Natural Dyeing from the Greengrocer

Artistic inspiration, always an elusive commodity for me, has left the building over the past week.  It’s rainy and cold: it’s soup weather here in Western Australia.

So my inner Earth Mother must have kicked in.  Why not add a few things from the greengrocer into the basket?  That way, you can dye yarn in the kitchen rather than in the windy outdoors.

IMG_8820

Brown onion, avocado, turmeric tuber, purple cabbage, avocado pips and a purple carrot.

Dyeing with vegetables is a lot easier if the plant matter is cut as small as possible.  I know that those of us who own Thermomix appliances are regarded as wealthy and gullible dilettantes but, hey, they are useful when you want to make your turmeric tuber /purple cabbage/purple carrot yield as much dye as possible.  It’s all about surface area exposed to water, right?

[I realise, reading this again, that I have merely fed the poor reputation of Thermomix owners!]

Of course, when you have finely minced plant material as your dye medium you really need to keep it from getting into your fabric and yarn.  Voilà. Enclose it in silk and you keep the dyed fibres clean while giving yourself some lovely pieces of fabric.

IMG_8804

Top to bottom: Purple carrot, avocado pips and turmeric on silk

To keep the whole indoors process safe, I decided not to try any mordanting.  I just lowered the yarn skeins into the pot containing a silk-wrapped bundle of the vegetable concerned, brought it to simmer, turned the temperature down and maintained it at around 60 degrees centigrade for at least 30 minutes.  In some cases I left the whole pot to cool to room temperature overnight.

I raided my stash of undyed, white or cream natural fibres (that is, silks, cottons, wools, kid mohair) and made small skeins from them.

The results are pleasing to me.  They are not spectacular.  Nor should they be.  The thing about natural dyeing for me is that the colours are soft and, yes, natural.  They seem to play well with one another somehow.  Because I use small quantities of both fabric and yarn in my work I relish small variations. I don’t want to produce metres at a time of the one dye lot. Each small batch of dye produces a slightly different outcome, even with the same fibre.  Obviously, that’s because the amount of dye material in the pot varies, the amount of pigment in a particular plant varies with season, etc.

IMG_8808

Left to Right: Wool; Patons baby wool; mulberry silk; and cotton yarns dyed in grated turmeric

IMG_8810

Three balls on the left are all Patons 2 ply baby wool and far right is 20/2 mulberry silk, all dyed in purple carrot

 

IMG_8813

Left to Right: Kid mohair, cotton, silk cord. cotton dyed in purple carrot

IMG_8815

Left to Right: kid mohair; kid mohair; 60% cotton with acrylic and polyester; and 100% linen dyed in purple carrot

IMG_8818

Clockwise from top left: cotton thread; linen thread, kid mohair, 60% cotton with acrylic and polyester, silk cord, and chunky cotton thread dyed in avocado pips.

Enter a caption

IMG_8819

From left to right: 20/2 silk; Patons 2ply baby wool; fine wool; and silk fibre from Loom in Bangkok dyed in purple cabbage

Natural dyeing onion - 1

Clockwise from top left: 20/2 silk; kid mohair; fine wool yarn; and perle #8 cotton, all dyed in brown onion leaves.  Leaf crocheted in 20/2 silk.

 

Now I just have to find that artistic inspiration that has been eluding me.  These yarns deserve that!

 

Posted in brown onion as dye, Natural dyeing, purple cabbage as dye, purple carrot as dye, Turmeric as dye, turmeric tuber as dye | 1 Comment

Yarn Dyeing: Buyer Beware

Last weekend I went to a fibre fair in a rural town.  Although i love dyeing my own yarns, especially with plants, I couldn’t resist buying some skeins of 70:30 merino:silk yarn dyed by hand by the seller with  what was described as “an eco-friendly acid dye”. [I have not researched this since the dyer could not recall the name of the product (!) and I’m guessing I might be disappointed at what I found – but then, I’m cynical]

 

IMG_8801

The pink skein with its blemish where too tightly tied

 

IMG_8795

The green skein also had a blemish

On this occasion I am not worried because I work small and quite like variations in any case. However, it would annoy me if I had bought the yarn for a garment!

The lesson here is to look closely at the skeins before buying them unless you know the product and can be sure that it’s been dyed correctly.

IMG_8797

The green skein when balled

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I love mistletoe

OK, I know that’s like saying I love roses.  Which roses?  Name specific species! Leaves or flowers?

Well, I don’t know more.  I harvested “mistletoe” from a forest reserve in Western Australia and used it experimentally on fabric.

Because it’s found on gum trees, its leaves look like the host species’ leaves.

IMG_8849

Mistletoe on white paper

IMG_8846

Close up of the mistletoe leaves

They have the same shape as their eucalyptus hosts but typically look redder and feel more waxy than the leaves of the gum trees they parasitise on.

I put a small number of these leaves into a cotton sheet derived bundle and brought it to the boil. I added a small skein of kid mohair to the pot and turned it down.  Later, I raise the temperature again , then turned it down.  Result: small kid mohair skein turned from white to light brown.

BUT! Over the next week, out in the winter cold the square of cotton sheet in which the mistletoe leaves were wrapped turned  lovely peach-orange colour!!!  So I tried heating the pot again, this time with some small skeins of different cotton yarns.

IMG_8837

Cotton yarns drying in the sun before washing.

The yarns did fade with rinsing but are still a very pleasing colour.

IMG_8850

Yarns and fabric after dyeing with mistletoe and after being rinsed and dried. At bottom is the kid mohair.  Top yarns and background fabric are cotton.

At some stage I will compare these outcomes with the outcomes I might get from pre-mordanting the cloth and fibres with, say, alum.  However,  to have these colours from untreated cellulose fibres,  which are notoriously more difficult to colour than silk and other protein fibres, is exciting.

Posted in Mistletoe as dye, Natural dyeing | Leave a comment

Dream Time Shawl

IMG_8841I’ve called this blog Dream Time Shawl because that’s what its designer Teresa Dair called it.

This project has been on the go (or off the boil) for several years since I bought the pattern and the yarn at the main Perth Craft Show when Dairing (www.dairing.com.au) was still coming to it from Victoria.

Knitted in garter stitch on 7.00mm needles and a cotton chenille slub (DM50x120gms), it is simply a large rectangle of approx. 2m x 70cm.

Its real attraction for me, with my leaf fetish, is that the fabric this yarn creates reminds me of scribbly gum.

Scribbly gum is a name given to a variety of different Australian Eucalyptus trees which play host to the larvae of scribbly gum moths which leave distinctive scribbly burrowing patterns on the bark.[1] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scribbly_gum

Thank you Teresa for devising a “pattern” that showcases this yarn so well!

IMG_8839

The scarf held in front of my studio doors

Posted in Clothing, Knitting, Scarf | 1 Comment

Blue/citrus scarf

A month since my last blog and there’s not much to report.  Stash-busting has sat alongside stash acquisitions, unfortunately. The Stitch and Craft Fair here in Perth was a great and unresisted temptation as Prudence Mapstone came over with a gorgeous collection of yarns.

However, before the month of May ends I thought I should just post some images of another scarf.  It’s not one I’ll wear as it’s not my colours but it did use a bit of the wonderful collection of silks in my drawers…..

Again I used the scarf as an exercise in expanding my knowledge of different knit stitches.  Although the thickness of the yarns varied I used the same needles throughout and just varied the tension.

To give weight to the ends I used thicker yarns to crochet a fringe.  I hate it when my scarf flies over my shoulder in a wind.

The whole scarf…..

 

IMG_8789

I have been dyeing yarns with plant dyes for an upcoming  fibre festival in Toodyay.  They are considerably less colourful but have a subtle charm of their own so I will post something about them next….

Posted in Clothing, freeform knitting, Knitting, Scarf | 1 Comment

Red-Orange Scarf

Yarn stash-busting is required.  The red yarns in particular have outgrown their drawers and baskets.  I got them together.  Well possibly not all of them; there is always the likelihood of finding a colony that has established itself elsewhere in the house. However, for my purpose there were enough in front of me.

Red-orange scarf - 1 (11)

The yarns varied in weight; from 8 ply (sports or DK) to everything below that, including embroidery weight threads. Wool, angora, silk, cotton, silk ribbon,  mohair and mixtures of all these were in there as well.

As a break from freeform knitting and crochet I decided to go simple; to do something I could watch TV or DVDs doing.  Conventional knitting was the answer. However, I also wanted to make stitches I had not made before, as a way of increasing the interest of the piece.  So a kind of sampler scarf came to mind. Throw in the constraint of using only one pair of needles and that added a challenge because, of course, combinations of yarn would be needed to ensure that the tension/gauge remained the same so the width of the scarf didn’t go in and out like a snake after swallowing a wallaby.

 

Snake swallowing wallaby

Satisfying wallaby meal for the snake but an unattractive profile for a scarf

Long story short, I then spent several evenings choosing yarns and stitches and building the scarf.  I wanted to master some simple patterns that I could deploy elsewhere,  I used two of my favourite knitting resources, besides my own brain:

Mary Walker Phillips , Creative Knitting A New Art Form (New & Expanded Edition), Patricia Abrahamian (ed.), Dover Publications, New York, 2013;

Phillips Creative knittingand

Nicky Epstein, Knitting Over The Edge, Sixth&Spring Books, 2005.

Epstein Knitting over the edge

A small section of the project:

.Red-orange scarf - 1 (6)

One of my most valuable discoveries was of a way of making a double-walled stitch that resulted in a tube.  I had been wanting to give some weight to the ends of the scarf so it sat without drifting in the breeze and with movement.  On the other hand the weight needed to be moderated- too heavy and the scarf would look “dragged down”.

On one end I made such a tube and threaded it with a braid of Romanian lace done in 3D to which I attached two Dorset buttons on each side.  This added weight without “drag”..

Red-orange scarf - 1 (7)

End of scarf featuring double walled channel threaded with two 3d Romanian lace braids and two Dorset buttons.  The other side of the scarf was finished in a similar way, albeit with different-looking Dorset buttons.

 

Red-orange scarf - 1

At the other end of the scarf I threaded two 3D Romanian braids through a ribbed eyelet section and attached Dorset buttons to each of the four ends.

 

Red-orange scarf - 1 (1)
The finished scarf being blocked.

The scarf as worn….

 

Posted in Clothing, Design, Knitting, Scarf | 4 Comments

Textile Study Trip to China’s Guizhou Province: Part 2

On Sunday 18 Feb 2018, the second day of our textile adventure in China’s Guizhou province, we checked out of the Trade Point Hotel in Guiyang and began making our way by road via Leishan to Xiao Danjiang to see a festival of the Long Skirt Miao.

Lunch in Leishan was a good introduction to a small town in a rural Chinese province with no  tourist profile. The New Year holiday had the effect of making the town seem very quiet.  I don’t think that we could  have ordered food without the aid of our interpreter.  Even with pointing and miming (skills we  acquired progressively during the trip) there was no menu,  and short of tasting the  food of the smiling local Miao language speaking people at adjacent tables, we would not have known what was available.  Mind you, these fellow guests were very kind and welcoming.  When our guide confided to one couple that I had seen an article on the internet in Perth about fermented vegetables being a staple part of the local diet, they immediately insisted that I help myself from their bowls.  While I did on subsequent days taste some very flavoursome fermented dishes, this first one was just a tad TOO fermented for me to cope with.  Until then I’d assumed that our table was located a little too closely to the rubbish bins but the smell proved to be from fermentation of a deliberate kind.  Our  guide was also key in the finding of toilets.  Often they are illusive and of course we did not have the local words to ask about them.

 

China Leishan - 1 (2)

The view from our waterside seating in Leishan across to village landmarks.

China Leishan - 1 (1)

An amusing mis-translation of Chafing Dish.The restaurant looked quite interesting but was closed for the New Year holiday.

 

IMG_7508

I loved the way the modern air-conditioners were concealed by traditional wooden fretwork (just above the sign saying 20 Yuan). 

China Leishan - 1 (3)

Ever-present mountains in Guizhou.  They say that in Guizhou Province “there are no three hectares without a mountain”.  To me that seemed an under-statement.

China Leishan - 1 (4)

I loved the textures in the bridge posts

China Leishan - 1 (6)

The main cafe offering is hotpot.  So you need to select your greens and your noodles.  Here is the “pantry”.  Grab a basin and fill it from this smorgasbord of refrigerated and very clean inputs. The dark material on the right of the noodles is seaweed.

China Leishan - 1 (5)

We picked an outside restaurant. As a guide to scale, the gas bottle is ordinary (western) size.    The stools and table are very low – but standard for the province.  One has to land one’s bottom carefully or one flips backwards in a very undignified heap.  It happened!

 

China Leishan - 1 (7)

Everyone gets a bowl of “seasonings” for their hotpot helpings. Chilli, spring onions, and a fermented vegetable paste. The packet is the ubiquitous Chinese serviette: a packet of tissues dropped onto the table as you take your seat. The other packets contain chopsticks. 

China Leishan - 1 (8)

Our hotpot on the boil. Gas powered ring. Small bowls contain individual seasonings .  Larger bowls for food are covered in plastic until required, as a guarantee of cleanliness. Small packet contains tissues aka serviettes.

China Leishan - 1 (9)

The lovely street location of our lunch destination. Judy is emerging from the shop with a selection of greens for the hotpot. The rice is suitably accessible, if not exactly hygenically presented.

 

China Leishan - 1 (10)

It’s all go now. Sliced potato, onions, noodles, seaweed and greens in the hotpot. Bowls freed of their plastic. Chopsticks yet to be unwrapped. Plenty more greens to add to the pot…..meals are generally high on vegetable and carbohydrates and low on protein, although there is sometimes some fresh or fermented tofu (the latter translated as “mildewed tofu” by our guide).  And, yes, cooked lettuce IS indeed very floppy and difficult wrangle elegantly into the mouth .While our guide bought us some forks and spoons after seeing some of us struggling with chopsticks on the first night, we often  forgot to take them from the car and thus rapidly had to improve our chopstick techniques.

China Leishan - 1

Looking up from the hotpot to the building details above….while those with urgent needs picked their way to a toilet down an alley way before we moved on to our first festival of the trip…..

Posted in Eating rural Chinese food, Guizhou in South -West China, Textile tour to China | Leave a comment