Monday, 14 September 2015

Natural dyes - onion skins and rosemary

Yesterday I rummaged through the vegetable tray in my local supermarket and filled a bag with loose onion skins which had fallen off the onions. I did buy a couple of onions too. So today's experiment was to see how using iron as a modifier might change the colour of a dye. I made a batch of onion skin dye and a batch of rosemary dye. The onion skins were simmered for just over an hour and the rosemary for almost two as not much colour came out of the rosemary. I had stripped the needles off the stems of the rosemary as I thought it might intensify the green but the dye ended up very pale so perhaps I should have included the stems. Here they are bubbling away.

Once I'd strained the dyes I divided each one in half. One pot of each was left as it was, and to the other two pots I added a tiny bit of wire wool. The wire wool is magnetic so I presume it is mostly iron. I added about two square centimetres to the onion  skin dye but when I saw how dark it went I only added about half a centimetre to the rosemary. The results of the onion skin dyes are quite dramatic.

This is the silk dyed in onion skin without the iron. It is magnificent if I do say so myself.

And this is it with the iron.

It's almost unbelievable. Both pieces of silk (dupion) were mordanted beforehand with alum. How is it that one piece of wire wool turns the whole things from brilliant orange to black?! If I hadn't seen it happen (and it was almost immediate) I wouldn't have believed it.

I also had a larger piece of silk in the onion-skin-with-iron pot which was unmordanted. At first it looked very black too, but when it dried it was more dark grey with lighter and darker patches. Here it is.

The difference in colour that a tiny bit of iron made is practically magical.

The rosemary dye is much more subtle; it came out a very pale yellowy-green and not the definite green I was hoping for. It's still very pretty though. See.

The second pot of rosemary had a tiny bit of iron wool in it and came out about half a shade darker.

There's one other piece. This one is polyester and was in one of the pots with iron added but to be honest, I can't remember now if it was in the one with the onion skins or the one with the rosemary! I thought it was in with the onion skins but looking at it, it looks quite green and I'm pretty sure there was more than one piece of fabric in the rosemary-iron pot so I think this must be it. You wouldn't think it would be so difficult to keep track; I guess I should make more notes as I work.

 Although the colour of this isn't particularly attractive, the patterns are lovely so I think I need to experiment more with using iron as a modifier.

And here's the pile of all today's fabric. From top to bottom it goes; spare bit of polycotton dipped in the onion skins with iron and then onion skins at the end, mystery polyester (probably rosemary with iron), two pieces of silk in onion skins with iron, three pieces of silk in onion skin, silk in rosemary with iron, two pieces of silk in rosemary.

It's really hard to get the colour right in the photographs. In real life they are a tiny bit brighter than this photo suggests.

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