Beige Waysides and a Diamond in the Rough

March 24, 2015

The next thing I tried dyeing with was wattle seed pods.

IMG_0147I collected these from underneath the stand of Silver Wattles (Acacia dealbata) between the bike path and creek.  These trees were are indigenous to our neighbourhood but not original. For many decades the creek was little more than a storm water drain that factories emptied their industrial waste into. The blue stone bedrock was ripped out for gutter paving. The creek banks were places to dump cars and rubbish.

Silver_Wattle_flower_(6280768389)Image by John Tann, Sydney 2011 Source: WikiCommons

This changed in the late 1980s and a multi-council and community organisation was formed to rehabilitate the creek. European weed species were removed and replaced with indigenous plantings from other local remnant areas. It is a beautiful place of increasing wildness. Sacred Kingfishers and platypus are returning. Instead of facing away from the creek, houses now face towards it. In many ways, these seed pods represent that story.

The pods are formed after flowering, split open and fall from the tree in summer. By late summer you can collect the empty pods.  Well, you can collect them if you carefully avoid the bikes cycling past and avoid the dog poo graciously laid by the path. These waysides are full of hidden dangers.

IMG_0149I had read somewhere these would give me red. That sounded a bit marvelous. A strong colour for a strong story. Perhaps they would have yielded red but I simmered them and got beige, lots of beige.  In her recent catkins dyeing, Annie had the same same beige experience as me.  She explained that with plants that are high in tannin, very gentle heat is required to bring out the colour. Higher temperatures will bring out the tannins which are beige. I now know that wattle bark and seed pods are high in tannin, a chemical used to transform animal skins into leather and a mordant for dyeing.  Wattle bark in fact is the highest plant source of tannin in the world and in the early 1900s, Victoria had an international trade in exporting wattle bark for the leather industry.

IMG_0210I got the beige. The modified skeins are almost indistinguishable except for the iron which gave a lovely soft grey. It is like a cross between mushroom and silver, a warm silver. Amidst the beige, it sparkled like a diamond.

IMG_0214I tried this again with some natural white Ton of Wool Cormo sample I had been sent. I mordanted in the wattle pod water by simmering for 30 mins and then simmered in the 6ml iron water solution for 30 mins. The colour was exactly as predicted!! Oh, the soaring thrill!

This ponderous note taking and modifying is actually more useful to me than the beige symphony would suggest.  As an experienced dyer, Annie has a slightly different approach to me. I am an absolute beginner and these wee experiments are like colour maps of walking maps…revealing places and colours to revisit later.

IMG_0223I could try solar dyeing with these pods next year to see if I can get the red or I can experiment with using them as mordant. But for now, the colour of local tannins by the bike track and rusty old backyard nails never seemed more glorious to me!

You can read about Annie Cholewa’s Wayside adventures here and see all my Waysides posts here.

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  1. Solar dyeing might be just the ticket to extract those reds, you’re right!

    The silver grey is so beautiful. Not the colour I would have expected from the raw material, but that seems to be a common thread with natural dyes.

  2. That grey is indeed a thrill. There is something about tannins that is niggling at me. Will have to see what i can find out. When I first saw the first picture I thought it was sea weed 🙂 Good job and good note taking…that’s my worst!

  3. It’s especially nice to sense your excitement over this project. It’s a wonderful thing to be at the beginning of a new journey, I think. One can never quite recapture that feeling of the first few big leaps into something new!

  4. Hey Rebecca, such a great insight into the history of the creek and your own history making dyeing chronicle. Beautiful results!

  5. What an enjoyable post with its neighbourhood and plant history, and a beautiful natural dye. I think you need to give this grey a name. Thank you, Rebecca.

  6. I think you’re on a magical journey, Rebecca. Who knows what surprises you’ll find along the way!!??

  7. I’m loving that grey (grey is my favourite colour). Tannin plus iron is the classic way to grey and depending on the percentage of dyestuff to fibre your greys will be more or less dark. Here I think you have a perfect balance.

    It’s fascinating to read about the spots you’ve collected your plants from, I think perhaps I need to include more of that information in my posts.

  8. The effect of tannins is a new fact for this old head. I would have flung the batch against the wall in disappointment at not getting a red. Still there’s inspiration in how you and the blog chorus welcome every color as a thing in and of itself.

    All things in their way and time. You may just be part Goddess, Rebecca!

    PS. A day-lighted creek. That’s a feat to be proud of and one that changes everything. Oh to see a Platypus in the wild!

  9. Oh how beautifully subtle these shades are. I’m almost as excited about your small samples and notebooks as I am about the wayside yarn colours you have created. It’s fascinating to see the colours you are achieving from a different flora too.

  10. I love the grey you got! And your notes are not only useful, but also quite beautiful.

    I’m off to have read of my natural dyeing book to see if there isn’t something in my own garden that I can use to have a tentative step into the world dyeing with.

    Thanks for being so inspiring.

  11. Red from wattle pods? THAT would be awesome! I have only ever heard of brown from wattle pods, which indicates the tannin content, exactly as you’ve said. For me the barrier with wattle pods has been the difficulty of collecting enough for there to be a realistic prospect of a strong colour–I’d want several times the weight of my wool to have any confidence in that.

    You are such a fellow gleaner of the suburbs! I can picture that path, having run along the Merri creek when in Melbs and even sighted the Sacred Kingfisher in a moment of complete awe.

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