My Friend Nicholii

April 29, 2015

I needed a bit of a lift along the Waysides natural dyeing journey I have been traveling with Annie Cholewa. As many of you know, I have been dancing rather wearily with the beginner’s beige so I decided to revisit the old friend who started me on this adventure, Eucalyptus nicholii.

IMG_5858Commonly known as Narrow Leafed Black Peppermint and haling originally from New South Wales, there are a quite few of these handsome trees around our neighbourhood, in home gardens, in our school playground and standing sentinel in a row next to the football oval.

Last time I dyed with this, I used a 3ply hand spun of silver, grey and natural white. This time, I wanted to try my Waysides yarn, a two ply handspun yarn made from locally sourced English Leicester sheep.

IMG_0114It is early autumn here and many Australian plants are putting on their new growth. I collected fresh, fragrant new growth. The leaves smelled amazing and yielded…beige!

I couldn’t look at it for a while. What was I doing wrong? And then I realised my mistake…young leaves. I needed older leaves. So I returned to the football oval trees and gathered more. Now look…

IMG_0424Oh yes, that is more like it. Glorious colour…intense and radiating energy. From left to right, you can see the unmodified, alum mordanted skein, followed by skeins modified by copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. As you can see, there is not a lot of variation. The vinegar makes the colour a bit brighter, iron makes it a bit darker.

The following is my method for dyeing with eucalypts. I find it gives me the deepest colour but you might achieve the same using a different method.

  • use older leaves and rainwater if you can
  • bring to a simmer for an hour twice, resting overnight or longer in between
  • leaving in the leaves, add yarn and gently simmer for an hour, leave overnight before rinsing.

IMG_0421Eucalyptus nicholli doesn’t need a mordant. It is a substantive dye but all my skeins are alum mordanted and came out just the same as the unmordanted original skein. The fastness may be improved by mordanting.

IMG_0425A curious thing about dyeing with E. nicholii that I have encountered is that all my skeins are significantly fulled. This happened to the original skein as well but I had assumed I just hadn’t been careful enough with my temperature changes. Moving from extreme heat to cold can shock wool fibres, as can excessive boiling. But these new English Leicester skeins were treated exactly the same as all my other Wayside skeins but have come out shrunken and the fibres a bit mashed. They will still wind into ball and knit up just fine, they are not felted but they have been changed by the dye process. I wonder if anyone else who has dyed with E. nicholii has found this to be the case? Perhaps it is the price of such wondrous colour?

You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.


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  1. LOVE the vinegar modifier. getting closer to ‘my’ colour 🙂 How clever of you to get older/more mature leaves. Does the yarn have the Peppermint scent?

  2. I’m glad you finally broke the beige curse! And what a wonderful way to do it 🙂 Those colours are so gorgeous and as Alina says – a perfect palette for Autumn…

  3. That was the colour of my daughter’s hair when she was young… she is currently undergoing her own experiment and her hair is now pink but this wonderful palette is tugging at my heart strings.

  4. Am loving the parallel journeys with you and Annie Cholewa, from my spot in between, on Vancouver Island. Living vicariously with your dye pots, as I knit along, enjoying our spring sunshine.

  5. Wow! The colours from the old eucalyptus leaves are stunning – I am going to have another try following your technique and hopefully I, too, will be admiring such a wonderful row on my washing line.

  6. I love the colours you are getting and well deserved after be being bored by beige. I have heard the theory is the closer to the trunk the leaves are the better the colour with Eucalyptus generally. And certainly the colour is better the dryer the weather. So the end of summer yields better colour. I think the fulling of the yarn is more due to the loose nature of the spinning than the nicholii. Try winding the yarn around sticks to add to the dye pot, not so tight as to give a resist underneath, but with a few sticks to increase the amount you can dye at one time. I had many beige attempts in the past and it is great when things start to turn red! Great to read your progress.

  7. Just lovely! I might have to go on an e. nicholli hunt. (From memory, the kids’ infant school has a tree, but I will need to find an excuse to visit it.)

    Interesting to read your comment about dyeing with the young leaves. I had wondered about whether the results varied with the age of the leaves. I did get a good deep colour from my juvenile spotted gum leaves, but there was a healthy component of bark in the dye pot as well…

  8. Beautiful! Yes I beat the beige curse by using dry E. cinerea leaves. The dryer and crunchier the better. Also, the colour intensified when I took the dyebath beyond simmer and into a gentle boil. Like, intensified dramatically.

  9. I agree with everyone above. Happy to see the beige curse broken and the tips from other dyers to go further (and oh! the wonderful comparison to a young girl’s hair color).

    Lovely to see an older version of a plant produce a fine and colorful result, Rebecca, since I am an older version and sometimes doubt my worth in the world. No more after this fine post.

  10. Gorgeous, gorgeous colours! I’m liking the alkaline modified skein particularly.

    Re. the fulling … the further from neutral pH in either direction a dyebath is the more likely that wool dyed in it will full/felt, and you are using a loosely spun wool in a probably fairly acidic dyebath – as you know, eucalyptus is high in tannic acid – so that combination may be enough to explain what you’re seeing.

    I’m overdue with my update but I’ve been having fun with leaves too 🙂

  11. Oh my gosh. Congratulations on extracting these beautiful colors. My niece has hair those colors and I am dead jealous. If you ever consider selling some of your output, let me know!

  12. Like a few here, red has always been my favourite hair colour. I am envious of ladies who have it! These are so pretty. Congratulations on the move away from beige (though I think the golden beiges are very pretty, too).

  13. Another option for avoiding the fulling is to heat the wool in the bath for less time and ‘haybox’ it instead–heat for half an hour or so and then insulate the pot with a dog blanket or towels or whatever you can find, to keep the warmth in but not heat the pot–I leave for overnight or until I can get back to it. Sometimes several days! Three cheers for those lovely colours and the wonderful E Nicholii.

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