a journal: textiles, inspiration, musings

Notes from Novice Eco Dyer

The experimenting has been going on for months, but I have found eco-dyeing to be quite a humbling process; just when I think I have nailed a process, the next lot of fabric comes out of the pot murky, dull or just plain awful! Some notes to self at this stage:

  1. My dad used to quote: “Blunt pencil better than sharp memory” ………

…and he was right, when it comes to eco-dyeing experiments, often the best results I have had seem to be the ones where I have lost track of the process I used, and that can be a bit frustrating; am trying very hard to at least scribble down some notes before I put pot on stove

  1. PATIENCE PAYS……… definitely; am learning to let dyed fabrics sit and cure, I dry them, even iron them, and then wait as long as I can [at this stage a week or two but I am sure longer would be better….] then when I wash them out there seems to be very little colour coming out of them and the results are much better.
  2. There is a LOT of info online and in books. Reading about other people’s experiences can be very helpful, and save a lot of grief repeating mistakes that seasoned dyers already know about; on the other hand it can be also very confusing, as there are quite a lot of diverse opinions. So I will keep reading, but also keep trying some things out for myself especially when there is debate.
  3. Playing with mordants, after-baths, combining different dyestuffs is addictive, time consuming but definitely worth it….which is where point 1 comes in!!!
  4. I can get lovely colours from powdered natural dyes, but it is not nearly as satisfying as getting them from my own gathered plants, even though the results are much less predictable and often need over-dyeing. Also not at all happy about not knowing the provenance of a lot of the powered dyes…..
  5. Overdyeing can work beautifully …..it gives the opportunity for complex patterns and colours to emerge……
  6. Every new day in the dyeing space is an adventure , new experiments planned and new gifts emerging from the dyepots…
  7. I have started attempting to dye garments at last, until now it’s been bits of fabric for slow stitching………….love the process, ethos, practicality of eco-dyeing clothing; India Flint’s books are an inspiration, wealth of info and need to be read again and again to absorb everything she has to say. Workshop coming up soon……can’t wait!!

Still hoping for: strong red markings ; I have had trouble finding the right eucalyptus plants but have had a small taste with a few small pieces I’ve used in my Eucalyptus Cloth [work in progress!]…..

also still looking for stronger prints on the garments I have dyed so far….but the process is magical, addictive and so much fun.

will resist the temptation to open too early…….the cooked bundles are like gifts waiting to be unwrapped! [the element of surprise can lead to thrills or disappointment of course……..]

dyepots still simmering

Some of the latest colours emerging from some unlikely sources……unfortunately the iphone camera pales the colours off a bit, wish it would stop trying to help and “adjusting”……..some of these scraps have emerged from red cabbage baths with various things added [an iron bar and some alum produced some lovely blues! not sure how permanent they will be but for now they are lovely, and satisfying the blue-craving until I learn how to make indigo vats……on the list!!] ……..the chewed pinecones from the local park , which have been dropped willy nilly on the grass after the black cockies have devoured the pine nuts, have produced a lovely warm tan; a perennial cottage plant in the garden which is one of the few plants I have whose name I don’t know…..must research, it makes lovely rich pink; and pine needles from the same black-cocky-food tree, simmered with some metal pieces, again producing some lovely blues to greys.

Perhaps i should change the name of this blog to “feast or famine”…….posts are very sporadic!  this may be the start of a run, to catch up on my own recording; the blog has been a good way to keep track of the journey.

I am pottering away with eco dyeing; it’s a consuming interest really, hours can disappear with the pots simmering and the “what-if’s” bubbling up along with the brews. Some days the results are disappointing, other days so exciting; and i feel very much still at the beginning of the learning curve. A projected three day workshop with india Flint coming up in autumn will be a wonderful opportunity to learn from someone who is such an inspiration.

These pics are of a cloth i am working on based entirely on fabrics dyed with eucalyptus leaves…..am playing around with some embroidered bits, not sure if I will incorporate them in this cloth or not; maybe will just gently quilt it and let the glowing colours speak for themselves.

Also my first attempt at eco-dyeing a garment…in this case an old op shop singlet-tee, which went from dull washed white to a very interesting print! I am still not achieving the clarity of prints I would like but the effects are still really interesting and encouraging me to continue..

Loose Ends

At the end of a busy winter of stitching and dyeing [see more on that in next post!], have decided to pull together some of the various pieces of cloth that have occupied me. Seems time to construct a whole, rather than parts…just for awhile. So I have finished and hung the “warm winter cloth”: the intense embroidery stitching, very simple blanket stitch, chain stitch and running stitches, were satisfying on long winter evenings, as was the warmth of the felted fibres that were the base, beautiful and soft to stitch through..

I have started to assemble the blue-green pieces that have been on-going for quite some time, into a cloth loosely called “watercolours”

and the warm, madder-based cloth , a combination of naturally-dyed bits, old sari scraps and other warm-coloured pieces

so a lot of stitching to do, and textures to add, to both of these cloths, but they have a bit of a direction happening now.

Sad farewell this week to the brilliant Leonard Cohen, whose wonderful poetry  inspired the name of my blog….


winter stitching

short days and chilly weather, very conducive to stitching! Autumn Cloth all but finished…a few stitches here and there will probably go on for awhile….

and have started the bare bones of a warm Winter Cloth…..base coming together with the help of the felting machine; lots of hand stitching and embellishment to follow!


Have also finished another Turquoise piece, which was looking a bit sparse

…….seems to be the theme this year! I spent too long wondering what I wanted to work on, and where i was headed with it all; then realised that i was already working on what I wanted: life was what i was doing not what i was planning! and instead of stitching away on my Autumn Cloth while I wait for the “real inspiration” to strike, I am now seeing it as where i am at the moment:  piecing and stitching as the flow takes me, all by hand. Perhaps the general manic events in the outside world are causing a lot of us to turn inwards, and to deliberately slow down and use less technology; with the stitching more organic and less formalised, edges sometimes rough and fabrics less than perfect, bits of old dyed and painted cloth, pieces dyed with plants, old scraps of sari fabric. Working this way brings peace and a sense of quiet contemplation, the feel of the cloth and the flow of the stitching as important as the end result. Am  inspired by Jude Hill on her lovely blog Spirit Cloth …..her work is so very much an expression of herself and her life, and she is so generous with her methods and philosophies; by  the work of India Flint, who uses native plants so beautifully and skilfully; by the richly coloured  and very personal work of artists like Jo Bruhn, Mandy Pattullo and Sue Dove; by books like Claire Wellesley Smith’s Slow Stitch and Cas Holmes’ Stitch Stories. It’s interesting to put them all together and realise that they are all very different but each voice is unique and very much a true expression of the artist.

With winter arriving it will be lovely to keep working away on this piece until it decides it is finished!