I am having a lot of fun with the paper making experiments – it is such a lovely process to explore. I am continuing on with cotton as the base, and have started looking at expanding my natural dyeing techniques to the handmade paper. My intention is to create a sort of “hedgerow library” from the paper and fabric pages I am creating.
I have started with some traditional English hedgerow plans and trees, most with old local associations (hidden knowledge?), using materials gathered from a local herbalist.
- Elder (sambucus nigra), native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia has been in continuous use since the time of the Egyptians and probably before.
- Ever very part of the elder tree has some herbal use, and the plant has long been attributed with many magical virtues. Spirits were thought to inhabit the Elder which is why it is thought to be unlucky to burn Elder as firewood.
- Elderberries when carried are said to protect against negativity; when placed under the pillow they are supposed to help you slumber peacefully.
- Ivy (hedera helix), native to Europe, was one famed for its magical associations in protecting against evil spirits or negativity and in symbolising fidelity.
- It was dedicated to Bacchus, the Roman God of agriculture and wine, as an infusion of the leaves was considered an effective treatment for drunkedness. For the same reason, an ivy bush painted above tavern doors symbolised the good quality of wine within!
- Ivy carried by women is said to bring good luck.
The results, although pretty cool, aren’t yet capturing the vibrancy of colour from the plants that I was hoping for. These were both using cotton which had been soaked in the plant dyestuffs overnight without a mordant. I wonder if it would be better to pre-mordant the cotton in the same way you would prepare sheets of fabric for dyeing?
A combination of library books and internet have suggested a few methods for pre-mordanting cotton which have differing effects on the resulting colour of the fibres. My first set of natural dyeing experiments were just using tannin & iron mordant, which is excellent for a light-fast permanent colour, but they did have a particular way of driving the colour towards beige/grey.
This website has some useful suggestions for a mixture of tannin and alum (copied below),
Mordant for Cotton and all Cellulose Fibers:
General Recipe: for cotton, rayon (all cellulose fibers). Cellulose fibers are chemically neutral, therefore the mordant process is more difficult to achieve for effective, saturated color. The recommended approach to mordant cellulose is a 3-step process based upon the procedures developed by James Liles. It is crucial to follow the steps, in their suggested order, for best results.
Weigh your fiber to establish the dry WOG (weight of the goods) before you begin this process. Pre-treat your cellulose fibers by machine washing in hot water with a moderate amount of detergent and washing soda. You may dry your fiber after this, or proceed with mordanting. Vegetable rinses (found in grocery stores) intended to remove waxes work well to clean cellulose.
Step 1: Scour
- Fill your pot with water, based on the following general guide: 2 quarts (2 liters) for every 1 ounce (28 grams) of fabric used. OR: 1 quart (liter) for every ounce (28 grams) of yarn to be mordanted.
- To this pot of water, add in 1 tsp. Synthropol for every gallon of water in the pot. Add in 2 teaspoons washing soda (soda ash) for every gallon of water in the pot. Dissolve the washing soda in boiling water before adding it to the pot.
- Wet your fiber for one hour. Add your fiber to the pot, bring to the boil and hold a simmering boil for 4 hours, covered. Stir occasionally.
- Rinse fiber in warm water, squeeze and set aside.
Step 2: Tannin Soak
- To a fresh pot of water, adequate to cover the fiber, add in 6% tannin, on the WOG. Dissolve the tannin in boiling water and add to the pot. Bring pot temperature up to 130 F.
- Add scoured fiber to pot, stir well, cover and let stand to steep for 12-24 hours at room temperature. Do not add more heat.
- Rinse fiber in water, squeeze and set aside.
Step 3: Alum Mordant
- Dissolve alum sulfate in boiling water, at 50% WOG.
- Dissolve washing soda in boiling water at 6% WOG.
- Fill fresh pot with water to cover fiber. Add alum and washing soda to this pot of water. Stir.
- Add scoured, tannin soaked fiber to this pot. Bring pot up to 170 F, stirring occasionally.
- Cover and let stand for 12-24 hours at room temperature. Do not add more heat. Stir once or twice during this time period.
- Remove fiber and rinse well.
- Let dry and air cure for 1-3 days.
- Wet material for one hour, and proceed with dyeing.
The other suggestion is to use an alternating mixture of alum mordant and protein soaking of the fibres – this is apparently based on a traditional Japanese mordanting technique. I quite like the idea of trying this, as it is at the other end of the pH scale from the tannin dyeing I tried before.