Onion skins

Allium cepa, pelure d’oignon, Zwiebelschale, cáscara de cebolla, craiceann oinniún

Yet another example of never having learnt everyday words in the language class. While Caecilius erat in horto and coquus erat in culina, we never actually learnt what coquus was cooking. Probably meat as we learnt the Latin vocab for “pest” and “scoundrel”, which he shouted at the dog as it ran out of the kitchen. I don’t think la famille Bertillon ever cooked with onions, and Herr Wasistseinname probably didn’t buy them at the Frankfurter Messe. The fact that we all know what it’s like to cry onion tears really needed to be taken into account. Thank heavens I learnt Spanish without a text book! Dame un kilo de cebollas, por favor. Ya!

And so to the dyeing…  During one workshop the onion skins produced a dark red. As the skins were a little pinkish, I thought perhaps they were either from shallots (nah… too big…) or a new type of “pink” onion that had appeared in the gardening mags and in the supermarket. Haven’t seen them since, so I guess they weren’t popular or suitably different to what we already have. During a subsequent workshop we used brown onion skins and ended up with the same deep red. Interesting.

With my latest experiment, I used 100% WoF brown onion skins. Didn’t get the deep red, but pleasing results anyway:


As usual, 1, 3, 5 7 no mordant; 2, 4, 6, 8 15% WoF A/Cot; 3 & 4 alkaline modifier, 5 & 6 acid modifier, 7 & 8 iron modifier. The photo has picked up a little too much contrast in the plys: squint and imagine there are no white bits. But what about light-fastness? Apparently, low. I read in one source (can’t remember which one), that onion dye fades to a “pleasing shade”, and on another source (French, but that’s all I can remember – with all due respect to the author) that subsequent dyebaths will improve fastness. I have another 16 mini-skeins to test, along with these samples, fastness after the first, second and third dyebaths. More on that later. Even though we use a lots of onions, 40g of skins takes a lot of curries!



Foeniculum vulgare, fenouil, Fenchel, hinojo, finéal

I sowed a row of fennel to use as baby steamed vegetables, but never really got round to using them in the kitchen… so, save them for seeds. The row is now about 1m tall and thin… and in flower. Seeds – I’ll harvest them for seeds. A lot of the reachable feral plants on the local reserves have been cleared, no doubt by hard-working volunteers. The remaining plants can be glimpsed from the train window, but aren’t that easy to get to on foot. Also, the up-and-down weather this year and the recent high temperatures (38oC, 40oC…) have left most of those plants quite sparse.

OK, so on to the dyeing. I chose the plant that was nearest to the tomatoes and pulled it out, cutting off the root. Everything – stem, leaves and flower head – was chopped up and simmered for 45mins, with a few extra leaves thrown in. The water was a dark yellow, so I was hopeful of getting a similar shade or even something greener on the yarn.


Hmm.. left to right: 1, 3, 5, 7 no mordant; 2, 4, 6, 8 15% Wof A/CoT. 1 &  2 no modifiers; 3 & 4 alkaline modifier, 5 & 6 acid mod, 7 & 8 iron mod. Yet agin, the colours in real life are brighter and my IT skills don’t stretch to that amount of e-wizardry. I guess I could say that this is what I expected, even f I was hoping for a different result.

Natural dyes workshop #4

There were a few disappointed faces after July’s Natural Dyes workshop booked out at the Guild, so I shoved one more into the program for this year.

Alkanet, avocado pits, betel nuts, dahlia flowers, Eucalyptus nicholii, Houttynia cordata, pomegranate rind and Tagetes minuta were on the menu, with the usual run of mordanted, non-mordanted and modified experiments to give a variety of results.

yarnsAs with E. sideroxylon at the last workshop, the nicholii decided it preferred to stay brown rather than red, but the alkanet decided to show a little more purple. The biggest surprise was the Houttynia: rather than giving the golden yellows of a previous experiment, it gave the palest green. With an iron modifier, this gave a rather interesting shade of grey-green. One to aim for again.

The photo (used with kind permission) shows one participant’s samples ready to be taken home and re-labelled/presented. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the multicoloured spaghetti.


lorikeetCallistemon spp., Rince-bouteille, Zylinderputzer, Cepillo, Scuab bhuidéal

On the way to the station I noticed a whole bundle of dry bottlebrush stamens that had gathered in the gutter after a windy day or two. On the way back that very afternoon I scooped them up and trotted off home with the intention of seeing how wool would take any colour they had to offer.

Experience, let alone all the sources available, has taught me that red won’t yield red, and if it does, it’ll soon fade. In Dyemaking with Australian Flora, results are given for the leaves and fruits of various species, but not the flowers. However, after simmering the plant material, straining then adding the yarn, it was clear that some result would be obtained. I persevered…callistemon1

The final results were worthwhile, giving shades of brown and gold. Only problem was, I couldn’t remember which order I’d hurriedly stashed them (mordanted/non-mordanted) to do other things before writing this entry… Drawing on experience, the alucallistemon2m/CoT mordant gave yellower shades, the alkaline modfier deepended these, the acid modifier didn’t make much difference, although I think (or perhaps am imagining) a slightly redder shade, whilst the iron modifier clearly deepened the shades as expected without “blackening”. There’s also none of the potentially resulting harshness.


From left to right: 1, 3, 5, 7 no mordant; 2, 4, 6, 8 alum/CoT, 3 + 4 alk modifier, 5 + 6 acid modifier, 7 + 8 iron modifier. The colours in real life are deeper.


Would I dye with bottlebrush again? Sure, if enough material could be found again. Callistemons are used as street trees in a lot of suburbs, so they’re not exactly rare or endangered. However, usually the stamens just blow off individually and don’t amass, so looks like I was lucky.

Setting the cotton

Baumwollefestsetzen, fixant le coton, fijando el algodón, ag leagann an cadás

Now here’s where I really need some help with the translation. Wenn Ihr mir mit dem richtigen Vokabular helfen könnt; faire des fautes en français n’est pas génial, mais on n’enseigne point des mots utiles à l’école ; me puedes ayudar con el vocabulario? An féidir leat cabhrú liom le na focail cheart?

cotton1Although I had seen on Stephanie Gausted’s dvd that you should wrap cotton yarn around a cone, then boil it to remove the oils etc, I just didn’t have one. My first skein was scoured as is, and ended up like a bad perm. I searched for dishwasher spare parts, then looked towards cutlery drainers, but none were suitable, or so I thought. I then searched for perforated steel tubes and came up with car exhaust parts in 50cm lengths. Easy! Buy one of those and get the hacksaw out. Best laid plans? Yes, experience forewarned, I decided to go for an easier option.cotton2

Finally I came across barbecue smoke-chip container on Ebay. I wasn’t sure if it would be genuine stainless, or at all suitable; I wasn’t looking for cotton3Sheffield steel, just something that would fall apart or leave rust marks on the yarn. $15 wasn’t going to do much damage, so I took a chance…

After boiling the yarn in diluted soda ash, then leaving it to dry for a couple of days, it came off the tube rather flat. Would it look like yarn if I washed it again? Or would it turn out like a bad perm? I gave it a roughed-up bath in warm water, wrung it by hand, then left to dry. And the result? Scoured cotton yarn that had recovered its body. Yep, a success. Bad perm on the left, coned-and-rewashed on the right.

Spinning the North Ronaldsay

Rinneansaigh, Rinnansey

This was definitely on the list – a rare-breed, endangered, seaweed-eating sheep living on a Scottish isle. Who wouldn’t want some fibre to spin? Although there is a shop on the island that sells fleece in various preparations and colours, before I got round to ordering from them directly a local dealer was selling light-brown rovings at the Guild one day. Say no more.

TRon1he roving was soft and lofty, but with some coarser guard hairs in it, and quite easy to spin. That’s taking into account the usual droppage. Someone “allergic” to wool – or rather the prickle factor – would probably not appreciate this one but I’m already thinking of how I can incorporate the yarn into a beanie.

I’ve found that my cops turn out more egg-shaped, but when I try to wind a round cop, the spin goes out the window and is replaced by a nonconforming wobble. I’ll stick with egg-shaped.

Plying from a centre-form egg proved impossible as I’d lost the inRon4side end. I’ve also found that centre-pull balls/eggs etc from a drop spindle usually don’t work, even if turn them on a ball-winder. Oh well, at least you end up with a couple of egg-shaped cops that don’t need to be wound round a tennis ball before plying.

And the result? Two balls of 2-ply with all the character and interest of handspun and a bit more fibre left in the bag to be spun.

Syrian Oregano

Origanum syriacum, origan de Syrie, syrischer Oregano, orégano sirio, oragán siriach

Syrian oregano1I grew some seeds of this a few years ago, about the same time that I was looking for za’atar. Some seed catalogues list them as one in the same, but with some research I found that za’atar can be Thymbra spicata, Origanum syriacum, Thymus vulgaris, Micromeria spp. or Hyssopus officinalis – depending on where you live and what grows locally.

Back to the oregano… one plant survived from the seedlings and grew strongly, and has given me several offshoots since, and last season a harvest of seeds and subsequent seedlings. What I noticed this afternoon was that the plant was not only growing Syrian oregano2strongly, but also has a couple of stems – on the one plant – with larger than usual leaves, so big that I had to run my finger down the stems to their origin to check they weren’t mint.

Huge. I don’t know whether this is how the plant now wants to grow, or if it’s due to the weather that is constantly up-and-down at the moment, but will certainly try and take a cutting to see if the leaves stay that large.

And the taste? Spicy. Like some fellow herb growers, I’ve found that the alternative Greek oregano Origanum vulgare var. hirtum, just doesn’t grow well (perhaps dodgy original stock?). The Syrian variety is also more upright and the silvery foliage provides contrast.