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.