Naturally Curated Colour

For part of the SDC International Colour competition, the scottish heat was held at my old second home, Edinburgh College of Art.

Three students from various Scottish universities came together to compete, and display their ideas for this year’s theme - Colour in Nature.

Alongside this, I was asked to provide a workshop for the students - something to inspire and distract, as well as fit with the competition theme.

The space being used on the day had no dye facilities and we were quite limited for time, so unfortunately actually doing some natural dyeing was off the cards. So I had to think a little outside the box.

I eventually landed on something I was quite excited about - to create contemporary still life colour palettes using my natural dye materials, hence the title Naturally Curated Colour (see inspiration below). I thought this would be a fun way to explore colour and potentially provide inspiration to the students of new ways to present their own palettes in the future. I also hoped it would create a nice, relaxed environment to discuss all things naturally dyed.

I gathered a variety of materials that I use when dyeing, as well as some dyed fabrics. This included dried natural dyestuff, dye liquors, print pastes, dyed fabrics in various sizes and glass containers to display any liquids.

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The students were encouraged to work in groups to create a colour palette, but some of them were quite excited to explore the materials on their own. It was nice to see them wanting to engage so closely with the workshop, and it also allowed them to comfortably chat about their projects to calm their nerves for their presentations.

Below are a few snaps of the lovely palettes created on the day. A lot of them looked more like a collection of items from a nature gathering rather than a sharply constructed still life - but I like how this was the more instinctual way the students worked with what I had brought.

I picked out a few palettes from the day to show how varied they were even with quite limiting resources.

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If you would like to see the work of some of the students who took part in the day, I managed to gather a few of the competing students’ Instagram pages to pass onto you readers:

@francescasmythdesign / @maisielzbthtextiles / @laurenpatchett.textiles / @kesandrewstextiles

You can also follow SDC to see more pictures of the day, including images of competition winners and their work @sdccolour.

Big thanks to Edinburgh College of Art for having me back for such a fun and inspiring day!

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Dyeing with Chlorophyllin

My original idea was to add these results to my previous post for my hunt for green, and keep it short and sweet. However, after the attention and excitement my instagram post gained I wanted to share a more in depth post about my chlorophyllin dye bath.

See below all the fabric samples I tested, plus the over dye tests. I chose to over dye with coffee as I thought it might sadden the colour (similarly to iron modifiers), and I hoped the daffodil would give the green a more yellowy hue. This did work in some cases and is most noticeable in the wools. The unexpected result was how the previous dye seemed to work as a barrier, stopping more of the chlorophyll colour absorbing and saturating the fabric. This produced some lovely sage tones on more of the cellulose fibres.

All fabrics were mordanted with alum before dyeing, as per recommended by Wild Colours - the website which I bought my powder from. The site also suggests that the fabric should be re-mordanted and dyed again to get deeper shades of green. So I put this to the test and… it’s true! There was no noticeable change in any of the fabrics when repeating the dye bath (although I was using the previous dye bath - but there was plenty of colour left so I still believe the test).

Also, I modified all the samples above in alkaline and acidic solutions with very little change across the board. This surprised me most with the daffodil + chlorophyllin samples as the daffodil dye on cellullose fibres became a much brighter yellow. Modifying before over dyeing may be the answer.

Surprise Result

During my masters I exclusively mordanted with alum before dyeing. Although the substance isn’t as harmful as other chemicals, it is also not 100% safe to put back into our water systems. Most dyers try and reuse their mordant solutions and just keep adding to them, thus never having to throw them away (although this doesn’t account for the rinse off from the fabrics).

I have a very small space in my house where I do all my work, and it is hard for me to save my mordants, hence why I decided to make bespoke items and to reduce waste that way. I have already begun cutting out mordanting when dyeing with avocado and onion skins as they are high in tannins which helps the colour fix (other mordants just help this last).

In light of this, I decided to test some of my bamboo silk that had already been dyed with avocado and the result is beautiful!

Left: Avocado + chlorophyllin. Right: Alum + chlorophyllin

Left: Avocado + chlorophyllin. Right: Alum + chlorophyllin

This bodes well for my silk scarf making plans, allowing customers to choose between natural salt mordants or a dye tannin base. I have yet to try an onion dye base… I will keep you posted.

Now to find out how it all happened…

My Recipe

Weight of fabric: 54g

Weight of dye: 2g (this amount is recommended for 100g of wool but I kept it at this weight as I knew I’d end up adding more fabric to the bath later)

Method:

  • Make a paste with the chlorophyllin powder and a splash of warm water

  • Fill your dye pot with enough water for your fabric and add the chlorophyllin paste

  • Add pre-soaked fabric and simmer for 45 minutes (45 - 60 recommended), and stir occasionally

  • Left to cool in dye bath for 3 hours (overnight recommended)

  • Wash fabric until colour runs clear

I decided to not cool the bath overnight as I find you are more likely to get patchy results when left un-stirred. Plus I was too excited to wait!

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How not to dye green

Ironically the most difficult colour to achieve using natural dyestuffs is green, and sadly the irony has always been lost on me.

From deep forest greens to lovely light mints, I was always a little sad I didn’t have any in my collection.

[I did manage to create a few green tones using woad on weld dyed fabric, but the process is quite laborious and woad was proving to be a difficult dye friend (patchy and fading).]

So as soon as the post graduation dust settled I began delving into some natural green research. Most dyers achieve their greens by either modifying dyes, such as onions, with iron water/iron sulphate, or by dyeing with chlorophyllin powder, a copper compound made with chlorophyll - the green pigment in plants that is essential for photosynthesis.

The exception to this is Rebecca Desnos who details her dye recipes for nettles here https://rebeccadesnos.com/journal/2018/04/dyeing-with-nettles/. The soft mint greens seen in her blog post are from nettle tops gathered in the spring/summer. In autumn/winter the colour dulls to beige - which is my nettle experience! My timing was off for my to try this but is definitely on the cards for this spring.

For me the iron modifier wasn’t an option, predominantly because iron can degrade natural fibres and my focus is to make long lasting clothing.

So naturally you’d think I’d just buy chlorophyllin… pffft, come on, I can’t make things too easy for myself now can I?!

Instead I became fascinated with how the chlorophyll extraction works and whether I could do it myself. I watched videos of scientists and chefs removing the chlorophyll from a variety of leaves, the latter boiled spinach to use as a natural colorant to have longer lasting bright greens in his green food. For the science experiments, mainly interested in assessing the strength and colour of the chlorophyll in different leaves, various high percentage alcohols were used for the extraction. This was the quick and easy method I chose to try.

Note: This was quite limiting research to go on (with no reference for fabric dyeing), and that’s why I’m posting about my unsuccessful dye baths. For me the experimenting was half the fun of it but I wanted to share my method in case anyone else was thinking of trying it and wanted a little more guidance for what NOT to do!

Alder, Rosemary & Ivy

As this was a first test I picked a few rich green leaves that were locally available to me. I started with roughly 1 alder leaf, 3 small ivy leaves and 1 small sprig of rosemary. I didn’t weigh the dry dyestuff amounts like I normally would because my weighing scales were out of batteries (oops). I thought a visual record would be ok.

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I then chopped up all the leaves as small as possible before adding each of them to a glass jar with 100ml of acetone.

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All three jars sat in hot water like a bain marie, and I heated them until boiling (which didn’t take very long at all). They then sat for around 2 days to allow more colour to develop.

Alder: Day 1

Alder: Day 1

Rosemary: Day 1

Rosemary: Day 1

Ivy: Day 1

Ivy: Day 1

All colours after a 2 day soak and with the dyestuff removed.

All colours after a 2 day soak and with the dyestuff removed.

As you can see the alder leaves produced a really dark green, the rosemary became a mid grass green and the ivy didn’t develop very much at all so I didn’t bother testing it at this point. It was a promising start to the experiment … but then came the unknown part, how do I get fabric to absorb the colour.

With all the excitement of the colour extraction I had forgotten about the fact I now had an acetone solution of colour, not a normal concentration of coloured water. Although an organic compound, acetone is a volatile solution that is highly flammable - in hindsight not the best plan for a dye bath. However I carried on with my curiosity and mainly hoped that once this was diluted within the dye bath this would be less dangerous (also I use an electric hob - a gas hob would’ve been a no-go).

You may have guessed, but at this point I was winging it. All I knew was that I couldn’t heat the bath too high because of the low boiling point of acetone.

I used 1 part concentrate to 6 parts water so I had enough liquid to cover my fabric. I added my pre-wetted fabric to the pot and heated on a medium setting for 20 minutes with a lid on.

SAFETY FIRST: I wore my goggles and mask for the whole process and used my extractor fan to ventilate the room.

Alder

Alder

Rosemary

Rosemary

Each bath, including the fabric, was taken off the heat and poured into a different container to cool for roughly 3 hours. It was then thoroughly rinsed and left to dry.

Whilst these two were soaking, I decided to jazz up the ivy solution by adding 1tsp of spirulina powder. Spirulina is normally used as a dietary supplement and is a deep rich green colour, I thought this may be the answer to my green prayers.

I did the same as before and heated the glass jar bain marie style, but only allowed the solution to sit for half an hour as the colour seemed quite potent (see below).

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I cooked the ivy/spirulina like the previous baths but thought it may have been for too long or at too high a temperature.  As you can see the colour turned brown after 10/15 mins, often a sign of over-heating.

I cooked the ivy/spirulina like the previous baths but thought it may have been for too long or at too high a temperature.

As you can see the colour turned brown after 10/15 mins, often a sign of over-heating.

This is the coffee filter paper after straining the ivy and spirulina solution.  The thicker parts of the concentrate are a deep green but I thought the overall yellow-ish khaki colour was a better indication of the potential dye colour (how wrong I was).  Also, note how there is an orange/peach colour at the edges of the green. If only I had a scientist on hand to explain what was happening here! (If anyone knows, please let me know).

This is the coffee filter paper after straining the ivy and spirulina solution.

The thicker parts of the concentrate are a deep green but I thought the overall yellow-ish khaki colour was a better indication of the potential dye colour (how wrong I was).

Also, note how there is an orange/peach colour at the edges of the green. If only I had a scientist on hand to explain what was happening here! (If anyone knows, please let me know).

Results

As you can see, I mostly ended up with beige, if anything at all. The wool was best at absorbing the colour and showing the difference in tone between each dye. The results were interesting in that the colour of the dye liquor was not indicative of the final results on fabric. The rosemary definitely has the greenest tones seen in the wool but was the weakest extraction.

Adjustments

After these tests I did create a second round of baths to see if any adjustments to my method would improve my results. This time I chose to use fir needles, nettle (in dried tea form) and spirulina again. In hindsight it may have been better to use the same dyestuffs using drastically different methods, but I had a hunch it wouldn’t make a huge difference.

For this experiment I used more dry dyestuff to extract the colour using acetone. I also allowed the fir needles and nettle to steep in a warm place for roughly 5 days, twice as long as the first batch. Again there were promising results from the chlorophyll extraction but this didn’t transfer to the fabric very well at all. The samples had cooled for 2.5 hours in the dye liquor.

For the spirulina powder, this acetone solution sat for just 30 minutes, it was strained and then I added warm water and the soaked fabric. This sat for 1 day in a jar, which I stirred occasionally.

I have plenty of images of this to show you but the results were very similar, if not worse, than the ones seen above. Trust me, you’re not missing out. #disappointingdyes.

Next Steps

There are definitely plenty of ways left for me to try to achieve a natural green dye - Rebecca’s spring nettle bath, the spinachy chef method or I can even give into the iron modifier.

However, I have already succumb to the allure of chlorophyllin - and it works! Amazingly!

I will update create a separate post for these results as soon as the sun comes back and I can take some lovely pictures of the pro chlorophyll dyed samples.

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If you’re a green hungry machine like me, I do hope this helped, and please do get in touch if you can enlighten me on my mistakes. Sharing is caring kittens.