Isabella Whitworth

probably more than natural and synthetic dyes, wax, resists, and history

New toys, no time to play

4 Comments

Last week I took one of my regular looks at Jenny Dean’s website Wild Colour. Jenny is an authority on natural dyes and author of several practical books on the subject.  I respect her work and long experience and her website invariably includes something new and interesting.  Her book Wild Colour was reprinted by Mitchell Beazley in 2010 with updates and revisions – and I wouldn’t be without it.

Jenny’s entry for January 8th 2013 was about a set of natural dye extracts in liquid form. They are called Aquarelle, they are from Botanical Colors and certified compliant with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Jenny’s images show colours on wool yarn and silk fabric; some are mordanted and some are not. The colours look very good, especially on the wool, although the silk looks paler.

Twitter was then tweeted to see if any dyehards had experience of Aquarelle. Positive input arrived from several people including  Jane Deane  (no relation to Jenny and note the different spelling!) who tested the dyes last year. Jane probably told me all about them then, but I’m afraid I had forgotten.

I have used raw dyestuffs or powder extracts, but never a liquid extract which might suit my work better so I ordered a set of dyes which arrived yesterday. There is only one stockist in the UK, as far as I know, and that is D.T Crafts who import the dyes from the States. Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to try them out at the moment, so I took a photo instead.

A satisfying way of combining natural dyes with wax resist continues to be a challenge for me.  I am at my most confident when designs originate in a drawing or sketchbook study and gradually evolve into an image, a texture or an arrangement of shapes, defined by wax as a resist. The original drawing drives me onwards through several incarnations of an idea, although I occasionally fizzle out, exhausted or bored when something doesn’t merit further exploration.  Synthetic dyes are my medium for this type of work; they are painted on in layers alternating with the wax, and then steamed. They go where they are put, they stay there, the overdyes are predictable and they don’t change colour. It’s not at all like that with natural dyes, which, of course, is part of their allure.

Natural dyes normally require heat, and heat melts the wax, so there is an instant difficulty with the natural dye / wax technique. Each separate dye requires individual handling and the colour may not turn out the same as the last time you used it. One dye can affect another, unexpectedly altering a colour or tone and overdyes aren’t always predictable. The timing of the indigo layer is crucial, as is mordanting. I have achieved a few pieces that I am happy with and these can be seen in the gallery section, and above. The central piece suffered from too much alkali in the indigo vat and the silk went harsh. That’s yet another problem with the technique.

I will certainly be posting on the results of work with Aquarelle when I  have time to try them out.

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4 thoughts on “New toys, no time to play

  1. Have you tried Michel Garcia’s suggestion for protecting fibres in a very alkaline vat? He adds a small amount (I will check!) of gelatine to the vat and it somehow gives the fibres protection without impeding the take-up of the indigo! Magic!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiments, Isabella. I have used powdered dyes on silk to interesting effect but the liquids do offer new directions! I look forward to reading more on your blog

  3. Thanks wendyfe – I will also try thickening them with Manutex or similar to see if they will print. That might be useful to you too.

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