Drying the harvest

I choose wine by the quality (together with the price), but when the bottle comes in an organza bag, that’s an added bonus. I now have a sizeable collection and there’s always at least one hanging on the washing line at any time of the year. In summer there can be baga good half-dozen.

Leaves are generally tied in a bundle to hang off the laundry door for a week or so, but when flowers are plucked one or a small handful at a time, they go into the wine bags (gift bags, not goon bags) on the back wire of the clothes line where they get shade 24/7. This also goes for tagetes heads which would otherwise shed hundreds of seeds over the floor.

I originally spread some wire fencing over the “rafters” in the shed, placed flyscreen wire on top and spread dahlia flowers over that to dry. Now I find that if there are not too many in one golemon myrtle, they too can go into a wine bag. This is only practical in summer, where they can dry within a day; in winter the tree dahlia heads go mouldy when piled into a bag.

And avocado pits? When a colleague donates them on a daily basis, they stay on my desk shelf at work and dry well without going mouldy. Easy! At home they get put into a bag along with the skins – after going over both with a nail brush to get rid of any remaining flesh.

On the right: half-a-year’s harvest of lemon myrtle from the 50cm-high specimen in a pot. I remember buying 100g of these about 18 years ago when they were $50/kg! Although they’re not native to SA, they’re really easy to grow both in pot and in open ground.


Dahlia leaves

feuilles de dahlia, Dahlienblätter, hojas de dalia, duilleoga dáilia

My experiment with tree dahlia leaves last year didn’t do well, producing no colour at all, but I decided to try again with the bedding dahlias. They were going into dormancy, so left enough leaves on each plant to provide the final feedahlia leavesd for the tubers.

The results were some interesting pastel green and yellow pastel hues which I usually term “’50’s colours” after childhood memories of old pots of paint in discontinued shades and bedclothes/clothes/tablecloths (I did know the difference, believe me, and used them all for the correct purpose, except when playing Batman) that maybe used to be darker or perhaps just weren’t as gaudy as in the 60’s/70’s.

Dahlias 2

I bought a punnet of bedding dahlias two summers ago (and again this summer just gone); they turned out light pink, dark pink, cerise, yellow and bronze, and produced an abundance of flowers even on plants only 1′ – 2′ high, so will stick to these in future rather than growing the taller varieties that need staking and perhaps more shade.

Thanks to a generous harvest, I was able to dye with both flowers (dried) and heads (minus the petals) to see if there is any difference – it’s stated in The Woolcraft Book that the colour is in the centre of the flowers.


The top row are the flowers (100g dried), the bottom row the heads only (200g fresh). From left to right: no mordant, alum/Cot 8%/7%, no mordant plus alkaline modifier (bicarb), alum/Cot mordant plus alkaline modifier. The yarn was pure white, triple knit (never heard of that before) NZ virgin wool – a lucky find in a local op shop. The skeins weighed about 5g each.

The flowers clearly produced deeper shades, but maybe the quantity of viable dyestuff was greater considering how much % of the heads was water.

I’m often asked by fellow Guild members, “What about tree dahlias?” I tried experimenting with the leaves last year after one of the canes blew down, but with disappointing results. However, I’d saved the flowers from that cane and they’d been hanging in a bag on the washing line for the best part of a year – dried, shrivelled and light brown.

tree dahliaX2They produced a tea-coloured liquor after simmering for about 3/4 hour, so I decided to go ahead. Had I mordanted the yarn? Couldn’t remember, so I just dropped a skein in the pot. After about 30 mins I added a pinch of alum, and the yarn turned visibly darker. That answered my question. Then some bicarb turned the yarn a rich orange-yellow (deeper than in the photo). So, that answers the other question and I shall be saving as many flowers/heads as I can this year.

Autumn beanie

autumnbeanieSomeone pointed out that this could very well be the colours of a hitherto-unknown footie team. Better not wear it down the Port, then. Or to a quidditch match.

It was actually a thank-you for the many kilos of dahlia flowers mentioned in a previous post. I had some balls from a grey, crossbreed fleece spun many moons ago that had already made one serviceable beanie, so I decided to put the rest of that part of the never-decreasing stash to good use.

The yarn was over-dyed with dahlia flowers (orange) modified with bicarb, and dried Tagetes minuta tops. I think I prefer these particular colours on white yarn, but after the workshop surprises, I might just do my next lot of natural dyeing at the Guild. There’s magic in them there pipes…

Natural dyeing workshop

After spending some weeks deciding on what exactly we were going to dye with, and then worrying on more than one occasion that the dyes weren’t going to p


erform, last Saturday’s workshop was full of pleasant surprises…

There were seven participants, all friendly and enthusiastic, and all with interesting tales, information and tips to add to the proceedings. The dyes used were (from bottom to top): hawthorn berries, brown onion skins, red onion skins, Tagetes minuta, dahlia flowers, Tagetes lemonii (dried flowers/heads), Eucalyptus cinerea, E. incognita (yep!) and betel nuts.

I didn’t have time to follow Jenny Dean’s recipe (in Wild Colour) for the haws, so boiled up some leaves and twigs for about 40 minutes to get as much tannin in to the dyepot, then added about a kilo of berries and simmered for three-quarters of an hour, then left overnight. This mixture was strained and reheated for the dyeing experiment. They turned the woolen yarn a shade of light brown that I’d never had before, so that’s one for future ref.


The onion skins were amazing! (right to left: brown onions, red onions, Tagetes lemonii). Even though we used a scant 50% wof, the brown ones dyed a deep copper, while the red ones (close-up below) came out dark, khaki green; the unmordanted ties were lime green, and both without trying. Could it have been the copper pipes at the Guild?

A smaller quantity of dahlia heads than I would have liked gave such a deep colour, and onions2redwhen we dipped half (or more) of the skein back in the liquor with bicarb added, well, even better.

I was concerned that as the tagetes flowers were dry, they’d give muted shades of old gold. Lemonmii gave such a deep sunshine gold that at first I thought it was the brown onions, and the minuta heads could have been fresh – the brightness and intensity of the resulting colour is still a source of amazement.

E. cinerea performed to its usual standard, while the other (maybe a type of peppermint gum?) gave a very pale yellow. Still a good shade to have in the line-up.

The betel nuts? These gave a deeper brown than I’ve ever managed before. None of the pinkish hue, mind. They were, as last time, soaked in water and bicarb for a couple of days.

All in all a successful run of experiments and a great bunch of people to work with!


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