more lightfastness notes

Made in 2013, “The Difference Between A Plum” has travelled a lot of places, without due care as to light conditions. It’s been in well lit galleries, dim areas, fluorescent light, daylight and gawdz knows where else as it made the rounds to various shows. While it’s hard to “match” photos for colour truth, i think these are both very true to the colour it was when made, and the colour it is now.

Iron was integral here as a mordant. Iron deepens and “saddens” colours, can shift to deep purples, blues, garnet, greens, greys and browns, depending on the dye used. (In this case, brazilwood.) It can weaken fibres as well, if the concentration (know as WOF, or weight of fibre ratio to mordant/dye) is too high. I’m pleased to say the fabric still seems quite strong, despite the heavier rust concentrations, though of course, i’m not swinging from the chandelier to test the fact πŸ™‚

Brazilwood is NOT a good dye for lightfastness, though it holds up well to wash fast tests. (Great, you can only wear it in the dark, and wash it in dim light….) BUT surprisingly, this piece is not that different from when i made it six years ago.

Left, the original photo taken in 2013, right the photo taken today:

brazilwood lightfastness after 6 years

detail of “The Difference Between a Plum” 2013, 6 years later

It is noticeable, and yes, 6 years is not that long, BUT i’m still quite happy about the effect time has had on it.

I definitely wouldn’t advise this for clothing that would be worn a lot, or an art piece in a very bright room, but as an artpiece, the evolving colour change is interesting. I wonder how much lighter it will be in another 6 years, or is there a point where residual colour stays?




blobbing along

Whew, Mothers Day WEEK is over. If you’re in the plants and floral industry, it ain’t just one day that ya bust yer ass for!

I managed to finish, except for turning the edges, the second piece (#5).

The leaf really rises above the surface, due to the tension of the stitch, so i’m going to pad it out more to keep that dimension.

Now i’m onto another, the #7, though not the 7th piece i’ve worked on. πŸ™‚

I used a copper modifier again, as this is to be “similar” to #5, and added a few circles this time. They are barely readable in the photo above, but will be worked with/around and more evident when the stitching is done.

The “plan”:

#1 was done first.

The piecing of the diamonds is sometimes frustrating as i get them sewn backwards, sideways and upside down, and have to take them apart or start all over! The stitching is mindless/”mindful”, something i can easily do during tubage, slow moments or waiting for laundry to dry, ha. All the other pieces are very small, so i might NOT piece diamonds for them, or i may go full tilt and make tinier diamonds…….

The “biggest”, most intense part of the project is actually the Crone, the most important component of all, and then the final stitching of spirals over the blobs, and on the background. She is smaller than figures i’ve worked this way before, and i’m hoping the delicacy won’t be an issue. So technically, i’m further along than i thought.

Next time i do a piece like this, all the diamond blobs will be pieced first, so i can switch amongst them to keep the flow going, rather than cut one, piece one, stitch one…………

Crone progress

Still working on this, albeit very very slowly! Obviously the redder piece is going to need a bigger turn under (or trim) than i thought.

The “loosely based on a eucalyptus” leaf didn’t sing toΒ  me, until i added the copper mix beads:

Today should enable finishing the few remaining areas in the diamonds.

The rest of the week will see little studio or stitch corner work done: it’s Mother’s Day week at the ffffFlower Mines, and already i’m tired!


Colour, texture, what’s not to love about these? More of the 34 year old madder results (60+ year old nylon lace, degummed silk, silk/rayon blend velvet, cotton eyelet) β£οΈπŸ’•πŸ’žπŸ’“πŸ’—πŸ’–πŸ’˜πŸ’β€οΈ

how to do a lightfast test for natural dyes

Firstly, a good natural dye book *will* address this. Secondly, this is a step i see all too often either glossed over or completely ignored, sometimes appearing as “buy my PLANTDYED fabric NOW, so i don’t have to prove it’s fastness, because if it fades, it’s probably your fault because you didn’t take care of it properly”.

Firstly, this is a step i see all too often either glossed over or completely ignored, sometimes appearing as “buy my PLANTDYED fabric NOW, so i don’t have to prove it’s fastness, because if it fades, it’s probably your fault because you didn’t take care of it properly”. Secondly, a good natural dye book *will* address this.

Both statements are firstly……

There’s nothing complicated about a lightfast test, so either people don’t know about it, or they choose to ignore it. All it requires is some cardboard or heavy paper, a couple of clips, and your yarn/thread/fabric, a window, and some patience.

A couple winds of thread or yarn, or a 4×4″ piece of fabric is all that’s needed to do this. Cover half with the cardboard or paper so it’s enclosed and clip it so it’s tight. Put in a very bright window. Wait. Wait some more. Leave it for at LEAST a month. Go do whatever else it is you do, but DON’T commit that larger stretch of yarn/thread, or cloth to any project, or sell it.

After a month, unclip it. What’s happened? Here’s hollyhock bloom dyed yarn after a month :

There’s a VERY distinct line where the cardboard covered it. All of my blooms went into the compost. I overdyed this in indigo and while the shade may eventually change *because* of the underlying hollyhock hue, i’m okay with that in work i keep for myself, or to use as stitch samples.

I have a big thick natural dye journal that i started in 2010 at the beginning of this journey. Yesterday i was looking through it and found the photo on the left taken at the time of the tests of alum mordanted fibres and hollyhock, hibiscus and marigold, and compared it to a 9 year stint in the journal, completely covered, and look at the difference. Even the vaunted marigold flower has faded.

Though i am happy to use marigold, dyer’s chamomile and coreopsis, they will stay in my studio, as this proves to *me* that flowers just don’t have enough strong dye compounds to be useful for long term work. I will never again use flowers like hibiscus, hollyhock or any others that have anthocyanins in them, as the beautiful reds, blues and purples they share, are shared only briefly. EDIT: Since people are getting argumentative about the hollyhock (!!!), see the expert’s opinion here, last paragraph.

Another hibiscus sample below, stored in a drawer for 3 years:

Below, annatto, the folded over top section the area that was exposed to light for a month:

Not as bad a change, but still obvious. Again, i’ll use as a base, or keep in the studio for personal use.

Some natural dyes last better than others, notably madder, indigo and weld, the “grand teint” dyes. “Petit teint” dyes are most of the others including brazilwood, logwood, fustic, cochineal, sandalwood, cutch, lac etc, ie dyes that are sold by reputable dealers. Tannin rich dyes will eventually oxidize–and that includes avocado–to browns, beiges and mud. Iron will *improve* lightfastness, but does not make anything truly permanent.

Below, a FB friend’s results of lightfastness of avocado:

Left, the first result of avocado dyeing, right is after a lightfastness test.Β  You can see the darkening of the tannin as it “ages”, even after covering, and to the right in the right photo πŸ™‚ , the lightening of the colour as it is exposed to sun. Ximena lives in South America, and has access to local lore and plant materials that are indigenous to the continent. We’re shared much information about avocados, tannin use, and “true” dyes, with both of us pointing the way to more scholarly papers, something that either people don’t know about, or don’t care enough about to go so far with research, which is sad because we live in such an information rich world now!

Note: Carol Lee, the one who got deep reds from avocado, has said that even after storage for 10 years, her reds turned to brown, proving avocado colours are tannin only, not a true dye for reds and pinks. The tannin oxidized even away from light.

NOTHING FIXES FUGITIVE, so forget the flowers, and food waste unless you’re happy with “play silks” for the kids, or things for personal use that you can re-dye. Please, don’t sell these. All of this is not to say don’t play, BUT please be aware of longevity and the final use of the finished “product”. Again, i say don’t sell fugitive dyed fabrics and yarns.

I still intend to continue experimenting (playing? πŸ™‚ ) with locally foraged dyes, but now armed with a section from the Boutrup/Ellis book, i know what to look for in these forays. Admittedly, early peoples, and settlers to this continent discovered certain plants dyed well enough for their end use, so we’ll go with that. Accurate scouring, mordanting, possible post mordanting and/or modifying, light fast and wash fast tests DO make things last better.

What it all boils down to is: whenever you are trying a plant material for a natural dye, and can find no information on it as to whether or not it works, do a lightfast test.

Alberta dye garden woes

While you are all posting pictures of fields of buttercups, gardens of woad, and the leaves and flowers you picked on a walk, i am worrying about the madder i uncovered last week. This is what i woke up to this morning in Calgary!

It was a horrendous night: flickering lights, eddies of swirling 90K driven snow devils around the house, no visibility, and the DogFaced Girl sounding like a Dire Wolf (reacting to fire truck sirens, because of course, though snow happens EVERY year in Alberta, 90% of drivers forget how to drive in it….). So, we battened down the hatches, piled onto the couch with the last beer to share, some snacks and continued our binge watching of GoT. Typical Alberta winter survival mode πŸ™‚

This madder has survived two of our usual harsh winters, by being heeled into the garden in its pot, but i’m concerned any new growth may be damaged this time. Previous years, there was no snow after the uncovering!

Since madder is a “crop” that doesn’t get harvested until it’s third year, i’m hoping too that the roots have survived, as this is the summer i’m supposed to start using it. I have three scraggly little plants inside, cuttings in the fall from the mother plant that took root, but having to wait another three years for them? POOP.

And of course, several days previous to this, i had noticed tiny leaves popping up from the dyer’s chamomile in the back40………

HOOFIES CROSSED that all survive!!!!!!!!!!!!!!