Tagetes minuta on cotton, tencel and wool

Aluminium acetate

This was the first time I’d used aluminium acetate as a mordant. My attempt to use aluminium sulphate and washing soda wasn’t a success, so on to the smelly stuff…

There was plenty of dyestuff to harvest as the Tagetes minuta had grown abundant; not bushy, but taller than ever, to around three metres. This allowed for a double experiment on cotton and wool, as well as yielding plenty to dry for later use.

Some sources state that aluminium acetate on cellulose only needs a temperature of 55oC to work, but I decided to follow the directions in Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour: to simmer a 5% WoF solution for an hour, then leave overnight before rinsing well. The dyestuff was simmered for about 45 mins., then strained and the cotton yarn added. I wasn’t too concerned with exact weights when it came to the plant material – that’s for another time.

cottonyarnThe yarn was left to cool in the liquor overnight, then rinsed well. A smaller sample was cut off and washed in cheap washing-up liquid. Although some colour came out in the water, there is no difference in the two samples to the naked eye. An unmordanted sample of cotton was added to the original dyebath, but came out the palest yellow (the sample has since vanished…).

Next came the tencel: 20/2. Why 20/2? Because I wastencel put off a while ago by weaving with hand-dyed (fibre reactive) 10/2 that broke a few times. I intend to use it in the future, but in the meantime it’ll be used for dye experiments while I save the 8/2 for weaving for weaving’s sake. The shade obtained was lighter than the cotton; I thought that it may have come out deeper, considering how well tencel takes up fibre reactive dyes, then was reminded that a another experiment gave cotton and tencel an equal footing in this respect.woolyarn

As the previous experiment on wool was basic, I decided to extend the game. The examples show how the alum/CoT mordant (left) brings out the deeper shades. Top-to-bottom: an alkaline modifier darkens them, acid lightens them and iron “saddens” them – classic textbook stuff.




Pickled walnuts

Des noix marinées, eingelegte Walnüsse, nueces en escabeche, gallchnónna picilte

I first heard of these in an episode of Dear Ladies where they were dumped by one of the ladies on the dining table in front of the other with comic contempt. They seemed to be in one of those jars that you find every now and then over the years at the back of the cupboard, but never open or use. In Greece once we were served ice-cream (it was colourless, practically tasteless and had slathers of ice in it – maybe a packet mix?) with a sauce that tasted like something out of one of those jars. Most unusual for a country where fresh food is the norm and nothing is short of tasty. Anyway, the walnuts… I imagined walnuts as we usually eat them, shelled and halved, in a jar of vinegar.walnuts1

I didn’t make the usual half-gallon of nocello this summer, but decided to pickle the green fruits instead using this recipe. I’d liken the process to pickling olives, but darker and stainier.  walnuts2First came trimming (I’d had them in the fridge whilst deciding what to do; some of the ends were a bit brown), then pricking all over with a needle. The second picture, right, shows them after bathing in brine for a day. A friend asked if the plate was made of walnut, too. Good point, and I swear thwalnuts3.jpge pattern was purely by chance. It was however ordinary, white china.

Then came the first change of brine. By this time, I’d given up on the idea of the bowl reverting to its original white colour at the end of the process. C’est la vie… The fruits themselves hadn’t changed so much, and it was back in for another bath after changing the brine. I’ll admit to leaving them in the second bath for a little longer than recommended, but it seems to have worked.

Finally they were fished out and strained, then left in the sun for a couple of days. With temperatures in the high 30’s and low 40′walnuts6.jpgs I wondered if they might dry beyond redemption. Instead they turned a fantastic metallic shade, like Christmas beetles. And wrinkled. I still made sure they were handled with tongs (dyeing walnuts and spinning silk and wool means you need to pay special attention to all that potential dye, and your fingers).

And thwalnuts7.jpge result? They were simmered in the pickling mixture, then everything placed in a couple of jars with a glass milk watcher on top as a weight, and left for a couple walnuts8.jpgof months. Naturally one had to purchase some Stilton to go with them. The first one out was a little soft; it broke up but was still worth the effort – a sort of pickled pate. The second kept its shape more when cut. And the taste? Definitely worth the Stilton, and worth eating all of them by the time the next lot are ready. If they last that long. The picture really doesn’t do them justice.



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 again, 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.