Isabella Whitworth

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


Leave a comment

Natural dye extracts with wax

There’s a lot going on. A deadline for the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers meant last-minute articles had to be reviewed and proof-read. This coming weekend I am teaching at West Dean in West Sussex, the course is full,  and there is a lot to do in advance. Immediately after getting back from West Dean I start a series of structured historical dyeing experiments at Leewood with colleague Jane Deane – more about the project on this page. The house smells of hot sheep at the moment as I have been scouring fleece. Next week I deliver new work for the spring exhibition at Redearth Gallery… and so it goes on.

Reading that lot, I am not quite sure how I found time to do a little work with Aquarelle liquid extract natural dyes (see my blog post on them here). But I used spare hours to paint the extracts directly onto mordanted silk, using wax as a resist between the layers of dye. The instructions for Aquarelle give details on heated dye baths for fixation but this is not an option with wax resist, because the heat of the dye bath would melt the wax. My plan has been to place dye-painted and partially dewaxed work in the fabric steamer to replicate the heat and damp of a dye-bath. To start with I just used two of the dyes: the liquid indigo ‘Saxon Blue’ and the Himalayan Rhubarb.

NOTE: My comments on the outcome must be read as they stand: they are emphatically not a comment on the effectiveness of the dyes themselves but on the dyes used in this unconventional way.  There is a lot more work I need to do having seen the results.

My working method was as follows:

  • Silk scarf blanks mordanted in 8% alum 2% cream of tartar
  • Dried scarves stretched on a frame
  • Wax applied – in this case and in each layer simple stripes and lines across the scarf
  • Different dilutions of Himalayan Rhubarb (HR) and Liquid Indigo Saxon Blue (SB)  applied to create variations of blue – green
  • After several layers using a similar technique, wax partially removed by ironing cloth between newspapers
  • Work rolled in paper and steamed for one hour (note: I don’t have a thermometer in the steamer. It is brought to the boil every two minutes and turns off for about two minutes)
  • Work dipped in White Spirit to remove residual wax, and rinsed several times

Observations:

The good news is that the dyes have set in the steaming process. Repeated rinses after the White Spirit dip run entirely clear. I lost some of the SB in the first rinses, but this was almost certainly because I notched up the SB concentration to extremely high levels in some areas and probably overdid it. I always think of dyes and dye-sites like a game of Musical Chairs. When the chairs run out, the dye has nowhere to sit, molecularly speaking. It’s more to do with the fibre than the dye.

This experiment shows that it is possible to build quite dark tones by increasing the concentration of dye in selected areas. There are some deep greens. I had wondered if this would be possible, and it looks as though it is.

However, the HR has lost its lovely golden hue (see the original colour centre top) and has dulled to ochre. If you look at the images you can see some in which the steaming paper has picked up a lots of pink from the HR painted areas. The dyed steaming paper is lovely in itself: the red component of the dye has leached into the paper and didn’t fix to the silk. I have no idea why. It could be the mordanting. It could be the paper. It could be that I steamed too long, or steamed too hot. It could be that it would always happen, whatever the steam-time and heat. I now need to  dye silk with all the Aquarelle colours, using their recommended dye bath, to evaluate their ‘true’ colours.

The centre image shows small blotches on a brownish area. These are created by small spots of dye on a wax surface which I failed to wipe off. These are travelling through to the silk surface as remaining wax melts in the steamer, and they then fix. In this case it is not too big a blemish, but it can look smudgy and ruin a design.

On the centre right image there are ugly blue splashes. These weren’t present when the fabric went into the steamer. I think loose dye may have travelled all the way through the steaming paper and I shall use two layers next time.

More puzzling is the bleeding of the SB into areas that had been waxed onto white. You can see these top right and centre left in the images. This can happen with synthetic dyes if the work has been placed too close to the outside of the paper roll. If you imagine the rolled paper in the steamer (see here for an idea of how it looks) there is more moisture reaching the roll on the outer surface when it is in the steamer. If the steamer isn’t up to heat, work on the outer part of the roll receives a lot of moisture, doesn’t begin to fix and starts to wander around – playing Musical Chairs. The solution is to wrap additional paper around the outside of a steaming roll. I didn’t do it this time. I am not sure whether the bleeding is a result of the steaming process or an issue to do with the dyes themselves. This didn’t seem to happen with dyes on the inner part of the roll, so I tend to blame my lack of foresight.

Conclusion

There is a lot to do but I am enthusiastic about the potential for working with Aquarelle with wax. The colours I achieved aren’t particularly exciting because of the dullness of the HR after steaming, and I need to research this aspect. But they have fixed efficiently via the steamer, it does seem possible to use wax as a resist, and to achieve some strong, dark tones. So I am optimistic; I just need a 36 hour day.

Advertisements


4 Comments

New toys, no time to play

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.