Natural Dye :: Comfrey

On holiday I picked masses of comfrey, growing abundantly on the canal bank in Staffordshire. I brewed it up in the enamel pan again and the initial colour looked very promising. I left a scrap of silk organza in the dye pot while it was brewing and it came out a bright, olive green – far right in picture.

mixed dyes

The other colours in this photo are: top left, tea on habotai, blue silk ribbon overdyed with comfrey, pinks are avocado, silk thread is comfrey, tatting on silk is avocado exhaust, purple / green mottled is red cabbage and the lower piece is comfrey

I then soaked the fabrics in the dye for about 12 hours, but they didn’t come out the same kind of vibrant green.  The silks mostly came out pale khaki or greeny-beige, and most of the cellulose fibres did nothing much at all – except, strangely, the overdyed Liberty lawn (pink flowers). This has never been washed so I assume there is a fabric treatment on it which has caused the reaction. Mid green-brown from a light cream fabric. Overall these are not the most exciting colours but they are exactly the kind of colours I like and use a lot, so I am very happy with them.

comfrey copy

Top left: silk habotai, filament silk thread, Liberty lawn with flowers, silk / viscose velvet beneath nicely splotchy, just how I like it, as is the linen on far right. Silk chiffon, the crinkly one at the bottom, silk ribbon and hemp silk bottom left. Silk thread, at the top, just peeking into the photo came out the same kind of greenish beige.

None of the fabrics was mordanted this time, so my next comfrey experiment will be.

Natural Dye : Avocado

After about 15 years break, I’ve come back to experimenting with natural dyes.  I am not sure what took me so long. I suppose my old studio wasn’t set up for wet work, and for many years I lived with other people who would not appreciate messy dyestuff in their kitchens. For the last few years, since I’ve had my own house, I’ve wanted to set up a dye playground but I’ve simply not got round to it, although I’ve been collecting materials and information for at least 3 years.

I’ve got a stash of onion skins in the kitchen cupboard, I’ve had elderberries in the freezer since last autumn and I did have a stash of avocado skins and stones lying around too. I had got stuck on the idea that I needed a huge pan and had failed to find one at a car boot sale. Reason prevailed… I use pretty tiny bits of fabric in my work these days. There’s no real need for huge pans.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working on my new collection, Criminal Quilts 2, and wanted a soft pink silk organza to overlay on this piece.

I remembered the avocado skins. Finally everything fitted together. I simply repurposed a huge enamel roasting tin that I am never likely to use. I used 2 skins and stones that I had washed and dried a few months ago. I have some more in the freezer, before I worked out that they would dry fine. I don’t often buy imported fruit, but had bought a huge bowl of bruised avocados from Leicester market for a birthday guacamole, for a whole £1. Many of them went straight in the compost, but the stones were saved.

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I chopped the two stones & skins up and put them in the pan with tap water, simmered it for an hour or so, then strained off the bits. The dye water started off looking quite pink, then went more brown, and I really wasn’t sure it would work. In a very unscientific manner, I threw in various bits of fabric, unwashed (unless vintage) and unmordanted.  I simmered them for an hour or so again and then left them to soak overnight in the bath, although I fished out some of the silk almost immediately, after 5 minutes or so, as I wanted a very pale pink on the organza for the piece above.

I also took out some of the dye and put it in a separate bowl with a splash of white vinegar to see what that did. It mainly washed out the pink and created a pleasant but unexciting cream.

I rinsed the fabrics the following morning and dried them on the washing line.  As I was going on holiday for a week, I left the slightly exhausted dye pot with more fabrics in for the rest of the week, rather expecting it to grow mould. It didn’t, but instead produced some lovely, pale fabrics.

First batch:

avocado

The strongest colours are on silk / viscose velvet (centre) which is a rich pink. Wool felt (centre below velvet) also took the dye well and created a softer, creamier pink. The thread on top of this is a natural silk yarn that was quite beige to start with and didn’t change much.

Centre left is silk habotai which worked beautifully. Right of the velvet is the short-dip silk organza. Above that is silk chiffon which took a really strong salmon pink. The paler velvet at the front left came out of the vinegar dyepot and went into the main dyepot, so only had part of the soaking time. The lavender piece at the front is cotton lawn, as are some of the paler pieces in the back of the picture.

The week-long soaked exhausted bath produced some lovely pale versions of the original dyebath.

avocado2

The silk thread came out pinky-brown and the chiffon (beneath) is a lovely soft brown with a hint of pink. The colour barely took on the vintage cotton doilies though the lace in the foreground worked quite well. The scrap of silk selvedge at the front worked beautifully, as silk usually does.  Just visible in the foreground is some more vintage lace, which I used in the quilt shown above.

In all, I am delighted with the colours – they fit perfectly with my palette at the moment, and with the ease of the dye. I also tried wrapping the exhausted stones & skins in fabric and leaving them for a week, but the fabric dried out before anything happened. I’ll try it again next time, perhaps putting them into the exhausted dye bath too. Lots more experimenting to do and there will be more blog posts to come.