day three of course Ecodyeing (Tuingeheimen) at Viltwerkplaats Odijk

So this is that we did on the third and final day of the course Garden Secrets, which is all about extracting colours from plants and fixing it on cloth.

We made mordants in various strengths from alum, iron and a mix of the two. We worked very precise. With drug dealer scales and mililiter injection syringes.

We made technical reference pieces with dots in every mordant which we hung in various dye pots. We had five pots on the boil. In Dutch: gele ui, duizendblad, rabarberwortel, guldenroede en blauwhout. (Yellow onion, Achillea millefolium, Rhubarb root, Solidago and Campeche)
We had prepared the dye pots earlier that day or the day before. (So that’s a skill I now also have, yay!)

Then we chose various mordants within one colour bath and painted with that. We fixated the mordant on the cloth. Then the cloth could be put into the dyebath and the dye grabbed onto the cloth but only where the mordant was. We were painting with mordants. The results are the flower paintings below.

In the afternoon I did one classic eco print (just plain old iron water, with an unknown strength, probably STRONK, and some Rhus leaves) because I want to master making clear contoured leaves in heavy iron. The Rhus coloured purple which was a surprise.

I also worked with the various strength mordants and painted them all on one piece of cloth, in narrow stripes. I chose to add colour from leaves, not from a dye bath, and arranged various leaved. The result is stripy with leave prints. Very interesting.

My course mate did the same but with broader stripes and one, big leave, again Rhus, and her print is amazing. It’s the last picture.

(We both opted to play with mordants and leaves. Other course mates chose to explore batik techniques and prevent either mordant or dye to touch the cloth. This way you can work in layers.)

workshop Tuingeheimen Viltwerkplaats Odijk natural dyeing Eco verf

workshop Tuingeheimen Viltwerkplaats Odijk natural dyeing Eco verf

workshop Tuingeheimen Viltwerkplaats Odijk natural dyeing Eco verf

workshop Tuingeheimen Viltwerkplaats Odijk natural dyeing Eco verf


We learned to extract colour from plants and we learned about mordants to fixate the colour to cloth (cotton, linen, silk) and also shift the colours with these mordants.

on Day 1 we did Ecoprinting and Hapazone. Ecoprinting takes colours from leaves and puts them on premordanted cloth. Hapazone is hammering colour from flowers directly onto cloth or paper. This is without mordant and the colours are fleeting.

on Day 2 we made dye or paint from plant materials. Chop them up, soak them overnight, boil them, extract the colour and put it into little viles. Thicken them, add mordant to them. Can be kept for a long time. We painted with them on cloth and paper and we thickened them to use them for stamps.

In the afternoon we learned to shift the colours with iron and lemon. I’m looking forward to making my own paints and using them for water colour/ aquarel.

on Day 3 we prepared sophisticated mordants. They are used first and then colour is applied (either by dye bath or leaf printing). This way the colour can be determined far more precisely.

In the afternoon batik pastas were taught (but not the wax ones! Clay or flour batik paste instead, the African batiks). I opted for exploring sophisticated mordants with leaf printing instead.

All in all it was a very good course. Anja Schrik from Viltwerkplaats Odijk knows her stuff. She’s also a good course instructor who keeps impeccable timing so no one stands around being bored but also no one misses out on information just because they had to take a little rest. Also: the course doesn’t run late. That’s quite unique, isn’t it.

And it’s filled to the brim with information! Just like I hoped when I visited the studio for the presentation of the book and saw the sophisticated mordants for the first time being done.

It’s also all in the book, Eco Verven (39 euros). Which is being translated in German at the moment.

I’m very glad to have the book. I’m looking forward to work with my new knowledge. I bought some cochinelle because the colours that can be obtained from that are marvelous! They would be such a nice complementary parter to the indigo dyed linen I have at the sewing machine at the moment.

Lastly: the location of the course. A studio near three houses surrounded with one great garden filled with trees and green houses and crops and fruit and chickens and cats 🙂

The kitten is called Sjakie and the adult cat is Obelix 🙂
Obelix was adopted from the shelter and handed over in a bundle of towels because it was supposed to be “such an aggressive, hostile cat. Best to be kept outdoors. Pray you never have to take him to the vet because he will fight you nail and tooth.”

He’s the sweetest thing you ever saw! Basking in the sunlit garden, comes trotting when called because he LOVES the cuddles. Interested in what you’re doing. Turns out some cats just can’t stand the shelter. They want peace and freedom and then they their love for humans flourishes.
obelix the catobelix the cat


Dyeing wool with Reed flowers

Last weekend I tried dyeing some wool with plants. For real. Next to the experiment I had bubbling away.
I wanted to dye with common reed because Sasssefras had dyed the most gorgeous greens with it and I love greens. Usually you only get greens with plant dyeing by overdyeing yellow with blue. Lots of plants give yellow it seems but blue only a few such as Indigo and Woad.

pics by Sasssefras, who had to amend the colours a bit because reed-green will turn up greyish in digital photo’s. In real life it’s as vivid green as the second picture.

We both got our cues from reader Pia from Colour Cottage, who introduced internet to dyeing with reed 2 years ago.
She got marvellous greens! Go check out the link to Colour Cottage.

I followed the instructions on this blog: Through The Seasons Of Time (fra Ă„rstid til Ă„rstid) and made a Lazy Efficient Dyers Pot:
reed, wool, sprenkled alum, more reed. All together at the same time.

I had
3 skeins of x 11 gram wool
1 skein x 12,5 gram mohair
= 50 grams total, you need 3 times the amount in fibre stuff. I had collected 200 grams of flowers (no stems or leaves). Plant = Phragmites australis
add 15% Aluin = 7,5 grams.

Plan: pour hot water on it, simmer at 84 degrees Celsius for 123 minutes. (or, you know, “keep it from boiling and check back after some time”).
Within 5 minutes of pouring the hot water onto the reed and wool it looked like this:

Glorious purple! Pimpelpurple!

After 15 minutes of simmering the water had grown much darker:

The piece of paper I put in the picture to represent white touched the water. It shows how the purple will become green:

After one hour the water is pitch black and the skeins are now grey green. Army green.

I took them out (into the nice blue thing) and put in some new fresh skeins (2 wool, 1 mohair), added some alum too. This will be a secondhand bath for lighter colours. I simmered it again.

I like how this works for people like me who have to divide any activity into steps and have to take rests in between them.
This is slow science and when you’re just on a discovery road expectations are not time sensitive.

The skeins from the first bath were really dark and army green looking:

After a while I took out the remaining skeins. The purple liquid that’s still in the pan I poured into a Large Pickle Jar and put into the fridge later the next day, when we left for the city. Perhaps I can use it again this year.

With the now dyed skein I then did something dyers call “after dip” or “shifting colours”.
I treated the already dyed wool to a chemical reaction that will alter the colour. You can change its pH or choose a variety of metals to mordant (“bite into”) the wool.
Most metals are poisonous so I choose for a after dip with washing soda and one with iron.

Iron after dip:
put some rusty metals/nails into a pot with water and wait for a month.
I didn’t have a month but I had some old Iron Sulphate laying around. I dissolved it in an old pickle pot and added water and two of the skeins.
It’s supposed to make colours darker and greyish. It “saddens” a colour.
My colours remained fairly happy though, the iron sulphate must have been too old.

Another pickle pot I filled with water and a bit of ammonia. Pia had shown us that that will make reed yarn sparkle. Or at least make you reach for your sunglasses.
It did.

Here are, from top to bottom:
2 skeins of mohair, one from the first bath and from the second bath
wool from the first bath + iron after dip (it has a white yarn put on top of it)
wool from the second bath
wool from the first bath + ammonia after dip
wool from the second bath + iron after dip
wool form the first bath

I didn’t rinse the yarn when I took them out of the dye pots, apart from the ones from the afterdip though.
A few days later, when I was in the city, I rinsed them out good and no colour came off.
Here now are my wools, ready for some nice colour work:

It’s handspun Norwegian sheep, spun by Vonneke who knows how I love the nordic countries. Today it’s exactly 10 years ago that I went and lived in Norway for six months. I attended the third year the Bergen Art Academy and rented a room with a mad norskman up the hill that overlooks the antique city of Bergen.
Every day I walked down that mountain, through back roads and a little forest path, until I reached the old cobbled stone streets and the old wooden buildings. On weekends I floated in the fjords with the Bergen Kayak society. Went on tour with them. Had picknicks.
It was a magical time.

Bergen is full of artistic people. I bought this t-shirt from one of them:

T by Splönk

It has a nice take on recycling: make little damages into design features. They’ve highlighted and repaired a little hole that was in this shirt:

In the back there happens to be one of the works I made in the graphic studios of Bergen, a wood print talking about the waters and the mountains and the weather and time.

God I miss Norwegian landscape and weather and artsy people and the history that lays all over the place.

Sneak Peak at the results of testdyeing with various plant stuffs.

I pulled all the little bags out of the pan and laid them side by side:

As suspected there was white, whitish beige, whitish yellow and yellowish beige.

In each bag you can see the plant stuffs and a little dot of wool. Everything is still wet so colours are as optimal as you can wish. They will wash out a lot, once rinsed and dry.
Behold my magic creation of white, yellowish white, beige white and whitish beige wool:

But there’re also a bit stronger yellow and greenish tones. The one in the middle is with leafs that fell of the Ficus we recently planted.

The two bags at the end are the most promising: dark brown from the Hock (Zuring) and purple from the Sanguisorba Officionalis (Grote Pimpernel). The Hock were fresh leaves from young plants.

I left them like this for the next two weeks because I’m due back in the city and will spend next weekend there because of a knitters’ party. (YAY! I’m almost definitely going! I’ll drive there myself and have already vouched to only go for a few hours so I won’t crash before I get home again.)

So I’ve left the experiments in their bags as is, with leafs and water. I put them back in the pan after I poured all the water that was still in there out of the pan because some of the dye might leach into the water and then get into a bag and taint the experiment of that bag.

I’m quite unsure if this an optimum thing to do. Perhaps it’d been beter if I had added vinegar to the bags or something. The way one does when eco dyeing (wrap a cloth and leafs around a stick or rusty pipe). Or perhaps it’d be better to let the wool dry for two weeks for maximum curing and then rinse it when I come back.

I don’t know, I cannot keep my thoughts straight on anything at the moment and especially not discern between natural dyeing; eco dyeing and acid dying.

In natural dyeing -which I’m doing here- you extract the dye from the plant (mostly by crushing and boiling but can also be done by fermenting and perhaps chemically playing around with chemicals and/or acidity) and then try to get the wool to accept the dye (need a mordant for it mostly).
After that you can shift the colours by playing with the acidity level (vinegar vs. ammonia) of with different after baths (such as iron).

Then there’s eco dyeing or bundle dyeing or leaf printing (but not the hammering I did with the indigo plants). Here you mordant your fibres … with soy… or is that only for cotton …?…
The main idea is you wrap cloth and leafs and use a stick or rusty pipe (which acts as a mordant with tannins from the stick or …. the iron…?) and leave it alone for a couple of weeks. With or without steaming it first.
People often use vinegar. But why? to make the thing rust more?

eco dyeing by Beesybeepic by Beesybee, during a workshop eco dyeing with Irit Dulman

Then in acid dyeing you use vinegar as a driver, to drive the colour into the wool fibres. And heat, to get the wool to accept the dye.

All these dyeing techniques blur around in my head.
The best thing I can do is just allow myself to dabble. To play around. To not try and get optimum results.

And that’s just what this little experiment is. Just a little playing during a lovely Summer’s day in August.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing in tree.jpg
pic by Taco Meeuwsen

I got to stroll around the cabin yesterday. I greeted (and vandalized) various of the plants and trees I love so much. Said hello to butterflies who enjoy the plants we carefully grow for them (amongst them the Sanguiforbi-os-ah).
I found some places where the Song Thrush (Grote Lijster) had butchered some snails. I reassured little frogs and toads I’d give them time to get out of the way.
And I made the bags and had my little system with the knots in pieces of string and then put them all in my pan and took a moment to appreciate that pan. Big and green and second hand and enamel.

This in turn reminded me of a passage in one of my favourite books: “Simon” by Marianne Fredriksson. Simon’s mother is a woman of nature and she’s getting older and one day finds herself pondering the old pan she’s about to throw out.
She mentions it to her toddler grand daughter, who’s still in touch with the magic of nature that some children know. The girl totally understands that sometimes you have to take a long long moment and think about that old battered pan you’re about to throw away.

In my old still useful pan there are now a bunch of little wet bags waiting for me until I get back to them and there’s nothing lost when things don’t work out and they’ve gone all moldy or beige or something.
I’ll still have that lovely day I had yesterday. And I can clean that pan and use it again.

But wouldn’t it be marvellous if the colours intensify over the next two weeks? Then I can play with iron and ammonia and try to “shift the colours”.
And use my system to take note of which plants I might want to use for dyeing a little yarn with. To make little colourwork wristwarmers perhaps. Or weave a bit. That’d be lovely.

The Ficus looks promising:

Bubble bubble what’s this trubble? Dyeing with plants: try outs.

I have no idea whether this works… but I thought, with all the plants that grow around the cabin, why not try some out in a hot pan simultaneously to see if they yield colour?

Today is a glorious Summer’s day and I went around the little patch of forest and meadow and vandalized plants. Especially Spirea Douglassii (Hackwood) which is a terrible invader here. But also Hazel (hazelaar), Geranium robertianum (robertskruid), Ficus (vijgenboom), Acer campestre (Spaanse aak), Ribes, Dock (zuring) and Fern (varen).

Special special: Sanguisorba officinalis (Grote Pimpernel) and Cow Parsnip (Berenklauw):

One is sparce and the other dangerous.
“Cow Parsnip” is way too nice a name for this plant. In Dutch we call it “Bear’s scratch” because that’s what your skin looks like when you get the sap of this plant on it.

So I spend some time outside ripping leafs and filling bags. Being very careful not to touch any of the sap of the Bears Paw.

Normally you boil the plant stuffs. Or you ferment them. Or some other magic process to release the dye from the plant.
Once you’ve got the dye (in water solub..ed?) you take out the plant bits, add some mordanted wool and follow the proces for dyeing wool (heat, cool).

But you can also do everything at once. Although you’d be heating wool for hours then and have to be careful not to boil it (felting).
You might call this “a lazy dyers dye pot”.

I had a little system to add some spinning fibres, alum and water to each bag:

Each bag also got a little piece of string with knots in it. A sort of code to be able to identify which plant is in the back:

All the bags went into my big dye pan. I made sure all the openings where towards the top. (When filling them I blew into each bag, as if to fill up a balloon, to check for leaks. I left some out that were damaged.)

Here they are, all cosy together in a bath of hot water. Let simmer for a few hours. Leave to cool. I’ll probably leave it for a few days even.

They’ve simmered for one hour now and I can give some preliminary results:

  • stems give no colour.
  • I expect a lot of beige and old granny panty colour
  • or yellow
  • the flowers of the Grote Pimpernel give purple! It’s probably not light fast, flowers seldom are. But what a treat!

The wool in this little bag is still white, the cut up Hackwood stems do nothing. Yet?

Yellow and beige is typical for plant dyeing:

The dangerous Bear’s Claw, identifiable with a red string. Yellow wool:


You can hardly see the wool amongst the purple flower heads. Because the wool is purple too. Yay!

We’ll see tomorrow what’s what. I’ll have another sneak peak after it has cooled the whole night.

It smells weird in my kitchen. A bit soapy – veggie soupy. And a bit fishy but that’s my dinner that’s on the stove, next to the dye pot.