Valonia oak

Quercus ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis, Mount Tabor oak/Valonia oak, chêne du mont Thabor/chêne velani/ chêne de Grèce, Walloneneiche, roble Valonia

Not suprisingly – considering its distribution and no doubt history – there is no evident Gaelic name for this species, although the kid in me wants to name it dair ghráinneogHedgehog oak.

I first came across the Valonia oak, or rather its cups, in the Musoak2eum of Ethnobotany in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens. The samples stated that they were used for making ink… you can imagine the rest.

It seems that this species (with a host of botanical names) was once a valuable commodity for tanning, ink production, and also as a foodstuff, but is now threatened despite it’s wide geographical distribution. So how did it get down here? With the tanners stripping wattles/acacias bare in Australia in the 19th century, British firms started importing Valonia cups from Turkey, and there are efforts to save some of the original plantations. See this interesting article by Catherine Yiğit on the species, its use and history in its homeland.valonia I managed to locate a few live trees locally and permission was kindly granted to collect any cups and acorns that had fallen from the tree. There were plenty to collect this year, in contrast to the local English oaks. The latter seem to have been in low production and to have disappeared from the streets and reserves as if by magic. This was probably due to a very hot and dry summer; the Valonia oaks are drought tolerant.

Back to the dyestuff… Apparently the unripe acorns are also used for tanning and ink, but the fresh material was being gathered by someone else for propagation, and I was going to respect the conditions of collection. There were enough fallen caps to keep me going for a while anyway. One experiment involved soaking the cups in cold water, adding bicarb and then heating a few days later before dyeing the yarn; the second experiment was more accidental. Some caps were left soaking, then forgotten for a few weeks. You can imagine there was a nice layer of mould on top. I didn’t bother heating this “mixture”, as I felt the natural decomposition would have released anything worthwhile. Both experiments produced a liquor that was, well, very dark. Ink. For the first I added yarn both mordanted and un-mordanted, and then followed with the usual range of modifiers. There wasn’t much of a difference in the results, so for the second I stuck to mordanted, non-mordanted, no modifier and iron.

The mordant (right) has brought out a slightly richer tone on the non-modified samples, but on the others there is barely a difference- if any (the sample at the back, right was in full sun, but otherwise looks the same as the sample on its left). I was expecting a much deeper colour from the modified samples considering the darkness of the liquor, but the shade is interesting nonetheless and all results comparable to earlier experiments with walnut leaves.

oak

Avocado pits (again)

extraction de couleur facilitée par la fermentation décomposition, Farbextraktion durch Fermentiern Zersetzung, extracción de color ayudada por la fermentación decomposition, eastóscadh datha le cabhair ó choipeadh dhíscaoileadh

After finding a bag of sliced avocado pits in the freezer (and sneaking them out before I could get reminded how long they’d been in there), I decided to go for fermentation. I read somewhere that the potentially damaging (to the fibre) effect of adding an alkaline substance to aid in colour extraction would be negated by allowing the liquor with plant material left in to ferment. Hmm… wouldn’t the addition of bicarb or anything similar prevent fermentation?

I tried anyway and was right in that the mixture did not ferment. However, leaving it for some time – how long? dunno – allowed the sliced pits to partially disintegrate. The liquor was noticeably richer (redder) in colour and the plant material was dense enough to be strained out of the liquid before dyeing. The mould that had formed on top separated easily, too.

avocadosThe results were not sufficiently different from dyeing without pre-treatment to warrant such a lengthy procedure, although I may well try fermenting without adding bicarb in future.

The two cotton samples did show some variation in tone between mordanted (alum acetate) and non-mordanted, not in depth of colour.

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:

onions

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!

Fennel

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.

fennel

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.