Clianthus puniceus

Kaka beak, Kōwhai Ngutu-kākā, Papageienschnabel

It must’ve been over fifteen years ago that I bought a packet each of red and white kaka beak seeds from New Zealand (legally and through the post). This was after only one successful attempt at growing our native Sturt’s desert pea. I had it in my head that kaka beak needed to be sown in autumn, and so two or three years in a row I sowed a pot of each colour, saw a few grow, some even to their first pair of true leaves, then cark it.

A few years ago I came across the remaining seeds, and repeated the experiment, this time checking with a supplier on the optimum sowing time. Seems they can be planted for most of the year. The first re-attempt came to nought, but out of the second attempt I ended up with four plants of the red. None of the white ones came up, but I might try again, considering the viability of the red seeds. How could I tell them apart? The red-flowering ones are black, and the white-flowering ones a pale brown.

ClianthusMy largest specimen (not full-sized by any means) grew buds last year, but these dried up on a particularly hot day. The specimen was later planted behind a retaining wall at the side of the house, and I’ve watched the buds develop eagerly. Then today, the first open flower!

I guess there are some people, particularly “across the ditch”, laughing at this great achievement. Well, I still get a kick any time seeds germinate. Always have done. Always will. And now one’s flowering.

Back to the plant per se, it seems that it is critically endangered in the wild and restricted to one location. Thankfully it’s not so rare in cultivation.


Noch a bisle mehr entdeckt…

(English version below)

Habe ich das Buch vor einer Woche auf Google Books gefunden. Es wurde in Fraktur gedruckt. Der Autor hieß Joseph Mollenhauer: praktisch gelerneter Färber zu Fuld. Und das Titel: Praktischer und sehr anwendbarer Waid und Schoenfaerber zum Gebrauch für Wertmesiter und Liebhaber.

Die Vorrede beginnt so: Da ich wegen politischer Verfassung des Staates meine praktische Kentniße nicht weiter benutzen kann noch darf; so bin von vielen Freunden aufgefordert worden, diese meine Färbkenntniße gemeinnützig zu machen.

Ich habe noch nichts um die politische Verfassung zu dieser Zeit in Hesse herasugefunden. Trotzdem wird das Buch mir immer mehr interessant. Kann es das Original sein, oder eine Kopie?

Vor der Vorrede wird geschrieben  – und es scheint in zwei Shriftarten zusammen – Dieses färbbuch gefördert (?) mir Johann Henrich Marx… November 1806. Die Vorrede wurde aber am 30 April 1801 geschrieben. Vielleicht wurde denn diese Inschrift vom Verwandten geschrieben? So viele Fragen, die ohne Zeitmaschine nicht werden beantwortet können..

A little more uncovered…

I was able to find a printed copy of the work on Google Books, written in Fraktur – a lot easier to understand! It was written in 1801 by Joseph Mollenhauer: experienced dyer at Fuld, and titled Practical woad and beautiful colours for the use of professionals and enthusiasts. I’m still deciding on the best translation, so don’t quote me on that for the time being.

So, was this the original, or a handwritten copy? Just before the introduction there is a page that states This book was …. to me by Johann Henrich Marx… November 1806. This inscription seems to be written in two different scripts, and with the word for “this” – dieses – looking more like vinfub, you can understand the difficulty in trying to decipher it. What is clear is that the introduction was written on 30th April, 1801.

The author begins his introduction, Because I can’t practise my craft any longer due to the State constitution, many friends have asked me to pass on my dyeing knowledge. I haven’t yet been able to find out what the constitutional thingamajig was, but have been wondering why my BA couldn’t have included being thrown such a work and being told to go and research it…

Wenn man/frau Kurrent lesen kann…

(English version below…)

Einer Mitgliederin unseres Bundes wurde dieses Buch von ihrem Großvater gegeben. Das Buch wurde 1801-1806 im Schwarzwald geschrieben, wo ihre Verwandte beim Marxfabrik in Lambrecht arbeitete. Es liegt jetzt im Lutheranischen Arkiv hier in Adelaide. Ein Faksimile bleibt mit dem Handspinners and Weavers Guild SA. Das Foto wird mit Genehmigung kopiert.

clone tag: -1709877823551749639Am Anfang des Buches steht das Alphabet in normaler Handschrift. Auf der nächsten Seite steht das Aphabet in Kurrentschrift. Ein sehr deutiger Schlüssel, aber trotzdem ist die Schrift sehr schwer zu lesen.

Das nächste Projekt besteht darauf, das Buch in moderne Schrift (sowie auch auf Englisch) übersetzen und drucken zu lassen.

Es war echt eine Vergnügen, solch einen historischen Schatz anzuschauen.

Dyeing, social history and languages all in one! It was such a pleasure to view this book, written in 1801-1806 in the Black Forest, where the author worked at the Marx wool factory. The handwriting alone is something to marvel at, even though it is difficult to read. Whilst studying in Germany, I was given a photocopy (from and English text!) of 1940’s Gothic alphabet to help me read official documents of that period. I have to say that Gothic script is a lot easier to understand than Kurrent! At the front of the book there is a page with the alphabet in regular handwriting, and on the opposite side the alphabet in Kurrent. Still difficult to read!

The book was given to a member of the HSWG SA by her grandfather, who inherited it from his relatives. The original has been kindly donated to the Lutheran Archive in Adelaide, whist a facsimile has been donated to the Guild.

It would be wonderful to find a way of transcribing and translating the book, and perhaps even getting it printed.

Woven in Friendship project

When I was first approached about participating, and agreed, it was on the misunderstanding that it would involve weaving one handwoven square to contribute towards a larger project. Nah!

quilt4The actual project was an excellent idea to use up a donated stash of cottons and honour the memory of a former Guild member. Each participant would weave 20 (or was it 21?) squares in overshot, one for themself, one for everyone else and one for the Guild. Each would choose their own pattern in 4-shaft overshot and their own colours. You could either accept squares woven in other people’s colours, or wind off the weft for everyone to weave in your colour. The squares would then be exchanged at a meeting a few months down the track and each participant would sew their squares into a quilt. That’s what I hadn’t been aware of to start with. A quilt? Sew? Squares and straight lines? Too late to back out now…

I didn’t get the weaving started until three weeks before the due date, and even then had quilt1a long fight with the warp: three stands of very fine cotton that was as much fun as brushing the tangled hair of a squirming four-year-old. I’d never woven overshot either, but was no stranger to weaving with two shuttles, and at the rate of at least one square per evening, they were all finished in time. I chose the particular draft as it reminded me of nasturtium leaves, although as with most patterns, stare at it long enough and you start to see other things: keys, crosses, diamonds…

quilt5Squares  separated and exchanged, it was time to start sewing. Or thinking about it, buying batting, then more thinking… That process alone, together with buying fabric, thread and a walking foot for the sewing machine took another three months, then submitting for a group exhibition. I had asked that a sign be put next to mine declaring that I was a first-timer and had done woodwork and metalwork at school instead of sewing… and I wasn’t joking. At least it was displayed back-to-the-wall so that the bits of dodgy sewing (when the machine starts making noises and the fabric doesn’t move forward) weren’t visible. The edges are actually straight, contrary to how it was hanging at the time. Honest. First attempt, what can I say…

A positive experience? Well, yes in that it took me out of my comfort zone, I got to know other weavers, and tried overshot for the first time and realised it could be used for colourful effects rather than simply making a pattern and limited shafts go further. Also there was the book that involved a workshop on making the covers; I couldn’t attend the second session on binding, but as there was a similar workshop last year, the work that went into it was appreciated.


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.


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:


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 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.