Dyeing with Turmeric and Iron aka “Sad Turmeric”

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My last dyeing session left me with a pot of turmeric dye (about 6 cups of water plus 3 heaping tablespoons of turmeric and one tablespoon of alum) that was just begging for me to do something with it! I had recently seen an online post that said that if you add iron to turmeric dye it will “sadden” or darken the colors. It also said that you can get olive green colors by doing this…which peaked my interest.

I had two options to sadden my dye. The first was iron powder that I had purchased from Dharma Trading. The second was a homemade brew that was created by submerging one pad of extra fine steel wool (0000) in vinegar and letting it sit until the steel wool dissolved. This typically takes about two days. However, since mine was leftover from another project it had been sitting for several months, so it was good to go!

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My understanding was that it would only take a small amount of iron to alter the color. So I put my.pot on the stove, turned the heat to med/high and added 1/2 teaspoon of the iron powder.

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Hmmmmm, well it was really pretty but it didn’t look “sad” at all? I then added another 1/2 teaspoon and I waited. Nothing. Okay, time to give my concoction a go. I added approximately 1/2 cup of my brew and I waited. This time I was getting somewhere. After another 1/2 cup addition of my homemade iron solution, this is what I got.

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It was definitely looking more “sad” although it didn’t exactly look olive green. Since I had already added a good amount of iron to the mix, I chose to proceed.

Now it was time to address my fabric. I decided to use two silk scarves and some simple shibori techniques to create patterns on the fabric. I folded both scarves into a triangle shape as follows:

For some odd reason, this particular triangle fold has always been difficult for me to wrap my head around?! Hopefully it will be easier for you! I started by folding my scarf in half and then (as you can see above) I folded it past the edge of the fabric. Next I folded it back onto itself to create a triangle. Last, I folded the whole triangle back and forth (accordion style) until I reached the end. I followed the same procedure for the second scarf and then I gave each of them their own personality. For one, I used three extra large popsicle sticks that I bound with rubber bands to create a resist. For the other, I simply tied a row of rubber bands down the length of the triangle.

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Into the dye they went! I simmered them on low for one hour and then I turned off the heat and let them soak for approximately 3 hours.

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Next, I rinsed them in cold water until the water ran clear. There was very little excess dye coming off of the fabric which told me that the fabric and the dye bonded well. Unfortunately, the olive green that I was hoping for was nowhere to be found. But the color was definitely altered and is more of a mustard yellow than the bright sunshine yellow that I got from the turmeric dye alone.

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This brings me to the subject of colorfastness and washfastness. After doing a TON of research online (seriously, I could write a dissertation), I learned that while turmeric dyed fabric is very washfast it is not known to be lightfast. Although using mordants such as alum and iron will most certainly help with both wash and lightfastness, I have been unable to determine the extent to which this is true. This is my third foray into turmeric dyeing and I can tell you that my colors are holding fast so far. The fist piece of fabric that I dyed is now about 5 months old and I can see no discernible fading. I would be very interested to know if anyone has had any longer term experience with turmeric dyed fabrics, especially when an alum mordant was used. Please comment below if that’s you!!!

After air drying and a good ironing, here are my finished pieces.

I really like the one on the left and I’m not so sure about the one on the right. The pattern is kind of interesting, however, the color is blotchy and uneven. I am a fan of the mustardy yellow though and it was interesting to see what the iron did to my dye bath. All in all it was another informative adventure down dyers lane. I hope that you enjoyed the ride as much as I did! Please feel free to comment or ask questions. To see the scarf on the left in my etsy shop, go here. 🙂

 

 

 

Plum and Eucalyptus Leaf Printed Scarf

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Hello dear readers! I was taking a walk the other day when I noticed some ornamental plum trees in an open space area. I recalled reading that they could be used for dye so I plucked a few leaves. The color of the leaves was really gorgeous and the leaf shape was pleasingly simple so I decided that a leaf printing technique would be fun to try on a silk chiffon scarf. My next thought was that the pretty purple would look great contrasted against the orange from eucalyptus leaves. Lucky for me, there was a eucalyptus tree just down the hill from the plum tree so I picked a few stems.

Materials:

  • Ornamental Plum Leaves
  • Eucalyptus leaves  – not all species are created equal, so please be sure that you are using leaves from a tree that will dye your fabric
  • Protein fiber such as silk or wool – I’m using an 11 x 90 inch silk chiffon scarf
  • Paper towels
  • Stick or dowel
  • Artificial sinew, twine or dental floss
  • Dye pot – please use a pot that is exclusively used for dyeing!
  • Steamer basket – again for dyeing purposes only!
  • Alum 

Tutorial

Step 1: Wet your fabric and fold it in half so that you can find the middle. Lay one half of your fabric on some paper towels and bunch up the remainder (see pic below).

FYI – I am doing this because I would like the same image on both sides of the scarf. By “sandwiching” your leaves your print will be repeated on either side of your piece.

Step 2: Lay out your leaves to create a pattern of some sort.

Step 3: Carefully place the second half of your fabric on top of the first. I’m not going to lie, this is a pain in the butt. You will probably have to go back and rearrange your leaves along the length of your fabric more than one time. I noticed that I would get one section right and then move on only to find that the prior section had shifted. Grrr! Hang in there, with a little patience and persistence you will get it done!

Here are steps 1-3:

Step 4: Place a stick or a dowel at one end of your scarf and roll tightly and smoothly making sure to include your paper towel. The paper towel will act as a barrier so that your fabric doesn’t bleed back onto itself. For a more eco friendly alternative you could use a scrap piece of fabric in place of the paper towels.

Step 5: Now that you have your cute little bundle, you will need to tie it tightly to hold everything together and to insure that the fabric and the leaves are nice and cozy. I’m using artificial sinew but you could easily use twine or dental floss (It probably goes without saying, but you will need to use the white stuff, no blue colored mint dental floss).

Step 6: Add an inch or so of water to your dedicated dye pot, put your steamer basket inside, add your bundle and put a lid on your pot. Turn your heat to high and bring your water to a boil. Once your water is boiling turn your heat to low and steam for 2 hours. I typically turn my bundle about half way through. I’m not sure if this does anything, but it makes me feel better. 🙂

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Step 7: Let your bundle cool in the pot and let it sit overnight.

Step 8: Unwrap your bundle and take a look. This is always my favorite part! However, my results were less than spectacular. 😦

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Okay, so here’s where I messed up. First I assumed that the tree that I got my leaves from was the same variety as the tree that I had previously obtained leaves from (they looked very similar). After this result, I took a closer look at my leaves and stems and I could clearly see that this was not the same species of eucalyptus (there are over 900 varieties!). Here they are side by side:

The leaves and stems on the right came from a red ironbark or sideroxylon tree that sits just behind my back fence. The leaves on the left were the ones that I used for this scarf. Below is an example of the result that I got from the red ironbark tree, quelle difference!

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And another thing…I failed to consider the fact that natural dyes fall into two categories, substantive and adjective. Substantive dyes don’t require a mordant or fixative to be permanent and light fast. Examples of substantive dyes are eucalyptus, turmeric, tea and onion skins. However, most natural dyes fall into the adjective category and require a fixative of some sort. The most basic mordants are salt and vinegar but natural dyers often use fixatives such as tannin or alum which are quite low in terms of their toxicity. This information is relevant to this discussion because while the eucalyptus is a substantive dye, the plum is not and it will most certainly fade if I don’t “fix” it.

Last but not least, although this doesn’t qualify as something that I messed up, I noticed that I got a good depth of color and detail from the front sides of the plum leaves while the backsides are pale and blobby. So, I’m back to the drawing board!

*To avoid having to make any corrections and to get a beautiful result from the get go I would do the following:

First, use the correct eucalyptus leaves! This may require a little research. Red ironbarks are relatively easy to spot because of their bright red stems (yes, I know that I screwed this up, please don’t remind me!). Silver dollar eucalyptus are also a good choice and you can generally pick them up at Trader Joes (in the US).

Now as for the plum leaves, I would simply double them up so that the face of the leaf is facing the fabric on both sides. With regard to “fixing” the plum leaves, you have a few options. You can pre-mordant your fabric or you can add your mordant to your dye bath. The second option is much faster and easier so I vote for that one! Instead of steaming your fabric bundle place it in a water bath that contains one gallon of water and one tablespoon of alum (or vinegar and tea – see below). Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for one hour. Turn off your heat and let your bundle soak for about 2-24 hours. 

Alright, if you’re interested in hearing the rest of this saga, sigh, here’s how I corrected my errors. First I laid out the half of my scarf with the “good’ plum print. Then I gathered a bunch of eucalyptus leaves that had fallen into my yard from the nearby tree and I placed them along the length of my scarf. Next I carefully put the second half of the fabric on top. This was still a bit tricky but it wasn’t as hard as it was the first time that I did it.  I then put some plum leaves onto the side of the fabric that didn’t print well. My guess is that they may bleed a bit onto the “good” side…so my fingers are crossed that this doesn’t totally mess that side up. I then laid more paper towels on top, placed my stick at one end and rolled the whole thing up.

After binding my bundle with sinew, I put it in a water bath that contained one part vinegar to four parts of water (I ran out of alum, so although alum would be my preference, I’m using vinegar instead).  I also added a tea bag to help soften the color and to aid in fixing the plum (the tannin in tea is a natural fixative). I then brought it to a boil, turned down the heat and let it simmer for one hour. Finally, I turned off the heat and I let the bundle soak for about 5 hours.

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This is how it looked when I unwrapped my bundle and let it dry:

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So the good news is that the eucalyptus is much better! The not so great news is that my plan to improve the plum leaves didn’t work out very well. They actually look worse. Because I am a perfectionist (which is truly a curse) and I simply can’t leave well enough alone, I got out some Inktense sticks and a little brown fabric paint and I went to work defining those plum leaves.

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After I was (finally) satisfied with my scarf, I let it cure for 24 hours and I heat set it before giving it a wash and hanging it to dry. Another quick press with my iron and it’s done…

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I think it’s really pretty and I learned a lot, so alls well that ends well. Thanks for hanging in there with me through this one!

Eco Dyed Easter Eggs

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Okay folks, my objective is to make these as simple as possible. Like me, I’m sure that many of you are busy parents, or simply busy people. So the thought of going to the trouble of eco dyeing eggs is a bit daunting especially when you can run to the store and buy those nasty little tablets and voila – dyed eggs! Yes, I’ve done it. Many times. But this year, I will be eco dyeing and it will not be difficult. Alright, so maybe it will be more work than those little tablets, but you will be able to rest easy knowing that your eggs are totally free of synthetic dyes. And that’s worth its weight in gold, right?!

Let me break it down for you. You only need to make three colors – the primary ones (red, blue, and yellow). All of the other colors will be derived from those colors. So if you’re up for doing that, then you’re good to go!

Materials:

  • Two dozen hard boiled eggs
  • Red beets (about three large)
  • Purple cabbage (about 1 medium sized head) – this will make blue dye!
  • Turmeric
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Pot for boiling
  • 6 glass jars with lids (the standard wide mouth Ball jars work great)

Tutorial

Step 1: Rough chop your beets until you have about 4 cups – I used three large beets. Rough chop your head of cabbage until you have 8 cups – I used one medium cabbage. For the turmeric you will need 2-4 tablespoons (depending upon how yellow you want your eggs). Place each dye stuff in a separate pot. Add 8 cups of water and 4 tablespoons of vinegar to each pot. Bring to a boil, turn your heat down to medium and set your timer for 30 minutes. Strain your liquid and put it back in your pot. The turmeric pot can remain as is – no straining needed. At this point, you can let your liquid cool off or not, it’s up to you. Since I’m Little Miss Impatient, I didn’t wait. 

 

Step 2: Put 4 hard boiled eggs into each of the 6 glass jars. Use a ladle to put your primary colors (red, blue, yellow) into three of your jars. Fill until your eggs are completely covered. Now you will need to mix your dye to get your secondary colors:

  • Orange – approximately 3/4 turmeric dye to 1/4 beet dye
  • Green – approximately 3/4 turmeric dye to 1/4 cabbage dye
  • Purple – approximately 3/4 cabbage dye to 1/4 beet dye

Next just let your eggs soak. You can check your colors periodically to see how they are doing. For pastels it will take 30-60 minutes. For darker colors it will take several hours. You can even let them sit overnight if you want really saturated colors. I would pop them in the refrigerator if you decide to do this.

Once I got all of my eggs in their jars I went outside to arrange a beautiful picture for you (my lovely readers). I put my glass jars in a pretty little row on top of a wood table that was set against a white canvas. Then BAM a gust of wind kicked up and the whole thing fell forward. I wanted to cry. Two jars broke – tiny shards of glass went EVERYWHERE and most of the eggs cracked. Total nightmare. I was able to salvage three jars. :/

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So after cleaning up my gigantic mess and walking away for a bit to clear my head, I decided to go ahead and photograph all of the eggs so that you could see the colors. I’m so sad that there are so many cracked eggs because they are really pretty. 😦

If you decide to try this (and I really hope that you do) I have a few words to the wise. This is not an exact science and as you will soon see…your colors don’t always come out exactly as predicted. But that’s half the fun, especially when you are eco dyeing! So feel free to experiment! Vary the duration of time that your eggs sit in the the dye so that you get a range of colors. Or change up the ratios of dye in your mixtures and see what happens. Last but not least, this project is on the stinky side. The cabbage doesn’t smell great and the combo with the beets and the turmeric isn’t wonderful. So open up your windows and dye some eggs!

Here they are. 🙂

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As you can see, my red went a little brown. I think it may have been because I threw some beet stems and roots into the mix. Of course this affected the secondary colors that I used it for…I don’t mind how the orange came out and the deep teal blue (last pic) is gorgeous but I was going for purple. I think this color was a result of the red being on the brown side and using too much blue in my mix. The variation in blues (bottom left) resulted from leaving the eggs in the dye for differing lengths of time. The lighter color took about 30 minutes while the darker blue took about three hours. You could get a beautiful ombre affect by using a dozen eggs and dyeing them in one color for differing lengths of time. Maybe next year. 🙂

Happy Easter!

 

Dyeing with Turmeric Shibori Style

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Hello Sunshine! I have been wanting to try turmeric dyeing for a while now. Some of the examples that I have seen online are really beautiful. Much like the spice itself, the yellow is super saturated and gorgeous like bright golden sunshine! I love saturated colors so this is right up my alley. I figured that a pillow case would be a good starting point. To add a design element I will be doing a stitch resist shibori technique.

Materials:

  • silk pillow case – animal or protein fibers such as silk and wool will dye brighter than plant based fibers such as cotton or hemp, but any natural fiber will work
  • something round – I’m using a ceramic plate
  • washable marker or a vanishing fabric marker
  • artificial sinew, embroidery floss, or dental floss
  • large pot – a dedicated dye pot is recommended
  • 8 cups of water
  • 4 heaping tablespoons of turmeric – I bought a jar at Trader Joes for $1.99
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of alum – this is a mordant or fixative, I buy mine here 

 Tutorial

Step 1: Create a simple design on your fabric. I traced around a plate with a washable marker

Step 2: Stitch around your circle as shown below. I’m using artificial sinew because it is waterproof and I’m hoping it will give me nice clean lines. Make certain that your sinew (or whatever) is long enough to go around your circle and that you are left with a long tail (this will make more sense in a minute). In order to accommodate the sinew, I’m using a largish embroidery needle. If you do the same, you will notice that the needle will make small holes in your fabric. Don’t freak out, it will be fine as long as you’re okay with the holes. 🙂 If you are not okay with them then use a smaller needle and dental floss or embroidery floss. I’m going through both layers of the pillow case at once but you could certainly limit your stitching to the top layer if you want the back of your pillow to be a solid color. I’m also weaving the needle through multiple times with each pass (which makes this process go so much faster!).

Step 3: Now pull your sinew tightly making sure to pull the fabric in the center of your circle straight up.

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Step 4: Take your tail (the one you left earlier) and bind the center of your circle with your sinew. I want a lot of white so I’m binding quite a bit of the fabric. I would also like a solid colored circle in the center so I’m leaving a bit of fabric at the top.

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Step 5: Put four cups of water into your pot with one heaping tablespoon of alum and four heaping tablespoons of turmeric. Turn your heat to high and give your powders a few minutes to dissolve.

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Step 6: Wet your fabric (wet fabric accepts dye more evenly) and put it in your pot. Bring to a simmer and turn your heat down. For a nice medium yellow set your timer for one hour.

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Step 7: Once you are happy with the color of your fabric take it out, give it a rinse, untie your sinew, rinse again until your water runs clear and let it air dry. Iron to get out any wrinkles and to increase the colorfastness of your fabric.

I wanted my color to be really saturated so after one hour was up, I turned off the heat and let it sit for about four hours.

Please note that turmeric can be a fugitive dye meaning that it may fade over time and/or with exposure to the sun. The alum and the heat setting will help to prevent this from happening. Additionally, protein fibers like silk and wool accept the dye more readily and are more colorfast than plant based fibers.

Here’s the finished product. The yellow is SO gorgeous and happy! The dye pot is calling me to throw something else in…perhaps a scarf this time?

If you would rather buy than DIY go here.

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Eucalyptus Leaf Print Tutorial

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Hello folks! If you read my first post on eucalyptus dyeing then you may have gathered that I was none too thrilled with my results. So I was determined to get back to it and see if I could get some crisp eucalyptus leaf prints. I figured that it might be nice to work on a smaller scale this time (or at least until I achieve a result that I am pleased with) so I will be using some silk pillow covers. Here goes!

Materials:

  • protein fiber such as silk or wool
  • vinegar
  • eucalyptus leaves (you will need to find a eucalyptus species that is suitable for dyeing such as red ironbark or silver dollar)
  • paper towels
  • stick, small piece of pipe, or a dowel
  • artificial sinew or twine
  • pot with steamer basket – please use a pot that is dedicated to dyeing!
  • Derwent Inktense color blocks (optional)
  • iron

Tutorial

Step 1: Alright first things first! Technically you can dye nearly any natural fiber with eucalyptus. However, if you choose a protein or animal fiber like silk or wool you will not need to use a mordant (mordants help to fix dye to fabric). So if you would like to use cotton or linen you will need to pre-soak your fabric in a mordant such as alum. Alum is available online and some say you can buy it at the grocery store although I have never seen it there. I generally purchase mine here.  As I previously mentioned, I will be using two blank silk pillow covers that I purchased through Dharma Trading (I swear they need to start paying me for the free advertising!).

As far as the eucalyptus is concerned, this may require a little research if you don’t have easy access to a tree. The silver dollar variety is readily available in the U.S. through florists and some markets. I would try Trader Joes since their prices on flowers and plants can’t be beat! The leaf shape on this variety is much more circular (as the name implies) so you will end up with a different but no less lovely result. I will be showing you two examples of this process, one is very simple and the next is a bit more complex.

Now let’s get down to business! First wet your fiber in a vinegar bath. This isn’t absolutely necessary but it will help to fix the dye and it’s an easy step so why not? If you choose not to use vinegar you should definitely wet your fabric. Then lay it out onto a layer of paper towels making sure that it is as flat and smooth as possible. I didn’t do this the first time and I needed to carefully lift up my fabric (with the leaves already in place) to slide the paper towel underneath. So learn from my mistakes people and put down the paper towel first! Then lay out your design on one half of your fabric. I’m doing this in part because I like that I will get a mirror image of my design but this also allows me to make a smaller bundle that will easily fit into my steamer basket (this will make more sense later). If you have a larger steam set up and want to do a different design then go for it!

 

Step 2: Lay the second half of your fabric on top of the first being careful not to disturb your design. Press with your hands to smooth.

 

Step 3: Place another layer of paper towel on top of your fabric then use a stick (I’m using a piece of eucalyptus), a small pipe or a dowel to roll your fabric into a bundle. Be mindful not to disturb your design as you are rolling it up. Tie it tightly with artificial sinew or twine to create a neat bundle.

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Step 4: Place in your steamer basket and turn your heat to high. When it comes to a boil turn your heat to low and let it go for one hour. When your hour is up, turn your bundle over and steam for one more hour.

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Step 5: Let your bundle cool completely and unroll. Some folks say that you should wait 24 hours to open your bundle, but having tried this I really didn’t feel like it made much of a difference. It’s truly like opening up a present! Here’s what I got.

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Sooooo pretty! I love that there is variation in the leaf color on number one. And the shadow of each leaf is nice in number two – I’m not sure why that happened but I like it. I decided to add stems to the second one using these. I took the red and rubbed it on the metal lid, then added some dark grey and a bit of orange. I added some water with a small brush and I was able to get a nice reddish orange.

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Hmmmm, maybe I liked it better before the stems? What do you think? I’m toying with the idea of giving this one a quick dunk in some black tea. Stay tuned…

Step 6: Hang your fabric to dry and let it sit for a minimum of 24 hours to “cure.” Waiting truly is the hardest part!!!

Step 7: Iron to set your design, give it a quick wash in a mild detergent, hang to dry and iron again.  Now they’re ready for their cover shots!

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So as you can see I decided to give both of them a little tea bath. I dunked them for approximately one minute and then rinsed them under some cold running water. I then ironed them while they were still wet to set the color. They dried almost immediately with the hot iron.

Although I loved the crisp white background I began to notice that the areas where the dye had bled were looking a bit like the pillow case was dirty, which was not a good look! I figured that a creamier background would help to blend things. Mission accomplished. 🙂

 

 

Eco Dyeing with Eucalyptus – Part Two

Alright so I decided to move on and make a vat of eucalyptus dye. Over the fence I went to snatch some more leaves. While I was clipping I saw some low hanging branches with flowers and pods and I couldn’t resist.

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Okay, so I got a little carried away with the pictures. But, really pretty, right? I’m not sure how the flowers and pods will affect the dye but I’m throwing them in the pot. After doing more research, I saw that a lot of folks were soaking their leaves overnight and then simmering for two hours followed by another overnight sit and then possibly more simmering. Geez!

I filled my pot and added filtered water from our reverse osmosis unit. I had read that rainwater is best for your dye pot, but since that is in short supply here (even with our El Nino winter), I decided to use filtered water. When I first saw the recommendation to use rainwater it seemed really “granola” and I figured that it was more about being eco-conscious. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE granola and I’m definitely eco-conscious but I have since come to learn that there is a more specific reason. Apparently tap water can contain trace amounts of copper and other minerals that can affect the color of your dye. So the rainwater is presumably more pure. I’m not so sure about that, but at least I understand the rationale.

As I was gathering my leaves I couldn’t help but notice the gorgeous red color of the stems as well as a bit of red on some of the leaves. Hopefully this bodes well for my dye pot!

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Materials:

  • eucalyptus (red ironbark, silver dollar – if you use this variety it must be fresh not dried )
  • rainwater or RO water – optional
  • protein fiber – I’m using silk chiffon scarves
  • rubber bands
  • patience!!!

Tutorial

Step 1: Put your plant material in your dye pot, cover with water and let it sit overnight. Here’s my pot, it’s a little more than halfway full:

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Step 2: Bring your pot to a low simmer and let it go for 2 hours.

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It’s looking a little murky at this point.

Step 3: Let your pot sit overnight…or not. I did some more reading and I saw that some people were saying that it can take 3-4 hours of simmering to extract the color from the leaves. So, I decided to simmer my pot for another hour or so. The color is looking much better, yay!

It sat overnight and I brought it to a simmer again for about one hour and I let it sit for most of the day. My patience has been rewarded! Look at that gorgeous color! This really isn’t a project for those of you who want fast and easy results!

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Step 4: Give your fabric a quick wash and fold and/or bind it to create a pattern. I prefer a pattern to a solid color, but obviously this is completely up to you.  If you are dyeing a scarf then be certain to fold it in half end to end if you want the pattern to match on each side. At this point, I will be employing the following itajime shibori folding techniques:

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Both images are from this site.

 

 

So here are my folded stacks per the above diagrams. As you can see, I then bound each of them with rubber bands.

Step 5: Put your fabric in your dye bath leaving all of the plant material in place. Bring to a simmer and let it go for two hours.

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Step 6: Turn off the heat and let your fabric sit for another two hours.

Step 7: Unbind and unfold your fabric and let it dry. It should “cure” for at least one day. Iron to heat set. Done, finally! The color is more terra cotta than the orange-red I was hoping for, but that’s okay. I think I extracted every possible ounce of color from those leaves!

 

 

My Thoughts:

After spending the last week or so immersed in eucalyptus dyeing I have mixed feelings. I love that it’s an “eco” process that doesn’t require any chemicals or toxic ingredients. I also LOVE that the dye is free. 🙂 The color is pretty and it’s fun to experiment with natural materials. But you have to be incredibly patient and persistent. I really can’t stress the patience part enough. This is a multi-day, multi-step process. It was definitely (mostly) fun and I certainly learned a lot. So all in all, no regrets. Next, I’m itching to do some more eucalyptus bundles and I’m hoping that I can get some beautiful, clean leaf prints (unlike the prints that I got in Part 1!).

To check out some of my leaf prints go here and here.

 

Eco Dyeing with Eucalyptus – Part One

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Are you ready for some eco dyeing? I have been interested in exploring eco dyeing for sometime now and after playing around with rust dyeing my interest in plant based dyeing was peaked. So I began poking around online to see if any of the plants in my yard were suitable for dyeing. I was excited to see that eucalyptus (a native of Australia that is plentiful here in Southern California) can be a great source of natural dye. Fortunately I have one in the open space just outside my back fence.

After convincing my husband to hop the fence and snatch some branches I realized that I have an ideal variety for dyeing! It’s a eucalyptus sideroxylon or a red ironbark. Who knew? My hubby actually hates it and has tried to get our HOA to cut it down. Honestly, I haven’t been terribly fond of it either, it’s scraggly and it blocks part of our view. But now that I know that it may be a great source of dyestuff I’m warming up to it. Perhaps I’m putting the cart before the horse, however, since I have yet to see how well this much maligned tree performs!

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Eucalyptus Sideroxylon

Materials:

  • eucalyptus
  • protein fiber – I’m using two silk scarves
  • vinegar
  • wood boards, plastic, vinegar solution (50:50) – probably NOT necessary, see below
  • string
  • stainless steel pot
  • steamer basket

Tutorial

Step 1: Gather your plant material. This may require a little research and experimentation. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that has eucalyptus trees then they are a more obvious choice. But from what I understand not all eucalyptus are created equal when it comes to dyeing. If you don’t have a red ironbark nearby then you can buy a bunch of eucalyptus from a florist or Trader Joes! The silver dollar variety that is often used in floral arrangements is supposed to be wonderful for dyeing.

Step 2: Get some fabric! I’m using two blank white silk scarves that I purchased at Dharma Trading. Protein fibers like silk and wool are the simplest fabrics to dye with eucalyptus since they don’t require a mordant (mordants help to fix the dye to the fabric). If you want to dye cotton or linen then you will need to use a mordant like alum (available through Dharma Trading). I decided to dye two scarves at the same time because I was curious to see how each fabric would take the dye. One scarf is an 8mm silk Habotai and the other is silk chiffon.

Step 3: Find two flat surfaces that you can use to sandwich your fabric – I used two plywood boards. Then line one of the boards with plastic. I simply used an opened up trash bag. I gave my fabric a quick soak in vinegar (a little insurance to help fix the dye) and I laid it out on the plastic. I then arranged my leaves on half of the scarf so that when I laid the second half on top the pattern would repeat. This may require some fussing and editing.

Step 4: Spray your fabric with a vinegar and water solution (I used a 50:50 ratio). Put another layer of plastic on top of your fabric and make a sandwich with your second board. Then weight the whole thing down with rocks or bricks.

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Step 5: Let it sit. I let mine sit overnight and I took a peek in the morning. This is what I found:

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So you can see that some color is transferring around the stems but the leaves aren’t doing anything! Hmmmmmm, back online to research this technique.

It seems that my error was not sealing the plastic well enough to retain the moisture. The leaves won’t print if things don’t stay wet. My failure to secure the edges of the plastic combined with a very warm and windy Southern California day really dried things out. 😦

I decided to abandon this method and try something else. As I was researching, I saw the name India Flint again and again on the eco dyeing posts and blogs. Apparently, she is the eco dyeing guru of sorts, so I dug a bit into her techniques. One of the techniques she uses most is to lay her plant material onto a piece of fabric, roll it into bundles, tie it with twine, and steam it for a few hours. So let’s back up a little!

Step 3ish?: Okay, I’m not sure how necessary the whole board sandwich thing was but I do think it helped to soften up my branches so that I could actually roll the fabric into bundles. So you may want to skip that step and simply soak your branches to make them more pliable or just use the leaves. Here are my bundles:

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Step 4: Place your bundles in a pot with a steamer basket and steam for one hour. I have a pot that is only used for dyeing. You definitely don’t want to use a pot that you plan to use again for cooking!

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It’s been one hour and Wow! The leaves are bleeding color onto the fabric, maybe my eucalyptus sideroxylon is good for something after all!

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Step 5: Turn over your bundle and steam for another hour. Make sure to add more water to your pot. I didn’t add enough water and I scorched the bottom of my pot. 😦

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Where did the blue come from?

Step 6: Pull your bundles out and let them cool.

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This first pic is side one and the second is side two. It looks as if side two has gone a bit gray-green and a tad murky. I read that this can happen if you steam for too long, so maybe a shorter steam time next time. Or maybe not, I kind of like the contrast of that murky color against the redish orange colors. And the blue, OMG I love the blue! I can’t begin to tell you how badly I want to unwrap those bundles!!!

Step 7: You have a few options here. I found some sources that said that you can unroll your bundles after they have cooled. Then again some folks said that you should wait a day or more. I’m going to unwrap one and wait on the other.

Here they are. The silk chiffon scarf on the right is the one that I unrolled right after it had cooled. The one on the left is the silk Habotai that I let sit overnight. It’s still wet in this picture so the color is darker then it will be when it’s dry. I’m not sure that waiting overnight made any difference?

I was underwhelmed with my results. The color is pretty but the design is way too haphazard for my taste. I think next time I will lay my leaves out on the entire piece of fabric before rolling it up. I suspect that I will get a much cleaner print that way.

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Step 8: If you are happy with your design you will need to let your fabric dry and then “cure” for several days. Iron to heat set the color and give it a quick wash.

I’m definitely going to overdye both of these. For much better results check out part deux here!

If you’re interested in getting more distinct leaf prints go here and here.