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Experiments With Natural Dye

At the begining of February, and with half term on the horizon (and therefore lots of time to dedicate to my textile art practice), I started to prepare fabric for natural dyeing. Setting up a rudimentary dye 'kitchen' in a corner of my garden I had cotton sheeting soaking in soya milk, following the Rebecca Desnos ( method.

It's slow textiles at its slowest! Pre-wash fabric, soak in diluted soya milk for 12hrs, dry, dip and dry, and finally dip and dry again before leaving to cure for a couple of weeks. Not a lot of work involved, but planning and time. I managed to get some lengths of cotton and some linen and furnishing fabric done befor the soya milk started to 'turn' - a few frosty days helped me get the most from my bucket!

I also had an old, rusting baking tray filled with rain water that I used to 'rust mordant' some cotton too - just to see what would happen.

When half term arrived, I was ready! First up to my natural dye cauldron was avocado. I used skins from two avocados and one pit or stone, because that is what I had saved and dried. I gently heated the avocado pieces for an hour in tap water (hard water area, chalk), before squeezing and mushing the skins and heating for a further hour before leaving to cool.

I then added the fibre which I had wetted in tap water - a 30cm square piece of soya mordanted cotton, the same of rust-water mordanted cotton and some cotton thread (unmordanted), heated gently in the dye pot for an hour before cooling and leaving for 24hrs.

Such beautiful tones of deep desert rose (soya), violet/grey (rust) and shell pink (unmordanted). I delibrately kept the dye stuff in the pot and didn't stir the fabric much as I wnated an uneven colour and some 'happy accidents'.

Next up, lichen! After Storm Eunice had swept through the UK we had lots of lichen blown down from the trees in our garden ad out on our dog walks. I collected enough of the silvery-green variety (oak moss lichen?) to fill my dye pot and followed the same method as for the avocado.

The lichen had an almost perfumed scent whilst heating - couldn't decide if I liked it though! However, after 24hrs in the pot with the fabric the lichen had yielded a pale yellow-green (soya) and pale green-grey (rust) and cream on the unmordanted thread on unknown origin (probably should do a burn test to figure out what it is).

Finally, my last dye experiment of the week was with yellow (cooking) onion skins which I had collected from our home grown onions. Again, following the method from above, the colours I got are breath-taking: deep rust (soya), deep khaki green (rust) and brick orange (unmordanted, wool tapestry thread).

Next up? I want to try black tea, coffee, rose hips and mahonia berries. Watch this space!

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Debra Kay
Debra Kay
Feb 26, 2022

Well Done Sam!

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