Exploring Plant Dyes
I’ve always been concerned about the way that I weave affects the environment, in particular the way that I dye yarn. I even wrote my thesis about it at college! I was taught to use acid and reactive dyes at college and I’ve always been happy with the way that I calculated the amount of chemical I needed down to the last 000.1%. There’s no casual shaking of the dye stuff over my dye bath! I usually end up with a clear dyebath, which is very satisfying. Well, I do for acid dyes on wool, reactive dyes on hemp is quite another matter. So much colour can’t be absorbed by the yarn and ends up being washed down the drain. Not very pleasing at all. So I have re-visited my research into plant dyes and found that I’m quite out of date. I’ve attended a couple of excellent natural dye workshops with Jane Deane on Dartmoor and I’m bravely having a go myself!
It is a completely different world, I keep trying to apply my knowledge of chemical dyeing to plant dyes and it just doesn’t work. In the world of acid dyes, you mix a, then b, occasionally c in the dye bath, add the wool, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Job done. Plant dyes require more of a discerning eye. Some like to be boiled, some don’t. Some colours can be made stronger by leaving the yarn in the dye bath for 24 hours, some it makes no difference. And as for the fructose reduction indigo vat – I feel I should be chanting at midnight, while stirring in a clockwise direction! While I am out of my comfort zone, the learning is hugely enjoyable and I’m itching to know more. I’m already wondering what plants I can grow in my allotment that will give me sufficient quantities of colour.
All this colour is going into a collection of table runners and place mats. And I will confess that I wanted them ready for The Contemporary Craft Festival next week, but life has a way of throwing you off track doesn’t it? (Life is what happens, when you’re busy making plans, that’s the saying isn’t it?) I’m quite frustrated and disappointed with myself, but I know I made the right decisions at the right times, regarding how I divide my time. This does, however present an opportunity for visitors to this fabulous show to choose their own colour combination for a very personal table runner design. I used madder, lac, indigo and pomegranate as my dyes, then mixed and over dyed the yarn to create a wider palette of colours. You could choose the length of runner to suit your table and which colour you’d like to see most of and at what points in the design. I don’t work this way very often, so do visit me at the show (stand A13) and I’ll happily chat about my adventures in plant dyeing, the challenges and rewards of working with hemp and the inspiration behind the design.