felt luminary

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

More on the Process & Tools of Botanical Dyeing

  This is mostly for a friend, Paula, who's art work I greatly admire and thus enjoy collecting (check out her ETSY shops PaulaArt & Industrial Habitat) and other friends and family who have expressed interest and curiosity regarding the botanical dyeing process I have become fascinated with.  Hopefully those who have been keeping up with my little blog will also enjoy it! 
   In the photos below I will try to convey the process I go through in order to get the images, color and texture of leaves, berries, bark, rusty metal and whatever else I think may give an interesting look to either wool or silk.  So far I have worked with silk and wool; separately or combined in the nuno-felting process.  These are called protein fibers, fibers that came from an animal like sheep and silk worms as apposed to plant fibers like cotton and linen.  Plant fibers require a complex pre-treatment before the fibers will accept the color of the dye material.......but I plan on experimenting with that very soon!

 For the color and image of the plant material to permanently transfer or print on the wool or silk it requires something called a mordant.  A mordant causes a type of chemical reaction that allows this to happen.  A mordant can be alum, iron, copper-to name just a few-and each will give a different effect and color.  For botanical printing my preference has been iron and I use iron based metal pipes, stove handles, splitters & rail spikes, pictured above.  The other rusty bits make awesome marks and designs on the fabrics, and my foot.......... that's just there to give a perspective as to the size of the iron tools I use!  I will go into how I use them in just a bit.

The next important element is the plant matter!  The most striking image has been an old favorite of mine, the eucalyptus leaf.  I have always loved the long, arching shape of the leaf and the unusual berries......never realizing that under the right conditions they produce a brilliant orange to rich brown image.  It's the smaller leaves shown here that have given me a bright orange to rust while the larger ones usually a shade of brown to rusty brown.  My second favorite is the extremely common and abundant yellow onion skins!  I also use and experiment with cloves, safflower petals, turmeric, black walnut hulls, calendula, wild geranium, japanese maple & madrone bark to name a few.  
   After soaking the wool, silk or nuno-felt for an hour or more I then gently squeeze most of the water out and lay the piece out flat on a table and spray it with vinegar.  We've found the vinegar works with the eucalyptus to give that orange/rust color.  ("we" being my good friend and very talented dyer/felter, Carin Engen)  Then I lay out my plant matter.  If I'm using wool or felt I try to lay out the plant matter that will hopefully compliment the finished piece I'm going for.  The wool and felt will produce a definite leaf image where the silk is more, well, air-y?  I will then fold the wool or felt in a manner so it is just wide enough to fit around my iron pipe.  I will then place the pipe at the end of the fabric and very tightly wrap the fabric around the pipe and tie it as tight as possible with string.  The string will leave an image that creates texture on the fabric.  If I am dyeing silk, I randomly scatter the plant material over half of the silk, fold the other half over the plant matter then either fold or scrunch the silk up, occasionally twist it up and then wrap it around the pipe.  Where it touches the pipe it will create a black/rust marking.  I also tightly wrap string around it.  The photo above is silk after it is done steaming...........After the fabric is bundled up the get steamed in an old roasting pan for two hours.  Sometimes I allow the piece to cool and sit overnight before unwrapping.......usually I am so excited to see the results I can only wait until the piece has cooled completely.  Remember that feeling as a kid, waiting for everyone else to wake up before you can run out and open presents?!?  That is exactly the feeling I get every single time when un-bundling one my projects!!!  Below are some of my results............

 This is silk with a bit of safflower, the black is black walnut hulls lightly scattered and the dark pink are whole cochineal pieces. (Cochineal is a dried bug that thrives on a cactus in South America! How someone discovered it would give a dark to bright fuchsia pink...?!?!)  I then accordion folded it and wrapped it around a rail road spike.  I love this piece! 

Here on the right is a nuno-felted cowl, wool side out, the top is folded down a bit showing the silk.  I only used eucalyptus leaves and the small berries that were on the branches.  The black outline on the leaves & berries and the grey marks were all caused by the iron stove handle I wrapped it around.  If I had used a copper pipe the rusty leaves would be peach, berries light orange and no black and greys-much more pastel.  I'm not a pastel gal at all..... another reason I love the effect of the iron!  

On the left here is the detail on the sleeve of a cashmere sweater I got at a second hand store for $20!!  Takes the fear factor out of dyeing cashmere for sure!  Notice how on the upper area of the sleeve the eucalyptus leaves are orange and further down the are dark rust with a heavy black out line... this is because it was closer to the pipe.  The bottom of the sleeve is very dark and the rust on the pipe transferred to the sweater...I LOVE this effect!!  In fact, if you look closely you can see the letters from the pipe, actually a cast iron stove handle, have transferred to the wool!  It's important when laying out your leaves and folding the sweater or fabric where you want the vivid black and rust that comes from being next to the pipe.  When dyeing fabric pieces this is easier but when doing a piece of clothing it can be tricky!  We have been learning by experimenting & doing, that is so important when learning anything!  Below is a picture of the whole sweater front, below that is the image on the upper center back of the sweater where I got a great imprint using the larger eucalyptus leaves-you can also really see the string marks.  The last shot is a close up of the very bottom of the front of the sweater, I just love these small little eucalyptus leaves.  Look closely and you can see the horizontal image of an old iron tool of some sort that I put in the center of the sweater while rolling it up.  I used a total of three iron pieces to roll up this sweater.

 This is the first big piece I botanically dyed.  It's a shrug type of jacket, first I nuno-felted a large rectangle then I sewed up the two ends part of the way to form the sleeves and then dyed it.  It fit perfectly.  I had the iron pipes on the end of each sleeve to darken them and I really liked how it looks.  But for me..... the rest of the jacket was too light. 

I made a tea from old eucalyptus leaves and bark.....for the tea I will soak plant matter in a large bucket of  rain water - when it rains in Northern California - for a few days in a location that gets sun most of the day.....allowing it to brew.  Then I will boil it down on the stove to concentrate it, then submerge what ever you want to dye.  Usually I get a lovely brown with a bit of rust.  My plan was to soak the jacket in the tea and darken it up some.  Not much happened submerging it in the room temperature tea so, not wanting to shrink the jacket, I warmed it up then soaked the jacket.  After 20 minutes I had some color but wanted more.  Wait another 20-30 minutes, perfect color and the orange/rust of the leaves still looked great.  I was worried it would dull them.  I couldn't wait for it to dry and see how it looked on, color changes when it's dry.  Well, the color was great.......but, sigh, it had shrunk up to where it is not loose and flowing but tight and constrained looking!!  *#@!#^%  I was so devastated I to take it off and put it out of sight so I wouldn't have that sickening feeling every time I walked in my room.  Of course I cried to Carin right away.  She assured me we could stretch it out by re-wetting it and tugging......nuno felt is really very durable.  I didn't have the guts to do it alone and brought it with me the next time I went to her place in Garberville.  We were so busy with the felting retreat she was having we forgot all about it.  It is still folded up and too small.  Fingers crossed and will stay crossed until the next time I go up.  Anyway, lets move on....  

 These little squares I LOVE SO MUCH!!!  They are about 4" inches square.  I layered the squares of wool fabric with eucalyptus leaves & berries with pieces of old rusty washers and such and sandwiched them between old rusty can lids.  Held the bundles together with clamps and string and steamed them for a couple of hours.  This was a blast to open up to discover these cool images!!

Left and below is a nuno felted top I made a couple of months ago at Carin's felting retreat.  The left is the detail of the back with the string marks.  Below is the front of the dress which looks much blacker toward the bottom than it is, lighting!  I nuno felted the top, the wool side is out and left the bottom just silk.  I used a great textured silk we call seer- sucker, it looks great botanically dyed!  It fits and I'm so happy with it.  I will NOT be darkening it in a tea! 

The pipe was at the bottom.  The top had a dark grey/brown because I actually did put it in a tea after steaming it.  Since the piece was already very hot from steaming and put into a hot tea it didn't shock the wool and shrink it further.  The fact that it was also very tightly would and bound around a pipe prevented shrinkage as well.
I have found for myself at least, it is best to make your garment a bit larger than desired before botanically dyeing it because the steaming and teas will shrink up the wool some, it's a logical effect. 

 A close up of sleeves from a different second hand cashmere sweater I dyed, they turned out so cool!  I especially am thrilled with the bottom of the right sleeve.....the grid mark that was made with the iron handle I used.  It is the handle on the far left in the very first picture of this post.
Some people don't like the vivid marks the iron pipes/pieces make.  Hmmmm?!
To avoid them they will wrap a scrap piece of wool fabric, felt or silk around the pipe before wrapping the garment and steaming it.  And honestly, I think the scrap pieces they use look amazing and I use them in patchwork.

Below are pictures of silk I have botanically dyed.  First is a test piece.  I put different varieties of eucalyptus leave I had collected around town that were unknown to me.  I put the leaves on the wool, right, then put a piece of silk on top of that.  This way I will know how each leaf reacts on both wool and silk.  In a notebook I noted which leaf was where on the wool & silk, where it was collected, the time of year (it definitely makes a difference), how long it was steamed and left to cool. You can see the numbers I wrote later next to each leaf.  I personally feel making test pieces is invaluable and marking and sorting the leaves I dry and save for future use is also.  After taking all the time and hard work to make, say, a nuno-felted top......I certainly want to know if my plant matter will create the desired effect I'm going for!  A big part of the appeal - for me anyway - with botanical dyeing is really never knowing exactly what it will look like when you unwrap it!  But knowing how a particular piece of plant will print is a huge plus.  To unwrap a top and find out everything was a dull beige, boring.
 Below.  A close up of a piece botanically dyed silk using some onion skins, eucalyptus berries, dried safflower petals and dried black walnut hulls twisted and wrapped around an iron pipe and tightly tied. 
 Below.  A close up of another piece of botanically dyed silk.  I used only onion skin and ground black walnut hulls, twisted then tightly wrapped around an iron pipe and tied with string.
Below.  A test piece of white nuno felt, wool side out, of a eucalyptus branch with leaves and berries-the small black specks are the seeds from the berries that came out onto the wool while laying down the branch.  I folded the piece in half to see if I liked what a mirrored image would be.

  The last part of the process after unwrapping your fabric....... Remove the plant matter, noting what created what image.  Shake off all the little bits and hang or lay flat to dry.  It's important to let a botanically dyed or printed piece to cure in the air for at least 4 days and up to a week.  It is exciting to see what was a beige leaf become a dark olive leaf after being exposed to oxygen for a day or so, light orange becomes a dark rust.  Personally I like to heat set each piece with an iron after it's been cured, just to be on the safe side.  After curing-go two weeks at most, it's important to soak the dyed fabric in a tub of room temp. water and two teaspoons of baking soda for at least an hour.  This neutralizes the effects of the iron and rust.  If you skip this process you risk the fabric deteriorating.  After the soda fix, rinse the piece in water until no more color comes out, then I like to wash it using a wool wash (NOT woolite!!) , Eucalan is my favorite because it doesn't need rinsing and smells great! There is a certain smell that comes from this whole process, not all that pleasant, thus another good reason to wash it.  Roll it in a towel, blot, and block the piece flat or hang to dry.  

  It is a lengthy process but so worth it!!  I love it because you get a unique, one of a kind look using materials found in nature.......so very many possibilities are out there.  I touched on a small fraction of what's possible.  And there are also many different ways to get a botanical image!!!  I'm just learning.  I learned a lot by reading; lots of different natural dyeing books, books that tell you what plants produce what color, and there is an abundant number of blogs on the subject , but mostly I learned by experimenting!  And having a friend to experiment and share results with has been invaluable.  Carin also has a blog that talks about botanical dyeing, it's called Artfully Felt and is on Blogger too.  She teaches botanical dyeing occasionally and we both teach together during retreats, check her blog for dates & locations.  I am also available to teach in the Northern California area, just contact me through the blog here.

  Paula, Laura, Lauren & Sara, Mum, Katie and all my other curious friends.....I hope you now have a better understanding of what goes into botanical dyeing and/or printing!   Let me know if you want to give it a try.........  I think this is coming in a close second to felting......luckily they compliment each other perfectly!  And I truly appreciate the encouragement and interest you all have shared with me, thank you.

  Love to all!   

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