Saturday, 25 August 2012

More dyeing..

I seem to be heading in several directions at once lately, which is tricky, to say the least! Though I guess they’re really more of the same – different ways to add colour and pattern to cloth.

I did a little more breakdown printing recently. It was a screen I painted back in early July, but ran out of energy to print with the others. I have some ideas of ways to use some of my existing cloth, which involve a deep red-brown or purple colour, so I decided to print in tones of those colours. Here’s the screen:
My first series of prints used a mixture of purple, magenta and blue. These prints have the highest contrast, since there were more areas where the dye paint on the screen resisted the print.
The result was surprisingly delicate and lace-like. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, although the colour is just as I imagined. I suspect this will be too highly patterned for my plan, unless I over-dye it to tone down the light background.

The second series of prints used some scarlet as well as magenta and less of the purple. It has less obvious pattern, as the screen had begun to break down, which added some warmer tones to the print.
I think this will work well with some of my other printed fabrics.

My third print is a brighter shade again, with more scarlet and no purple. It has only small areas of print, and the colours should work well with earlier prints.
So I felt pretty happy about that printing session. I feel I now have a better idea of how to create interesting fabric using this process.

I had a little play with dyeing with the Drimarene K dyes that we’ve been using for breakdown printing. My favourite is this silk yarn, which was dyed using the Four Minute Rapid Fix Dyeing method from Batik Oetoro.
I poured turquoise and scarlet dye over the skein in a snaplock bag. It has traces of the two colours and every shade between. I love it! It was a pretty ratty skein left over from someone else's stash, probably because it had acquired a twist and tended to tangle badly. After some days of patient work, it now looks like this:
I think I'll weave with this yarn, probably as the weft, because it's just too nice not to use together.
My friend Tricia and I had another eco-dyeing day together recently, when we boiled up two pots of plant material. The first one used leaves from a fallen branch from an unknown tree, which Tricia collected a few weeks ago. However, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t yielding anything interesting, and the tree was identified as Lemon Scented Gum Eucalyptus citriodorus. So we added some yarrow leaves, to bring the colour back towards yellow, and some copper sulphate mordant. Even so, the silk scarf, tied with slipknots, that I dyed was very muted and tan.
The only thing that gave this some interest was the pattern on it. It was quite a simple process. I tied slip knots in the centre and then roughly equal distances along the scarf and tied the bundle together with string at the ends. It would have been very boring without it!
The wool skein I dyed in this bath was tied with green twine, which ended up being very interesting because, as well as the resist effect from the twine, it also stained the yarn a muted purple in places.
The best result was a wool scarf, into which I tied wooden beads at each end. Although the beads were very dull in colour, they gave the yellow cloth a vivid red colouring.
The other pot used ironbark leaves and twigs from my street trees, which I collected when a branch came down earlier in the year. We wanted to see if the colour would be significantly different from the colour using the tree bark.

The ironbark pot had a mordant of ferrous sulphate added to it. I dyed this length of silk georgette for a scarf, by folding it in a concertina, lengthwise, and folding geranium leaves into the folds, before tying the folds with wood blocks. I added some wooden beads in the centre, twisted but not tied.
Some scented geraniums will leave colour, but these ones did very little and the beads were not tied in tightly enough to do anything either. But the wood blocks yielded the usual rectangular patterns, which have made it interesting.

I also dyed a wool skein, using three tongue depressors, one in the centre of the skein and one each side, tied together…
… and a silk skein, twisted around two tongue depressors, Arashi-style, which were tied together at each end, not touching the yarn.
This one has a lovely silvery colour, which seems to be typical of silk yarn dyed in ironbark. I love the effects I’m getting with dyeing yarns. My plan is to weave something interesting with these yarns, especially the wool ones, I’m building up a good collection of skeins from the same 2 ply wool cone, which all relate to one another really well. I'll photograph them all together soon, so you can see what I mean.

I also tried dyeing with a grey leafed plant, which has ambitions to take over my front garden. I identified it as Helichrysum petiolare, also known as Licorice-plant or Trailing Dusty-Miller. It has quite a strong smell, so I thought it might yield something interesting in the dye pot. That’s the next part of the garden due for a tidy-up, so I really wanted to find out whether it was worth saving the cuttings for dyeing.

I boiled a small amount of it for an hour and the dye bath was a lovely rich brownish-red colour, so I was quite optimistic. I added some wool voile and it went a lovely pale yellow, not at all the colour I expected from the dye bath colour! I don't have any mordants, so I added some vinegar to make the dye bath more acid, which suits wool, and let it cool and sit for two days.
Despite the photo, it's quite a pretty lemon yellow, so it would be interesting to see what different mordants do to the colour. I didn't use a huge amount of the plant, as it was my small pot and was by no means full, so maybe more of it will yield a stronger colour, too.

Anyway, my conclusion is that it's worth saving the trimmings and drying them out.

We did another Drimarene K dyeing session again this week, using the same method as before. It's fun and quick and has the benefit of not requiring pre-mordanted fabric, but I'm not sure it's the best way to get interesting results.  The cotton I dyed was ordinary in the extreme, but they were pieces that had already been dyed with breakdown printing. The silk scarf was a lovely green, but the other colours on it went muddy. The best fabric was this wool voile length:
It looks almost as if it's been eco-dyed! It's mostly red-brown but it has deep areas of red and blue. Just lovely but not what I expected.

The yarns from this session were great, though. I dyed this silk yarn, using scarlet and blue.
Of course these mixed together into purple, but between the mixing in the bag and the tying with tongue depressors, it's very variable in colour and looks just  gorgeous.

The wool yarn  is just as beautiful.
It has a lovely heathery mix of colours, from quite yellow in some places down to a deep purple. I dip dyed one end of the skein into yellow and the other into blue, before pouring over scarlet and blue. It was already tied with tongue depressors at each end, so these ends were held out of the way while the dyes were poured over the remainder of the yarn. I love it and I wish the skein was larger than just 25g!

I plan to do some more discharge dyeing next week, as I think that has huge possibilities, especially for some of the breakdown printed fabrics that I like less. I'm planning to stencil and screen print with the discharge paste, which I haven't tried before.

Friday, 17 August 2012

And still more

And a few other bits and pieces...

Here’s a postcard I made to swap recently.
It’s one of a series I’ve been making on a Forest theme. I mentioned one of this series back here. This one is from the same piece of cloth, but in the centre of the lower half. Here’s how it looked when I cut the cloth apart…
…and here it is, with layers of transparent paint built up on what was there. I didn’t border this one at all, just mounted it on mat board with a fabric backing, slip stitched in place.
I’ve also made some earrings to add to my ever-growing collection. These ones were made with some cute curved floral elements I found in my local bead shop, which were designed for the centre of a necklace.
I liked their curved line for earrings, since I don’t much like earrings that are just a straight line.

The second pair are from a kit I made myself a year or so ago.
I often put together a set of findings and beads that I think will work well together, ready to be made when the right time occurs. I bought the chandelier findings in a pack on special several years ago and I think the blue beads with gold patterning came from Spotlight, in a pack of mixed colours. It’s quite a simple project, but for some reason, it hadn’t reached the top of my pile until now.

The most special thing I’ve made lately is a piece that’s part of a collaborative work for ATASDA’s upcoming exhibition at the Palm House in the Sydney Botanic Gardens, Fragment. We divided an image into sections and each interpreted our section in our own way. The resulting pieces were reassembled into a three-dimensional work.
I really enjoyed making this piece, far more than I usually do. It seemed to be largely devoid of any of the usual anxiety issues I feel when I’m making work for public display. I built up layers of paint and appliqué and stitch, mimicking the layers of plant life in the photo I was given. It was a really fun activity and I’m very happy with the result. If you want to see it with the other works, come and visit the exhibition, from next Thursday, August 16 through until 28th August. It’s open 10-4 every day except for 28th, when it closes at 2pm.

And more...

I’ve also been revisiting eco-dyeing. I first tried this process back here in Nov 2011, with variable results. I recently over-dyed the two remaining scarves from that batch, first with waste water from breakdown printing, which gave them some deeper colour.

This one was bundled and tied…
…while this one was tied with string.
It toned the colour down from the rather strong yellow but they were still rather blotchy, so I dyed them again in a bath of ironbark bark and copper sulphate. Ironbark has such a deep intensity of colour, although this is more brown and coppery, because of copper sulphate mordant.

The scarves looked much better at the end of the process, and were given away as presents.

Another bath of Ironbark bark and ferrous sulphate yielded this wool scarf, which was concertina’d lengthwise, then in from the ends and tied with blocks and string.
I love this one and I'm not sure I'll be able to let it go.
I also dyed some silk and wool yarns. This silk skein was dyed with wattle flowers and leaves and a copper sulphate mordant...
… while this one is wool yarn in the same pot.
It has lovely touches of bright yellow, where the quite fine wattle flowers touched it.

This wool yarn was dyed in ironbark bark with copper sulphate…
…while this is the yarn from the same ball dyed with the same ironbark bark bath and ferrous sulphate.
You can really see how the mordant affects the colour!

So how do you go about dyeing with natural materials? We begin by filling a pot almost to the brim with the natural materials. Often, we’re dyeing with leaves and bark that we’ve gathered as we go about our lives and stored in a dry place, so they are usually quite dry by the time we get around to dyeing with them. We half fill the pot with hot water from the tap and top it up with boiling water from the kettle, just to get things happening faster. We boil this material for about an hour, checking the colour frequently. Over-boiling can lead to very ordinary results, as the base colour of everything seems to be what the older dye books call “fawn” and Billy Connolly calls “boring beige”. Once we have a good colour, we add our chosen mordant and boil for a while longer, usually at least 20 minutes.

Then we decide whether to strain the bath or not. Leaving the natural materials in the pot often results in interesting patterns, when the fabric rests against them. However, it does make rinsing out more challenging, and is definitely not desirable when dyeing yarn, as fine bits of wet vegetation can become curiously attached to the fibre. You also need to decide at this stage whether to keep the material and boil it some more later, if it seems as if it will yield more colour. This is especially true of eucalyptus bark.

Wetting the fabric before you add it to the pot will result in different outcomes than putting it into the pot dry. If you’re tying or blocking or using other Shibori methods, dry is generally better. We boil the pot with the fabric for another half hour at least and then allow it to cool down slowly. We try to leave it in the cooling pot overnight, if possible, although we’ve also had good results from washing out later the same day, with very strong dye materials like eucalypts.

Our best results have come from using Shibori techniques on our cloth before putting it into the pot. Our next best results have come from using Grevillea leaves inside the folds. Onion skins, especially red onion skins, also gave us great results, though they tend to be blotchy.

I generally rinse out my cloth or yarn under warm running water until it runs clear. Then I undo any Shibori and immerse it in warm water and a small amount of a mild detergent, such as a wool wash, to ensure all the mordant is washed out of the fibre. Often, some more colour comes out at this stage, and any little twigs and leaves. I rinse in warm water, spin dry in the washing machine and hang to dry. It’s a good idea to find the ties on the yarn skeins first, and then use this as the holding point when rinsing. This ensures the skein doesn’t loop through itself during washing.

I hang the yarn over an extremely complicated mechanism – a wire coat hanger, cut and inserted into each end of a PET soft drink bottle for the top and another washed PET soft drink bottle, with some water in it, inside the lower loop, to add a little tension to the yarn. It works a treat!

Finding out what plant matter you can dye with, in your local area, is always a challenge. I’m slowly creating a list for myself. There are good books available, but often they tell you what plants will yield dye, rather than reflecting what you can actually get. Many are written in the UK or USA, using plants native to those countries. These are still worth a look by Australian dyers, as some of the plants are garden favourites, such as Barberry, Hollyhock, Dahlia, Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace and French Marigold. But many refer to hedgerow plants that we simply don’t have.

India Flint’s book, Eco-colour, is a useful resource, although she doesn’t distinguish between the many kinds of eucalypts, which can yield very different results to one another. However, her book does contain a very detailed list of dyeing plants likely to be available to Australians, as well as different methods of dyeing than the one we use and many luscious photos. Dyemaking with Australian Flora, from the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria, is a good resource, although published in 1974 and sadly out of print. However, you can still get it second-hand. Jean Carman’s Dyemaking with Eucalypts (1978) is also a good resource. Some public libraries still hold these titles.

Just keep in mind that eco-dyeing is unlikely to yield the kind of colours you get with commercial dyes. There’s a good economic reason why the kings and emperors of the past wore purple and scarlet and the ordinary person made do with brown and green and grey!

Breakdown printing

Tricia and I had some more breakdown printing playdays. Tricia still had her second never-ending screen to print from, and both painted new screens. I wanted to try block printing with the thickened dyes onto fabric as a first layer.
I think I will print over these pieces to see how this influences the pattern.

I also painted two screens:

I used my Indian print blocks to print on this one, building up layers on the screen and letting them dry in between. The layers were very thin, compared to other methods I've used so they dried quite quickly. For the last layer, I used black thickened dye. The screens that have been so reluctant to break down were built up using this layering method, so I expected to produce a screen that would print quite well.

The results were mixed. The initial prints were very interesting but the screen discharged very quickly.

The strongest area of print is in the lower right corner, and it's certainly very interesting. But the dried media broke down very quickly.

My other screen was painted using more usual methods, using sponge brushes, syringes, stamped elements with plastic containers and thick drizzles spread with a comb. These are the techniques they used on the screens that were reluctant to discharge.

However, this screen also discharged very quickly.

The dye was slightly runnier than last time, because they had a problem with the screens clogging up. The humidity was slightly higher as well, and the screens did not sit unprinted for as many days. Clearly, there's a dynamic between all these things, determining the kind of results.

Meanwhile, Tricia was printing from her second never-ending screen.

She printed from it in various colourways.

Even washing the screen out between colours didn't cause it to break down...

...nor did using very runny media. The screen hasn't been washed out, since it's making such lovely patterns. The resist design looks more ragged each time, so it is finally beginning to break down.

Tricia also painted another larger screen.

Like my screens, it broke down quite quickly.

We're producing some beautiful fabrics, though, aren't we?

Three months of play

Wow, three months have flown by without me! I never really enjoy winter and I certainly don’t find it a hugely productive time. Everything just seems harder to achieve at this time of year. Although, it hasn’t been a total waste either.

Since I was last here, I’ve been doing more breakdown printing. I really enjoy this process and I feel I’m getting the hang of it now. These two below show the prepared screen before it was printed and then the resulting fabric, each about 2m x 1.4m.

Painted Screen
This screen was painted with a sponge brush, stamped with various circular objects like cotton reels, cups and circular sections of bubble wrap, and painted with a sponge brush in asterisks. 
Printed Fabric

The fabric really shows the breakdown process, with the distinctive circles being the last elements to break down on the left hand side.

The second screen was painted in uneven coloured stripes and then I drew an overall swirling pattern with a syringe.

Painted Screen
These thick swirls formed a strong resist at first (left hand side) and then began slowly to break down, yielding the same pattern in red. 
Printed fabric
I particularly like these fabrics because the breakdown process is so clear. In each case, the result is a fabric that I can see working well for a quilt, since they are each like three related fabrics.

The above screens broke down pretty much as you’d expect. However, some screens haven’t behaved the way I expected. Several screens simply would not break down, no matter how much we printed from them. I’m not sure if this was a function of moist weather and the consequent slow drying, being dried with a hair dryer, a longer delay between preparing screens and printing, slightly higher levels of urea in the chemical water or, most likely, a weird combination of any of these factors.

These three fabrics were printed from one of these Magic Pudding screens, painted by Tricia Smith. Each is only about ½ metre but I like the way they work together, almost like different colourways in a commercial fabric.

I also printed a silk scarf with a partly exhausted screen, and I absolutely adore the results! It’s become my favourite scarf.
The only disadvantage of the process is that it produces large quantities of printed fabric. My collection of breakdown printed fabrics is now quite extensive and it’s hard to work fast enough to take them a step further, into art pieces. Some are fairly ordinary pieces, so I’m beginning to experiment with discharging some of them. The results so far have been promising - stay tuned for more photos.