Alder cones fall off the tree in strong winds and are found in the grass all year. Newer cones side by side on twig-branches are green and hard. Store the brown, small, but perfectly formed, cones in boxes.
The Dye Process
To make dye bath – Use cones, twigs and leaves together, soaked for a week in mixing bowl sized water container. The water will go dark brown. Boil up then simmer for 1-2 hours: check water level remains. Remove dye stuff.
Add silk to dye bath – only when liquid temperature has lowered to hand hot. Never boil silk. Stir frequently for even dye coverage and leave overnight to finish absorption. In many cases, colour become deeper, the longer left.
So many natural dyestuffs produce a range of creams and beige, fawn and gold tones; all very different. All neutral tones provide an excellent background for silk painting. The Ahimsa peace silk or Habotai silk takes up any natural dye nicely.
Garments made using this silk sample will be added here during making and completion…
The brown husks contain the dye pigment. These were found on the ground where they had had been decaying under a walnut tree on Bossington Green (Nr Porlock, North Somerset.)
Dye Bath Preparation
Soak walnut husks with walnuts in, including broken husk pieces, in water for two days.
Boil for 30 mins and leave soaking for another two days.
Boil again and leave to cool a little.
Remove husks and decant liquid to bowl.
Add wet silk pieces
Agitate frequently then soak overnight
Dye bath is quite dark after walnut husks soaked in water.
Longer soaking might even produce darker dye bath. There is a lot of pigment left in the dye bath and dye can be stored in jars. Fill to brim to avoid mould forming. it could also be used to add to creams and golds to strengthen.
Silk takes up the brown dye bath quickly but keep turning and agitating occasionally while soaking. (I don’t boil Ahimsa silk as it would roughen surface) Soaking is adequate for obtaining a reasonable colour.
Silk samples show differences of colour between Walnut dye and Comfrey dye. Walnut dye result is the darkest gold, more of an envelope buff tone, achieved with natural plant dyes.
The dyed samples will be painted on with silk dyes, to become garments or quilts. Walnut died pieces will be shown here again when painted.
Lady’s Bedstraw is found in waste ground and near the coast. The reddish roots are used for dyeing; family is Madder (Rubiaceae) a well known red dye. The plant I found is growing along the Tarka Trail cycle path (ex rail track) opposite the small town of Bideford, N. Devon. Not easy to pull out the roots, and many were left for next year’s growth. This seemed a particularly large and well established plant. Bedstraw has many herbal uses.
Roots need soaking for several days to soften, before boiling up.
Boiling roots of plant produces a red dye, the longer soaked the deeper red. Photos show the dye was absorbed onto the pan sides, which loses dye power available, so pan must be aluminium. Predicted colour is scarlet, so use stainless steel.
1st silk sample has been pre-mordanted in Alum for a day before putting to soak in hand hot dye bath. Rinse away plant debris and extra dye: result after rinsing and drying is a strong salmon hued peach colour.
1st silk sample Rinsed. Has been already soaked in dye bath one day. 2nd silk sample in cooled dye bath which was reheated with bedstraw to obtain more dyestuff.
Red dye liquid is drained off into glass bowl to soak silk.
1st silk sample: Strong peach result after washing out. Steam iron while still damp to help smooth out creases, or don’t squeeze out water.
2nd silk sample Rinsed. Result when dry is a light peach.
Dry Results of Ahimsa Silk Samples
These samples will be matched with recycled fabric prints, and painted on before becoming part of a new garment.
Hawthorne Session 2: Using berries from River Otter banks (South Devon)
Hawthorne Dye Bath Preparation 2.
Hawthorne berries soaked 2 days, boiled, mashed and drained to leave brown liquid. Two silk samples added to dye liquid when cooled to hand hot (to avoid roughening of silks) – soaked in a wide copper pot for a day and overnight. Wash out in gentle hand wash liquid. One sample was cream, and one was a weak dull pale grey woad dyed piece, included to change to a stronger colour. This gave a browny-khaki result.
Both sessions used pond rain water. I may have left the berries soaking longer, or the different Hawthorne trees literally produce a different colour, from being grown by two different rivers. Additionally the copper pot may have had an effect (another dyeing of River Taw berries in copper would prove this).
Yellow gold centre sample from 1st session using Tarka Trail berries. Browner samples used River Otter berries.
Two samples of successful silk dying with small harvested amount of woad leaves. First dye session: two pale blue results.: Left: 2nd weaker soak, pale blue. Right: 1st soak, pale pastel blue.
Woad Dye Bath Process – 1st Session
Boil woad leaves – liquid is sherry coloured – Images (2, 2a, 2b) Add soda crystals until alkalinity reaches 9 – Images (3, 3a, 3b) – Whisk liquid until froth forms. Takes 10-15 mins. Liquid can also be poured from one pan to another, making bubbles. Images (4, 4a, 4b, 4c) Froth is achieved at (5)
Heat dye bath to 50 deg again. Set aside 20 mins. Add desert spoon sodium dithionite to remove oxygen. Add enough until dye bath turns limey green. Place silk in liquid carefully without creating air bubbles. Submerge. Leave for 20 mins. Image (6) (it starts to work soon if some fabric is left out in the air (see 2nd Session below).
Remove fabric and rest. Watch it turn blue in air. (mine went turquoise on ahimsa cream silk using pond water) – Images (7, 8) Rinse out when colour as dark as will go, hang out to dry. (9)
Woad Dye bath process – 2nd Session
Woad colouring occurs quickly after exposure to air, following soak in woad leaf dye bath, which has had oxygen removed by sodium dithionite.
Woad Dye Bath Preparation
Woad leaves are cut up and soaked before boiling and simmering for an hour. Remove leaves, then dye bath needs soda crystals, before whisking for 10 mins until froth forms. Woad dye bath is ready when there is a pale blue or (in this case) pale green froth. Reheat dye bath to 50 deg. then add spoon of sodium dithionite to remove oxygen. The water goes limey green.
Turquoise appears when all silk is added to air after 10 mins soak
The dye was uneven, so I re-heated the dye bath again, added the same chemical again, and replaced the fabric, but the magic had gone, the blue disappeared! The result was a pale grey blue, which looked dark in the rinse sink, but dried quite pale.
Comfrey dye bath makes an ecru cream-beige, which becomes duller and darker after dipping in iron modifier, after dyeing.
This sample experimented with shibori stitching prior to dyeing which resulted in several vey pale wavy lines of resist made by where the stitching gathered the cloth to prevent dye entering.
Result after dyeing shows Shibori stitch-resist as pale wavy lines.(Stitches are removed after full dye process.) The idea to make ‘waves’ by stitching in ‘curves’ worked, but contrasts poorly on pale colours. Large pegged sample shows dye-bath original tone at bottom right, and darker result top left, after adding iron modified. (black marks are the iron water splashed as I poured in iron solution, so take care with fabric proximity)
Preparing dye-bath with comfrey leaves
Cut up comfrey leaves and soak overnight. Also soak silk in alum mordant overnight or for some hours beforehand. Silk often dyes well without mordant when using some plants. Lighter colour at left, darker tone after longer soaking. Best to leave soaking over night to ensure good dye absorption. New pieces can be dyed in dyebath afterwards, and will be paler, but always a good starter colour for painting, or re-dyeing over.
Boil up and simmer for an hour. When just hand hot, drain comfrey out and put dye liquid in a bowl to soak the silk. (I never boil this ahimsa silk as it becomes matted in high temperatures) Agitate to distribute dye equally for first 15 mins, then leave to soak all day, redistributing in dye occasionally to ensure even dyeing.
Dyed and washed out, the ahimsa silk has an ecru beige colouring where first dyed (top left) – with additional dulled, more grey colour where half of cloth was soaked into iron modified dye bath. Out of the sunlight, the iron modified sample is quite dull and darker, to be used as one would a grey.
Sample (gallery top right) compares comfrey colour dye result with Ladies’ Bedstraw, peach. Samples (gallery bottom right) show iron modified comfrey sample in centre; between (left) Hawthorne dyed silk (left) and natural, ecru result of non-modified comfrey dyed silk in second dye bath. (right).
Note: A second dye-bath was made by reboiling liquid and leaves leaving overnight to stand. Heated next day, added fresh un-mordanted silk. Left to soak for a day and overnight 24hrs. This produced a pale but warm ecru silk.
Below: Comfrey dyed silk in centre – dull tone is result of iron modifier. Silks look duller indoors whereas they come to life in sunlight. The range of colours obtainable is fascinating.
Conclusion: Comfrey gives a very good neutral tone suitable for use with any silk painting over. Longer steep in iron (ferrous sulphate) would make it greyer, as needed. Experiment with quantities of iron added. I use either water from a rusty-nails-jar as well as purchased powder.