spice aisle, picking up anything new and googling it. On a previous visit to a Persian supermarket (these are becoming more common in Adelaide these days), I spied a bag of, well, things, and looked them up by their botanical name… Myrobalan!

I remember reading about this in the dye books as a mordant. At only $3 for a 100g bag, this would be an affordable experiment. So I bought three bags.

Not being quite ready to use the fruits as a mordant for other dyes, I decided to try dyeing with them alone. One source stated that exposure to light increased the depth of colour. Interesting… Others said to use it as a mordant (at 40% WOF) on cellulose with aluminium acetate (isn’t the latter alone enough?), most talked about the powdered form. I had a bag of nuts. Should I put them in the coffee grinder (the old one reserved for dyestuffs)? In the end, I weighed out 100% WOF (this was only 25g) and tried to cut them in half with a strong pair of scissors. I’ll put them in whole next time.

The dye liquor was a deep yellow, so I knew I’d get some good colour out of it. When the skeins were dyed, dried and re-skeined, they reminded me very much of a previous experiment with pomegranate peel. The mordanted skeins (8%/7% alum/CoT) were paler than the unmordanted, except for the one modified by bicarb. Clearly an alkaline connection.