Colours from our backyard

Eucalyptus wool

These are the results of my eucalyptus and brown onion skin dyeing. From top to bottom: eucalyptus overdyed with 50/50 eucalyptus & brown onion skin; eucalyptus overdyed with 100% brown onion skin; eucalyptus only. I’m very pleased with how it turned out – the eucalyptus only I thought a little disappointing at first since I was hoping for more intense colour but I have come to appreciate its delicacy.

I’m looking at natural dyeing processes and came across the work of Sophie Cantie via whipup. I think it’s fascinating to look at the colours produced in different environments. I purchased Sophie’s Earth Palette and it is beautiful and inspirational.

For my next dye batch I hope to include different fibres – cotton or linen – and produce different shades. Cellulose fibres like these require a mordant for colour pick up and fastness. I tried out rhubarb leaves. Don’t. Simmering rhubarb leaves smell utterly foul. I have the stockpot out on the deck now and I’m not sure that I have the stomach to use it.



In exciting developments ’round our place, the recipe for home-made deoderant (Hayley at Sew Green, via soozs) is an instant hit for me. I don’t like aluminium-based anti-perspirants but I do very much want something that works and this combination of cornflour, arrowroot powder, bicarb soda, coconut oil and essential oil is very definitely working. The Bloke has been gently puzzled by my insistence on trying this out and has delicately said that he has never noticed a problem before.

The recipe makes approximately 175ml which should be sufficient for 4-5 months (I suspect that might vary considerably depending on personal use and the season). Coconut oil is shelf stable for two years, so there’s no concern that it might go rancid. I did have some problems tracking down an Australian supplier of pure coconut oil and eventually found some here at Heirloom Body Care.

One last thing: the recipe calls for ‘several drops’ of an essential oil. Of a 12ml bottle of bergamot oil, I used 3ml and believe me, that’s a lot more than several drops. If you’re concerned about how much essential oil you’ll need for scenting and not keen to find out that you’ve used most of an expensive bottle, I’d recommend ti-tree, lavender or eucalyptus oils as strongly scented and cheaper oils.

A small glimpse of my other eureka moment last weekend:

From left to right: eucalyptus overdyed with 50/50 eucalyptus and brown onion skin; eucalyptus overdyed with 100% brown onion; eucalyptus only. The wool – New Zealand merino acquired from a destash a few years ago – has retained a soft hand and a delicate eucalyptus scent. I have about 350gm of the palest shade and about 50gm of the other two shades. I’m planning a stole, beret and perhaps some wristwarmers, each with some fair isle detail to bring out the different shades.

It was only after the skeins had been placed in the dye bath that I remembered a small but clearly important piece of advice: tie the skeins in at least eight places and not the standard four. Believe me, that shot does not convey the full tangled spaghettiness of all those skeins.

The last bit of eureka is Agence Eureka, a treasure trove of vintage French book and paper goodness. I particularly liked the old school book illustrations of ugly little Englishmen being soundly defeated by upright, tall, good-looking Frenchmen at a 1:4 ratio.

A new kind of personality test

By George, I’ve got it!

Your answers to the questions below could reveal everything you need to know about your personality.

These three samples are:

  1. Varieties of port; or
  2. Urine samples; or
  3. dye samples

I’m not actually sure what the answers would reveal about you, but if you answered 1 or 2 I’d be very happy to make your acquaintance.

Things to do with a hole in the sky

Imagine, if you will, a 35m gum tree standing near the fence, near all those woodchips.

It does leave quite a hole in the sky as the tree lopper said. It wasn’t our decision by the way; we’re in one of the councils who have relaxed vegetation clearing permits for a time so people can choose how to fireproof their property. This means that lovely as our landlords are, they decided to take advantage of this and take down three trees prior to subdividing the block. This tree hurt the most. It was a magnificent 25 year old gum tree and posed no block to subdivision as far as we could see.

Rather than let it all go to waste I had the Bloke ask the loppers to set aside a few branches for me – I haven’t read India Flint’s book for nothing. They willingly obliged and last night, as the sun set, I set about trimming leaves and branches. The leaves are grouped by new season growth (deep juicy green), older growth (longer leaves, drier and lighter green with a silvery film underneath) and the dead and dried (deep red to brown). Those last ones are in the box with bits of bark. The lass came and helped by going up to one of her cubby trees – a wattle – and bringing back some leaves and flowers. I did a tea test last night and the wattle flowers produce a lovely yellow that’s bright but delicate.

What amazed me as I was trimming was the colour of the new gumnuts. It took me heaps of shots before I got one with steady enough hands:

Australian fauna and flora is quite amazing. Except for the ‘stupid possum’ that keeps waking the Lad in the middle of the night.

Dyeing for a cuppa

When I was given birthday money as a kid or a teenager, I used to agonise over it. It wasn’t a problem of what to buy but precisely which item in my mental list of ‘I want it, I want it, I want’ came first. This year it wasn’t really a problem.

I bought myself a copy of India Flint’s ‘Eco Colour: beautiful dyes for beautiful textiles’. It’s all about dyeing using natural material and with minimal environmental impact. Hugely informative, practical and with so many photographs of her work as examples of different dyes and techniques. But the best thing by far is that she writes about Australian plants.

So I was able to walk out to the garden, snip a few samples from shrubs and trees and try out her ‘dye tea’ technique. Boil water, place a small amount of material in the cup and cover with water. After ten minutes, the tint of the water will give you a reliable indication of the dye colour.

What I had forgotten is that for flowers, India recommends freezing them first then immersing them in lukewarm water to gain a dye solution. So most of the flowers didn’t really show anything except for the banksia (top left). After I remembered to consult the book, I found that the banksia seems to be the only flower that is used in a hot extraction process.

I like the techniques – bundling flower or leaf material and then using cold water or steaming to extract colour directly to the textile; multiple extractions or either the dye stuff or fabric to give different shades and tones; shibori using clips, tin cans and all sorts of other stuff; the advice on alternative mordants.

So, there’s a storm brewing outside and afterwards I’ll be out there gathering windfall for dyeing. It makes me feel a little bit witchy.

Arashi shibori


This is what was on the end of the pole – a light shimmery blue silk scarf waiting to unfurl itself.


Bronzed aussies

At that  shibori natural dyeing workshop, we also threw some squares of silk into a eucalyptus crenulata (silver gum) dye bath. This particular eucalypt is noteworthy for the browns it gives – its seems that most eucalypts gives shades of yellow and green. I really didn’t expect to see such beautiful bronzes.*


The different mordants give different tones. From left to right: alum, ferrous sulphate (iron), and a mix of ferrous sulphate with alum. Since the mordants are completely absorbed by the fibre the remains of the dye bath can simply be poured over the garden. Now there’s a way to get around Stage 3a water restrictions.

I’m beginning to think about dyeing lengths of muslin to use as furoshiki (wrapping cloths) for Christmas presents. Use eucalyptus leaves, some tie-dyeing with the kids and voila, no crappy wrapping paper to deal with.

*Edited to add: we probably ought not to have been supplied with wild-gathered silver gum leaves. After a little investigating, this site tells me they’re listed as endangered.

Those indigo blues

I wandered out into the countryside – the neck of the woods where I grew up – for a dyeing workshop. While it wasn’t quite the ‘natural’ experience the innercitygardener and I thought it would be, we did get a good go at indigo dyeing and shibori. Plus it was a day out, a week day no less, and we were on the lam.

It’s been years and years since I’ve done such full on dyeing. In many ways it’s like cooking, putting together a recipe and then closely watching the colour develop through the dyeing process. And then, when you think it couldn’t get any more fun, shibori comes along. Shibori is a form of Japanese resist dyeing made through folding, stitching, clamping and other manipulations of fabric. At it’s utterly basic, you can think of it as tie-dyeing. But at it’s most intricate, it is absolutely stunning.

We tried arashi shibori, where fabric is wrapped around a pole on the diagonal, lashed to the pipe and pushed to the end of the pipe to pleat it.


Itajime shibori involves folding and clamping fabric. For my scarf length sample, I started off with triangular folds and then to fan folding. I tried to go for a twist-and-pleat effect at the end but really had no idea what I was doing. What you can see here is the pretty bit.


The resist was created using clothing pegs around two sides of the triangle.


Kanako shibori was next, with tied off fabric and object wound into the fabric. I’d like to learn to do this properly because I think it would achieve some stunning effects. It’s this technique that can create the small squares and circles you might see in some kimonos. I tried to pleat fold as I gathered the silk to see if I could get squares.


Nui shibori is stitched and gathered to make tight folds. It’s usually a simple running stitch that’s used and when the stitch line is repeated it creates a beautiful ripple effect. This is particularly coarse since it was calico and I didn’t scrunch up all of the fabric as much as it needed. Some of the stitching is still in there so I’m not sure how much of a resist it was.


I haven’t given my samples their final wash yet, since the longer they oxidise the deeper the shade of indigo. These samples also show the importance of making sure your fabric is massaged while it’s in the dye bath. Indigo won’t penetrate the fabric evenly unless it’s swirled, massaged or otherwise cajoled.

I’ll post pictures of the arashi shibori scarf once I’ve done the final rinses. The first one is warm soapy water and then it must be left to dry completely. To set the pleats, I’ll need to do a final rinse of boiling water and vinegar and again let it dry completely. The soapy water will wash out the excess dye while the water and vinegar will reduce the alkalinity of the fabric. The temperature of the water is what will set the pleats. I hope.