Monday, 18 July 2016


In March and April I was asked to dye some hemp for Beatriz Constán. neither of us had used the material before and once we'd dyed it both of us were hooked.

It's a beautiful soft fibre which becomes softer and shinier as you handle it.

Being a cellulose I washed it, soaked it in tannin and then in alum before dyeing.

Below are photos of the results.

Left to right: dry hemp as we bought it, washed, soaked in tannin, soaked in alum.
Izquierda a derecha: seco, lavado, con tanino, con alumbre.

Top row: natural, 2 logwood samples, cochineal and logwood.
Front: Cochineal and madder
Arriba: natural, 2 ejemplos con palo de campecha, cochinilla
abajo: cochinilla y rubia

Eucalyptus and logwood (palo de campecha)

Cochineal, and overdyed on logwood and pomegranate.
Cochinilla, y teñido encima de palo de campecha y granada.

Camomile. On the right is how it looks when it comes out of the dye bath and then as you pull it and almost comb it the fibre becomes softer and silkier again.

The full range of colours. Toda la gama de colores al final.

Madder Again

Well it's just over a year later and once again I'm experimenting with madder.

I still haven't harvested my own plant. It's growing in a pot so I think we'll just leave it for another year or two, hopefully we might manage to plant it out. As you can see from the photo it's spreading.

We've also got lots of little plants coming along nicely.

So the madder I've been using has been bought.

During the winter I've been using both madder powder and madder roots on my woollen scarves. I love these results and they're a beautiful terracotta colour. As they're for sale I've mordanted them all with alum.

Last week I finally got down to some serious controlled experiments.
Using two of Jenny Dean's books I used two different methods.

Method 1 consisted in washing off the yellow and brown pigments (and putting this liquid aside) and then gently heating the dye with the wool and then just leaving it on the roof in the very hot sun.
I added alum mordanted wool and  unmordanted wool.

I kept using the dye bath and also experimented with modifiers: iron, alkali (wahing soda) and acid (vinegar).

From the left, number 3,5 and 6 are from the rinse dyebath 

I did the same with the dye liquid from the two rinses.

Method 2 was Jenny Dean's alkali extraction method. This has given quite a range of colours and 10 days later I'm still using it. It's now producing some very beautiful dark browns.

I didn't quite manage to get a real red but I did a second round of Method 1 experiments, increasing the quantity of madder and using rainwater and this gave a very beautiful deep colour. (The four centre skeins are from this dyebath - the two browner skeins have been in an iron modifier.)

I'm tantalisingly close to getting a purple. two small pieces of re-used wool tied onto the skeins have taken on a soft purple hue. Nearly there.

Some of the browns I got using iron and pomegranate.

Overall I'm amazed by how many colours and shades I achieved with just one dyestuff.
On this round of experimenting I reckon the standard method, using rainwater and rinsing off the pigments at the beginning, was the best.
The alkali method I think I would keep for the rich browns at the end. maybe it would be possible to just add soda ash to the end of the other dye bath and leave it for days on end to achieve the same results?

As always  experimenting like this just leads to more experimenting '' Now what if I do .......?''
It's endless.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

First attempts with wild madder

I haven't dyed with madder before and even though I'm growing a plant - see a picture of it in the previous post - I won't be harvesting it for at least another year.

However we managed to find wild madder, rubia peregrina, growing up the walls as a weed next to the mangos in the plot where we grow vegetables.

Rubia peregrina creciendo en la huerta aquí en Almuñécar.

The problem is that you use the roots so we carefully dug up a patch. They weren't very deep and now having dyed with them perhaps we should have dug deeper.

Back at home I quickly washed off most of the earth and chopped them up before they went hard, put them out to dry for a few days and then forgot about them.

Las raíces cortadas secándose

This weekend I got them out. I washed them twice quickly in hot water to wash off the dye colours which I didn't need and then put them to soak for an hour or two out in the sun where this weekend it was very hot. The water which I rinsed off I kept and that dyed some cotton threads, with no mordant, a very pretty, pale pink.

I poured off the dye and then added some silk, cotton and cotton threads, all of which had been previously mordanted, and left them all in the sun for the day.

The results were a bit of a surprise. For some reason I'd been expecting red??? The silk came out a beautiful soft coral and so did the threads. The cotton fabric was ok but really needs to be redyed.

Los resultados: Seda y hilos con mordiente. Tonos de rosa pálida en los hilos sin mordiente.

The photo's not very good but gives an idea of the colour. The pale pink is lovely and a nicer shade than I get from cochineal.

I kept the dye after I'd taken everything out and the next day added the madder back into it and some mordanted threads and put the whole thing back up on the roof for two days. It really is hot here at the moment, almost 28 degrees, so the pan heated up very well during the day.

Hilos con mordiente en el tinte con la rubia en el segundo baño. Lo he dejado en la terraza en el sol para dos días.

And here are the results, ready to be sold in my etsy shop.

It's Wednesday today and tomorrow I'm off to Ireland for the weekend and I'm going to leave a few more skeins of thread, without any mordant, in the pot to see what happens to them.

During the winter I did manage a couple of composting experiments with tiny bits of madder, pomegranate rinds and leftover cochineal. You can see the faint streaks from the madder.

Rubia, granada y cochinilla teñido con un método de compost.

Interesting experiments. I'm sure the colour could be stronger by using more, or digging deeper and finding thicker roots. I still have some more left and eventually I'll be able to harvest my own plant. I think it's about to flower so I'll be able to collect the seeds and start the whole cycle again.
Like the woad it's a long process.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

This year's woad

Well here it is this year's one and only plant. Growing here behind my Madder plant.

Mi unica planta de pastel creciendo al lado be una planta de rubia.

As woad is a biennial and we only started growing it  last year we didn't have any new seed for this year. Also I was a bit disheartened as after the first success, which I wrote about in my blog, my two subsequent attempts were disasters and I didn't manage to dye anything.

You learn from your mistakes and one of the dye baths was definitely too hot but the other I wasn't really sure what went wrong.

So last weekend I cut all the leaves off the plant and armed with optimism and Jenny Dean's newest book  A Heritage of Colour I headed off to the roof.

The first thing I did was to chop some of the leaves up very small and put them into cold water and vinegar. The photo below shows the pieces of silk (on the right) and cotton after they'd been in the solution for an hour and then I put them in again. The second dip didn't really alter them much.

Algodon y seda teñido con hojas de pastel y agua y vinagre. 

At this point I was thrilled that I'd actually got some blue cloth! And I was wondering about why does everyone bother with the other method if all you need is cold water and vinegar. As the day progressed I realised that this method gives you very little dye and even though on the silk it dyed very prettily, it was very pale on the piece of cotton.

Meanwhile my other leaves were simmering and then strained and tipped from pot to pot to introduce oxygen and turn the foam blue.
This is where I think I may have been going wrong last summer. I now reckon you have to do a lot of whisking or pouring.
The other place I think I may have gone wrong is with the hydros. I probably added too much and was too impatient to start dyeing.

Telas dentro el baño con trozitos de azulejos de la playa para sumergirlas.

 This first piece out of the pot dried much paler.

Results on silk, left to right: Exhaust  hydros bath, vinegar method, hydros vat. Cotton threads dyed at the end.

A la izquierda, seda y algodon a la derecha.

Results on cotton and wool. The three on the right were the same piece of fabric dipped once, twice and three times - very small changes in colour depth.

So that's it until next year! Last year's plants are beginning to flower now - we're months ahead in our growing season here - so I'll have lots of seeds to sow in the autumn and I'm looking forward to more successful experiments in 2016.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Dyeing with sisal -Tiñendo con sisal

Over the last couple of weeks I've been dyeing sisal for a friend, Beatriz Constán, who uses it in her weavings.

I've never used it for anything before let alone dyed it. It's a natural fibre which comes from Agave Sisalana.

Despite it being a natural fibre someone along the way had added some kind of chemicals. When I rinsed it prior to dyeing a huge amount of bubbles rose up in the bucket accompanied by a toxic smell. The photo below was taken the next morning and some of the bubbles were still there.

Aún con burbujas de un producto químico, la mañana después de aclararlo antes de teñir.

The first batch was dyed with camomile flowers.

I then went on to dye with atichoke/fig, eucalyptus and apple barks. These were then overdyed with indigo. I also put a small bit into the end of a cochineal bath. There wasn't much dye left and when overdyed in the indigo there wasn't much of a difference.

Camomila y después teñido con añil.
Alcachofa y higuera después teñido con añil.

A la izquierda, corteza de manzana y con añil. A la derecha, corteza de eucalipto con añil.

A la izquierda, cochinilla -muy suave- y con añil. A la derecha sisal teñido con añil.
¡Toda la gama!
Having overdyed nearly everything - which tends to be what happens when you have an indigo vat going, everything ends up blue - I set about dyeing the base colours again. If you look closely at the photo you can see my assistant, Millie the rabbit!

Manzana, eucalipto, camomila x 2 y un conejo.
This weekend I finished the final batch in cochineal The photo shows me getting the most out of one dye bath: yesterday I dyed the cotton threads, last night the first batch of sisal and today the last batch which is dyeing paler.

Aprovechando un baño de cochinilla- ayer hilos de algodón, por la noche sisal y hoy el último sisal teñido más pálido.

An interesting fibre to dye, it took the dye beautifully and required very little rinsing afterwards. I soaked it for days and heated it for hours and it stayed the same.

Beatriz's work can be seen on her website
and I'll put some photos up here when she's used some of this sisal.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Camomile Season

Spring again and even though it's only mid April the camomile season is almost finished.

Camomile is one of my favourite dyes, the flowers are beautiful and they give a range of yellows, including different colours depending on where they're grown (material for a future post). The only downside is the rather overpowering smell when there are a lot of them.

I think they probably started flowering in early March but I didn't get around to picking them until the end of the month. Last year I found a patch of waste ground covered in them so imagine my shock when I found this:

El sitio donde recogí las flores el año pasado, oops!

Luckily just over the bare patch of soil was this:

Menos mal que no han limpiado todo.

So I set to work. As you can see, the patch of ground is practically in the middle of the town. I've been scouting around for other places for next year just in case they decide to clear all of it. The hazards of not growing the plants yourself.

Aquí estoy recogiendo las flores para uno de mis tintes favoritos - casi en el centro del pueblo.

Once picked there's drying to be done. To be honest it's not very difficult here. I just spread it out on the terrace for a few days, bringing it in at night because we get heavy dews. After about four days it dries into crispy little golden buttons which look good enough to eat for breakfast with cold milk - and I don't like breakfsast cereal let alone milk! The only problem would be the ants swimming around.

Las flores secándose en mi terraza, el sol hace casi todo el trabajo.
I'm trying to put it away to use for the coming 12 months but it's so tempting to throw handfuls into the dyepot - by November I'll be measuring it out carefully.
Here are some threads drying in the evening sun, with flowers drying behind. The grey threads are eucalyptus and iron and the flowers in the background on the left are mimosas.

Hilos secandose con las flores por detrás. Los hilos grises son de eucalipto y hierro y las flores a la izquierda son de mimosa/acacia.

And some sisal which I've just dyed this week, it's actually a much more vibrant orangey yellow than it appears here.

Sisal teñido con camomila.

I'm off to Ireland on May 14th and I expect I can keep managing to pick until then. The majority of the flowers are finishing but then I'll collect dried heads - Nature'll have already done the work for me.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Dyeing with Woad.

This post was original posted in my quilt blog Needle, Thread, Scissors, Thimble on March 15, 2014.


Today for the first time ever I got blue dye from a plant. I'm thrilled.

I live on what's called the Tropical Coast, the local commercial crops are mangos, avocados and custard apples. I sowed the seed last August and in January we planted the plants out on a terrace of mango trees.

This week we reckoned there were enough leaves big enough to try - even though normally woad is harvested in Northern Europe during the summer.

So first thing this morning off I went to pick the leaves.

The plants under a (small) mango tree.
I used leaves mainly from the plant on the left.

I have never done any dyeing with indigo, despite having synthetic indigo and all the additional chemicals sitting in a box since last summer.

I followed Jenny Dean's recipe for fresh woad leaves from her book Wild Colour. I substituted soda ash for washing crystals.First I steeped the leaves in boiling water for an hour. I had to keep the liquid warm for an hour but by putting the pan into another filled with boiling water and out in the sun the water remained very hot for the whole time.

I hadn't been able to find a thermometer but she tells you that 50 degrees is as hot as your hand can tolerate. I strained off the leaves. So now in went the soda ash, again a bit of guess work. I used 250g of leaves and 1.5 litres of water and put in about 3/4 of a teaspoon of soda ash. The pH changed to about 9.
Now I had to whisk to get a blue froth. We whisked and whisked and I was told not to put in more soda ash by the chemistry student in the family!

This isn't blue! By now I was wondering if I'd picked the leaves too soon but we continued. 

I added 3 teaspoons of sodium hydrosulphite and waited.

Now it was time to put in the wetted fibres. We still had no idea if there was any blue present.And then we noticed a blue tinge to the film on top of the water and suddenly it all looked like it might work.

And it did!!!It was so exciting and just like magic. You take out the fibre and it just turns blue in front of your eyes - MAGIC.

The thin cotton muslin dyed beautifully as did the wool. I also put in some other cotton, which as usual with natural dyes was really disappointing - though I'm wondering if there was soda ash left in it from scouring which could have affected the result as the muslin was just washed.

Here is the magic on video - it only takes 38 seconds!


So now I'm just incredibly excited, and full of questions. We're sowing the rest of our woad seeds tomorrow. I'm wondering if with the climate here we can get colour all year round. I'm hoping when it gets a bit warmer to experiment by using different alkalis and reducing agents which are not chemicals out of a bottle.

But for now I'm just basking in a blue glow.