A month ago I achieved some extremely good natural dyeing results on paper. I confess that I like the paper outcomes more than fabric. Perhaps it’s just that my focus is very paper based currently, or maybe it is that I’m finding a real liking for working more with this medium. Regardless, I have been eager to experiment with plant material not tried before.
A few friends came over for a day, bringing with them a whole range of foliage and flowers not available around my area. Bark oozing red resin was exciting and we wrapped fabric around lumps of it, tying tightly with string. Huge Western Australian gumnuts were a treat and were donated by someones neighbour. We tied them into fabric, as you would with marbles.
Freshly picked that morning were quite a few small deep red, yellow and purple flowers. We also had an array of leaves, fronds and berries – not a weed in sight this time.
Magnificent colours came through, especially from the maple leaves which gave us stunning purples. Small purple flower heads gave us brilliant turquoise. The various leaves supplied a range of greens from lime to teal and other flowers resulted in pinks and yellows.
We boiled three pots: eucalyptus leaves with a mix of iron and copper sulphate, banksia leaves with copper sulphate and bottlebrush leaves with iron sulphate. I’ve pretty much abandoned using alum as a mordant because it lightens the colours so much it doesn’t seem worth the effort.
24 hours later I decided to re-dye one of my previous failures from some time ago. I reboiled the eucalyptus pot and dropped my tied paper ‘sandwich’ in for an hour.
The top picture shows the failure from before. The bottom picture shows the after-dyed results. Barely a colour in sight. Why is it so different from the pieces from the first day? Well, I’m no plant expert – neither am I a chemistry major – but my guess is that it wasn’t the fault of the reboiled pot (although that may have contributed). Some of the plants had been picked up to 48 hours by the time I used them for this series. The flowers were wilted, much of the large leaves were already drying out despite being in water and other foliage was curling at the edges.
I’ve read a bit about natural dyeing. Some say pick plant material after rain because it will be plump and full of chlorophyll (the chemical that creates the green colour mainly in spring and summer), whilst others advise avoiding picking leaves after rain because it dilutes the intensity of the chlorophyll. ?????
Briefly: When it rains, depending on the time of year, there is still often quite strong sunlight – especially in Australia – and chlorophyll is at its height in leaves. This causes photosynthesis to occur, transforming energy from sunlight into sugars and starches which is used to feed the whole tree. During different periods of the year the leaves react in a predictable manner. As winter approaches and sunlight hours reduce chlorophyll diminishes and the leaves change colour due to other chemicals stored within them. The sugars and starches transfer from the leaves to the trees themselves and are used to sustain its main body. A seal is formed between the tree branches and each individual leaf enabling the leaves to drop and the tree to protect its food cache and keep out the cold weather.
So we need both rain and sun to produce the chemicals in leaves that leach out during the natural dyeing process. Even if the chlorophyll is at a lesser level there are other chemicals (carotenoids and often anthocyanins) which are constantly there, but masked by the amount of chlorophyll in summer months, which will come to the fore later in the year and produce some colour transfer onto paper and cloth. Hence the reason natural dyeing is such a variable exercise.
……. but always fun and exciting.