Archive for the ‘Natural Plant Dyeing’ Category

Results of the walnut dye from my 100-mile sourced (Kelowna Lake) walnut husks. This first dye bath was the walnut husks boiled up right away for a few hours and then the fabric bundles, some with rose and eucalyptus leaf additions – simmered for a few hours. Silk and wool fabrics used in this dye bath.

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Over-dyed silk dupioni – stripe down the middle exposed fabric walnut dye. Fabric had been previously dyed with other natural plant dyes.

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Silk organza fabric (undyed) with shibori resist (folded fabric and clamped rectangle) in walnut dye bath.

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Previously plant dyed silk sateen fabric – shibori folded fabric to create resist – added rose and eucalyptus leaves – in walnut dye bath.

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Silk Sateen – Detail. Rose leave imprint.

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Silk and Metal fabric over dyed in walnut dye bath (fabric was previously dyed in other plant dyes which left a subtle colour). Applied random shibori resist ties with yarn leaving lighter coloured circles. The metal in the fabric creates a heavily textured surface after emerging from hot dye bath.

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Wool jersey fabric, shibori folded, bundled with eucalyptus and rose leaves with rusted rebar before partially emerging in walnut dye bath. The 100% wool imparts a mahogany rich brown.

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Well protected hands… mushing up the walnut husks before boiling. One whole in tact walnut trapped inside the mush.

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Bounty. Roasted walnuts (best tasting walnuts I have ever tasted), walnut tree leaves, walnut husks.


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Luckily the fall weather here has been wonderful – so on a sunny day I was hoping to collect some walnut husks to use for dyeing some lengths of silk. I had previously tried a walnut dye on one of my shibori  sleeve designs and loved the rich brown colour that the walnut dye gave on the silk and linen fabric:

Silk and Linen shibori (hand stitched resist technique) sleeve design - black walnut dye -

Silk and Linen shibori (hand stitched resist technique) sleeve design 2012 – black walnut dye.

I wasn’t sure where our urban walnut trees were so I did a google search and came across a local blog called the ‘Urban Huntress’ http://www.urbanhuntress.com/resources/foraging/ which is about foraging for food in Vancouver. There was a reference to an international ‘falling fruit’ map ( http://fallingfruit.org ) which showed me the location of a variety of trees including 2 Black Walnut trees just down the road from me.  I was so excited…unfortunately, the map is not completely accurate as it turned out that the said trees were Chestnut trees. Wah.

However, the notion that if you put an idea out there in the world and it will happen for you came true, lo and behold a client of my partner David happened to mention her black walnut tree in Kelowna! He alerted her to my wish and she just happened to be coming down to Vancouver and today I received my black walnut husks along with a bag of delicious roasted walnuts. Now that’s serendipity.

Walnut Tree

My walnut tree source – near a lake in Kelowna

Walnut pic

Detail of my source – walnuts enclosed in their green husks – popping out all over

Ok, must get to work processing my found walnut bounty some of which I will air dry for future use over the dark days of winter. My plan is to immediately dye linen, cotton and silk fabric that has been prepared both with and without a mordant. The advantage of walnut dye is that it is known for being colour and lightfast with or without a mordant – but typically using a mordant (like alum) will make the colour richer and more saturated. In my case I will be using the HUSKS only that were collected a few days ago which are already oozing and gooey so it will be interesting to see the results which I will publish in a separate post. M.U.S.T. remember to wear gloves!

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Some draping images showing the work I did this week – silk jersey and silk organza fabric eco dyed in an onion skin dye bath (with rust). The plant materials used from my urban dye garden were eucalyptus leaves, purple sage leaves, cosmos flower blossoms and wild geranium. The dominant print motif is from the eucalyptus leaves which turned out a lovely purple colour in my dye bath.

2013-10-15 17.41.47 2013-10-15 17.54.29 2013-10-15 15.09.46 2013-10-15 17.49.12 2013-10-15 15.17.06 2013-10-15 15.21.00 2013-10-15 13.59.43At a recent workshop with Nicola Brown a group of us created nuno felted wearables. Nuno felting is a wet felting technique where you incorporate unspun wool into a piece of silk fabric. It produces a lovely airy and light fabric if done right! Besides being re-inspired to try my hand at nuno felting thanks to Nicola’s expertise,  (I had been introduced to nuno felting during my Capilano University Textile Arts days), the workshop was a great reminder that onion skins are a gratifying and reliable natural dye. Particularly in combination with rust.  And particularly on the natural fibres of wool and silk. Other than a bit of a vinegar soak – no pre-mordanting (preparing the fabric to accept the dye colour) is required.

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Nuno Felted length (silk & wool) – eco printed with tea, eucalyptus leaves and buds using onion/rust dye bath from Nicola Brown’s workshop

After my past few months of a lot of experimentation with different natural plant materials from my urban dye garden – some successful and some not – it was wonderful to get back to basics using the onion skins in the dye pot. Not only do the onion skins produce a lovely chocolate brown dye (when combined with rust) you are also assured that the dye on the fabric is resistant to fading because of the substantive qualities of onion skin.

Thanks for the great technical learning experience and the inspiration to get back to it Nicola!  http://clasheen.wordpress.com Can’t wait to try some more nuno felting.

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Super felt and prints at the second Vancouver workshop!.

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Crazy symmetrical pattern left on the dupioni silk yardage - from the rusty rebar and plant resists. This pattern repeats down both edge lengths of the fabric.

Crazy symmetrical pattern left on the dupioni silk yardage – from the rusty rebar and plant resists. This pattern repeats down both edge lengths of the fabric.

Some images from my latest August dye batches. I used a selection of botanticals from the garden including my muse – the fennel. The plant material was laid out on the fabrics that had been previously dyed with natural dyes and indigo (silk dupioni, silk chiffon, cotton mull) then securely rolled and wrapped around rusty rebar from my rust stash… tied very tightly with a very strong cotton yarn I save for shibori work.

Some previously dyed fabrics that needed over dyeing to add interest

Some previously dyed natural fabrics that needed over dyeing to add interest (silks and cottons)

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Dupioni silk – oyster coloured – mordanted with alum – Catnip  & rusty rebar resist


Fennel resist – placed on silk and tightly bound prior to dye bath

I used last year’s freezer stash of dahlia blossoms – with an addition of one huge fresh dahlia blossom from this year…brought to a simmer and placed my wrapped and secured bundles into the dye pot. I simmered for 1 hour then let cool and sit for 4 days. Because I used rusty rebar in all the wraps as well as a shibori dye resist (two rusty squares) – the dye left a rich dark brown on the cotton mull – verging towards black on the silks. The rust definitely produces a deeper colour effect the longer you leave it. The silks were undamaged (you have to be cautious using rust as it can stress natural fibres) but one section of the cotton mull had a couple of holes which I think was more in how I unwrapped the package. Imprints from the plants were left in varying colours even some red spots!

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relatively clean imprint left by the fennel resist – on silk chiffon

Bundles from dahlia dye bath. Prior to unwrapping

Bundles from dahlia dye bath. Prior to unwrapping

Some people are concerned about the mold that forms (depending on how long the bundles are left to cure) but mold is also a legitimate mordant that helps bind the colour to the fabric. Safety first though. I always wear my mask when unwrapping and rinsing and my lovely dog Biscuit (miniature poodle) is out of harms way. With these fabrics (as in all my dyeing work) I unwrap and hand rinse first using Synthrapol soap. With these fabrics most of which were large pieces of fabric (yardage) I also soaked them for a 1/2 day in salted water to neutralize the rust, then washed in the washing machine with Ivory snow. The fabric still retains a lovely botanical smell or if you wanna be fancy- a scent.

Sage leaves (purple sage) left imprints in different colours including this bright yellow on silk

Sage leaves (purple sage) left imprints in different colours including this bright yellow on silk

Cotton mull previously arashi shibori with blue indigo - overdyed in dahlia dye batch with a rusty square resist

Cotton mull previously arashi shibori (angled blue indigo stripes) – which was then overdyed in fresh dahlia dye batch using an acrylic square as the resist  (left original white repetitive squares like the middle one in the image), then finally overdyed in dahlia dye batch with a rusty square resist with a hole in the middle – which left the stronger repeated squares. Need to use this yardage!

This image shows off the fine quality of cotton mull fabric - you can see the garden behind it. It's lovely and drapey.

This image shows off the fine quality of cotton mull fabric – you can see the garden behind it. It’s lovely and drapey.

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Spending some time this summer with my Compost Dress that I started a couple of years ago in my first year of the Textile Arts Program at Capilano University.

Metal and polyester thread i.d. (composting process left it pristine compared to the natural cotton fabric)

Metal and polyester thread i.d. on the bodice of the dress. After 3 weeks in the compost bin the synthetic embroidery was pristine compared to the natural cotton fabric.

This piece is not just an exercise in textile design using botanical dyeing, printing, construction, and hand stitching – but a commitment to process and dreaming (and I guess delaying) as it’s taken me a couple of years to get to this point with it – but my intention has been renewed.

I have been hand embroidering small pieces of fairly richly coloured silks, linens and cotton fabrics in the holes that were left from the composting.  These small pieces were in my stash from my days at Capilano University when we learned the low temperature immersion dyeing techniques using ‘Procion’ dye. The Procion colours are a good contrast to the natural muted colours and patterns left on the cotton from the botantical dyes and composting creatures.

Adding some flower motifs with flower pounding - in situ at my community garden - a great outdoor studio for creating.

Adding some flower motifs with flower pounding – in situ at my community garden – a great outdoor studio for creating.

Detail - flower pounded Johnny Jump Up

Detail – flower pounded Johnny Jump Up beside maroon procion silk embroidered with running stitch in yellow silk thread

Flower pounding is such a simple process and completely addictive. The johnny jump ups give an very clean imprint on the fabric – even down to the little center stamens – clear as the fresh flower.

plain undyed cotton hooped dress - prior to composting

original plain undyed cotton hooped dress – prior to composting. I had constructed it as an experiment in format – to use for a Surface Design dyeing project in university

dress being bundled with Lady's Mantle (alchemilla mollis)...

dress being bundled with Lady’s Mantle (alchemilla mollis)…spring of 2011

...into the compost bin for just over 3 weeks

…into the compost bin for just over 3 weeks


Out of the compost bin – prior to rinsing

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Detail of one of the patterns marked on the fabric

Johnny Jump Up waiting to be plucked for pounding

Johnny Jump Up waiting to be plucked for pounding

Further silk embroidery and additions of rust printing (with found rusted objects) and a natural kozo fibre under bustier from the paper mulberry tree are being planned to add another dimension to the dress.

Flower pounding a.k.a. therapy

Flower pounding a.k.a. therapy

My grand idea with this piece is to convey life’s fragility – that repairing can be beautiful if one accepts it. The composting process imparts random motifs and tears onto the fabric which I appreciate – unexpected beauty. The format of the hooped dress is one that I like to work with it because it shows the fabric off well and is iconically feminine.  There is a connection with the viewer that it could be worn but it’s much too delicate to actually be worn.

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Cornflowers & rust

Along with dye experiments using plants and flowers from my garden – my other obsession is keeping an eye open for interesting rusty things. I have always loved the colour, variation and textures of rust but never before thought about it’s possibilities on fabric until I was in my textile course. I’m still in the neophyte stage of my rust printing but it seems to me that it always works. I think the patina and sense of history is what has always appealed to me about rust…the notion that texture, imperfection and patina acquired over time (naturally) is beautiful. Both in objects, fabric and especially in people! (This blog is a Botox-free zone).

Biscuit on the beach helping me collect rust

It is amazing how many interesting rusty things I’m finding (and not necessarily taking) by setting an intention – lovely rusty crusty things wherever I go! I was lucky enough to be at Robert’s Creek recently and I found some interesting pieces on the beach. Just today down at my local beach walking the dog, I said to myself, “I know there is a piece of rust here for me” and at the very last minute lo and behold there was a perfect rather large pipe peeking out at me by the steps up from the beach – which I managed to lug home. It will be perfect for wrapping yardage. It’s super crusty – salty beach rust is the best. Here in Vancouver some of us natural dyers have started up a group meeting – and it must have been good rust karma because on my way home in the summer evening light I spotted a lovely rusted gate on the “freebie corner” in my neighbourhood…that I managed to heft into my car! My partner was thrilled with my new acquisition – ha ha. It’s living on the deck right now waiting to be used.

Rusty Garden Angel – this was a gift from my Mom many years ago – it is in my garden next to a bench I put in the garden in memory of my Mom. I can’t always explain in words why rust is so appealing and comforting.

The rusty rebar wrapping I’m doing is working out really well – and it’s nice to know that this particular rusty implement is readily available from my local construction crews and sometimes even washed up on the beach. So far I have wrapped bundles using the rebar with sage, fern, allium, peony and rose petals with alum mordanted fabric. You don’t have to mordant for rust, but I’m trying out a bunch of different combo’s. Not to state the obvious, but the iron rust acts as a mordant as well…

Eco wrap using rusty rebar, peony & rose blossoms

Fabric that has been rusted with rebar – rolled up purple sage & red hollyhock – I pretty happy with the clarity of the prints. Magic.

I’m wondering if it’s going too far to cut out the gorgeous rusty bedsprings from the mattress that someone has left out in the alleyway behind my apartment? I think they would make a great print as well as good for shibori binding. I just need to buy some wire cutters! (Update) Since I drafted this blog I got some wire cutters and now I have a lovely collection of rusted springs to use.

Rusty bed springs in situ

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