Above: top row L to R; indigo, avocado skin, bracken, lower row L to R; coreopsis, chopped avocado pits, whole avocado pits
Progress report. I’ve been fiddling about with natural dyeing for my Totally Local outfit… this is the new name for the challenge known last year as 1 year 1 outfit; where we make an outfit for ourselves using ONLY locally sourced materials and absolutely nothing NOT!!! Yep, for us that rules out zips, thread, and even fabric! making it quite a challenge. That’s ok, I love a challenge. The “totally local” is the brainchild of Nicki, of this is moonlight. I enjoyed myself so much last year I wanted to do it again, and have been brainstorming ideas and hatching plans for my outfit for this year, mwahahahaha.
My outfit from last year is here… and it’s all very… colourless? isn’t it? That’s because I opted to use just the natural undyed merino and alpaca wool for my outfit, which is all white or off-white by default. The only one shot of colour in my ensemble is the brilliant chartreuse sour-grass dyed crochet border on my underwear, which is hidden away! Yeah that was a bit silly, wasn’t it?! Anyway, this year I am aiming for a bit more colour in my ensemble, and so have been gathering lots of materials and bits and bobs to make some pretty COLOURS!
So here’s the run-down…
I’ve been buying skeins of handspun, naturally white merino wool from Bilby Yarns. This merino is 100% Western Australian, grown, sheared and, well, everything locally. The fleece was spun by two lovely local ladies, Beverley and Gwen. Literally, nothing about this wool has ever stepped foot outside of the south west of Western Australia, so it qualifies for the challenge perfectly!
You might remember that last year I used naturally white merino yarn that had been handspun by Beverley, for the kangaroo paw embroidery and sewing-together of my felted dress. I still had some of that yarn left over and simply bought some more, as Beverley spun more. In some cases, I bought it still wet from its wash!
Now on to les couleurs…
Blue: I owe this beautiful shade of indigo blue to Nicki from this is moonlight, thank you, Nicki! Nicki sourced and nurtured a pot of local indigo… I think it was with the assistance of Trudi Pollard? (not sure, maybe Nicki can correct me if she reads this!) and then, when she learnt she would be going over to the eastern states and would not be taking her indigo pot with her, generously offered to share it with a few others of us local girls who are doing the project, . Thank you so much, Nicki! we had a great fun day, dyeing with various locally sourced dyes that Nicki had built up. I personally only had eyes for that enormously difficult to obtain BLUE. I soaked a few of my skeins, gently wrung them out and bought them home unwashed and still full of the dye, to “steep”. Those skeins turned out intensely blue… practically navy! So, at home, after a few weeks of sitting, I soaked those skeins with some fresh, new, white merino, and the washings gave me this lighter shade of mid-blue above. I’m planning to keep and use those deeper blue skeins, probably next year, because for this year, I really wanted these more washed-out shades.
My blue wool above is pictured here with some of my own indigo plants, that I am careful nurturing and trying real hard not to kill. I do hope to use these for dyeing… one day. Obviously that is not about to happen anytime soon, though.
Pink; from avocado pits, merino pre-mordanted with alum. My avocados were grown on a market garden in Wanneroo, and I bought them from Scutti’s, my local greengrocer. Basically, I bought them while in season and have been hoarding and freezing the pits and skins all summer! Once I had enough pits to play with, I gently brought my wool to the boil with some unbroken pits as described in this method here, and left it to cool in the dye and then to soak for a further four days, as the colour of the pot deepened. I was seriously blown away by how beautiful the colour turned out! so I’ve been collecting more avocado pits and will probably do some more wool this exact same shade. I LOVE IT.
Apricot; this is the result of dyeing with chopped up avocado pits, plus skins; merino pre-mordanted with alum. Again, boiled gently for half and hour or so, topping up with boiling water as needed, then left to cool and then soak in the solution for four more days. I quite like this colour, and may do some more of it.
Light sage green; this is the result of dyeing with avocado skins with some avocado flesh left on them… same method as above. This colour is alright, quite soft, a barely there grey/green. Green seems to be another one of those elusive shades that is quite difficult to obtain from our local resources. I may or may not overdye this one a touch… just waiting and seeing for a bit …
Yellow-y apricot; just a few coreopsis flowers, on merino pre-mordanted with alum. The coreopsis flowers are grown in a garden in Willagee, harvested and dried by the owner, and are available through Bilby Yarns. To get this soft colour, you really do only need just a few flowers. For my first experiments, I used lots. Haha, the joke’s on me, because that first batch turned out brilliant, BRIGHT orange. For this shade I kept a close eye on it; taking it out to check and rinsing a few times, dipping for just a bit longer until I reached this nice soft shade.
Pale, rusty pink; this is bracken, on merino pre-mordanted in alum. I gathered the bracken from my parents’ place. Hehe, funny, story, I half-jokingly asked Mum… “would it be alright if I picked some bracken for a dyeing project?” After a short incredulous pause Mum says, “Carolyn, pick as much as you like!!!” To explain, Mum and Dad have a large property, with loads and LOADS of bracken, and Mum HATES it with a deep fiery passion. It is a native plant so she lets it be for the most part; but when we first got the block it was overgrowing the paddock quite severely and Mum wanted to put in an orchard. I have memories of my Dad driving all around the paddock with a log chained to the back of his land rover, dragging it across the bracken, trying to clear it away. It’s such tenacious stuff, it grew back over and over and over again! Year after year it kept popping up all over the place. Mum eventually got enough cleared for her orchard… but it was a massive effort.
That frond in the picture above is dead and brown… obviously, since I’d just boiled the living daylights out of it for dyeing!! I did pick and use quite a big bunch but forgot to keep just one little frond aside for a demonstrative picture with my wool… but if you can imagine, it is actually quite a strong, bright green in colour, so this beautiful, port-wine/pink shade it gave was a lovely surprise to me.
I love all those beautifully soft pastelly shades, and am so happy how they blend together so tonally and gently. In the process of dyeing I did get a few other stronger shades, that while I like them very well in their own right I’m still undecided as to whether to use them for this particular project… as follows:
Bright orange: from a large number of coreopsis flowers. It’s lovely, but maybe not a good match with all my pastels…
Moss green; a result of one dip in indigo, plus a dip in the coreopsis bath. I really love this colour, but again, quite strong and vivid …
and deep navy blue, from Nicki’s dye-pot. I’m not sure how I managed to get such a deep shade from the pot! I’m wondering if it got caught up in some indigo sludge at the bottom or something… but this is a very strong colour for a single dip in natural indigo!
Mustard: I seriously adore this mustard, the result of one dip in coreopsis and then a further dip in avocado skin dye. It does go so nicely with all the other colours! but is one of the “strong” ones, so I’m still um-ing and ah-ing over this one too…
So that’s it! to summarise; I’m pretty excited about all the lovely colours you can get dyeing with local plants. The only one that I would describe as difficult to obtain locally is the indigo, of course… if we did not know someone who had nurtured and cultivated a special dye-pot then blue would not have happened for me this time, so I am so glad and grateful that Nicki got one! Blue is the hardest of colours to come by naturally. The other plant sources; the coreopsis, avocado and bracken; are all plants that are grown right here in Western Australia for some reason or another. Also, of course don’t forget sour grass! this is a rampant weed around these parts, and last year I picked some from my own garden and got this bright acidic yellow colour, as described here. I’m currently carefully nurturing some more
weeds precious sour grass, with a view to getting some more wool in this colour too…
Look at this divine array of colours!! I’ve got some colour decisions to make, designs to design 😉 in short, I’m getting pretty hyped to continue on with the next stage of my totally local outfit!
from top to bottom: coreopsis (light), chopped avocado pits, bracken, whole avocado pits, avocado skins, indigo (light), indigo (dark), indigo + coreopsis, coreopsis (dark), coreopsis + avocado skins, sour grass