Natural Dyeing

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Back in the 70’s we experimented with natural dyeing using onion skins and tea bags. After a while, the uniform dull colours seemed to pall and I then began dyeing with commercial dyes.

I dye my fibres, yarns and fabrics for my work. I have learned many ways of creating beautiful effects with dyes. One particularly lovely dye method is bag dyeing, where the fabrics are placed into zip lock plastic bags, the dye dribbled into the bags to create a desirable colour blend, then the fixative solution poured in on top and the bag left to create its beauty for a period. It is always such fun to open up the bags after the dyeing time has passed. And my other dyeing method I love is shibori dyeing, particularly with silk fabric.

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I have progressively become more aware of the impact of dyes on our environment and have moved towards safer, more sustainable options. Thanks to pioneers like India Flint and Michel Garcia who have made the study of dyeing with plant materials and naturally sourced pigments into a science, then have shared their knowledge widely, we can create textiles of true grace and beauty, using colours from nature.

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Now my dye palette largely consists of plants from the garden, windfalls, prunings, randomly gathered weeds and purpose grown dye plants. Eucalypts are a dyers dream giving different colours at different temperatures and in different seasons. Woad, weld, indigo, madder, fennel, olive leaves, golden rod, nettles, spices all create wonderful colours. Binding and heating creates beautiful leaf print patterns and textures. Instead of harsh chemicals to prepare and mordant fibres, I use huge pots made from different metals. Aluminium, copper, iron and brass each add their own “signature” to the dye bath. Cream of tartar, washing soda, sugar, salt and alum make up the balance of chemicals needed. It is a great pleasure to create textiles which I know are safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly in their creation. It is a joy to know that the people wearing my textiles are safe, particularly the children who wear my Leafy Designs – Leafy Babies range of clothing.

Leaf pattern web

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Indigo Dyeing

Back when I worked at TAFE we used to dye with chemical indigo vats, but those chemicals did not agree with me, so once I left TAFE I put my indigo dyeing days behind me, with pleasure.

However recently I have discovered the joys of natural indigo dyeing, using sugar and bran fermentation vats and a whole world of fun blue dyeing has opened up again, with much less problems involved! I have two vats on the go. My wonderful first “mother” vat is a brew made using indigo, lime and fructose ( it’s known as the 1,2,3 vat, because they are the proportions used). I started this little beauty last year and she is going along wonderfully.

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Having had so much fun with this vat and after teaching a workshop with Beautiful Silks at their Botanical Studio, I decided to explore some other options in indigo vats. I made a fermentation vat which contains indigo, madder, bran and washing soda. This needed a bit longer to develop. I was also trialling whether the indigo which is sold for hair colouring (and which is cheaper than dye indigo powder) would give me similar results. The vat looked pretty good when it fermented:

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The dye results at first seemed a little lighter, but I think I will put that down to the different indigo powder. However it gives a nice colour with some slightly grey/earthy undertones and shadows. So all in all I’m pretty happy with it!

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