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Last weekend I began experimenting with natural dyes, and had mixed success. I hoped to try onion skins next because I wanted a bright orange, but haven’t had time to gather together enough onion skins. Nevertheless I’ve got the bit between the teeth now, dying with natural dyes from plant materials is like alchemy.
I love that lavender blue colour I call Eeyore blue. I once saw a picture of some lace which had been dyed using black beans which was just that glorious colour and decided I was going to experiment with it myself. Black beans can be found with the chick peas and kidney beans on supermarket shelves.
The black beans were soaked in cold water for 24 hours, they produce a rather gloomy, murky mauve coloured liquid. Not very promising I admit. But then comes the alchemy.
I drained off the soaking liquid from the beans, added a length of fabric which had previously soaked in Alum mordanted water and presto, the magic began… not mauve but a lovely purply blue began to develop.
Just to test how strong the dye stuff was I put the beans back in another jar, topped up with more water and added more fabric. I left both jars soaking for a couple of days. The result was a lovely purply blue fabric, and a paler version with a rather more tie dye effect, caused by the lack of space in the jar for the beans, the liquid and the fabric.
This is such an easy process, no heat, no chemicals, and if I hadn’t reused the beans as a dye stuff, I could have cooked and eaten the beans, so no waste either, and the colour is divine. I love it, love it, love it.
Lately I’ve been thinking about trying to dye my own fabrics, but I wanted subtle shades, from natural dyes. I was drawn to the idea of solar dying but I was unsure if I wanted to invest time in a method which requires lengthy periods in the sunshine, a commodity not to be relied upon in the North of England, even in a good summer. I imagined a summer of hope followed by an autumn of disappointment as the solar dying technique failed to develop the results I hoped for. Nevertheless I fancied having a go at dyeing from natural materials.
I found a recipe for dyeing using dandelion heads, well they are plentiful enough at this time of year, so on a Sunday morning stroll with my sister I gathered a bag full of dandelion heads from the hedgerows near the local University. That afternoon I picked the petals from their heads and put them in a jar, added boiling water and letting them steep.
I was really hopeful that I would get a good clear yellow. The strands of bright yellow made me think of saffron and stained my fingers bright yellow, surely this was going to work.
Meanwhile I soaked some plain white cotton chintz (I just happened to have a whole bolt of it which had been hanging around in my studio for years) in warm water with a little Alum added, as a mordant ( to fix the dye).
The instructions were to strain off the steeping liquid, add the fabric and microwave, in 2 minute bursts.
I did as I was instructed, 2 minutes, stir… 2 minutes, stir… 2 minutes… ad infinitum it seemed, but there was no discernible change in colour, well, what I had is not even the palest lemon yellow, a complete fail in my estimation.
Undeterred I turned to an old favourite amongst natural dyes, Turmeric and white Vinegar. In a pan of boiling water I emptied half a jar of Turmeric, and a good glugg of white vinegar, and dropped on a metre of the same Chintz. The glorious yellow colour is what I had hoped for with only a fraction of the effort I’d already expended on the dandelions to no avail.
So what to do with the very disappointing length of dandelion yellow? I threw it down on the lawn, and while still hot and wet I sprinkled over it the rest of the jar of turmeric in the hope of achieving a two tone and speckled effect. My plan was to leave it out all night, hoping it wouldn’t rain, but not too concerned if it did, to see what the outcome would be.
I was quite pleased with the result, a subtle speckling of yellow on a pale lemony background. Next stop-Orange, onion skins are the best natural option, only one slight problem, my Dearest hates onions, so we never buy them. Anyone spare their onion skins please?