Hand Spinning & Natural Dyeing - Sarah Matthess

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Natural Dyeing, Kidney Beans.

This doesn't exactly qualify as a 'colour of Northern Ireland' although possibly kidney beans could grow here, I don't know. I never grew them so I couldn't tell you.  Possibly they might take a greenhouse to cultivate as it never gets very warm here. But after 2 attempts at a very small trial run of a greenhouse I have given up. Although it was equipped with extra clips and double sheets of polycarbonate around the sides, with the addition of a wind-break.  Just in case you don't believe me here's a quick video clip of it blowing down for the second and final time in a 70 mph wind last Winter.

Thankfully now replaced with a PLASTIC low-to-the-ground poly-tunnel arrangement, which is still standing..so far.

But I digress. Back to the kidney beans. After soaking 500grams of the beans overnight, then simmering for an hour for our chilli dish, I couldn't bring myself to just throw away the lovely pink water, so I popped in 2oz of pre-mordanted (Alum and Cream of Tartar) wool and simmered an hour. Towards the end I could see that although the dye bath had a lot of colour in it, the wool was not taking that up. So I added a small 'glug' of ammonia, soak a few minutes, and then removed the wool.

This, once again on a very dull day, does not show the colour brilliantly, but then it's not exactly a brilliant colour. If you want brilliance you need to go to the Equator and boil up insects. Anyway back here in Northern Ireland, and this all proves that kidney beans will give a pink hue, but in this case only a very pastel look. I quite like it, but a little more depth would have been very acceptable just so that people wouldn't be left wondering if I did this on purpose, or if it was accidently left in the washing machine with the red football shorts.  Photographed next to white fleece so you can see it is actually a sort-of-pink.
Watch this space...

Friday, 28 November 2014

Natural Dyeing, Beech Leaves

Out on a walk in Co. Down, during the last week of October I noted that the beech leaves were still really green, although turning Autumn shades towards the tops of the trees. This is the same area that is in the video, and you will recognise this photo if you've watched it.

I gathered a large bag and felt rather guilty as I did so, but on reflection the leaves are going to be falling any day now anyway so I only helped them along a bit. When home, I stuffed the dye pot to the top, and left soaking overnight. I used 1:1 ratio (wool to dry weight of leaves).  Next morning, gentle simmer for an hour, and strained off the dye. A surprising depth of colour in the water for a bag of end-of-the-season leaves.  In went the pre-mordanted (Alum/Cream of Tartar) wool.

 And an hour later, out this came. I was really happy with the depth of colour here, for just a bag of leaves. I'll be posting more on beech leaves in the Spring. This is nice soft Jacob's hogg fleece. The brown has lovely coppery, reddish undertones. A really delightful colour and one I'll be doing again and again.

It spun up into this skein. About 15wpi, and a new colour to add to my Shetland knits pallet.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Art-Yarn, Ivy-Leaves.


Thought you might like to see what I did with the ivy-leaf dyed fleece.  This art-yarn also includes wool dyed with madder root, ragwort, horsetail, dock-seed and onion skins. I incorporated a little suri-alpaca, and small amount of cotton for texture. Suitable for knitting on larger needles (6-8mm?) it varies in thickness, but over-all is about 5 wpi.  This is really quite soft. Each skein weighs just over 80grams, and there's more coming on the wheel. It would make good knitting or weaving yarn. I like the over-all green shade, given by the ivy-leaves mainly. 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Natural Dyeing, Horsetail

 That's 'Equisetum' in Latin, and it's a native plant in most parts of the world except for Australia, or so I have read. There are other varieties of Horsetail in the world that grow really tall, up to 8m, but this is the 'wee' variety! Common along the lanes here in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
I'm going back a little to around the middle of July with this picture. I wouldn't bother trying to dye with the plant after the end of Summer as it's dye value will be a lot less. It's a weed frankly, and I wouldn't give it space in my garden as it's hard to get rid of. It actually sprouts up through the tarmac drive. I even sprayed it with a noxious chemical but it lived on. So what to do? Well, apparently it's edible, but only if you are starving. So in the pot it went for dye. .....
Nothing scientific going on here. I crammed the pot to the very top (as you do), just over l pound of plant material and covered with water and simmered for an hour. Actually, after it started to heat up and the plant started to squash down, I added more until the pot wouldn't take any more, then crammed on the lid. Resulting dye bath was rather a good yellow as you would expect from so much plant, and added a pound of clean, wet, pre-mordanted (Alum and cream of tartar) very soft and fairly long-staple, hog fleece, and simmered a further hour. I will be trying after-mordants another time, but I like the clear vibrant yellow just as it is. In fact this is one of the best yellows I've ever dyed.
Because I can achieve such brilliant yellows out of the hedgerow, I don't grow yellow dye plants in my garden such as Weld which is a space-hungry plant and sheds its seeds everywhere and just keeps popping up amongst the carrots etc. The only yellow giving plant I'm tempted to grow is goldenrod as the yellow is exceptional, and it doesn't grow wild around here, but the hedgerows here abound with dyers broom, and other yellow-giving plants.
Just in case you are wondering, it's this same wool I'm spinning in the Video
and is also featured in the photos on my new greetings cards for sale on facebook. There are also pictures up there of this wool being spun via my 'pictures' tab on Facebook

This is it spun up fine for Shetland knitting, at around 15 wpi, but I've also incorporated it into some art-yarn which you can see in my 'handspun wool' posting.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Natural Dyeing, Ivy-Leaves

A sunless day, although I think the sun was up there somewhere this afternoon. Not that you would actually know that.. but it was sort of bright, and not raining, which was nice. Only about 4 more weeks until the shortest day of the year, and by 3.30pm the sun was just resting on the horizon, making driving difficult.

So what to do with a damp and very short day? Cook ivy. Our son looked at the pot when he came in, rather worried, and asked 'is this dinner?' Interesting smell, but we've smelt worse. 

One recent winter edition of a glossy gardening magazine actually had an article in it on 'how to grow ivy'. I kid you not. My eyes popped. I actually paid money for this magazine.  Instructions on how to plant and propagate the dear sweet little plant and train it up your fences for the birds to sit on. Unbelievable. Anyway out here in the Real World we just rip it off the trees. No doubt someone will write in to tell me all about the vital role of ivy in the scheme of things, and I'm sure they are right.


 I decided on 600 grams of leaves to 200 grams of wool, although recipes say 1:1, I want a deeper shade.
Let you know tomorrow. This has been on the simmer for an hour, and I'll leave it to steep overnight.
Well this morning, the dye bath looks like this...
A bit murky brown/green and not very promising.  But the point of this blog is to let you see the failures and successes. Natural dyeing is rarely predictable. Anyway after considering the depth of colour in this dye bath, I simmered it a further hour. Not much change, so I decided to dye less wool, and removed half of it, so we were down to 100 grams. In went the pre-mordanted wool (alum and cream of tartar), WITH the leaves.
Another hour simmering and, then removing the wool, I put into an after-mordant of weak copper solution (half teaspoon dissolved copper crystals with 40ml clear vinegar) and simmered 20 mins. So here's the result, which is photographed next to the white fleece it came from. Ok, so it's definitely a shade of green, but nowhere near the saturation of colour I had so hoped for. But still I think it will be a valuable addition to the palette for Shetland wool designs or some art-yarn.
Sorry these pictures lack true vibrant colours...as you can probably see, I took them in the...yes you guessed it....rain. You can just see the puddle on the right.
Don't forget to save your mordant. You can pour into old cartons, and label. Keep out of the way of children as the copper is toxic.  Mordant is never all used up and there's always a little left in the water. Waste not, want not, add around a third of the required mordant again to previous solutions, and reuse.
A quick spin in the spin drier and up on the pully over the fireplace. I hope to get this spun up next week, it's nice soft fleece.
One last note on this: don't omit the stage of leaving the leaves to soak overnight. It actually does make a difference to the final dye, although you won't appreciate this by looking at the dye in the pan, but the final wool will be greener if you leave it over night. Well, mine was and successive batches proved this.
Since writing the above, I've tried this dye twice more, and neither batch has given me the nice green in the pic above. What did I do differently? Absolutely nothing at all. The only difference is that I gathered the leaves a little further down the lane....

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


Hand-spinning video, featuring Northern Ireland Autumn colours.
This new video, just uploaded onto youtube,  features hand-spinning my naturally dyed wool, in Northern Ireland. Lots of local scenery and colour of Autumn.

For those of you interested in what's what, the plum coloured wool being carded is dyed with madder root with an after-copper dip, then the yellow is dyed with horsetail.

Scenery includes: Gosford Park in Co. Armagh, Clare Glen, Kilkeel Harbour, Mourne Mountains, and Silent Valley, with various other local shots thrown in-between. And of course, lots of rain....

Hope you enjoy! Video by Peter Matthess, and lovely music by John Dowling. Check out his website...link at the bottom of the youtube channel.