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

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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.

 

 

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.

Bottlebrush

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.

yarn1

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.

yarn2

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.

Spinning the North Ronaldsay

Rinneansaigh, Rinnansey

This was definitely on the list – a rare-breed, endangered, seaweed-eating sheep living on a Scottish isle. Who wouldn’t want some fibre to spin? Although there is a shop on the island that sells fleece in various preparations and colours, before I got round to ordering from them directly a local dealer was selling light-brown rovings at the Guild one day. Say no more.

TRon1he roving was soft and lofty, but with some coarser guard hairs in it, and quite easy to spin. That’s taking into account the usual droppage. Someone “allergic” to wool – or rather the prickle factor – would probably not appreciate this one but I’m already thinking of how I can incorporate the yarn into a beanie.

I’ve found that my cops turn out more egg-shaped, but when I try to wind a round cop, the spin goes out the window and is replaced by a nonconforming wobble. I’ll stick with egg-shaped.

Plying from a centre-form egg proved impossible as I’d lost the inRon4side end. I’ve also found that centre-pull balls/eggs etc from a drop spindle usually don’t work, even if turn them on a ball-winder. Oh well, at least you end up with a couple of egg-shaped cops that don’t need to be wound round a tennis ball before plying.

And the result? Two balls of 2-ply with all the character and interest of handspun and a bit more fibre left in the bag to be spun.