To Dye or not to dye (as if that's a possibility) / by Carol Reed

I recently took two dying workshops at Longwood Gardens given by the Dogwood Dyer.  The first was on natural dyes. I have played with these before using India Flints book, "Eco Color".  She is from Australia and her plant material is sourced there to. Which means she uses a lot of eucalyptus tree leaves which just don't grow in South Central Pennsylvania.  I did really enjoy some of the techniques she taught especially one where you put some plant material between two pieces of fabric and pound on it with a hammer.  Works beautifully with red maple leaves.  I'm not sure how long the color will last but these where done over 2 years ago.  However they haven't been exposed to the sun.

But I digress... We used two plants in the class and dyed on several types of fabric after the fabric had been mordanted.  The mordant helps make the dye stick to the fabric.  One plant was the outer shell of black walnuts - which stained my clothes many times as a child. The other was elderberry leaves.  Unfortunately since the class was only 3 hours the fabric wasn't in the dye bath for that long and didn't get dark. The elder berry was left in longer and you can see the difference between 2 hours and about 4 hours because I tied a resist in it after 2 hours.  The lighter color stripes in the yellow material is from the shorter time.

I'm planning on continuing to use prunings and other dropped plant material to play with natural dying further.  Next up is a native Spice Bush that has lovely brown flowers and has spread out into the driveway.  This is not a traditional dye plant, I'll let you know what color I get.

The second class was Indigo dyeing. A natural indigo vat was made using fructose to reduce the indigo.  If the indigo is not reduced it will not dye fabric.  The dye molecules are too large. We used powdered fructose but apparently you can also use really ripe fruit to do this.  Finally something else to do with those old bananas.

Above is the Indigo vat when it was first made. A lovely shade of blue but not something that would dye cloth.  Below is an out of focus picture of the indigo vat in it's reduced state.  The funny orange yellow color means that the vat is ready to be dyed in.

Below is another blurry photo of one of the textiles we dyed.  This was dyed in the Elderberry then the natural indigo.  The fabric is a raw silk.

A blurry shot of natural indigo dyed over elderberry.

I started this post in June but never got around to finishing it till now. I haven't found time to experiment with the plants around mu house yet although I still hope to do so.  Currently I've gone back to synthetic fiber reactive dyes that I'm very familiar with and am dying bamboo socks. 

The colors are quite a bit brighter! There are also some clamp resist cotton circle scarves in there too if you were wondering what the clamps were. If you want to learn how to dye with the fiber reactive dyes or indigo (although we will be using the synthetic kind) please check out my class listings here. Or if you just want to make some great gifts these classes work well for that too.