Tansy

Tanacetum vulgare, tanaisie, Rainfarn, tanaceto, franclus

When I was a kid, we used to call tansy “cat’s muck plant”. We didn’t know what it was at that time, we had a pet dog, and the plant stinks; it was OK to say “muck”, but not “wee” or “pee” in those days. Nowadays I don’t find tansy half as stinky, but maybe that’s to do with the climate here? Maybe the milder temperatures and higher rainfall in England made it more… juicy? pungent?

And the name? Some of the more common and acceptable names in other languages demonstrate its many uses, e.g worm plant or its appearance and niche: Rainfarn – “fern growing in the dividing strip between fields”; the name is similar in most North Germanic languages, although the word Farn becomes fann and fana, with the latter meaning something different to fern? Just a linguistic adjustment rather than a complete translation?

Back to the dye…There’s plenty of information on yarn/dye blogs on dyeing wool with tansy, and some show an impressive green colour. Definitely one to try! There is also discussion on using the plant fresh or dried, using the flowers alone or all aerial parts. I went for leaves, flowers and leaves + stems, all fresh. Quantities were generous, thanks to the strong growth of just two plants. These will need to be moved next season so that they can have their own space and not crowd out the echinacea. Also, they are to be kept away from cabbages.tansy

The photo shows a great range of colours, but swapping between phone and camera, flash and no flash still didn’t give a totally accurate representation of the tones. Asking for too much? Yep! Think brighter and more in focus…

So… the samples on the right are all mordanted with A/CoT; those on the left were unmordanted. Top to bottom in both columns are in groups of 3 (leaves, flowers, leaves + stems): no modifier, alkaline modifier, acid modifier, Fe modifier.

The mordant clearly brought out deeper shades all round, with the alkaline brightening the yellows and turning the greens to sulphur/chartreuse. The iron modifier brought out khahki on the mordanted samples; on the unmordanted yarn it produced more generic grey tones (less blue than the photo). I think future projects will make more use of the chartreuse, but all the shades obtained would qualify for a tapestry palette.

Coreopsis grandiflora

Coreopsis grandiflora Early Sunrise, Mädchenaugen

A quick search and it seems that apart from the English tickseed, only the Germans have another name for this plant, and I know which one I prefer…

An attempt at growing C. tinctoria from seed (from two different sources) came to naught last year, so I bought a punnet of grandiflora seedlings. They survived the hottest days well with a constant display of cheerful blooms, and have started layering themselves so that I should have double the amount next year. I’ll still give the tinctoria seeds another try or two.

cosmosThe result of the dyepot were to be expected, and after getting so many muted shades from eucalypts, the bold oranges and red were a welcome change – and not unexpected, either, from this plant family. Different to dahlias? I’d say about the same. As for production, I’d have to wait until I had an equal amount of both plants, but that’s not what it’s all about at present.

Phragmites australis

Common reed, roseau commun, Schilfohre, carrizo, giolcach

I’d read about dyers obtaining a green colour on wool from the common reed, so was naturally eager to give it a try. The past two years I’ve missed a very short flowering season due to high temperatures, but this year managed to harvest some in its second flowering (the weather has been up and down like a yoyo).

On the way to a spot where it grows abundantly (and will need thinning very soon if it’s not to take over the shallows of the artificial lake), I started thinking about greens… Greens from purple… The local variety don’t have purple flowers, maybe a slight tinge, but nothing like I once saw in Englphragmitesand. As a child with a thirst for natural history (is it still called that?) and a small but highly informative collection of nature books, I stood gaping at this tall grass with purple flowers – all very exotic. If memory serves correctly, I took a couple of flowering heads home, but the purple didn’t last. I can’t remember where it was, but have a lot of fond and grateful memories of day trips in to the countryside where there was always a new discovery.

So, back to Australia… some sources say the plant is native, others an introduced species… but it still lacks the purple. Well, at least I’d get a yellow or beige out of it, I was sure.

On the far left, the unmordanted yarn is very close in colour to its mordanted neighbour. The third from the left is mordanted + bicarb modifier – slightly more yellow in real life as was to be expected. On the far right is mordanted + Fe modifier. A useful experiment? Yes, and colours to add to a palette.

Eucalyptus cladocalyx

Sugar gum, l’eucalyptus de sucre, Zuckereukalytpus, eucalipto de azúcar, an cladocalyx1eoclaip siúcra

Impressive is just one word I’d use to describe the sugar gum: tall, thick, smooth, glaucous, striking… I’ve never knowingly seen a young specimen; all the ones I know are very tall with distinct markings on the trunk. Impressive…

Our local specimens have never shed many leaves, although I did manage to gather a couple of handfuls this week. One specimen has some low-growing foliage, but I can’t excuse pruning it for the sake of the dyepot. Dictated by the current season, there is however a significant amount of fallen bark to be had, so bark it was (aided by a handful of the leaves as mordant).

cladocalyx2As with the E. sideroxylon experiment, the bark was soaked for a day, then simmered for 45 mins. The water turned from apricot-brown to deep brown-red. I could tell I’d get some colour, even if it weren’t a striking red. After straining, the woollen yarn was simmered for 45 mins and then rinsed in cold water straight away. Why? Why not.

cladocalyx3The result was a pleasing medium-darkish honey-brown (a bit brighter than in the pic), and worthy of repetition. I’ll be trying this one on tencel, too. Why so many browns lately? This isn’t a common colour in commercial yarns, and I need a certain shade of tencel to complete a project. Moreover, the experiment per se is fun – what other reason could you possibly need?

 

Eucalyptus sideroxylon

Ironbark, mugga, écorce de fer, Mugga-Eukalyptus, corteza de hierro, Coirt iarainn

As per the previous post, ironbark leaves aren’t as plentiful this year, or at least the ones within easy reach. What about the bark, etc?

Sideroxylon bark2

I once soaked a fair amount of kino/manna/resin collected from numerous local gums for a week (a significantly shorter period of time than what it had taken to collect), simmered some yarn… and came up with not much. Another experiment with the bark had produced a similar result. What went wrong? No leaves to act as mordant!! (note to self: Duh!).

There is plenty of bark to be collected locally, and if you can’t find it on the ground, there may be some hanging off the trunk, ready to drop without harming the tree. Apparently the name comes from the hardness of the wood; I naturally thought it was because the bark looked rusty…

A good layer on the bottom of the pot was soaked overnight, then simmered for about an hour with a handful of E. leucoxylon leaves for the tannin (as a mordant). Why leucoxylon? Because I have plenty at present (see post below).

Sideroxylon liquor2The dye liquor colours up quickly and is a deep, reddish black. An hour’s simmering, then a straining followed by a sieving (lots of small bits…) and it was ready for the yarn: a skein of 8-ply (bottom, left), followed by one of 2-ply that had been mordanted with alum/CoT as a precaution (bottom, right). As you can see, no mordanting was necessary, but produced a slight greenish tinge on the 2-ply (inside, it looks more golden, so let’s go for old gold/nut-brown butter). The 8-ply – denser and softer –  came out a mid-chestnut brown. The colours in the pic are a little richer than in real life.

Sideroxylon yarn2The liquor was still darker than dark, so another two skeins of the 2-ply were dyed individually. The first (top, left) came out a paler brown with a reddish tinge after an immediate wash; the second was left in the liquor overnight, producing a richer colour all round.

None of the colours match any brown sheep I’ve spun, or alpaca, so worthwhile results for all the work. Now to try with vinegar to get more red…

Eucalyptus leucoxylon

 

Blue gum, Eucalyptus bleu, Weiße Gummi-Eukalyptus, Eucalipto azul, Eoclaip gorm

(re the German name: another English name is White ironbark)

The local council had trimmed back the Eucalyptus sideroxylon trees for the first time in about ten years, or rather had trimmed them back noticeably. These were going to be the source of material for an international project (more about that in a future post), so it was down to Plan B, then Plan C…

A branch of what appears to be E. leucoxylon had come down recently (gum trees drop Windfall1branches due to drought or a sudden uptake of water when the rain comes after a period of dry; this year the weather is so up-and-down that I can’t give the exact reason, which sometimes a gum doesn’t need…) and it’s still at the side of the road, though there’s less of it.

Windfall2After driving past it once, I went back with pocket saw, secateurs and large bucket, then went back again for seconds. How much did I manage to harvest? Compare the ‘before’ and ‘after’ picsPossum

I had to include a pic of what was sheltering behind the dyepots in the shed. When I first noticed it, staring at me as I went to take the pot, I can’t remember what I yelled, but it was something along the lines of, “Agggghhhhh!!!” Just surprised, that’s all. Judging by the size of it, I think this may be the one that was sitting in the garden one evening, enjoying the plums and looking very much the size of a wallaby (for overseas readers, it’s a possum, and a VERY large one). Nice fur.

dyepot

Windfall3

Back to the dye… I just grabbed about four handfuls (more like layers as they’d been squashed down a bit in the bucket) and simmered for 45 or so mins, then added unmordanted yarn: 8-ply Bendigo Mills Luxury – the chosen yarn for the project. I wasn’t expecting a great result, but it has come out a rather pleasant butterscotch, and one that should go well in the finished item.

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.

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.