Tag: tarka trail

14 Aug

St-Johns Wort Plant Collecting and Dye Bath

Foraging along the Tarka Trail

Yellow Flowers of St. John's Wort are found along grass verges. Many changed to orange seed buds, which helps identify them from other yellow flowers and which may be attributable to the golden colour result.

Collecting Dye Plants (St. Johns Wort in basket) along a decommissioned rail track Barnstaple to Bideford: my 10 mile foraging route using Jenny Dean's plant spotter book.   Late summer finds many of the traditional dye plants along grass verges.

St Johns Wort - Dye Bath Process

  • Soak flower tops and seed buds overnight in rain water. I use pond water.
  • Boil up and simmer for an hour. Press fibres with potato masher. Remove from vessel.
  • When cool enough not to roughen silk, add and soak silk, stirring occasionally.
  • Colour appears soon, but leave overnight to absorb dye colour fully.
  • First silk takes most dye pigment.

1st Woad Dye Session

2nd Woad Dye Session

  • Most pigment its taken up with 1st session, but there is always some left.  Remove 1st silk piece.
  • Add dyestuff again and heat and simmer dye bath for 15 mins.
  • When cooler than hand hot, add 2nd piece of silk and leave overnight, to absorb all dye pigment.
  • Second soak actually used up remainder of dye pigment leaving water clear, with paler silk result.

3rd Dye Session- Iron Modifier

Use remaining dye liquid to add iron (ferrous sulphate) for a greyer or greener result.  Colour mix is involved: cream dyes will turn pale grey, the stronger orangey St. John's Wort dye produced green-grey. Other dye baths may produce a pale grey/dull brown results.  Iron can be added by a little rusty water, made by soaking rusty nails in a jar. Small amount needed to tip the colour. Avoid using too much as iron can weaken silk fibres.

Hand Dyed Silk Samples

  • LEFT:     Rosemary - St. Johns Wort Light/St. Johns Wort strong gold - Comfrey Light - Comfrey Dark
  • RIGHT:  Top left St. Johns Wort gold, Green/St. Johns Wort iron modified contrasting with the other natural dye results.
22 May

Tansy dyed silk

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Dye Bath 

  • Cut up Tansy flower tops and soak overnight in water (pond or river water if available).
  • Boil up in stainless steel pan; simmer for an hour or more until water is well coloured; then leave to cool to hand hot only. (Cotton can be simmered, but silk may get matted and rough if boiled).
  • Agitate silk in dye bath occasionally, redistributing evenly in liquid during first 15 -30 mins to ensure all areas are covered when first absorbing dye.  After first absorption, remove to a china or glass bowl, to agitate easily.  Use an upside down lid to keep silk beneath surface.
  • Transfer boiled liquid from steel pan to bowl for easy silk soaking and ocassional moving for even dye distribution.
  • Soak silk for some hours in cooled dye bath liquid.  The colour of the dye bath water is no indication of the final outcome on dry silk. Remove soon if you want a pale colour; leave overnight for stronger colour.
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22 May

Ladies bedstraw Dyed Silk

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Ladies Bedstraw growing wild above Bideford marshes River Toridge
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The roots showing tan red
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Roots dug out and flower tops

Lady's Bedstraw is found in waste ground or unused areas and near the coast.  This particularly large and well established plant rambled on the River Torridge embankment above the Bideford marshes along the Tarka Trail cycle path (N. Devon).   The reddish roots are used for dyeing: family is Madder (Rubiaceae) a well known red dye. Not easy to pull out the roots, and most were left for next year's growth.  It was immediately apparent why it is called 'bedstraw' as plant sprigs were 'springy' in the hand, making it ideal for mattresses.  Bedstraw has many herbal uses too.

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Soak roots in water for many days
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Dye bath boiled up
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Roots taken from plant ground need soaking for several days to soften, before boiling up. (I soaked mine at least a week).

Roots of plant produces a red dye, the longer soaked the deeper red. The red dye appears while soaking, and would probably dye without even boiling up.  Photos show the dye was absorbed onto the pan sides, which I believe lost dye pigment strength available; so pans must preferably be steel. Copper pot might also assist with tan tone.

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Silk is soaked in dissolved alum

Some dyes will work without soaking cloth in a premordant.  I usually do two tests. The second piece was not mordanted, and is some shades lighter on drying, but probably only because the first piece absorbed most of the pigment.

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Red dye bath with second silk soaking. First silk out.
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Two silks dyed. One will be weaker when dry
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First silk dyed removed
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Silk dyed being rinsed
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Steam press silk before bone dry to reduce creases. (don't squeeze out too tightly). The patchy areas do not show in the final dried sample.

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Contrasted with Comfrey dyed
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Bright peach tones achieved
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With Comfrey samples
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Bedstraw reddest of gold samples
Images copyright Amelia Jane Hoskins Please email for use permission.