dye | spin

Zen Along the Waysides

July 3, 2015

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

This was my final dye lot for the Waysides project for the near future. Other things are brewing, but the Waysides project will continue to evolve for both Annie and I. Besides, I want to get knitting all these skeins. Being the last one for now, I wanted to make this colour really count. I wanted an absolute show stopper of a colour so I selected my dye source very carefully.

IMG_0883There is a very lovely winding path in our neighbourhood that we call the Crocodile Path. It ends up at a park with piece of crocodile equipment so maybe that is why we call it that or perhaps the name predates the equipment. Who knows? Anyway, the path has been built over an old creek bed that still runs during (rare) flood times right into houses and cars. The path is lined with trees and is noisy with lorikeets, wattlebirds and magpies. They fight for food in the flowers of eucalypts, blackwoods and sheoaks. They defend nesting sites and quarrel for mates. It is a path to meander down, listen and sit. It leads us to the houses of friends, to another local park and a giant remnant River Red Gum.

IMG_0879Amongst the eucalypts is one I was most keen to dye from after reading a Local and Bespoke post. It is called Red Ironbark, Eucalyptus sideroxylon. It is a stately tree with black fissured bark from which can ooze sap the colour of blood. It is not exactly indigenous to this area but is a common parkland planting. They flower around now, anything from a buttery yellow to hot pink. My tree had yellow flowers.

IMG_0885I boiled the leaves for a good few hours as I and other readers have found to be best for eucalypts to release their colour. Alum mordanted, 2 ply handspun English Leicester was then brought to a simmer for an hour, then another, then another.

Yes, my friends, I had made beige again! Did I get my identification wrong? Did I need a tree with pink flowers? Was my tree just feeling sad? I DO NOT KNOW!!!

IMG_0800From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by the skeins modified with copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. Mmm, looks a lot like the last lot only the eucalypt has coarsened the yarn. I felt so disappointed and also very angry.

So, I will turn lightly to the Buddhist causes of suffering at this point…ignorance, attachment and aversion. These are The Three Poisons.

Clearly, ignorance is at play here. I do not know for sure what that tree is, why beige keeps following me and where all the good colours are.

I was attached to a wonderful conclusion, a glory dye, a spectacular discovery.

I have a strong aversion to beige.

IMG_0810Ah, suffering! Apparently, I must look with a beginner’s mind, breathe and embrace the now. Oh look, how interesting, I just made beige again! How extraordinary that such a multiplicity of plants make beige! I will let the colours come, I will let the colours be, I will let the colours go.

I really do need to embrace the inner dye-buddha or I may be at risk of becoming a junked-up-dye-gambler…just one more plant, I know this one will be a winner, just one last simmer and then I will stop. Who knows where that would end?

IMG_0830I also spun up and dyed 100 grams of English Leicester in a 3ply DK weight for Collingwood Children’s Farm. It will be knit up by one of the farmers there into a beanie to demonstrate to the children just what fleece becomes after shearing. It is fortunate that this particular farmer favours the golden hues so prevalent in the Waysides.

Since drafting this post, Jules from Woollenflower has suggested that my beige results from this eucalypt might be because I collected during winter after a very wet autumn. Eucalyptus dye colours intensify with dryness, so a late summer harvest after a long period of dry might indeed dye the vibrant orange I was hoping for.

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

Due to some patchy internet we are currently experiencing, it may take me a wee while to reply to your comments. Bear with me, as I do love replying to you personally.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your ups and downs of this project with us. I know first hand very well how maddening it can be to spend the time trying to achieve a certain dye color and not having it rise to the expectations (my Lily of the Valley experiment was disappointing and quite stinky). Despite the color not coming out as expected, I still find this post very inspiring but the simple fact that you are continuing to evaluate and plan for trying again to get the color you desire.

  2. Oh, I laughed so hard when I reached the part when you discovered beige again. You must have something in store that will be the most beautiful garment ever made…or perhaps a weaving of the subtle varieties of the beige. They are beautiful in their own right and if you are allowed to combine with a black or white, they will be utterly dramatic. Joanie

  3. I am still getting ready to begin dying with my own local (Spain) eucalyptus, which species is really anybodies guess but I really don’t want beige either… and since we are in the midst of a very hot dry summer at the moment I think I will wait until early september before actually collecting the leaves – although one part of me just says oh get on and do it, the other looks at the beautiful natural colour of the wool I just spun and worries about spoiling it. Dying is scary!

  4. Oh poor you! I must admit here that your post made me laugh out loud!! I could almost see your frustration! Save the beige for older-ness years when the colours of life soften? I am not able to offer any solace but I do offer my sympathy. x

  5. i know how you feel yes i got green from the moss but only in the right light other than that it looks dirty the only real win i had was the montbretia solar dyed and the maple leaves (spring ) also solar dyed maybe nest summer will be warmer and dryer then we will get better colors. how did you mordant with the washing soda you seem to get good colors from that

  6. To be honest, I love your beige-s! There is a subtlety, a nuance, held within them that, maybe, with distance from the project, will become apparent.

    But i totally get the frustration all the same!

  7. Oh dear, oh dear, what can I say to comfort Rebecca? It is all in the eye of the beige beholder, it’s the journey that counts and not the beige result, one man’s gold is another woman’s beige, every cloud has a beige lining, etc. It all sounds irritatingly b…. .

    I have been dyeing with logwood. I dyed nearly 1750 yards of handspun Cheviot for a cardigan, Then I dyed and overdyed Cheviot, Shetland, Romney fibres. And to top it all some Tussah and Muga silk fibre. Lovely, lovely soft grey violets…and then I started to spin…only to find my hands became a lovely soft grey violet. Now beige isn’t looking so bad, eh?

    Ah, but the post was a great read and I will miss the b…. reports.

  8. Maybe all the beige would overdye nicely, adding a deeper hue to the colour you choose to overdye with. Beige is very blah!!! Perhaps an upside to beige – it may offset other colours well as a background or highlight colour in multi-colour knitting. I wonder if the bark or wood chips of this tree would give you stronger colours? Maybe following an arborist around doing some prunning and chipping and collect the chipped up wood. What fun you’ve had with this project. Thanks for sharing. Marilyn

  9. More beige. Sigh.

    My people would call that beige the optimal luxury color, but I feel your pain, Rebecca. Smart to channel your inner monk. Me? I keep thinking what a beautiful tartan these colors would make. Imagine a Clan Eucalyptus rally! I would proudly wear mine with golden hose.

    PS. I have never seen a Wattlebird. Now there’s something for the bucket list! They sound jolly. No wait. That’s “wattle” not waddle.

  10. Thank you for sharing the Waysides project! I just attended a Master Spinner course in Alberta, Canada where we did some dyeing with natural dyes. It was so exciting and inspiring! I enjoy following your dyeing adventures. I really love the beige too!



  11. Aye, suffering comes from attachment. Had to laugh. You WILL find a pattern that accommodates all your beige’s and their subtle colour changes plus those copper, iron and washing soda colours.
    Just think how the ‘pioneers’ felt. Maybe that’s whey they are usually seen in grey’s and tan’s 🙂

  12. I was on the edge of my seat with high hopes of colourful hues, though if anything was ever going to entice one to appreciate the beauty of beige it would be these yarns you’ve been dying in your Waysides adventures. Each time you show another beige batch I know that it will make a brighter colourful result even more special. It’s good to hear there’s still hope for E. sideroxylon in a hot dry summer.

  13. Rebecca,
    I feel your disappointment but straight after reading this post, I stumbled across a post about the Iceland textile museum. In that post, there was a photo of a lace shawl which had similar colours -https://ellagordon.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/iceland-the-textile-museum/

    Maybe, to achieve true Zen mindfulness, you have been given an opportunity to experiment and create something that you like from colours you wouldn’t normally choose. Colours that wouldn’t detract from the design or stitches. You are a very creative person and I await your finished project with great interest and delight!

    All the best,

  14. I too chuckled when you got beige – so much expectation, so disappointing! :-(( But your Buddhist meditation is a delight, transforming the disappointment. I bet one day you will just – well, happen upon – that elusive not-beige colour! BTW so excellent to hear that the children’s farm will be using your spun fleece for demonstration purposes – and they appreciate soft golden tones!

  15. I feel your pain on this! I have taken to overdyeing beige I don’t want, and have also come to see it as one colour on a palette that makes other colours pop. But that does presume you have colours other than beige. I wish I had your zen!

    When I have had dyeing fails (or simply, unexpected results) from E sideroxylon I have sometimes found I misidentified the tree. E Tricarpa and E Corynodes give me results not unlike the ones you have here. There is also a wide-leaved form of red ironbark that doesn’t give the same colour as the narrow leaved red ironbark (E Sideroxylon).

    The commenter who suggested time of year would make a difference (and so would shade)–is right–a tree in a creek bed is likely as wet and as shaded as a tree might get in your area, and it’s midwinter. Even so, you have no hint of orange there.

    I loved your post. You’re a glorious writer and it is only a mater of time before you strike trees in your area that will give you lovely colour to add to that lovely beige.

  16. This post made me laugh and laugh. I’m so sorry you got beige again but your frustration does make for very good writing (and reading).
    x H

  17. I think the colours you are getting are beautiful and i love your local odyssey and that beautiful handspun English Leceister wool. I at times go to the spinners and weavers natural dying group in Melbourne. There I was given nicoli leaves by a very generous woman who got the most wonderful orangey red colour. I took the exact same leaves home to Ballarat and followed her process and got a cinnamon colour. I was so disappointed, but my sister loved the colour and i knitted her a shawl with it. There are so many different variables with natural dying. Just keep on going. Oxalis flowers are out early this year in Ballarat, so I’m about to go and harvest some. They give a strong yellow always. It would be wonderful to see the colour you get with the Red Ironbark leaves if you harvest late in summer. I look forward to the results.

  18. I’m still wondering if something is shifting your colours. It doesn’t take much. A friend who was having trouble discovered that the cheap wooden spoons she’d bought for stirring her dye pots were the cause of that trouble. That said that’s a *gorgeous* grey!

  19. ok i’m catching up a bit here…. great share of these stories, and keeps me going too! Thanks again, and also for your comments too 🙂

  20. glad that Mary from local and bespoke found you in the comments – she was my room mate for a week at the india flint dyeing workshop in QLD earlier this year! You two should definitely meet!
    These days I always do a quick wool wrapped around leaves dye swatch before going all in with gathering large amounts of leaves in crazy public spaces (uh… traffic island, anyone?).
    have yet to experiment with red ironbark, and had no idea what amazing (or beige, yeah, my least favourite too…) color could be had.
    Have you used the melbourne tree email map thing to identify trees in your area? found it rather handy, but would LOVE a search function. where is the nearest e.cineria?
    map: http://melbourneurbanforestvisual.com.au/#mapexplore

  21. I completely agree that a sample is a helpful precautionary strategy… but you folks in Melbs have trees that we don’t get here, my fave being E Crenulata. I found one beside an oval in Albert St, Brunswick. Pretty tree… grey foliage… leaves have an unusual toothed edge. Hope you have some nearby! Hi Kylie 🙂

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