In July I was lucky enough to do an eco-dyeing workshop with Penny Jewel, organised by WAFTA. It was just for protein fibres which are easier to dye than cellulose, but I wanted to improve my dyeing outcomes and I learned an enormous amount.
Much of the fabric was provided and this shirt came from a length of wool jersey which was part of the supplied kit. Before I dyed it I cut it into three pieces, which I felt were big enough for a front, back and two short sleeves, but I hadn’t chosen a pattern so there was a bit of guess work involved.
These are the three pieces as I unwrapped them. They were all a bit different which concerned me. I immediately annotated the photos with the process used so I would know for future. They are proving hard to read, so I’ve added captions.
I really thought the three pieces would be much more similar, as I used a similar process for each, so was rather surprised at how they turned out. Each piece is so different!
Then I had to consider the pattern. My mind immediately went to the Pattern Union Cora blouse and I’ve had the pattern on and off this fabric for at least a month. I just could not make that first cut. So I didn’t make it. I put it all aside whilst I slept on it – for many nights! This always works; I woke up one morning and knew that I needed to use the Pattern Union Eva Tee. I’ve made it before and really like the relaxed, but not baggy, fit, high, wide neckline and the shaped hem. It comes with a long or short sleeved option.
Given that the fabric is wool jersey I would have loved the long sleeves, but I didn’t have enough fabric, so short sleeves it was. I didn’t worry about the tabs.
I spent a considerable amount of time working out which piece of fabric would be which part of the tee shirt, and then which way up it should go. I even enrolled Mark in this activity. He’s very tolerant!
This is how the back turned out. I used whatever plants I had to hand, including various types of eucalyptus, wattle, bracken, and banksia.
These photos are attempting to show the three different fabrics, but I wasn’t terribly successful.
This folded flatlay shows the differences much more successfully. It also shows the lovely shaping at the hem.
Whilst I was playing, I did some felt that I had made. It’s still not felted enough but I really like the effects I was able to get, especially the one on the right. The M&P blanket means that the carrier blanket was soaked in myrobalan and pomegranate. Myrobalan is a good source of tannin.
We also did some silk noil. I haven’t decided what to do with these pieces yet, but they are really lovely. The larger photo shows how I divided a piece of silk into eight pieces and played with the dyes.
You’ll notice that I talk about “blankets”. These are also known as “carrier blankets”, which bring a solution such as iron, copper, tannin or lac to the fabric being printed. I lay out the leaves etc on the fabric I want to dye and then I place a piece of flannel dipped in a solution such as lac (what shellac is derived from), and then lay it on the top. This brings greater definition to the leaves and flowers. I can also dip the leaves into a solution before laying them on.
In summary, I can lay leaves on undyed cloth, optionally dipping leaves and adding a blanket. Or I can dye the fabric with whatever I wish, then add the leaves and a blanket. I then roll the whole thing round a piece of dowel or heat resistant plastic pipe, bind with string and steam it. This parcel is wrapped in some plastic coated paper to stop it contaminating other students’ work.
It is easier to roll round a fat piece of pipe or dowelling. I’ve decided that my sticks are all too thin so I’m eyeing off some pipe that is in the garage.
I use a large pot with an inverted colander in it to do my steaming, but the professionals use this kind of set up:
I thought I’d show my experiments with pieces of old wool blanket. You can see the difference dipping the leaves and using a carrier blanket makes.
If something turns out to be a bit disappointing, it can be redone.
I went a lot further with this post than I had intended but I felt that it was useful information. I haven’t explored mordanting yet, but will in a future post.
I have many books on the subject of natural and eco dyeing, but these three are my current favourites, and I can recommend them. I found the middle one in an op shop and bought the other two new. Libraries may have them or be able to get them.
This is a fabulous activity. It takes time to do, plants have to be collected (I use prunings or windfall) and I make my own iron water and copper water. It causes me to do investigations, experiments, and look at plants in a new light. At the end, if I’m lucky, I get a lovely new garment to wear, which smells amazing when I press it. I have more garments planned, and hope to introduce new concepts.