Friday, 24 April 2009

Eco Adventure

No, I'm not talking about riding in a jet plane, paying out heaps of dosh for the privilege and going trekking in some wilderness far, far, away, but something much more exciting.

I was trying to make that sound ridiculous, expensive, wasteful and uncomfortable; I've completely failed and instead think I've almost convinced myself that a wilderness trek far, far away could be just the thing....

I digress, what I'm actually talking about is eco-dying. I have dabbled in dying a bit before now, with commercial synthetic dyes, food colouring and natural plant materials (no link here, it was WAY before my blogging days), but my interest has been reinvigorated by a book, Eco Colour written by India Flint.

I also have a book on natural dying, which has less pretty pictures but is a hundred times easier to read, and much thinner, I can't find any links to it. My quarrel with this book, is the use of (mostly) toxic mordants which I am unwilling to keep about my house, so the methods India Flint use are much more appealing. I greatly admire India's work, and love the pretty pictures in her book, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as an enjoyable read, it certainly contains lots of information, but you have to work really hard to decipher it.

So, between India Flint's book, the book I own, and my own knowledge I've started experimenting with fervour. I have found this dying bizzo is much easier to do in short 15 minute bursts of time then the sewing caper, which I'm finding practically impossible to keep up with.

My apologies to any readers who aren't interested in this kind of thing, but I'm planning to use this blog as my journal for my eco-dying experimentation. Not solely, it's just convenient for me.

So here are my first attempts, based on India Flint's bundling method, on bamboo and calico, no mordants were used, I was hoping something used in the finishing of the fabrics would act as mordant, these pieces were new and unwashed. The basic method here is to place your plant material on your fabric, tightly roll it up and secure it, (I used cotton twine) steam for 30 minutes and leave it to go cold before unwrapping. This method has two purposes, it can give a beautiful eco-print, (a term which I believe was coined by India Flint) and an indication of the dye potential of the plant material used.

This piece is a bamboo/lycra blend, the leaves used were vine leaves that had just turned red, the colour is a beautiful pink, definitely planning more experiments with the vine leaves.
This one is a bunch of eucalyptus leaves and gum nuts on 100% bamboo fabric, complete failure in terms of colour, but look at the beautiful embossing!
Lesson: try pre mordant next time.

This is the same eucalyptus I used on the bamboo, this time on silk, the silk yarn was the only silk I had at the time, and I was feeling impatient. As you can see the eucalyptus has given a light golden brown to the silk, and you can even see a faint eco-print of the leaves, which will of course be lost when I use the yarn.

Above and below are the smashing method, on calico. I am very pleased with these first results. I used geranium petals and the vine leaves in various states of colour change. The petals and leaves were sandwiched between the fabric and banged with a hammer. That simple. I'm pretty sure this method won't take to heavy laundering, but as India Flint points out in her book, you can always do it again, once it has faded.

How cute is this flower press? (op shop find, for the kids, but kind of really for me)
The flowers, we found already pressed inside, note the blue flower, which I -think- is love in the mist? anyone? It has retained it's colour beautifully. I'm planning to try some smashing with blue flowers.

My conclusions from these early results, and there were others (salt turned those eucalyptus leaves to a dark steely grey) was that I needed to get my hands on some silk and wool. (Which take dye much more easily.) I mustn't be the only one scouring the op-shops for white silk and wool, because it is very, very difficult to find, and when you do the article is often too beautiful to cut up. Eventually I found a suitably hideous silk skirt and old pair of woollen long Johns*....

Here are my silk/wool samples bundled up with all sorts of stuff, in the steamer. I had to wait all night to open up these bundles, the suspense was killing me, and since this post is already way too long, I'll show you the results another day, can you bear it?

*Sometimes when using recycled, or used materials, invisible stains become visible with dying so the first thing I did with these was cut out the crotch, because despite the appeal of India Flint's less conventional methods, there are some stains I am JUST NOT willing to embroider around.

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Blogger Miriam said...

nice work alison, I never got around to doing a post about my eco dyeing experiments...
i would love to try with the banksia leaves again xx

24 April 2009 at 14:25  
Blogger Warty Mammal said...

I am fascinated. Looking forward to more of your experiments.

24 April 2009 at 15:03  
Blogger Melinda said...

That last bit was funny.

I find these processes fascinating, even if they are way above my crafty level. Which is zero. Just learning about the techniques is interesting.

I had a laugh at the last bit.

25 April 2009 at 01:25  
Blogger india said...

oh yes, definitely avoid dodgy bits. you're right though, silk and wool are the way to go.
i find that if using cotton/linen whatever, much best to leave your bundles sit for ages [weeks]. seawater is quite a good mordant for cotton...

28 April 2009 at 16:33  
Anonymous Bec said...

Is the blue flower a cornflower? hard to tell from here!

Sounds very exciting and love the later results too.

(and is that the same India commenting above me as you're quoting from your book? Cool.)

30 April 2009 at 22:07  
Blogger fontainefleurie said...

Hi here from the Netherlands - I was just wandering in the blogworld searching for some more news on eco colouring. I like your results and the way you describe them. Please have a look at mines at ecogreetings from Dorie

9 May 2009 at 01:33  

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