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.

Madder socks

Des chausettes en garance, Krappsocken, medias en rubia, stocaí madar

Finally, a pair of socks. These were knitted to Kieron Pegg’s Toe up Twins on socks2Ravelry. They’re a little big, but as they’re for winter wear at home, we can get away with a bit of Nora Batty. The yarn was Bendigo Mills Luxury 4-ply, dyed with the two madders – see previous post.

They’re my first magic-loop-two-at-a-time project, but I don’t know if I saved any time with this method. The 40″/100cm cable was perhaps a little too long and the needles didn’t have a no-twist function…

’Ελα ρε πάιδι μου! can you imagine someone knitting socks in the 1940’s reading this? When it comes to problem-solving, or “first-world” problems, I just think, “What would they have done in the Blitz?’ Not sat around crying about twisting cables, that’s for sure. So let’s just say I’m up for trying different needles until I find the right ones from the wonderful selection we have these days that suit me. More on that to follow…

Madder and madder

Rubia tinctorum & Rubia cordifolia, Garance de teinturiers et garance ?, indische Krapp u.echte Färberröte , rubia ? y rubia rota, dó madar

Now I really need help with the other languages! Anyone?

I decided to try both “regular” madder and also R. cordifolia (as the latter’s cheaper). I purchased some powdered samples of both varieties and tried them on commercial yarn, mordanted with 10% alum and also with some calcium carbonate added to turn the dyebath alkaline. I couldn’t be sure of this, as the pH paper didn’t change colour, but I added more than the 6g per 100g dyestuff to make sure.madder.jpg

The R. tinctorum is on the left and the cordifolia on the right. From bottom to top it goes thusly: 50% wof, 100% wof, exhaust bath. The cordifolia at full strength gave what I’d call “Indian red” after seeing this tone on so many throws and other items from the sub-continent; the colours in real life are a bit deeper. The top ball was thrown into two exhaust baths, as the dusky pink wasn’t so much to my liking.

With the tinctorum, the full strength gave me what I’d expected, or near enough.

All skeins needed a fair number of rinses to get the particles out of them (it went on the garden); their individual shade was probably twice as dark when coming out of the dyebath, due to the particles sticking to the fibre, but the rinse water was only coloured by the waste particles and no waste/unattached dye.

So, will I use madder again? Not unless I buy a larger quantity from overseas to make it economically viable. When hanging the skeins to dry, the following came to mind: “Avocado skins… avocado pits… Eucalyptus sideroxylon… Eucalyptus cineria…” However, a worthwhile experiment with usable results.


Painted corn and purple basil

maïs coloré et basilic rouge, gemalter Mais und roter Basilikum, maiz pintado y albahaca roja, arbhar Indiach is basal dearg

Firstly, if anyone can correct any of the names above, I’d be more than interested.

Back to the dyes… I decided to try some purple basil (the annual variety) and also some red basil (a perennial variety), so picked a large handful  – maybe two- of the flowering spikes.

The top row in the photo shows the results. The mordant (2, 4, 6 from left) clearly brought out deeper shades, whilst the alkaline modifier in addition to the mordant (4) gave me a bright green. The acid modifier (5 & 6) took away all the green and left me with beige.


I’d grown some painted corn this year, and one of the plants had a deep purple stem. The husk was also the same interesting shade, so this was worth a go in the dye pot. Both stem and husk spent a week or so drying, but am not sure this was entirely necessary, considering the deep burgundy colour of the liquor.corn

As often happens, the true shades haven’t come out quite true. Similarly to the basil, the modifier deepened the shades and the alkaline brought out the green. This time, however, the acid brought out the red. I’m eager to try these for both light- and wash-fastness (when I’ve finished with all the other samples in the ever-growing mound).

And the corn? The cobs that did develop to any size were not impressive (although the colours were interesting). Most had started to go mouldy inside, and some of the kernels which seemed not fully developed had even started to sprout. I’ll put this down to the weather this summer, as well as my lack of experience with this crop.