Willow Loves Copper

Yesterday I showed two silk scarves dyed in clamp-resist bundles simmered in a willow immersion dyebath.

The scarf on the right had no special preparation. The scarf on the left got this treatment:

In her book Eco ColourIndia Flint suggests wrapping a cloth soaked in vinegar, urine or seawater around a copper pipe for a few days. Not having seawater and knowing I would be showing this sample at the Wisconsin SDA meeting, I chose vinegar. (If you want me to sample the third option, leave a comment at the bottom of this post or at my Facebook page. You don’t have to spell it out — just say “Double Dog Dare.”)

The pipe wrap method is brilliant in its simplicity. I didn’t soak the fabric, just spritzed it with vinegar after wrapping, then put the works in an unsealed plastic bag so it wouldn’t dry out too quickly. After a few days, the copper wire I used to secure the fabric to the pipe left some nice markings, and the silk took up the copper beautifully.

India recommends this method for preparing fabric for green or blue dyes. The end result I wanted to test is well outside that color family. I wanted to see what would happen if I used this method prior to willow immersion dyeing. Dyeing the piece on the pipe would require a greater volume of dyebath than I wanted to commit to a sample. So I took the fabric off the pipe and made a simple resist using washers and a C-clamp

After simmering, the greenish tint was no longer evident in the resist areas. The other areas took up more color from the dyebath than the sample that didn’t the get copper pipe treatment:

Copper wire makes frequent appearances in the cold-bundle pieces I dye in plastic bags, producing a spectacular gold when combined with willow leaves in that process. If I were better about labeling my samples and keeping them segregated from the general population of fabrics in my studio, I’d show you an example.

I also use copper liquor, made by soaking copper scraps in a vinegar solution, as both a mordant and a modifier. That’s a technique I learned from Jenny Dean’s book Wild Color, which I’m happy to say is back in print.

Both Wild Color and Eco Colour are, in my opinion, must-haves for anyone interested natural dyeing. Don’t let all the pretty pictures fool you into thinking these are just eye candy books. In the text, you’ll find enough good information to guide your own experiments for seasons to come.

Tomorrow I’ll show you another willow surface design experiment. This one was inspired, not by a book but by how people have learned to apply color and pattern to fabric for thousands of years: “If you can’t fix it, feature it.”

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Willow Immersion Dye For Fabric

When Jill asked me to do a demo at the Wisconsin SDA meeting, I proposed willow dyeing, thinking some of our members would have been at India Flint’s presentation at the SDA conference in Minneapolis last June. It was fascinating to learn about using eucalyptus and seawater, but we don’t have those resources in Wisconsin. We do have willow. In abundance.

A week or so ago, I cut some willow that hadn’t dropped its leaves yet, I cut it up into short lengths (leaves, tips and woody parts), and threw it into a couple of pots.When making an immersion dye, I like to cover the dyestuff with water then let the pot sit for a day so.

We had a warm, sunny day, so I just left the black enamel pot on the hood of Bill’s black truck for a while.

The other container was an aluminum pot I bought at a garage sale. This was my first time trying aluminum for dyepot-as-mordant.

The next day, I brought each pot to a slow simmer over medium heat. After simmering for an hour or so, I let the pots sit overnight. The next day I fished out most of the willow bits. (A more careful dyer would have strained it.) I then pour the cool dye into a plastic jug for storage. (I left the aluminum experiment in the pot for several days before I transferred it.)

When I’m ready to dye, I pour what I need into a saucepan reserved exclusively for dyeing. My simmered bundles usually contain some metal, which leaches into the the dye, so I try to use just what I need and keep the rest of the batch clear and bright.

Here’s fabric from two bundles simmered in clamp-resist bundles in willow dye from the enamel pot. Tomorrow I’ll show how I got the darker color on the fabric on the left.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in growing willow, I wrote about that here.

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Natural Dyeing & Wisconsin SDA

Yesterday I did a little demo of how I use willow to color and pattern fabric with willow at the Wisconsin Surface Design Association meeting. Here’s the question that stumped me: “Is that on your blog?” Gulp. Looks like some things I meant to post about didn’t get done. I’ll get caught up with natural dyeing posts this week.

In the meantime, with the new Blogger Dynamic View you can no longer see the tag list that points you toward past posts on a particular topic. And the search function is still unreliable. So here’s a link to posts tagged “Natural Dyeing.” Of course, you’ll have to click on the current post to be able to see there’s a live link. And if I’ve written too much, this is sentence will be past the jump (where it might as well not exist). And I can’t tell where the jump will be because I can no longer preview the post before publishing it. Sigh. I’d really much rather be dyeing than trying to figure this stuff out.

Anyway, it was a great meeting yesterday in Green Bay. I wish I’d been able to take a picture of the gorgeous walnut-dyed scarf Jean Harper showed, and of Jill Robinson’s piece that combined rust printing with discharge. I held out as long as I could before touching the jacket worn by Laura Fisher-Bonvallet, a two-time Niche award winner, and didn’t get a picture of that, either.

I did take a picture during a presentation by Alison Gates and two colleagues about the Flax Project at UW-Green Bay. Then I got so wrapped up in the program that this is the best I could do. That’s a student (Alicia Engstrom, I believe) watering flax seedlings planted in a large container on campus. Better pictures and more information are here.

Kudos to Wisconsin’s SDA Rep, Jill Robinson, for making this meeting happen. Jill invited members to bring a guest, so my neighbor Stephanie went with me.

Stephanie and her husband Shawn make and sell hammocks and messenger bags. She’s working on the business plan for the next step in their quest to make the world a brighter, happier plan. It’s a good plan!

My own plan (for this week anyway) is to sort through images and get caught up on those willow dyeing posts. If there’s something else you’ve been waiting for me to write about, click “Comments” below this post to let me now, or let me know on my Facebook page.

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Goldenrod Green

With goldenrod aplenty in bloom right now, I wanted to try using the fresh stuff to dye some silk. Once again, I used my new-to-me rice steamer, with a few modifications to the process.

This time I wrapped my fabric-and-dyestuff bundle in baking parchment before it went on the steaming rack — duh. I also put a little foil tent over the bundle to shed condensation — double duh. I wrapped the bundle around a scrap of copper pipe, but didn’t use any iron or other metal in the bundle (except for the aluminum rice steamer pan).

Because I wanted to try a particular experiment this time, I used a plain, unmordanted PFD white scarf blank from Dharma instead of something previously dyed or gleaned from the thrift store. I’m generally happy with my mad-science methodology and serendipitous results, but I wanted a clear indication of what was happening when….

… after steaming, I dipped the ends of the bundle into two different pH modifiers. On the left is a solution of baking soda and plain tap water. On the right is vinegar.

The color change from the baking soda solution was dramatic enough right away to convince me to abandon methodology and dip the whole thing in the baking soda solution.

Here’s what I got.

As long as the modifer solutions were mixed up, I figured I might as well sample them on one of cherry-pit solar dye bundles. Here’s what that fabric looked like before the modifers. It wasn’t gorgeous, but it looked better than this picture.

I stuffed the ends of the fabric into the modifier mixtures.
Again, the baking soda gave immediate results.

I think the next step will be to do some mineral printing on this. But that will have to wait. 
My little steamer is letting me have some fun without getting too distracted from my to-do list. I spent the better part of this week trying to make friends with a new computer, new operating system, new software, and (for the first time) wireless. I threw a hissy fit yesterday afternoon, and after that the wireless decided to start working. I have no idea what I did differently.
At least with dyeing and modifiers, I get results I can understand.
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Small-Scale Steamer

Last week, I bought a brand-new electric rice cooker for 3 bucks at my local thrift shop. In her talk at SDA in June, I think I remember India Flint saying she used a rice cooker to steam her small eco-colour bundles. This week, I got my first chance to sample using this new appliance.

These are silk and cherry-pit bundles like the ones solar-dyeing on the clothesline.

I just plopped them onto the rack in the steamer pan, added a cup of water, put on the lid, and pressed the button. When I smelled cherry juice starting to scorch, I added water and gave the whole process a bit more thought. Next time, I’ll wrap the bundles in paper before steaming to keep dyestuff from leaching into the water.

Here’s how the bundles looked when I unwrapped them…

… and after drying, heat-setting with the iron, a sour rinse with vinegar, and a wash to remove the last bits of cherry pulp.

I’m marking this appliance “For Dyeing Only” and keeping it in the house instead of the studio. Natural dye materials are abundant right now, but studio time is not. Until I finish a couple of projects in the office, I can have this little steamer doing its thing on the kitchen counter while I work in the next room.

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Pretty, Please, With Cherries

What do I want from this cherry dye experiment? Pretty, please.

We never got around to making cherry milkshakes, but over the weekend we and our friends gorged on dark, sweet Michigan cherries. By this morning, the leftovers from two flats Carol picked on Tuesday had to be frozen for later use (Bill makes a mean ginger-cherry soda).

Now the pits from those cherries are part of a couple of dye experiments.

Since it works so well on my hands, we’ll see how it works on silk.

A silk scarf from the solar baggie dyeing unit in my Local Color class at Sievers could use more color. It hadn’t been washed yet, so still contained tannin from the willow bark and bracken fern, as well as traces left by the vinegar assist and copper wire used to wrap the bundle. I put that and another piece of silk hot-bundled at Sievers in a plastic zip bag with a bit of cider vinegar.

It’s hanging on the clothesline, where it will get full sun for a week or so. I did have to hit my hands with Reduran dye reducer after pitting cherries. Didn’t want to risk transferring dye to my grandmother’s embroidered pillow cases as I was hanging them out.

The rest of the pits are in the freezer to play with this winter, but I have another cherry pit experiment going in the rice cooker I found last week at the thrift shop. More on that next time.

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Local Color Time

There’s something new on my packing list for the Local Color class at Sievers this time:

In addition to printer stuff and cameras and lots of fabric and surface design media, I’m taking a container of Siberian iris blossoms I froze late last month and a bag of frozen rhubarb trimmings (the stringy stuff).

I’ve always begun the class by bundling silk scarves with plant material to dye in plastic bags in the sun during the week. Four days is a little short for solar dyeing (at least Up North). So this year I’m planning for students to do some simmered bundles as well.

There’s lots of willow growing in a bed planted in 2000 just steps from the studio, and more growing wild on the island. And while we’re photographing, I’m sure we’ll find other natural dye materials it’s OK to harvest.

I’m taking the frozen Siberian iris blossoms to try the ice dyeing technique from India Flint’s book EcoColour. I pondered whether it’s cheating for me to take material I gathered at my home for an island local color class, and decided it’s OK. The Siberian iris in the Walter bed at Sievers came from starts that came from my place. As long as I’m stretching rules, the rhubarb fit in just fine.

Carolyn often posts pictures during the class on the Sievers blog, so you might hear about what the Local Color class is doing from her before you hear again from me. And if you’re on Washington Island, you might hear about us at the beach, at the Ridges, at the ferry dock, at the museums, at the restaurants, and definitely at sunset.

If you’re interested in booking me to teach a Local Color class in your location, send me an email and I’ll get back to you when I get home. In the meantime, I hope you’re on island time, too — wherever you are.

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Mushrooms For Color

For those of you with an interest in natural dyeing, don’t miss this post on the Buellwood Weaver and Fiber Guild, which recently hosted the 2011 Midwest Weavers Conference. Julie Hurd’s sweater “Mushrooms For Color” won the Traditional Heritage award in the fashion show. Julie generously shared images and information for a closer look at the project.

There’s more information on mushroom dyeing here and here.

I’m adding the out-of-print Miriam Rice book to my wish list

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Willow Bark Harvest

Last week while my head was still spinning from the Midwest Weavers Conference, Bill reminded me that I needed to harvest willow bark. Willow is easy to peel when the time is right, and my window of opportunity was closing.

In June 2012, I’m teaching at a brand new willow conference in Decorah, Iowa organized by my friends Jo Campbell-Amsler and Lee Zieke Lee. I have material aplenty on hand for Quixote Coiling, but needed a good supply of willow bark for this class:

Willow Spirit Constructed Vessels
For thousands of years, basketmakers have made vessels by folding, cutting and stitching sheets of bark. In this 2-day class, we replace that bark with a fabric laminate made of contemporary art cloth colored and patterned with willow. You’ll learn a variety of ways to use willow to dye and print fabric. You’ll sample new ways to conceive, model and build hand-stitched sculptural forms, and create two vessels that incorporate willow in the surface design.

So on Wednesday, Bill helped me peel for a little over an hour. The bark slipped off the wood like a pat of butter off a hot ear of sweet corn.

I spent the rest of the afternoon getting the peeled bark ready for drying and, later, storage and easy resoaking.

It’s been drying under the eaves on the porch. Today I’ll move it into my studio to finish drying.

I’ll post details about the Decorah willow conference soon. In the meantime, here’s a short video I took of Bill while we were harvesting.

You’ll see that he uses the wood in his rustic furniture, and I save the leaves for dyeing. Willow is an amazing renewable resource.

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Don’t Eat The Rhubarb

When a friend popped into the studio this week, his first comment was, “Smells good in here!” Our rhubarb is up enough to sacrifice a few leaves for dyeing some silk. Since rhubarb leaves are considered toxic, I should maybe make a skull and crossbones to clip on the dye pot. It did smell tasty.

After simmering the leaves, though, the mushy mess doesn’t look very appetizing. But the oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves produces a nice mordant and colors white silk a lovely light golden yellow. 

After a bath below the simmer level, the silk got wrapped around dried willow bark I had soaked to make it pliable. My tight little bundles went back into the pot.

After the bundles simmered and cooled down, the bark left a lovely pattern on the silk.

 Here’s a scarf I dyed the same way.

The willow bark got re-wrapped into other silk from the rhubarb bath, but those bundles didn’t go back in the pot. I’ll unwrap them today or tomorrow.

With all the hand stitching I’ve been doing, I need something to keep me from sitting in one spot long enough for my joints to rust. Jumping up and down to check the dyepot is a pleasant diversion. But it’s making me really hungry.

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