Picture heavy post ahead.
Recently, I got a copy of India Flint's book Eco Colour. It is a wonderful and very inspirational book about surface design using things from nature. Being from Australia, she uses a lot of Eucalyptus. We have a lot of Eucalyptus in California. It is not native here, but it thrives here. So I said to myself "self, go get some eucalyptus and see what it'll do". And, so I did.
Horsetail, a strange and prehistoric plant. It contains a lot of silica and doesn't break down when it is simmered to extract the dye. Quite odd really. I used everything I harvested. Pulled it apart some and just covered with water.
Queen Anne's Lace, a close relative of the carrot. Carrot tops can also be used as a natural dyestuff. I used the smaller stems, leaves, and flowers. Again simmered in a pot with enough water to cover all of the plant matter.
And, of course eucalyptus. I gathered fresh leaves, windfall leaves, and windfall bark. I have no idea which species of eucalyptus is is; there are over 700 species. It has long grayish green leaves like so many of them. The windfall leaves turn brown and sometimes reddish brown. The bark peels off of the trunk in long curled ribbons like huge cinnamon sticks. I kept and processed each of the three types of eucalyptus separately.
Fresh eucalyptus leaves, chopped and sitting in a pot of water. I let them sit overnight and "think". I love the reflection of me taking a picture in the surface of the water. Makes me feel so artsy-fartsy.
Windfall leaves, chopped up. I love the color of the reddish ones and favored those when I was gathering. I let these sit and "think" for a couple of days since they were dry.
Oh, and while gathering I recommend avoiding the poision oak. It might be wise to keep your dog out of it too. He may wander into it, because really, in his mind you are doing something insanely boring. Plus he has already snifted everything in that area and thinks you should be walking not stooping and collecting.
The eucalyptus bark I tore into bits and let it soak for a while. What is a while? A week maybe, maybe more. The woodier the dyestuff, the more it benefits from soaking. Benign neglect is the apprpriate attitude.
The bark in the jar is not cooked yet. That is the color given just from soaking for a week.
My favorite dyestuff was in my own backyard. Our plum tree is huge for a dwarf tree and was shading the neighboring trees. A bit of pruning and I had a 5-gallon pot full of leaves. I cooked these without soaking them as they were fresher than fresh.
Cooking plum leaves makes your house smell like cooked plums too. Yummy! Plus the extract keeps on giving. I dyed 3 batches, each one got a bit lighter but still a lovely clear yellow. I could have done another round, but I had enough yellow yarn by then and plenty more leaves waiting on the tree for me.
There are a couple of ways to use these extracts. For a mottled yarn, you can add the yarn to the extract with the dyestuff. Where the dyestuff touches your yarn it will impart more color. Not recommended for spinning fiber as it could be tough to get all the plant material out of the fiber.
I chose to strain out the dyestuff (used plant material can be composted or used as mulch). As a rule of thumb, use 100% WOG (weight of goods a.k.a. WOF: weight of fiber). So for a 4oz skein of yarn use 4oz of fresh plant material. For dry dyestuffs, start with 50% WOG (2oz of dyestuff for a 4oz skein).
I used alum mordanted yarns, some with cream of tartar (CoT) and some without. Cream of tartar shifts the color and I didn't know which would give me the best results. I tried each dyestuff with one test skein of each and then tried an after dip in iron. Iron also shifts color, sometimes referred to as saddening.
My test skeins:
From left to right (all 50% WOF unless otherwise noted): horsetail on alum, horsetail on alum & CoT with iron post dip, Queen Anne's Lace on alum & CoT with iron post dip (misplace the one without iron), plum 100% WOF on alum with partial iron post dip, plum leaves on full skein (1st exhaust bath), eucalyptus bark on alum, eucalyptus bark on alum & CoT with iron post dip, 400% WOF eucalyptus bark on alum with partial iron post dip, dried eucalyptus leaves on alum, dried eucalyptus leaves on alum & CoT with iron post dip, fresh eucalyptus leaves on alum, and fresh eucalyptus leaves on alum & CoT with iron post dip. See how sweet the plum leaves are? It is a beautiful clear yellow. I am in love!
This will help me know where to start the next time I play with these dyestuffs. Although I don't expect identical results from subsequent wild crafted dye experiments. Natural dyes can be highly variable. It depends on the time of year, the weather, the soil conditions, and the water used. Eucalyptus is so variable the sunny side of a tree can yield a different color from the shady side. That is part of the fun of natural dyes. You ever know exactly what you'll get.
My experiments were so much fun, I decided to start a line called Wild Crafted.
These yarns are some of the Wild Crafted yarns that will debut at Sock Summit. If you won't be at Sock Summit, look for them in the online store in August. What? The online store? Yes, it is making a triumphant return soon. More on that after Sock Summit.
* Always get permission from the land owner before gathering.