Getting to Know the Wayside Neighbours

May 6, 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 am slowly, excruciatingly slowly, learning to recognise the different eucalypt species which have been my neighbours for almost twenty years now. It sounds shocking not to know the names of the trees that you walk or ride past everyday. Like most non-indigenous Australians, perching precariously on this ancient but recently colonised land, I know little of the flora of my homeland and refer to it amorphously as gum trees and bush.

Different eucalypts yield different colours in the dye pot and finally, for the sake of the documentary imperative for this project, I am learning recognise my neighbours. I am getting pretty good at greeting my old friend Eucalyptus nicholli but today’s post is all about Eucalyptus viminalis also known as White Gum, Ribbon Gum or Manna Gum.

IMG_0449This is one of the eucalypts that are indigenous to our area and were reintroduced during the revegetation programs that began in the late 1980s. It is a large, fast growing tree, growing up to 30 metres. It has a rough base with smooth pale bark rising into a spreading crown. It sheds bark in long ribbons that hang from the tree and accumulate on the ground. It flowers white in Autumn and Winter. Apparently, the first people living in this neighbourhood, the Wurundjeri, made shields with the bark of the Manna Gum. Boring insects produce an edible sugary stuff on the tree called manna. According to my books, it is a mild laxative!

IMG_0475One of the Manna Gums along the creek path behind the factories had a limb fall down recently. This particular species is know for dropping large branches. This is where I gathered my leaves and bark on a bike ride with a small friend to help. We collected the bark from the ground, only taking the bits that were not already homes for spiders. 

IMG_0366The bark was crushed up small and soaked in rainwater for a couple of weeks, then simmered for an hour or so, rested overnight and simmered again. The alum mordanted fibre was added and brought to a simmer again for one hour, then left to soak overnight.

IMG_0419From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by skeins modified by copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda.

IMG_0386The leaves were brought to a long simmer of a couple of hours, rested overnight and then simmered again. The alum mordanted fibre was added and simmered for an hour, soaked overnight and rinsed.

IMG_0409From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by skeins modified by copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. As you can see, the bark and leaves, yield almost exactly the same colour range!

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








Only registered users can comment.

  1. The resulting colours have a lovely golden glow. It’s interesting that the back and leaves yield similar colours. It was only 2 nights ago that I first learnt about the manna resin, in an interview on the ABC, it sounds really tasty, both Phil and I were ready to go and scour the bush for some.

  2. I love these soft greens. They remind me of the dyeing projects of my Nana, and just now I realise she probably would have been using eucalyptus leaves!

    Is it unusual for the bark and leaves to yield such close colour ranges? I feel like it might be?

  3. I love seeing the variations in color with the different mordants. There is just soooo much to learn when it comes to using natural dye stuffs. I look forward to reading about more of your experiments!

  4. I love following you on your journey, R! Trees are fascinating and that is a lovely one. I have a funny relationship to nature. Growing up, my grandmother used to teach me the names of plants and trees, and my uncle and aunt are entomologists so I was always taken into the woods. On the other hand, for years I haven’t thought much about nature at all, other than that it calms me, thinking that I have no clue what is around me. But then my friend C., who is not from this continent, will ask me the name of something and it comes up from deep recesses. It’s funny how those memories endure. Something I’ve been planning to do for several years and shamefully haven’t been motivated to do is join the local field naturalists club. Scientists and other naturalists volunteer to do walks around local conservation areas to teach people about nature. I’ll bet something similar exists in Melbourne.

  5. More beauty. I would love to have the time to do a project like this. I did an indigo dyeing workshop many years ago when I lived in Utah, which is hot enough in the summer to support an indigo vat. It was more fun than just about anything I have ever done. Seattle, where I live now, isn’t warm enough, limiting you to stove-top indigo, which is not very satisfying. Keep sharing these posts and photos!

  6. I’m starting to indulge in a little fantasy about what you could knit with these small skeins of dyed yarn – the colours are all going to sit together beautifully.

  7. I agree with Katherine…those skeins have so many ombre possibilities. And yes, I knew all the names of trees etc where I grew up and now I look at these gorgeous evergreens and say, tree.
    I am sad to say I don’t even know the names of the mtns around me but I do know the wild flowers so all is not lost 🙂 I am pleased to see you looking at this nature in a new light. Must get a tree book!

  8. A beautiful post and a gentle reminder to walk with eyes wide open. Thanks, Rebecca!

    Eucalyptus treees were planted on the hills here in the 1800s as a fast-growing alternative to Redwood. Not so profitable that plan, but it does make for fragrant hilly hikes in the summer.

  9. I am enjoying your series on eucalyptus and its dye properties. Where I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, people planted a lot of those trees about 100 years earlier – apparently because they grow quickly (and smell good). When I was a teenager, it was all the rage for the “back-to-the-land” folks to collect the leaves to put under rugs and the “berries” to string on a leather cord for your dog to wear. It was popularly believed that the smell deterred fleas. 🙂

  10. Such a fun and informative series!
    These posts have opened my eyes to the roles and possibilities that nature hold in our crafts.

  11. I would so love to try the variery of eucalypts you have.

    I’d also be interested to see what colours you get if you heat and then leave to steep for days rather than hours … I’ve had some lovely surprises, and of cours some disappointments, that way.

  12. A continous fascination, Rebecca. You are not alone in your little knowledge of local fauna, you remind me that there are so many trees I do not yet know by their proper names other than “tree”. You inspire me to get to know them better. Love watching this waysides project grow!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *