Books on Natural Dyeing: Part Three: Dyeing Down Under

My final two books focus on Antipodean Dyeing and it’s interesting that my two books  cover both ends of the time spectrum, the early days of the revival of natural dyeing post synthetic dyes and contemporary textile dyeing using the latest innovative new techniques and ecological considerations.

Dyes From Plants of Australia and New Zealand: A Practical Guide for Craftworkers by Joyce Lloyd 1971/1978

This old book, almost fifty years old now, was one of the early guides to this artform, a time when the brighter synthetic aniline dyes were all the rage! It was written to complement the revival of interest in spinning and hand weaving during the 1960s. After introductory chapters on the ancient history of natural dyes, equipment, fabric preparation and mordants, the book focuses on :

Dye Plants Native to New Zealand;

Dye Plants Native to Australia;

Flower and Vegetable Garden Subjects;

Miscellaneous Dye Subjects; and

Weeds, Herbs and Lichens.

There is a section on using ancient dyes (indigo/ logwood/ madder/ cochineal and woad), as well as brief notes on chemical dyes, general hints and tie-dye techniques. The tiny size of both the latter subject and the source list for ancient dyes (only one supplier in Australia and one in New Zealand and only mail addresses), as well as the presentation of the book and dearth of colour photos and swatches, is an indicator of the age of this book and the infancy stage of this revival of interest in natural dyes, however this book is still valuable for its emphasis on our own native flora, as well as the inclusion of a number of dyestuffs, not mentioned in the other books. For example: Asters, Begonias, Buddleias, Gazanias, Bearded Iris, Rhododendrons, Beetroot, Mint, Passionfruit, Silver Beet, Tamarillos, Grass, Bamboo, Medlars, Pine Trees, Privet, Yew, Seaweed and Tobacco! Really the world’s your oyster!BlogNatlDyeing30%Image (6)

We have come such a long way since then! The efforts of Jenny Dean and Rita Buchanan have been responsible for a large part of this renewal, while India Flint has really popularized contemporary natural dyeing for a new generation of textile artists with her wonderful inspiring workshops and book:

Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles by India Flint 2008.

India is an Australian artist, writer, teacher, sheep farmer, fashion (Prophet of Bloom) and theatre costume designer, and sustainable eco-dyer with over thirty years of experience and artworks in collections and museums in Australia, Latvia and Germany. Every contemporary textile artist should own a copy of this comprehensive and detailed book.

Part One embraces the important concepts of Organic Natural Dyes vs. Toxic Synthetic Chemicals, Regionalism, Renewable Resources, Exploitation in the Logwood and Indigo Trades; Sustainable Harvesting and Recycling of Waste Products (Garbage and Windfalls).

Part Two discusses the work environment, equipment, much of which can be acquired from charity shops, and harvesting and storage of plant materials, as well as occupational health and safety rules.

Part Three focuses on Traditional Dye Materials, presented in table form on thick brown paper with Common and Taxonomic Names and the Parts Used. The use of different paper makes this section  quick and easy to find , its entries organised by colour: Black and Greys; Purples: Flora/ Fauna; Blues; Greens; Yellows and Golds (at three pages, the largest section!); Oranges; Reds: Flora/ Fauna; Pinks: Flora/ Fauna; and Browns. There are also notes about Poisonous Plants; Edible Dye Plants and Edible Plant Dyes for Culinary Magic! I much prefer the thought of using beetroot, onion, calendula, rose leaves, violets and pansies to colour cakes and biscuits rather than synthetic Azo dyes, which have been proven to cause liver cancer and are banned in Europe.

The next section, Part Four, is by far the largest in the book and covers:

Fibre Preparation: 

Wool and Other Animal Fibres, including Cashmere and Mohair (Goats); Angora (Rabbits); Alpaca; Camel; Llama; Yak; Horsehair; Dog and Cat; and even Shatoosh (an Endangered Tibetan Antelope); as well as luxurious Silk ;

Plant Fibres: Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum); Linen (Flax, Linum); Ramie (Boehmeria nivea), Nettle (Urtica), Jute, Sisal (Agave Cactus), Raffia, Pineapple, Reed, Banana and Hemp.

Mordants:

Applied at different stages of the dyeing process (Pre-Mordanting; Co-Mordanting and Post-Mordanting) to fix and enhance colour, improve colour fastness to light, washing and perspiration, prevent colour bleeding and extend the colour range of a dyepot, most mordants are highly toxic and their disposal thereby difficult. Not only is ingestion harmful, but the success of aromatherapy suggests that the presence of harmful chemical residues against our skin is also worth considering.

While alum (usually in the form of Potassium aluminium sulphate) is one of the least harmful of the traditional mordants, being used in pickling and baking powder, India has gone to great lengths to explore alternatives, which include: Urine; Blood; Gelatine; Yoghurt; Tins; Eggs; Ash; Soy Milk; Sea Water; Fermented Fruit Vinegars; Lemon Juice; Compost; Oxidized Wine; Iron Teas; Copper Coins; Cow and Sheep manure; Aqueous Paint Solutions and Seed Oils.

Any plants with ‘tinctoria’  (dyemaking); ‘officinalis’ (medicinal use) as the species name or words like oxalis (oxalic acid) and salix (salicyclic acid eg willow) are worth investigating, as well as plants rich in tannins like oak, pomegranate, spruce, chestnut, wattle,  bracken and mangroves, as well as dock, sorrel, and acorns.

Processing Plant Dyes:

After discussing the disadvantages of traditional boiling, India summarizes the following methods:

Hot Extraction-Hot Processing: Simmer and steep; Multiple extractions; Single extractions by boiling; Concentrated tinctures;

Hot extraction-Cold Processing: Solar dyeing; and Snaplock bag;

Cold Extraction-Cold Processing: Compost dyeing; Ice-flower dyeing; Cold-bundling; and Hapa-zome beating;

Cold Extraction-Hot Processing: Streaming in bundles; Long soaking and steeping; Dry extraction by fermentation before hot processing.

She also discusses Nomadic dyeing; and Plants for sequential extractions (St. John’s Wort; Safflower and Eucalyptus).

Part Five examines some very Special Dye Plant Groups:

Eucalyptus Dyes;

Other Australian Flora:

Mistletoes, Amyema;

Kangaroo Paw, Anigozanthos;

Indigofera australis;

Insects from the Eriococcus family;

Wattle, Acacia;

Kennedia nigricans;

Callistemons;

 Grevilleas;

Quandong, Santalum acuminatum;

Sandalwood, Santalum lanceolatum;

Bracken Fern, Pteridium esculentum;

Morinda citrifolia; and

Thryptomene calycina.

Ice-Flower Dyes:

Freezing flowers in snap-lock bags, then immersing them in lukewarm water with the addition of ash or alum (for blues),  vinegar (for reds) or washing soda, sodium carbonate (for greenish-blues). Suitable flowers include: Petunias, pansies, violets and violas; iris; delphiniums and pelargoniums, while berries include: blackberries, elderberries, raspberries, cherries and Berberis darwinii.

Fruits and Berries: Cold Berry Dyes: The afore-mentioned berries, as well as Mulberries; Blueberries and Solanum nigrum.

Part Six investigates Special Effects:

Cold Bundled Eco-Prints eg Eucalyptus and mistletoe foliage, acacia pods, onion skins; beetroot peelings; bark; tea leaves; coffee grounds; wilted flowers; citrus slices and even, blackberry jelly pulp!

Hot Bundled Ecoprints: Latvian Easter Egg Dyeing;

Hapa-zome Beating Colour into Cloth;

Dyeing Wool Yarn and Sliver, including Ikat Dyeing;

Multicoloured Yarns;

Printing with Plant Dyes;

Shibori and Layered Dyeing: Hexagon (Honeycomb), Tartan and Chequerboard Patterns; and Multicoloured Fabrics;

Resists: Block Printing; Batik; Flour and Egg Resists;

Solar Dyeing; and

Cow and Mud Patties.BlogNatlDyeing2518-04-18 17.01.22In the photos above and below are two scarves dyed using the bundling method. Because I did not dye them myself, I cannot tell you much about the plant matter used, except there was definitely the inclusion of some eucalypt leaves in the silk scarf below!BlogNatlDyeing2518-04-18 17.01.34BlogNatlDyeing2518-04-18 17.01.43Part Seven returns to the importance of ecological sustainability  in Some Other Considerations, with essays on the importance of water, time, safe waste disposal and  the correct care of silk, wool, cotton and other fabrics , so they last as long as possible. The final section, Part Eight, contains a bibliography and useful websites.BlogNatlDyeing3018-02-07 15.23.13I  really love this book, not just for its innovative approach and emphasis on the environment and sustainability, but also its thoroughness, its attention to detail, its invitation to experimentation, its simple and thoughtful explanations and above all, India’s  engaging story-telling style. If you would like to know more about her and her ecodyeing techniques, see:  https://theplanthunter.com.au/people/india-flint/, with her fashion label blog at: http://prophet-of-bloom.blogspot.com.au/.

In response to Tony last week and other readers, who may be wondering about the range of colours produced by eucalypts, here are two interesting and informative websites: https://sallyblake.com/eucalyptus-dyes-1/ and http://anpsa.org.au/APOL8/dec97-6.html!

Next week, I am featuring Flowering Salvias, whose dainty and colourful flowers could be ideal subjects for eco-printing! I have some experimentation ahead of me!!! Until then, Happy Dyeing…naturally, of course!

7 thoughts on “Books on Natural Dyeing: Part Three: Dyeing Down Under

  1. Ha!
    That really is fascinating. Thank you for posting it. Although I am not familiar with most of those specie of eucalyptus, it is fascinating to see how useful they are for dyes. When I used valley oak, I did not have a recipe or directions for it. I just used it like white oak because I do not have access to white oak. Perhaps some of the eucalypti could be substituted for related specie similarly. It does not really matter. What I found with the oak is that, although valley oak might have been different from white oak, I have no way of knowing, and it worked nicely regardless. I think that if a color of one eucalyptus did not work like that of another, it would be nice nonetheless. (I would only need to be careful if I wanted a specific color.) One of the eucalypti here is Eucalyptus citriodora (or Corymbia citriodora), which happens to be on the list. The others are globulus (and globulus ‘Compacta’), cinerea and sideroxylon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my! ALL of them are included; and Eucalyptus cinerea makes some vivid color! That is RAD! That tree will be getting planted at work because others use the foliage for other crafts. We have a nice sizes one already, but must prune it severely to keep it producing the juvenile foliage that are preferred for crafts. With two trees, we can prune one while leaving the other, and alternate pruning from year to year.

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      1. That particular tree is at work, where the children’s ‘Outdoor Sciences’ class uses it for a variety of crafts. I do not really know what it is used for. I just know that they like to have the foliage within reach. I just pruned the tree down a few days ago. When the other one gets growing, it can provide foliage when the first one gets pollarded. They can take turns getting pollarded. The silvery foliage is so striking there with all the forest green.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, it doesn’t pay to be too particular about a specific shade, as even when using the specified tree, dye colour can vary so much according to the season, amount of rain and soil type, not to mention the techniques, boiling times and mordants used. This variation makes the whole field endlessly fascinating and challenging!

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