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.
Tansy growing prolifically along the Tarka Trail; tall clumps with rosette grouped flower heads – from my dye plant foraging trip.
Dye Bath Procedure
Cut up Tansy flower tops and soak overnight in water (pond or river if available)
Boil up in stainless steel pan, then remove plant dyestuff and allow dye bath to cool to just hand hot. (cotton can be simmered, but silk may get matted if boiled).
Soak silk for some hours in orange coloured water The colour of the dye bath water is no indication of the final outcome on dry silk. Remove soon if you want a pale colour; leave overnight for stronger colour.
Agitate silk in dye bath occasionally, redistributing evenly in liquid during first 15 -30 mins to ensure all areas are covered when first absorbing dye. Use an upside down lid to keep silk beneath surface.
Silk soon absorbs the dye colour in the strong Tansy dye bath. As this silk can be matted slightly by over heating, and simmering, I only introduce it to a hand hot dye bath. I left it soaking overnight to achieve best strength of colour before rinsing out several times in warm water, until water runs clear.
Wet rinsed silk – drying. Do not squeeze out too hard, or twist creases may occur which don’t completely iron out. In summer silk dries fairly quickly and can be ironed smooth while still slightly damp before any creases set in.
A few dark ‘spots’ are splashes from another dye bath with iron I was doing simultaneously. Only do ONE dye bath at a time.
This lime yellow is very vivid (see comparisons with other gold colours), so I will overpaint with silk dyes or bundle leaf prints. However, it could be useful to over-dye with madder to give a good orange, or with woad for a turquoise blue. The future life of this piece will be posted here….
The Tarka Trail old rail track – Barnstaple to Bidefordwas my 10 mile route for foraging – using Jenny Dean’s plant spotter book.Late summer finds many of the traditional dye plants along grass verges, especially in areas untouched for ages.
Click photos for Gallery view…
St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) easily produces a good gold and is also well known historical herbal use for depression
Preparing the Dye Bath
Processing for dye bath
Soak flower tops overnight in rain water. I use pond water.
Boil up and simmer for an hour
When cool enough not to roughen silk, soak silk, stirring occasionally.
Leave overnight to absorb dye colour
Dye a second piece of silk using up remainder of dye
Stunning gold colour achieved by soaking silk in dye bath all day, and overnight.
First dye bath absorbs a lot of colour.
Second silk piece added on top through the night.
2nd day: Remove first stronger dyed silk piece and rinse out, not squeezed too much and leave to dry.
Drain seeds and flowers and heat remaining paler dye bath. Add second piece again for half a day.
Rinse out when water completely clear. Colour was blotchy, so I cut it in half.
Heated dye bath again, allowed to cool, before adding tablespoon of ferrous sulphate for third final cut piece of silk. (for khaki colour) Silk must not be exposed too long to iron mix as can weaken it. Colour change is immediate so 5 mins sufficient.
Silk dyed with no mordant = GOLD: Silk modified after dyeing with iron + KHAKI
Notebook: I bought the iron (ferrous sulphate) specially, but you can make your own. I generally experiment with adding water from a jar of rusty nails and screws; about half a tea cup to turn grey or khaki. Top up jar as rusty liquid is used. Even a spoonful dulls a colour adequately.
Finished Dried Silks
Image one – three varieties with St. John’s Wort dye bath. L-R (a) first strongly dyed silk – (b) Second paler dyed silk (c) Third dyed silk after iron dipping as modifier produces khaki.
Image two St. John’s Wort centre golden sample. Left – Woad dyed 2nd dye bath soak. Right – Woad dyed stronger piece.
PROJECT: Experimentation with beeswax batik resist as background texture for silk painting
I made two samples with silk pieces:1st logwood dyebath produced strong purple after drying (but it got burnt when the steamer boiled dry, so I made another one), 2nd logwood dye bath using the residue of first dye bath, which resulted in light-dull grape colour. Useful to discover; means can use a small amount of logwood for paler tone.
Result: 1st Logwood dye bath
Gallery: Deep purple dyed silk shows where shibori technique worked (scrunching up with gathered threads) leaf vein and butterfly edging. Leaf areas did not work as resisted, so dye bleach was applied to design area. This is ironed out when dry, and worked only partially. It seems logwood is almost impervious to chemical bleach.
Design areas were outlined again with a dark dyed gutta for more emphasis of, before adding fresh dye colours to images. Silk sample burnt in steaming, will feature in another dress from strips salvaged. (Gallery)
2nd Logwood dye bath – Batik preparation
BATIK: Silk piece stretched to frame. Design drawn with blue water soluble marker pen design drawn. Applying bees wax to silk, with brush end and brushes.
Design drawn with water dissolvable blue marker pen. Wax is applied as hot as possible. The centre motif worked best (and lightest outcome) where wax was hottest. Keep heating up wax by placing dish over boiling water pan. Other surrounding wax markings with brush end dabs and hog bush worked less well. The clearest resisted area is in the centre, where the wax was originally just off the boil. It also came away the easiest when ironed after dyeing. So I would not recommend using weak, faint brush marks when applying wax. It won’t form a strong enough ‘cover’ and the dye will seep behind which can be seen in image below, although a feint texture was achieved.
Shibori test techniques
1st logwood dye bath test created white resisted butterfly outlines (above) after stitching threads very tightly together. Rows of loose stitching, and threads pulled as much as possible, creating a ruched area which creates a resist area against dye penetration. 2nd soak in same dye bath (when most dyestuff had been taken up) revealed poor resist, using shibori stitch gathering (shown on waxed piece). Note: Shibori works well if fabric excluded enough from dye bath – so use thick embroidery silks or string type thread. Simple cotton thread was not thick enough.
Removing batik wax
When dyed fabric is dry – iron over thick brown paper (parcel paper type) placed over silk and wax; iron several times, with fresh paper and hot iron. When wax seems all removed, wash silk in hot water and soap. Any stubborn wax can be scrubbed very, very lightly with a soft brush, to loosen. (Note: wax batiking in this way for fashion, is not ideal on silk) Cotton is a firmer base for artwork where it wouldn’t matter if some residue of wax remains in fabric.
Result: 2nd Logwood dye bath with Batik Lilac-beige silk texture – subtle result after washing out logwood dye, and removing wax.
Fabric co-ordinates: Blend and contrast ideas with batik colour result prior to silk painting. (View Gallery)
Fabric co-ordinates: Final choices of fabric colours to create patchwork dress, to go with half finished silk painting.
Dulled pinks and dull brown with lilac seemed best combinations for the silk batik ground. The pink taffeta has a lilac sheen.
Choosing the pansy print as a co-ordinate allowed the addition of pansies in the silk painted design. This design didn’t really have a preconceived theme, only to use the nigella seed pod as a motif, and for the batik background experiment. Adding maroon silk seemed a good darker linking colour from the pansy print.
The green butterfly came from a photograph I took, and the red butterfly came from another printed fabric design.
Painted silk design result with co-ordinated fabrics chosen for dress.
Finished silk painting over batik with embroidery for added textural effect
Added embroidered lines on pansies give sparkly effect. Nigella seed pod is enhanced by dark seeds inside pod (arial view) and light embroidery on the pod ends. …The banana leaves would benefit from embroidery also.
Silk Painting ‘Nigella Butterflies’ made into dress centrepiece
Pink silk top – fabric co-ordinatetaken from a blouse: colour is similar to the palest background in the logwood batik. Pink bodice top sewn to silk painting just under bust; simple overlap stitching. Original V-necked pink blouse was cut on the cross, so will stretch over varied bust fullness.
Fabric co-ordinate Brown cotton with lavender-pink design – added to bottom of silk painting, and usefully some dress parts could be utilised for armhole bands, as an additional design feature.
Front bodice – Contrasting armholeband taken from neckline of co-ordinating fabric (dress). Pinned to pink silk bound edged armhole for stitching join by hand.
Back bodice – Contrasting armhole banding cut from back and underarm of co-ordinating fabric (dress).