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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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?




building parts

Above, the first section completed. You can see the big difference on that worked section that the iron post modification made on the clear red of the original madder. (Post mod was done before stitching with quebracho rojo, cochineal and madder on silk and cotton threads.)

While i want the next section i’m working on to be a truer red, i want some nuance as well to riff the threads off. I tried post mods of soda ash, titanium oxolate and copper.

The soda ash dulled the red, the TO made it slightly orangey, and the copper, while darker and similar to the iron used before, is more what i wanted.

Though the lines are “obvious”, the threads chosen will soften the harder edges. Three shades of madder on cotton, silk and cotton, and a sandalwood on cotton should start me nicely.

I do have yet to decide which stitches i will use. I don’t want it as tightly massed as the finished section, but not really “open” and loose either.

Back to my Stitchionary for perusal and tests.

my drawers will never be empty (book review):The Art and Science of Natural Dyes

JUST when i had got all my dye stuff and tools and pots back down to the Dye Dungeon, this arrived in the mail ๐Ÿ™‚ I pre-ordered this last July, the moment i heard it was finished, and have been anxiously waiting for it. I pretty much snatched it out of the postman’s hands!

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments and Resultsย  โ€“ Catherine Ellis and Joy Boutrup

I’ve already had 3 “AHA” moments, and i’m only half way through. It’s not a book you read once and then sporadically refer to, so fortunately, it’s also spiral bound so it stays open to the page you want. (Terrific, now i have to dig my book/magazine holder back out of the “donate” box….)

It’s not so sciencey that it can’t be understood, but it’s also not a skim it and do it manual. It covers the “classic” dyes, none of the usual beets, beans and berries nonsense, so don’t bother if you’re interested only in sauteing up some food waste, throwing in a cute baby onesie and staging artful photos for IG. If you’re serious about natural dyeing, and i don’t mean Total Scientist Mode but are a dedicated hobbyist/artist/small business owner, this is the book to explain WHY things work/don’t/happen. I still recommend Jenny Dean for basic, accurate dye recipes and processes, but this one will give you insights into the many variations that can and are encouraged to happen with skillful, knowledgeable hands.

There’s a small section on testing the dye potential of local foraged plants, minimal though helpful, but not the focus of the book. That being said, those tests could lead to work with those plants, following the advice for the classics. It’s all grist for the colour mill!

I’m not about to dissect any “recipe” in this reference manual: A.ย  buy the book, i don’t like spreading out the photos of pages i find interesting, as i’d rather you support the authors, and their research and B. the recipes are classic anyways, BUT with much new information that can be digested fully with the book in front of you ๐Ÿ™‚

There’s a LOT of excitement about this book in the natural dye groups, and rightly so: it also supports all the things i, and others, have said about what constitutes solid, legitimate dyes and the techniques used to create these wondrous rainbows. I have to laugh though in one sense, because i just know that the new catchphrase is going to be “Welllll, Boutrup Ellis says……..” This book should be MANDATORY reading for anyone who goes near a natural dye pot.

It’s not a cheap book, but then it’s not a cheap book, like so many of the Popular girls are publishing right now. I’m about to settle in with another cup of coffee and a pack of stickit thingies to mark pages, and do a little dreaming and planning.

Edit: After 1000’s of hits to this blog post, it occurred to me that there really should be a link here to the book! Beware though–already some are claiming it in their “used but good condition” racks at two and three times the price!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

EDIT: Feb 9/18WHOA! “#1 best seller” in dyes at Amazon, sold out of a lot of places, and the bloodsuckers have moved in with their jacked up prices because they bought several copies deliberately to re-sell. Good for the authors, not so much for the buyers!

working up some courage

Natural dyes and silk velvet have an affinity for each other, like a love poem whispered into a breeze, like feather soft caresses, cool water on hot naked skin, sensual and earthy, sharing the privacy of deep emotion and quiet solitude.

I’ve always had a secret love affair with velvet, coveting the “lavender panne velvet pant” described in a 1972 Vogue magazine ( i was all of 15 years old and it was certainly not either in my world of farm town, or in my 60cents an hour babysitting budget…) , but never really comfortable wearing any as i got older, feeling slightly fraudulent and as if i was demanding attention i didn’t deserve. But oh the slither of it, the voluptuous animalistic tactility, in the hand, on the back of the neck, under the legs…………

Ahem. Mystery and imagination, in deed, and in thought! Sometimes it’s sexy, too often it’s overblown and tawdry—what’s the expression? “Mutton dressed as lamb”?

Down to earth now. It’s also A BITCH to sew, by hand or by machine, so i’ve stayed far away from it, though once in awhile i pull out a chunk of rayon velvet i dyed some 25 years ago, when all i knew about was Rit. Odd bits of it have shown up in wearable art i made in the 90’s, some Hoodoo work when we first moved to Calgary and i was so enamoured of the spectacular rock formations in and near Drumheller, a few Christmas bits, but nothing really serious.

BUT, these from the last 4 days:

HOW could i not try again?

EDIT: Nov 21, i forgot to mention this is primarily using Quebracho Rojo extract (with the exception of the 2 greys/greygreens which are on osage), and are mordanted and modified with a few different processes. So all these colours from 2 dyes, and 5 mordants/modifiers!!!!!!!!

Now to dig through old sketchbooks.


feeling in the pink….and purple

Now that i have a good stock of green threads from the osage and indigo work, it’s time to add some pinks and purples! Not talking about wishy washy, not talking about raspberries, beets, beans or any other silliness i see on too many blogs who haven’t the sense of a sack of potatoes ๐Ÿ™‚

I did get a wonderful hot pink from madder by accidentally boiling over a pot of madder (considered a VERY VERY BAD BAD as madder shouldn’t go above a certain temp or you just get browns), some useful colour variations from cochineal in the pink to purple range, and a very deep purple with logwood. Cochineal however kind of puts me off now because i worry about Ph shifts–and some Ph shifts WASH OUT with an ordinary tap water rinse!!!!!!!!!!!– and i fret too about the lightfastness of logwood, because unless it’s got a lot of iron in the mix (which can damage fibres…), i’ve seen a noticeable change in the depth of colour within months of dyeing. (I do wonder too about the current craze for it in ecoprinting: are these people going to have a shock somewhere in the next few months/year with dramatic colour shifting or fade??) So………………. my next experiments/tests/results are from a type of tannin in the “catechic” range, more red-browns that the clear “gallic” or yellow “elegic” types. Tannins are an important part of premordanting fibres, especially cellulose which doesn’t work well with just alum, but very well with a tannin first, then the alum. Some tannins are also used as dyes by themselves, notably in the elegic and catechic types.

This tannin/dye IS more expensive, but i now am comfortable spending the money to get the best results. There’s no point in cheaping out with some things: it’s a waste of time, effort and resources, from water to electricity to containers and materials used, something i am very conscious off, having been raised quite frugally and with much common sense ๐Ÿ™‚

When i threw the Quebracho Rojo in the pot, i first screamed (silently, as Greyman was napping). The colour was PHENOMENAL. However, that silent scream was from my excitable take it at face value 9 year old child self: my rational XX+ self reminded me that what you see in a dye pot is NOT necessarily what you get from a dye pot, asย  i swear they deliberately skull xxxk with you. Ahem.

Looks fab, ay?

Wet, ooo ooo oooo:

Above, rinsed, barely any wash out!

Dry, bearing in mind that colours can dry 20-70% lighter with ANY colourant, natural OR synthetic:

See what i mean by dye pot deception? Respectable colour, but not terribly excitingly scream worthy. Now mind you, the cottons that are paler pink were unmordanted, the darker cotton premordanted with tannin and alum. The silk habotai and silk velvet were also unmordanted, but because QR is a tannin as i mentioned, i figured “let’s try it as a tannin first”. Interesting too that most sources says it’s best on cellulose, “but performs well on silk and wool”, since obviously both silks did better……………………

The next phase of natural dye colour work is post mordant/post modify (though you can do these first, i don’t because i don’t want that active stew in the mix all in one pot.) Now this a is a nice range of colours!!!

Guess what though? I forgot to put any threads in, so now i have to go wind some skeins, scour ’em, then premordant some…………..


PS you can still click on the photos for enlargement, but you can no longer comment on them–i had to shut that off due to the number of STOOPID ASSHAT SPAMMERS.

in a nutshell

So, what do you do with something you’ve stared at for 2+ years, and then cut up?

Throw it in a dyepot. Because if it’s no longer “precious”, you might as well go the full “wtf, why not?” route.

With natural dyes, it’s predictable that if there’s already iron present on the fabric, it’s going to darken and sadden colours. However, with the unmeasurable concentrations of iron used in rusting cloth, there’s no predictability about the shade or depth. Add to the stew, the fact that these pieces were already lined with cotton flannellette, my favourite stabilizer and crunchtexture “additive”, the dyes uptake was even more capricious. And note too: i did not premordant other than using the iron already on the cloth–if i had thought a bit longer, i could have might have done an alum acetate soak to see if the colours grabbed more, but it’s not a big whoopee bad because i didn’t.

I had thrown the figure itself in an osage bath, and was not happy with the resultant boring tan she became. Admittedly, the osage bath was on its last legs, having been used multiple times, but wow, there was a lot more iron on her than i had suspected. After the fabric had been made during the residency, i immediately washed it in hot water and some synthrapol and baking soda, as i do all of my rusted fabrics, removing stray particles, but this really shows how much the rust/iron had penetrated. Invisible to the eye, but not to chemistry! There are many arguments about how to actually “neutralize” the rust, by many different camps of dyers, but this has been the one that works best for me. AND NO, SALT DOES NOT WORK: does your car STOP rusting in the winter when you get road salt on it????? I dunno where that logic came from….idjits.

So i threw her in a pot of madder and sandalwood (using up two old dyebaths). I’ll have to work around the stocking appearance of her from the thigh down though! The other chunks were also cooked in the madder/sandalwood: the largest piece had been randomly and quickly dipped into indigo first, with the hope i’d get some purples. The wings apparently had the most iron on them, but i really like the effect it had on the madder, strong. NOW she’s singing!

Here’s the comparison, before and after:

Fortuitously, the indigo features centred and right above her head, a serendipitous effect.

While these are not the best examples of these dyes, and certainly not the best way to do things (no premordants other than the residual iron), i’m actually quite pleased with the results. She looks muddier, dirty, earthy, but given that Fall is all those things, and that her name is “Samara”, implying dried seeds, leaves changing and falling, the end of Summer and the return to the earth, that is more important, and actually there are some “pretty” areas.

Sometimes “wtf, why not?” is worth the effort.

When i see my thread choices (also naturally dyed) with her, i think the results will be perfect.

Now………..i have to figure out how to use those threads appropriately for this. As beautiful as the dimunitive leaves and flowers have been on the recent moons, those tiny motifs are not going to cut it for this. I need stronger, scaled up structures/objects/designs. Perhaps it’s time to resurrect the FrankenStitch approach.

foraging, part 2

Mysterious chemistry ๐Ÿ™‚ These are the oak leaf results.

Quite chocolate coloured on its own!!! I’m sure the first extraction, the first thread in the photo below, proves that more WOF is needed, as i’d love to get that ON fabric or threads! Even though the pot was positively solid with the leaves, i’ll do extraction by soaking/simmering for two days, then remove and add new/more leaves and repeat the process.

Oddly the UNmordanted silk took the colour better, whereas the uptake on previously mordanted cotton was expected.

I have also discovered that my thread skeins from this batch were looped too tightly to either be scoured properly, or mordanted thoroughly, hence the “variegation”–even though i loop quite loosely, it still had an effect. (lesson learned there: DON’T loop)

The colours are softly pretty but not terribly exciting, however they are good base colours for overdyeing, and are obviously *all* mordanted now, as that’s what oak does ๐Ÿ™‚ I still have to do post mods to see what colour changes i can get (nothing earth shattering expected), but it *is* good to see what colours one can forage locally.

I’ll still collect more of the oak leaves as they are plentiful and falling anyways. And no one else uses them, just bags them up and sends them to the city compost facility! Also on the list is Cottonwood (a poplar species), very prevalent in my neighbourhood.