I spotted this plant dyeing workshop held in Bristol with Ria Burns a while ago. I’ve had a little foray into plant dyeing a while back, not altogether successful, but I think doing this course has given me some confidence to try again. I’ve been imagining the dolls dressed in linens, cottons and silks in those lovely subtle colours you only get with plant dyes.
In the introduction Ria talked about when to mordant your fabric/yarn and how. There are three types of plant dyes,
1 . Substantive such as walnuts, pomegranate skins and tree bark, which have there own natural tannins and you do not need to mordant the fabric/yarn.
2. Adjective such as avocado, madder, onion skins and weld which require you to mordant the fabric/yarn
3. Fugitive such as red cabbage, beetroot and berries, basically don’t bother the colour will not last whatever you do!
We were given an array of mini skeins of yarn, all British breeds ranging from a super chunky roving Cheviot wool to a 4 ply lambswool a mixture of Shetland and Romney grey.
Four pots of dyes were gently simmering, and we chose which yarn we wanted in each pot. There were a couple of variations you could, you could leave the yarn half out the pot or you could knot the yarn, both gave a final variegated result. The fresh weld was literally picked in the morning by Ria before the class. The avocado stones can be used again and again until they disintegrate. Top tip – store them in your freezer until you need them.
An added twist to the dyeing process was to add soda crystals part way through the simmering process. This changed the pH to more alkaline and changed the dye colour instantly. Most noticeable were the avocado stones which went pinker. As a group we decided all the pots except madder should go alkaline. Once they’d simmered for an hour or so we then drained them. How fabulous do they look now?
We took our precious bundles home to dry, then wash and make into wonderful things.
There are so many variables in this process and Ria kept note books of her ‘recipes’, they were lovely to read.
My plans for plant dyeing as I don’t have a garden include madder, as you can get it in powder form, avocado stones as I eat these, onion skins because, well that should be easy and anything else I can forage.