Kicking the fast fashion habit

A friend alerted me to this absorbing and powerful book which I read before Christmas.

First published in 2019 in the UK, it is packed with startling facts.

For example:

*100 billion garments are produced every year.

*The average garment is worn only 7 times

*20% of all garments go unsold

*Fewer than 2% of workers in the clothing industry receive a living wage

*1 t-shirt and 1 pair of jeans uses 5000 gallons of water. For those of us more familiar with metrics, this is nearly 23,000 litres.

*Over 60% of garments contain fabrics derived from fossil fuels.

You get her meaning? I did. In fact I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable with my practice of buying on-line from a particular chain. A quick look at the inside labels of the first six garments hanging on the nearest wardrobe rack revealed that two were made in China and four came from Vietnam. All were polyester or polyester mixes.

Was it finally time to break away from my dependence on these relatively affordable (and very often available at massive discounts); easy to wear and wash; and convenient- to-order on line clothes?

Yep. Certainly. But how?

When I was young and broke, and store bought clothes were made in Australia and expensive, I did make my own. It wasn’t a pleasant experience though. Paper patterns for home sewers were complicated. To compensate for having only one size pattern in each envelope a quantity of what was called “ease” was allowed by the drafter. Ease translated more often than not to an ill-fitting garment. Too tight in some places; too loose in others.

The actual instructions were often complex, involving much marking of stitching lines and notches and little circles….plus redundancy of language (see image below for repetition of putting right sides of fabric together) and unnecessary steps like pinning AND basting.

Well, I’m not going back there…..

Enter my local patchwork store which stocks the patterns of Sew To Grow (

I booked a quick lesson in their basic pattern called The Bondi Top.

That had me walking out with a top that actually fitted! A bonus was that I also discovered how nice patchwork fabrics are when used for light tops.

Blue 100% patchwork cotton made in three hours from The Bondi Top pattern adjusted to fit me. Easy!

This could go on forever!

Another excellent patchwork cotton print.
A longer line top made in a 100% linen. I turned the fabric around to avoid horizontal stripes and centred the black lines. The making was then easy using my already fitted master pattern.

Since these were made I’ve gone further and made longer tunics.

Tunic made with fabric from Woven Stories ( which sources hand-printed cottons from small villages in India.

Also skirts. My friend Liz Arnold ( ) designed these easy to make skirts.

Skirt made with 100% cotton hand-printed fabric from Woven Stories.

Here endeth the lesson…….

Posted in Clothing, Design | 1 Comment


I love making these.

I made this one as a Secret Santa gift for a member of one of my sewing groups.

It’s constructed using a variegated Perle 8 thread crocheted with beads into a tube then inserted into a white plastic cylinder that had previously had another thread wrapped around it. The skirt is simply made from the same thread and the hanger is a knitted i-cord.

Posted in bead crochet, Design, freeform crocheting, tassels | 1 Comment

Venation Shawl

Today I sat down to start blogging another experiment.  I found lots of Covid-time blogs in my drafts!!! Here’s one below.

Sometimes one eschews the pressure to create. One simply wants to “make”. Preferably while sitting on one’s front porch in the mellow Autumn sunshine watching the birds.

That’s a reaction to a lot of things.  In this case I put it down to isolation due to COVID-19 and my severance from the usual stimulus of friends.

It’s Monday (20 April 2020) and I want a sort of instant project. I look in my files and see I have purchased and downloaded a pattern from Ravelry. It’s the Venation Shawl by Ambah O’Brien ( I liked it because it looked simple to knit while being very drapey and light.  I live in the relatively warm west of Australia so my knits need to be not too heavy.


As it happens, I had also bought some time ago a box of fingering weight pure merino yarn from Canada called Koigu Pencil Box. Spotting it on a walk through my studio, it seemed ideal, notwithstanding the fact that its yellows are not part of my personal palette.



So  I decided to leap straight into making up Ambah’s Venation scarf with the Koigu box.

First, of course I had to turn the mini skeins into balls:


20200420_220733Then I rearranged the balls into my desired shading order:

20200420_221924I am a relatively loose knitter so I decided to use a circular 3.5mm needle rather than the recommended 3.75mm needle.  I did not do a tension test as I rely on my own judgement and, besides, a wrap’s dimensions are not as critical as those of a worn garment.


After two days I was on my second colour exchange and enjoying the ease of the instructions.

Thereafter progress was simple. At this point I must praise Ambah O’Brien for the clarity of her instructions. As an example: when doing a recent Stephen West project I came across the instruction “ssk”.

Stephen West’s instructions for “ssk” in his pattern Marled Magic Shawl were simply “ssk: slip slip knit ” where Ambah O’Brien says “ssk: slip, slip, knit. Slip the first stitch as if to knit, slip the second stitch as if to knit, then slide the left needle into the front part of both stitches and knit them together”. While making the Marled Magic Shawl I could see that slipping two stitches then knitting the next as implied by Stephen West’s pattern was not going to end well. However, it took my friend Liz, sitting in a cancer chemo centre, to tell me what I should do.  That was lucky.  If Liz had not been there I would have probably had to trash the whole project.


It’s now 8 May 2020. Australia is doing very very well so far in managing COVID-19.  Today our new COVID- 19 institution, called the “National Cabinet” and composed of our 8 State and Territory Premiers and Chief Officers and the Prime Minister, agreed to a staged and careful relaxing of our social restrictions and a reopening of businesses and other public places.

So since I have been steadily working a bit each day on the Venation Shawl, it seems appropriate that today I finished it.  Of course, it’s not yet blocked so officially it’s still a newborn. But I’m pleased with the marriage of the pattern and the yarn.

Here’s what I have left so there is another project or project element waiting….the weight of these leftovers is 108g so I used 250-108= 142g of the yarn.


Below is the unblocked scarf.


Here, on 12 May, is the fully blocked scarf.  I’m pleased.  I hope whoever gets it will be too!

Ford Venation wrap after blocking

Postscript: I can’t find this wrap so I must have given it to someone!

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Marled Magic Shawl by Stephen West

I like Stephen West’s designs ( I have made them before. He backs the sale of his written patterns with videos which elaborate and demonstrate some details of his designs.

Buying the pattern for Marled Magic Shawl, I was attracted by the possibility of making it creatively from my stash. Not in the restrained way that the designer intended, but in a more adventurous way. That is, I intended to mix and match and blend yarns of different weights to produce various heathered and/or subtly blended yarns to add to the complexity of the result (and to use more than just the fingering weight yarns in the stash!)

My daughter was to be the recipient of this wrap.  That meant careful consideration of the colour scheme.  She lives in a coastal Australian town and loves her beach. I’d been lucky enough to find, in a second hand bookshop, a copy of Richard Woldendorp’s Design by Nature, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, North Fremantle, Western Australia, 2001.

On p.16 of the book I found a wonderful image of “An ancient limestone ridge cutting Big Lagoon from Freycinet Reach , Shark Bay, Western Australia”. I live in Western Australia.


So I hunted through the stash and assembled a variety of weights of yarn in the colours of Woldendorp’s image. Below is a photo of some of the leftovers after the wrap was finished.  Linen, alpaca, wool, cotton, silk and mohair in thick , thin, boucle, s -twists and z- twists, even some with metallic threads.  I plied thin ones together to get variegations and split some thick ones where necessary.

Catherine's wrap yarn assortment
Some of the leftover yarns
Above and below: Some of the stitch patterns used

“Steady” and “Fading” marles were used to great effect in this pattern. A “Steady” marle is done by carrying one of two yarns throughout the section and only varying the colours of the second yarn. A “Fading” marle is achieved by changing both strands at random but only changing one of those strands at a time. In the above images the two lower ones are Steady marles, while the topmost one is a Fading marle.

Blocking it on my exercise mat (tassel not yet finished off)
Catherine's wrap 4
The finished wrap

One of the interesting features of the pattern was the plait or braid running down the centre back and finishing in a tassel. It was actually formed right at the end from a continuous braiding of very long ends deliberately left hanging after each colour change on the Mesh section (seen on the right of the plait), which is the first block worked. The mesh is simply two  alternating YOk2tog (repeat) and purled rows but the marled technique makes it look more complex than that.

I just hope my daughter likes it!

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Brown Onion Dip

A new blog is well overdue but I’m not very productive or innovative at the moment so I am sharing something I did two nights ago after seeing a new you tube video from “Rebecca from Chemknits“:


The first thing I learned was that what I, an Australian, call a brown onion seems to be called a yellow onion in the USA.  I’d often seen yellow onions in American cooks’ recipes and simply substituted brown ones.  Turns out that was quite OK!

Secondly, Rebecca actually weighed her onion skins.  Never thought of doing that.  They colour natural fibres  so well that eye-balling the quantity I put in the pot seems to work just fine. Still, out of interest I weighed the two bags of skins I’d pulled out of the stash in the garage; 92g.  (I could put in an image here but I’m assuming that everyone knows what onion skins look like even if they are very brown-looking yellow ones).

While I was in technical mode I put the said 92g into a pot with 3.5 litres of water.  There was nothing more rational about that than it’s how much tap water fitted into the pot comfortably and covered the skins. I then brought the pot to the boil and simmered it for an hour. The liquor was looking very red by then and the skins very soft, although I’m sure they’d have yielded more colour if I’d simmered them again  in some fresh water.  I really don’t need to do that as I accumulate plenty of onion skins (both red and brown) from my cooking and they aren’t recommended for the compost where my other vegetable peelings go.

I found a clean silk scarf which had been used in an unsuccessful botanical printing session.  So unsuccessful was the attempt that I couldn’t see anything much on it.  It did look a bit the worse for wear though!


The  previously mistreated silk scarf awaiting a makeover

After straining out the used skin material, I brought the onion dye bath back up to simmer.

Instead of using my usual “dunk straight in and stir around a bit” technique, I decided to imitate Rebecca from Chemknits’ dip dyeing method.  I am a fan of her video tutorials and have seen her do it many times with yarn.  Why not see if it works on a piece of fabric?

So, let’s get to the point. It does work!

The image below conceals one thing. There must have been some action by the tannin in the onion skin bath that brought out previously concealed marks from the printing attempt.

After washing in baby shampoo, the onion aroma disappeared.  The scarf is quite wearable now but I’m tempted to print over it sometime.


The refurbished, ombré silk scarf

Posted in brown onion as dye, Natural dyeing, Scarf | 2 Comments

Three-dimensional armatures

Recently I demonstrated simple techniques for wrapping a wire armature at my contemporary quilt group.  This is a summary:



Version 2

Figure 1 Machine weight thread and decorative threads

CQG wrapped armature wires, wire cutters and pliers

Figure 2 Wires, wire cutters and pliers for bending


CQG wrapped armature wrapping examples

Figure 3 Cotton string, fabric strips and narrow strips of batting


  1. Select wire

1.1 The smaller the intended piece, the finer the wire (the higher the gauge no.) you will choose. The example in these images is copper wire # 18.

CQG wrapped armature wire

  1. Shape wire. That is, bend it as you want. See above.
  2. Bind wire with string or batting. The smaller and finer the piece, the more suitable is something like kitchen twine as a wrap. Larger pieces, or pieces requiring some differential shaping (for example, muscles on a body form), warrant the use of 1cm wide cut strips of batting. The examples imaged here used batting. Contrast thread used for clarity.

CQG batting wrapped armature

  1. Wrap wire with fabric. The examples here are wrapped with a knit and finely striped fabric. Knit fabrics are easier to stretch and wrap around the base. However, bias cut woven fabrics also work well. Even straight cut woven fabrics can be used but these are best used when curvatures are not extreme. Rough or frayed edges can also add texture.

CQG wrapped armature catching down final layer 

Note 1: It’s not necessary to match the stripes. I was channelling a meticulous friend!

Note 2: During the demo I was asked if it would be easier to do all the wrapping and stitching BEFORE the bending. At the time I replied that I did the shaping of the wire first for two reasons. First, that bending afterwards can cause the batting to shift and expose wire. Second, that if you want to build up areas a bit more thickly than you need an idea of where those areas will be on the piece. However, in making the examples here I realised that slipping of the fabric can be prevented by just increasing the extent to which the strips are overlapped as they are wrapped, and unless there are to be some very severe angles twisted into the piece afterwards this should not be a problem. Moreover, nothing says that the extra padding you might want to add in some areas must be included in the initial wrapping. It could certainly be added afterwards when the bending has been done.

  1. Stitch the wrapping. Blanket stitch is my “go to” as it fits well with the edges of the bound fabrics. Extra embellishments can also be added.

CQG wrapped armature starting decorative stitching

CQG wrapped armature blanket stitch stage

Note: Much more stitching can be down here. Decorative cords can be wrapped around; beads stitched on, etc., etc.

  1. Think of something to do with the product

CQG wrapped armature keyring option

Figure 4 Key ring fob?

CQG wrapped armature neckalce option

Figure 5 Necklace or pendant?

My Future is...Now

Figure 6 My Future is….Now!

Posted in Hand embroidery, Three dimensional armatures | Leave a comment

Dyeing wool yarn in a slow cooker with food colouring



In her book The Modern Natural Dyer (1), Kristine Vejar emphasises the importance of keeping baths for scouring, mordanting and dyeing at steady temperatures  suited to the dye material and the fibres being dyed.  I have often ignored this advice.  This is called “cutting off your nose to spite your face” or just downright contrary. Several well known and otherwise valuable dyes are rendered useless with high heat, eg madder. Sometimes/ at full moon I have used a thermometer.  This is painful and tedious.  I don’t do painstaking/fastidious, aka “anal” very well.

However, a friend recently cleaned out her kitchen and I was able to acquire a very good, almost new, slow cooker with the ability to sear and brown before cooking.  This meant I could retire my old slow cooker from the kitchen to the studio to be dedicated to dyeing.  I have heard that the way a slow cooker works is to keep the temperature reasonably constant at whatever setting is in use (ie, in my case, at High or Low).

A trial suggested itself.  In another week I am, as part of a WAFTA team (2), demonstrating “natural dyeing” at the local agricultural show.  I have a lot of yarn already dyed with plants; with and without mordants; with heat and without; solar versus energy I have to pay for; etc.

“Natural dyeing” is championed in social media for a variety of reasons.  Some people erroneously advocate the use of plants for dyes as a way of avoiding the use  of chemicals.  This is silly because of course everything in the universe, including dead and living plants, contains chemicals.  Others, more sensibly, point to  desirable sustainability, which is achieved as long as the plant materials you are using are in fact harvested sustainably!

I like natural dyeing because the results appeal to my love of muted colour (not everyone’s cup of tea I know) and because it can be  a relatively safe way of dyeing (provided care is taken to research the effects and chemical content of the plants themselves and any mordants).

Thinking about what I might do this weekend to supplement my collection of solar-dyed and stove-top plant dyed yarns for the demonstration at the agricultural show, I figured safety and food would be relevant to attendees’ interests.

So… about trying something a “little bit fancy” (Aussie joke)?  Challenges:

.use food grade colouring and combine colours for a gradient along a skein;

.attempt to control the amount of mixing between colours so that there are crisper breaks between them rather than the more “blended” appearance you get as colours flow together when you lay one skein out and dye with various colours in a low immersion bath;

.assisted only by vinegar and heat;  and

.trial the “old” slow cooker in its new role.

Step 1: I wound a 100g (actually weighed 105g) skein of fingering weight sock yarn  into five mini skeins each of 21g +/- 3g.

Note 1: The yarn came from Bendigo Woollen Mills and is 80% fine merino and 20% nylon.


Note 2: I didn’t cut the yarn between the small skeins but left them all linked so that after dyeing I could rewind into a 100g (approx. 360 metre) skein.

Step 2: I then soaked all five of the conjoined mini skeins in cold tap water for one hour.

Step 3: Meanwhile I set up five small jars, each a slightly different shape and each having previously held about 200-300g of foods like chutney or mustard or jam.

Note 3: I was limited to somewhat squat jars, having tidied the jar stash the previous week and sent the taller ones to recycling because the squat ones look so much better when filled with chutneys and jams etc.   Duh! Five taller jars would have a) enabled me to have a higher water level in the slow cooker water bath and b) enabled me more easily to fit the five jars into the slow cooker.

Step 4: Into each jar I put half a cup of tap water at the temperature it was when it emerged from the cold tap.

Step 5: I then added differing combinations of two different food colourings to each jar.


Jar #1 contained  1tsp of liquid blue food colouring (Maharajah Brand Brilliant Blue No. 133).

Jar #2 contained  3/4 tsp of blue and 1/4 tsp of pink food colourings.

Jar #3 contained half a tsp each of the blue and the pink food colourings.

Jar #4 contained  1/4 tsp of blue and 3/4 tsp of pink.

Jar #5 contained 1 tsp of liquid pink food colouring (Maharajah Brand Erythrosine No. 127) described on the bottles as a rose pink.

Step 6: Dipping white paper into the jars showed me that I had a pretty good and even range of colours, although there was breaking over time in Jars 2,3 and 4. I figured that my process would prevent too much breaking on the actual yarn.


Step 7: Each of the pre-soaked mini skeins was immersed in a jar and poked a bit to ensure the dye was in contact with all the fibre.  I then added another one-quarter cup of water and one tsp of white vinegar to each jar and placed all of them into the  pre-heated (on Low) slow cooker.


Step 8: After one hour I checked and thought they were not steaming enough.  Most of the red had disappeared into the yarn but the jars with blue seemed to still have some blue in solution.  I added another tsp of vinegar to each jar and raised the setting to High.  I left that for an hour and then turned off the heat. Cooker and contents were left to cool over night.

Step 9:  I removed the yarn from the five jars, noting that the water in each was quite clear.  Rinsing was easy with not a lot of blue left unattached to the yarn and no pink.

Step 10: Drying and rewinding into a skein. Et voilà!



(1) Vejar, Kristine. The Modern Natural Dyer, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, New York, 2015

(2) The Western Australian Fibre and Textile Association (WAFTA) :



Posted in food colours as dye, slow cooker dyeing, WAFTA | Leave a comment

Oh, What a Feeling!!

No, not Toyota***, but related.  I’m watching the first day of the Brisbane Test match Australia vs Sri Lanka.  As I start this blog the score is Sri Lanka 7/105, which partly accounts for my happiness.

In parallel, as one does in an attempt to justify sitting in front of the television for several days, I have embarked on a stash-busting project of serious dimensions. I am using as many of the reds and greys and black thick yarns as I can because I don’t have the space to keep them in and I don’t use thicker yarns much anymore.


Above: Just some of the chunky and lumpy and THICK yarns I need to get rid of….

I decided on a storage basket for my project; it seems an appropriate thing to make with unwanted balls of yarn.  Win/Win?  So the other reason for happiness is that my bag cum basket is using up the yarn at a great rate.  I am definitely not used to how much fabric one can make quickly with these thick and hairy yarns! Of course, the  10.00 crochet hook is helping.  It makes quite a change from a 0.75!


Above: It’s Sri Lanka’s first innings and they are 2/32 so I think I’ll keep going…


Above: It’s dinner and Sri Lanka is hanging on with its toenails.  I am running out of yarn but have remembered an old suitcase that might have some grey acrylic “stuff” in it.  The dinner break will hopefully give me time to find it.

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Above: Sri Lanka is all out for 144. Success for the Aussie bowlers.  I also had a win.  I found some yarns in an old blue suitcase that are very suitable for my project.  You know the kind; the yarns that evoke a response of “What was I thinking?” when you find them lurking….

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Above: A detail showing a case in point: the interesting light dots amongst the red towards the top of this image were made with a sleazy yarn called “Pamela’s Popcorn”.  Did I ask myself “What was I thinking?”. Yes, I did , but now I’m sort of glad I had it.

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By dinner on Day 2, with Australia headed (slowly) towards a reasonable lead in its first innings, I finished this basket. It  made a bit of a dent in my reds and blacks, enough to empty a very full paper carry bag of yarn into it. Its permanent spot will be in the studio which is red, white and black.  I have the yarn for more.  Do I have the will? Perhaps not as we just lost another wicket which will make us  9/304.  Well, at least I have my basket…..

Late News: Just before I press the Publish button, Australia is all out but well ahead on the first innings. Maybe my national duty is to make another one over the last three days of the Test match?

*** In Australia the Toyota car company advertises cars which will allegedly make you want to leap unnaturally highly into the air while yelling “Oh What a Feeling!” I had one once.  It didn’t work for me.

Posted in Bag, Crochet basket, Stash-busting yarn | Leave a comment

Mulberries: maximising their impact

My next door neighbour knows I like to use natural dyes.  Still, coming home in early summer to find a couple of containers of fresh mulberries on my porch was a real surprise.  I knew, however, that she didn’t intend for me to eat them! She had painstakingly harvested them from trees in the paddocks in which her horse was agisted.

I froze all of them as I didn’t have time to dye with them right then.

I suspected that there would be tricks attached to using mulberries.  Although there are plenty of tales about kids getting hideous stains on their clothes from eating mulberries in their backyards, I reckoned that it might not be that easy to get a good colour on cotton, for example. Whatever, I had some recycled/gifted cotton damask fabric which I had put through a home-made soy milk bath previously.


I first took some frozen mulberries  and wrapped them into a piece of the cotton damask. The colour was a vibrant pink-purple.  I put the fabric and the berries back in the freezer for a couple of hours, then took it out of the freezer and let it sit for a couple of hours at room temperature.  Brushing the berries off , I hung the fabric on the line to dry, then washed it in Lux Flakes.



Cold cotton with soy milk and raw mulberries

I then put freshly thawed berries into a pan with tap water and made a bath of mulberry dye. I placed a piece of the soy-assisted cotton damask fabric over a sieve and poured the dye bath through it, creating a bright pink area in its centre.  I hung that to dry then washed it in Lux Flakes.



Cold cotton with soy milk and cooked mulberries

Finally, I put a third piece of the soy-assisted cotton damask fabric into the mulberry dye bath.



Heated cotton with soy milk and cooked mulberries

In the spirit of experimentation I went further:

This time I squeezed a piece of the soy-assisted cotton damask through the lovely dark rose juice coming out of the mulberries. The fabric became a lovely bright purply pink. I then put it in a steamer basket above a mulberry dye bath.

As a sort of “control”, I put a piece of “vintage” silk fabric from a blouse donated by my sister through the same process of being squeezed through the the neat juice coming out of the mulberries. I placed that piece of fabric in the steamer too.

Finally, I put an untreated  piece of cotton/linen mix from an old apron into the mulberry bath below the steamer.  It too became a lovely purply pink.

After 40 minutes of steaming or simmering, the fabrics were removed, cooled, dried and washed in Lux Flakes.



Top: Soy-mordanted damask cotton squeezed through neat raw mulberry juice and steamed; Middle: Untreated vintage silk squeezed through neat raw mulberry juice and steamed; Bottom: Untreated cotton/linen mix simmered in cooked mulberry bath.








Since all the above experiments were carried out either on untreated fabric or on soy-mordanted fabric, I resolved to test the use of a soda ash bath, thinking that the cotton in particular might benefit in terms of brightness of colour from a high pH pre-treatment.

I made up a fresh dye-bath of mulberries in tap water.  I then added:

.a largish piece of washed but untreated cotton;

.two pieces of deconstructed cotton/linen apron , one with Battenberg lace on it, which had been pre-soaked in soda ash; and

.a piece of silk from a vintage silk blouse , also soaked in soda ash.


The silk, as expected because it is a protein fibre, became a slightly darker shade than the cotton and the cotton /linen fabrics, but all were grey rather than pink of reddish, or even blue.


Top and bottom left: silk in soda ash; Middle: plain and lace embellished cotton/linen in soda ash; and Bottom right: untreated cotton.  All simmered in cooked mulberry bath. 


Before washing and drying the piece of untreated cotton from above I ripped it in half, taking one half and rinsing it through a vinegar bath. Again, I was testing pH effects. It immediately went purply pink and I put it into the previous mulberry dye bath to simmer. I added a piece of dupion silk which had been washed but otherwise untreated.


The addition of vinegar seems to preserve the pink in the mulberry on silk but not on cotton. The cotton that had been treated in vinegar went a nice pink at first but reverted to grey on heating so that it was very similar to its other half.


Top: Dupion silk dipped in vinegar and simmered in a mulberry bath; Bottom: cotton previously uncoordinated and simmered in a mulberry bath, dipped in vinegar and simmered again in mulberry. 

It looks as though the best results in terms of getting pink from mulberries come from silk but that interesting shades can come from dyeing cotton which has been soy-milk treated and either wrapped in raw mulberries or simmered in a cooked mulberry bath.









Posted in Dyeing with mulberries, Natural dyeing, soy milk, soy milk mordant for cellulose fibres | Leave a comment

Avocado pips and soy milk on cotton damask

I have previously used avocado pips in a high pH bath to produce pinkish colour on cotton.

This time I wanted to explore the effect of variations in dyeing conditions. The conditions  that we know affect colour are, inter alia,  time; heat; pH and mordants.

Standard throughout this study was a cotton damask tablecloth that had been mordanted in soy milk. The tablecloth was given to me by artist friend Liz Arnold (

The soy milk was made as described in a previous post (see note 1 below).

I made the avocado pip bath by placing  12 frozen pips in 20 cups of Perth (Western Australia) tap water.  I then added 2 tablespoons of soda ash to that bath and turned on the heat.

After 30 minutes I added two pieces of dry  soy soaked damask fabric to the bath and simmered them for 20 minutes. They were then removed, allowed to air dry and then rinsed and washed.


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Pretty, but also pretty unexciting, not to say insipid, colour.


I hypothesised that leaving the fabric in the bath for a longer time might increase the depth of colour.  Moreover, I figured that the actual bath itself might increase in strength over time. So I added two more pieces of the same soy-mordanted damask cotton to the same bath a day later, brought it to a simmer, turned it off and allowed it to cool, then repeated this regime twice more. This took a day and a half by the time I got to the pot again but had involved minimal gas as I had turned the hotplate off each time the bath started to simmer.

The result was a much darker colour in the fabric. The master of soy milk fabric preparation (see note 2 below) tells us that soy milk cures over time.  He suggests that up to three months can be left before washing a dyed piece. I so wanted to wash my pieces!  However, I decided to wait……………………

Three days later I was over waiting. So I washed one of the two pieces of fabric, dried and ironed it. That tided me over for another week.  Then I weakened and washed the other one.



Left: the fabric dyed on Day 1 of the avocado pip bath. Centre: the fabric dyed on Day 2 and washed after three days. Right: the fabric washed ten days after  dyeing.

It does seem that the dye bath developed its colour over time and yielded a more saturated result after a couple of days.

It is also clear that a gap of three days or ten in washing a dyed piece makes little difference to the depth of colour.  By the way, the strong marks in the fabric seem due to extra dye take up. In some cases, as with the marks at the bottom of the middle piece above, that was due to pooling around a crease.  In other cases it might be due to pre-existing stains in the former tablecloth.  They don’t worry me. In fact I like them. Since I will be using them for fabric collage the more variations and textures the better!

Ever the pseudo scientist, I then decided to use the same dye bath, now verging on elderly, to test some other hypotheses.

  1. What if I put unmordanted damask cotton in the bath?
  2. What if I put silk unmordanted fabric in the bath?

Prediction: The unmordanted damask cotton will be paler than the mordanted one. The silk will be darker than the unmordanted cotton and perhaps the same or better than the mordanted cotton.

Outcome: QED!

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Left: a silk sleeve; Centre: unmordanted damask cotton serviette; Right: soy-mordanted damask cotton dyed over two days.

Finally, because this avocado pip bath seemed to be capable of keeping on giving, I tossed in a piece of silk from my stash and a piece of cotton sheeting.  All unmordanted.

I expected the piece of silk, albeit unmordanted, to respond well to the now mature and rich dye bath.  I was a bit disappointed so I ripped it in half, saved one piece for comparison, and re-immersed the second half for a day. The cotton sheet piece picked up a lot of colour. The second piece of silk also picked up more colour.


Left: silk after first dyeing session, Centre: unmordanted cotton sheeting after one dye session, Right: silk after second dyeing session.

Overall, I am pleased that I have developed a range of cotton fabric in different rosy shades for future work as well as gaining the confidence of getting this good colour in future out of avocado pips.  Cotton is such a challenge to dye naturally without harsh things like iron.

Next challenge: some fresh mulberries a friend has left on my front porch!!!!

Note 1: (

Note 2: ( accessed 22 Oct 2018 and 3 Dec 2018)

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