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Plant Dyeing in the Cotswolds

09.Jul.15

A while ago I travelled to the Cotswolds to learn to dye fabrics with plants! 

Surrounded by the most stunning countryside and in the most wonderful warm weather I learnt the different techniques in achieving a whole rainbow of colours using only plants and an alum mordant.


Fabrics and wool waiting to be boiled in the Alum solution which will fix the colours. This is called the Mordant. In plant dying the mordanting is done BEFORE the pigment is applied

The fabric is weighed to ensure the correct amount of mordant is used
The fabric is weighed to ensure the correct amount of mordant is used. In this case the mordant consists of Alum and Bicarbonate of soda

Fabrics soaking in the Alum/Bicarb mordant. They will simmer for an hour
Fabrics soaking in the Alum/Bicarb mordant. They will simmer for an hour

We love that they have an Aloe Vera plant for burns
We love that they have an Aloe Vera plant for burns!

Meanwhile we set about picking Dyer's Camomile which is growing outside the dye-room The first dye we used was Dyers Chamomile. These were some which had been picked and dried earlier
Meanwhile we set about picking Dyer's Camomile which is growing outside the dye-room

The first dye we used was Dyers Chamomile. These were some which had been picked and dried earlier. We mixed it with Tumeric and 
The first dye we used was Dyers Chamomile, using some which had been picked and dried earlier. We mixed it with Tumeric and it turned the fabric a wonderfully vibrant lemon yellow! This is a piece of Silk Chiffon

We hung the pieces to dry in the sun together with the Dyers Chamomile
We hung the pieces to dry in the sun together with the Dyers Chamomile

 


Dyers Alkanet in the Plant dying book. We used Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes, by Jenny Dean


Making notes of the correct rations for an Alum Mordant 


The Alkanet was a bit disappointing. It was supposed to go pink or purple, but it went a light beige 

Dying with Brazil Wood is the heartwood of an amazonian tree and. Since this trip, Brazil Wood has become a protected entity so we would never consider using it again

Brazil Wood and Turmeric on 100% Silk Jersey


Brazil Wood and Turmeric on 100% Silk Chiffon

From left to right: Brazil Wood and Turmeric on 100% Cotton, Brazil Wood on 100% Silk Chiffon, Onion Skins on 100% Silk Muslin, Onion Skins and Turmeric on 100% Silk Muslin, Brazil Wood on 100% Silk Muslin

Meanwhile we set about picking Dyer's Camomile which is growing outside the dye-room 
Making samples and taking notes for future reference

Lunch break! This was the view


Milk fresh from the cows and the cow barn they shelter in although they spend most of the time in the field


The bull and a wind turbine. All the buildings had solar panels too

 
The shire horses which are used to pull the plough and mama piggy and her piglets chilling in their sty


The dye studio next to the cow barn. The place is part of the Ruskin Mill Trust Which is also a college providing BTEC courses for adults with learning needs. We were there during the holidays so it was deserted bar a few care-takers

 
After lunch we started on the Indigo dying. Although indigo is a plant dye the process is completely different. The pigment is already extracted from the leaves and to reactivate it, it gets mixed in a strong alkali solution and de-oxygenated using Spectralite. This solution was pre-mixed so we just had to add it to the dye bath


It smelled so bad we had to do it outside!
Normally, the longer you leave the fabric in the dye, the deeper the shade but Indigo needs to be oxidised to take so it needs to be exposed to the air. The fabric is subsubmerged in the solution and pulled out very gently so as not to introduce oxygen bubbles to the solution, this can be repeated until you achieve your desired shade


It is fascination watching the colour change from green to blue before your eyes


Indigo drying


We also over-dyed some of the Alkanet with the indigo which worked much better


So after an incredible discovery filled day I left to go home with much to ponder

Many thanks to Ian, one of the teachers who came in, in his free time to show us the ropes and let us use the space


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