Friday, April 19, 2013

Out of pots and jars

There are now some more "results" to report. Nothing spectacular is happening, actually.
But that is also part of the journey. Exploration does not always result in wonderful outcomes, or what you were hoping for. I am going to enjoy the journey anyway.

Back in mid-March, I put up another jar, filled this time with little branches of a plant called "Island Ficus" locally. It's leaves are round, thick and leathery. The sap is said to burn your skin, so I was careful when handling it. I think this plant looks somewhat related to the Eucalyptus that India Flint uses for so many of her wonderful projects.

I wrapped some of the branches in each of my four types of fabrics, cotton, hemp, silk and linen and stuck them all in a large jar, to let sit for a month on the porch.

So, now we wait for a while again.......


Meanwhile, I did another boil. This time it was with red beet peels, leaves and juice. I think I let the juice sit a bit too long before I used it for dyeing because the results were pretty disappointing - mostly brownish colors. I added vinegar to the water at the time of boiling, in order to try a version of co-mordanting, where you do the dyeing and the mordanting at the same time.

This is a picture of all my little samples as of a week or so ago. Top row is the initial sun dyed pieces - the first ones I did.
Middle row is the ones boiled with the red beet peels etc. Not much to brag about.
On the bottom row you see the pieces from the sorrell boil. None of these pieces have been washed yet. Another step in the process.


Finally, I have opened the solar bundle that has been sitting out on a rock in the garden since early March, I believe. The results are not spectacular, but somehow I see them as encouraging.

This is what the bundle looked like when I unwrapped it:

The fabric piece, which is a part of the old linen table cloth that I am using, is a wonderful piece of fabric. It did absorb some interesting imprints of the leaves and the seed pods.

Here is a close-up:

To me, this is encouraging. There are definite marks, and the marks are interesting, even beautiful. They just need to be stronger, in my opinion. This is something to work on.
Maybe the bundles need to be wetter, sit longer, be pre-mordanted, have a different fiber...
There are so many variables. I am getting the sense that silk, in general absorbs all the different dyes the best.

Soon I will have all the samples that I have time to make this year. I will then mordant them and then I will be able to compare them to each other and hopefully find some interesting results that will be worth building on for next season.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I found an old ugly pot at the second hand store for three dollars. I could probably use one of my kitchen pots, since I only dye with plant materials that are not poisonous, as far as I know, but just in case I come across some stuff that is either super messy or stains a lot, it is good to have a dedicated pot.

There were still some Sorrell calyxes left in my refrigerator, so I decided to see what happened when I boiled them with some fabric. I am getting a little more scientific, perhaps, so now I am using pieces of silk, cotton, linen and hemp. I plan to do this for each experiment. Then I will be able to compare which fiber absorbs the different dyes best.

This is what I was boiling:

Here it is with the fabric pieces

I let is simmer for several hours and added water a couple of times. It got pretty mushy.
Here are the results

The fabrics are, clockwise from top left: cotton, hemp, linen, and silk. The silk piece is the most successful, in my view. It seems to have absorbed color the best.

The next step is to soak them in a mordant.
I am planning to use a version of the mordant assessment procedure described in India Flint's book (p 103). My experiments are less scientific, both because I am mostly playing at this point and also by necessity, since I don't have a proper studio here. It's just the spare guest room and the kitchen.

Here is the guest room, full of my projects

I will put in a picture of the kitchen another day, when it's not so messy!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Some results

I have opened the first jars on my front porch! Here is what I found:

Jar 1: Sorrell with silk fabric. The fabric had assumed a lovely dusty rose color while the sorrell had lost almost all of its intense fuchsia hue in the process


Jar 2: Red spinach seed heads with linen fabric. This concoction came out smelling rotten, and looking that way too. Once the plant matter was removed (mostly), the fabric seemed to have a good brownish pink color. Quite varied from one part of the piece to another. That could be interesting.

Jar 3: Lemongrass and silk fabric. The liquid in this jar had turned slightly pink over time, though the lemon grass plant in very green in itself. Interesting observation. The fabric had turned pink here too, this time with yellowish tint.

 Jar 4: Spinach leaves with linen fabric. This combination yielded next to no dye effect.
There is a tiny yellowish-gray change in the color of the fabric, but it will definitely be going back into a dye pot later.

Jar 5: Coffee with rusty bottle caps and silk fabric. This one was really successful. The fabric had turned a wonderful rich gray-brown. My favorite. This one had already sat with a mordant, so it should be ready to rinse...

I have to apologize that the pictures do not do justice to the colors. I will take better ones, once I let the fabrics sit for a few days and then iron them. After that I will experiment with mordants on some of the fabric pieces.

Here they are on the drying rack

So, what is a mordant, some one may ask.

A mordant is a substance that is either alcaline or acidic, so that when added to water, or a dye bath, it changes the Ph level in it. This causes the dye molecules to adhere better to the fabric. There are many combinations here of mordants, dyestuff and fiber, some work better together than others. I have no idea what combinations are good for my dyestuffs, so I will happily try some things and see what happens.

I have decided on four mordants: vinegar, iron (rust), copper and salt water.

The piece I dyed with coffee and iron has already been mordanted, as I said, so it needs nothing further, and the piece dyed with spinach did nothing, so I will leave it aside. The other three pieces, I will divide into five pieces each and expose a piece to each of the four mordants, and one without any.

This process is getting quite complicated! And scientific feeling. It's mushrooming into so many little samples, I'm afraid I will have a hard time keeping track of it all! I guess that's why I'm writing it down and taking photos.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Moving on

The plan was to blog once a week... I didn't get it together that soon. It is taking a while to get into this dyeing process and figure out what to do. I have to read up on it, think about it, decide what to try next, whether to try a mordant... photograph the plants and the process, upload the photos. It's a lot.

Any way, here I am, and I have tried a few new things. They all have to sit and mature, or cook or rot or whatever they do for several weeks. I will have a front porch covered with little glass jars soon. People who come to visit are intrigued. Nobody else that I have come across on this island dyes with plant matter. You would think that someone had tried it. Maybe that died out generations ago. I will have to do some research.

This is what I have tried this time:
Bougainvillea flowers
Tan-tan tree leaves and seed pods

The techniques I have tried come from the Eco Colour book by India Flint that I mentioned last time.
I have tried the Ice-flower technique, where you freeze flowers that have a more subtle color and then thaw them quickly in warm water together with a pieces of fabric. This shock therapy may make the flowers release their color molecules on to the fabric. We are hopeful.
Some flowers, with a stronger color, were put in a jar with water to cook in the sun for a month to test whether they yield a color solution that can be used to dye with.

I have also tried cold bundling with the Tan-tan leaves and seed pods.

The Bougainvillea bush is everywhere around me. It is very beautiful and flowers profusely all the time. The colors of the blossoms go from light pink to fuchsia to red and orange. I have picked flowers off some of the bushes in my yard.

This one is reddish-orange pink

This one is light pink

Here are the flowers

The light pink flowers were put in the freezer for future ice-flower prints

The flowers with strong color were stuffed in a jar with water to sit and percolate on the porch to see if they would generate a liquid to dye with later


The Tan-tan trees are basically weed trees that grow everywhere.

They have leaves, little green balls that are blossoms (I think) and seed pods at the same time.

I wrapped pods and leaves up in a piece of linen cloth.

This little bundle will now sit outside for a month and do it's thing...


What I have to do next is go to the second hand store and find some equipment such as a big pot, so that I can boil things. A lot of dyeing happens in hot water after all. I might also find interesting re-use cloth. A trip to the fabric store, such as it is, will also be required. I have no white cotton fabric. Ideally it should be organic cotton, but that may be impossible here. I ordered some silk on line. The way the mail works here, it could take a while to arrive, or not! I don't know if linen is the best material to use, but I happen to have a lot of it, in the form of a hand woven old worn table cloth from my father's family. I am hoping for interesting results. And if not, like India says, dye over it!

Friday, February 8, 2013

First post, February 8, 2013

Welcome to my new and only blog! It's the start of a new adventure for me, though I have thought about it for some time.

I am hoping that sharing what I do in the field of dyeing will keep me focused on the project and by writing about it, I will see more clearly where I am going.

I actually have two dyeing projects. One is already started. I am dyeing with rust. I have achieved some interesting results which I will report on later.
Project number two is a new one, and I will work on it while I am at our winter spot in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. I am planning to find out the dyeing properties of leaves, seeds, bark, flowers and other plant parts of things that grow right here around us. There is a lot of that, since we live in a rain forest area. 

So, here we are!

Yesterday, I filled five jars with fabric and various items, hoping to achieve some interesting results in the form of dyed fabrics. This is a very intuitive and haphazard method. It is described as "Solar Dyeing" in the book "Eco Colour" by India Flint. This is a great book for those who are interested in dyeing with natural materials. It has an enormous amount of information. I'm starting simple. 
My five jars will now sit in the sun for a month!!

Here are the five jars.
This is what is in them, left to right:
1. Silk fabric with sorrel (from the local farm market)
2. Linen fabric with seeds from a red leaf spinach plant (also from farm market)
3. Silk with lemongrass, my own plant!
4. Linen with coffee and two rusty bottle caps, just to experiment
5. Linen with fresh spinach leaves (from the grocery store, probably from Florida)

Right away we can determine that I have not stayed within my own declared parameters for this project, since the plant stuff is mostly not from my immediate surrounding and some of the stuff is not even plants! I will improve.

Here are the most promising jars, after only one day. Left sorrel and right red leaf spinach. I wonder if I should have taken the labels off the jars? Is it the heat of the sun I need, or the rays, I wonder? Time will tell. We are experimenting here.

This is what the Sorrel looks like:

Sorrel, if you look it up, is actually the name used here in the Caribbean, for a drink made of the calyces or sepals of the Hibiscus flower. It is fragrant citrusy, and spicy and has a wonderful magenta color. That is what I hope my silk fabric piece will turn out like.