The Colour of the Way to the Shops

March 20, 2015

This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from Our Home Grounds.

I finished drafting that lovely local English Leicester. I had a slightly higher twist rate than I planned but the yarn is still drapey and soft.

IMG_0114 Then I set to work dyeing. As you know, I have been rather excited about this. What wonderful colours were the waysides of my habitual routes going to reveal?

IMG_20150320_200416I began with some Ornamental Plum Prunus cerasifera leaves. We pass by a quite a few of these trees in our neighbourhood, on the way to school, on the way to the shops.  They used to be a very popular street tree with their maroon leaves and masses of pink blossom in early spring. They are short lived trees, only about 20 years and they are prone to disease and to looking very sad and ugly. Ugly or not, they are a ubiquitous street tree in our area so they were an appropriate place to start.

601px-Ornamental_cherry_plum_flowerImage by Hesperian, 2009 Source: WikiCommons

It is not easy to pick leaves from a street tree. I had staked out a particular tree that had been pruned low down and had lots of secondary growth at an easy height to pick. Then I had to go past several times over a week till it was actually alone and even then I needed the cover of my five year old daughter not to feel extremely self conscious. We picked a small flour bag’s worth and simmered them in rainwater for an hour before steeping overnight.

IMG_0200You can see my outdoor dye kitchen here. It is next to the outdoor toilet which has a power point in it and the rainwater tank. The cooktop sits on an upturned crate and my workbench is a piece of blackboard on Our Dear Girl’s wheelbarrow. This is a high tech endeavour. The next day, I added five 20 gram skeins of English Leicester yarn that had been mordanted in alum. I simmered the yarn for an hour and left it to steep overnight. Yes, it is a long process.

IMG_0137After rinsing and setting aside one skein, I modified each of the remaining four skeins thus:

Acid: simmered in a mix of rainwater and vinegar (1:1) ratio for 30 minutes.

Copper: simmered in a mix of rainwater and 6 mls of copper water (made from copper pipe offcut and vinegar/water solution and left for a year) for 30 minutes.

IMG_0144Iron: simmered in a mix of rainwater and 6 mls of iron water (made from rusty nails found in the backyard and water left for year) for 30 minutes.

Alkaline: should be left in a solution of water and washing soda till a colour is detected.  I didn’t read these instructions and simmered my skein, thereby dissolving the skein into slime!

IMG_0146As Annie Cholewa says ‘NEVER HEAT AN ALKALINE’.  Ah…traps for young players!

IMG_0212From right to left, you can see the effect of vinegar, iron, copper in relation to the unmodified one on the right.  It would seem that is definitely worth the palaver to use the modifiers as the really lovely colours are not necessarily the original dye colour.

IMG_0207I was initially disappointed by these colours. They weren’t particularly bright or exciting. But I think, my expectations are framed by the saturated, industrial colours of the contemporary world, in the same way that processed sugar spoils your sense of the natural sweetness in foods. These skeins embody the hidden colours in our world, colours from a different time, colours that take time. They must be drawn out carefully and with great labour. They are subtle. I need to remind myself that I am exploring, not trying to produce a particular outcome.  All I am doing is revealing the colours of my neighbourhood. These are the colours of my neighbourhood, irrespective of how exciting or not, I find them.

You can catch up with Annie’s progress here and see all my posts on Waysides here.