Friday, 19 September 2014

Natural Dyeing, New Stash and Future Plans

In preparation for my upcoming felt making classes, I need to dye some Merino wool rovings, and decided to do a small amount, by way of an experiment, using avocado skins and pits (stones) which I have recently seen on Youtube. I thought I would put in some other bits and pieces too, while I was at it, and these will come in useful for future textile projects if the result is successful.

Here are the items I chose.

01 Bits and Pieces for Dyeing

In the middle at the back you can see the Merino roving, and across the middle, some different types of lace. Some of these are cotton, and some synthetic, which will take up the dye differently. At the front is a small quantity of hand-spun wool – some of my earliest attempts, done many years ago and lurking in my “yarns for dyeing” box. They are nice and slubby and uneven, and may be incorporated into the felt.

Here is the dye bath. I used just one avocado pit and half a skin – the remains of my lunch today! You don’t need much if you are only making a small dye bath for a small quantity of materials.

02 Dye Bath

Since these are natural foodstuffs, I have no qualms about using a regular cooking pan in the kitchen, but when I use my synthetic dyes, I work in my ARTHaven and use the microwave up there, to avoid contamination with food preparation equipment.

You can see that the outer shell of the pit has come off and is now resting inside the skin. The colour of the dye bath is darkening nicely after simmering for about 20 mins. The longer you leave it, the darker it gets, in the same way that the longer you leave the materials steeping in it, the darker they will get.

The materials have to be wetted through, and I prepared a bowl of warm water with some vinegar added – this should help the dye bind with the wool, but I am not sure what effect it will have (if any) on the other materials. I also added some gentle organic dishwashing liquid to remove any residual grease from the wool (especially the hand-spun yarns) and to aid the penetration of the water into the fibres – soap reduces the surface tension of the water, hence the bubbles!

03 Wetting the Materials in Vinegar Bath

Again, since these are regular kitchen substances, I am happy to carry out this process with my ordinary cooking equipment and supplies.

After wetting for at least half an hour, the materials can be lifted out of the bath, rinsed, and added to the dye, and left until the desired colour is achieved. I ended up adding another couple of half avocado skins because I didn’t think the dye bath looked quite dark enough, and after simmering for another 20 mins or so, it looked better. (For some time now, I have been saving the skins and pits and freezing them, so I can use them when I want. Good thing I like avocados, isn’t it.)

The materials in the dye bath. You can see what a gorgeous shade of dusky pink is generated by the avocado. Not quite what one would expect! Although you can remove it from the heat at this stage, I left it simmering, with the lid on.

04 Materials in the Dye Bath

The materials after being removed from the dye bath. These were now rinsed thoroughly and left to dry. First, the lace:

05 Dyed Lace Drying

It’s interesting that the nylon lace at the bottom has taken up the dye more strongly than any of the others. The motif lace at the top is a lovely subtle shade, and the crochet cotton one underneath has hardly taken up any dye – it doesn’t show up clearly on the photo, but it’s more or less cream. The third one down is slightly darker than the top one.

Now for the wool.

06 Dyed Wool Drying

The little skeins of handspun wool at the top have turned out very well. They feel a lot softer now the residue of natural lanolin from the fleece has been washed out. The roving underneath is slightly paler (probably because it’s less dense). I had to handle this very gently while rinsing it because any agitation would tend to make the fibres felt together, and I don’t want that to happen quite yet!

In a day or two, there will be a photo of the materials after drying thoroughly, and ready for use.

Today, my much-anticipated parcel of new stash arrived! I was glad that we cancelled our outing today – I was much too tired after yesterday’s long day in town, shopping and having my eyes tested, and needing to rest to be ready for tomorrow’s jaunt to Bath. I was therefore here to sign for the parcel.

Opening it up, I found the contents very prettily wrapped in tissue paper with a ribbon and a nice little tag.

New Stash Sept 14 - Unopened

Opening it up, here is what was revealed.

New Stash Sept 14 - Opened

There are several stencils, and a large bee stamp, wood block mounted, so I will need to unmount this and apply some EZ-Mount Foam. The alphabet stamp, which is going to be so useful in my mixed media work, is unmounted, and will need to be treated likewise, before cutting it up to separate the individual letters. I also ordered various metal embellishments, carefully chosen as I could see they would be suitable for making moulds. On the right, at the back, there is some more Golden acrylic polymer which I get through quite a lot of – it is brilliant for thinning acrylic paints to create glazes, without losing any of the adhesion of the paint, which can happen if you use water to dilute them. There is also some fabric medium, so that I can convert ordinary acrylics into fabric paints, and a bottle of liquid pearls.

In the centre, the oval blue thing is not a bottle – it’s the punching button on the Envelope Punch Board! I think this is going to be a lot of fun to use, as well as being very useful. It comes with two charts indicating what size of paper to use and how to score the different sized envelopes – one chart is Imperial and the other metric. I have never really got on with envelope boards before and had more or less given up the idea of making envelopes, until I discovered this new tool which everyone seems to be raving about – it will be a good investment, I am sure, saving lots of money in the future as I will no longer need to buy envelopes! Not to mention the fact that you can make them to match your cards, and also that the board can be used for making all sorts of gift boxes.

In upcoming blog posts you will no doubt see a lot of these things in use.

Regarding the stencils – when I eventually get my Cougar cutting machine going again, I shall be making more stencils. However, I have had problems in the past, cutting very small shapes, because the small pieces tend to lift and get clogged around the blade, preventing decent cutting. I do not mind buying the odd stencil that I know is going to be difficult to cut!

Other new stash that I have got: yesterday I trawled through several charity shops and came home with some great stuff. I got some T-shirts and a couple of checked and striped men’s shirts and table linen (for the fabric), and some doilies, and the most magnificent satin quilt with some embroidery down the centre (all real bargains). This last item I do feel a bit reluctant to cut up, but I did buy it for this purpose so must steel myself to the task! I shall be blogging about these things in due course. They will all be cut up and repurposed. I am planning to get my sewing machine going in the New Year (if I finish my recycled mini-album by Christmas, which is what I am hoping!) and along with my teabag art, I am planning on making some altered clothing, especially using T-shirts as the basis, onto which I will add layers of other fabrics, and lace trims and embroidery, and possibly some paint. I have seen a lot of this online and am keen to give it a go. I may even incorporate some of my felt!

The first module of the felt course starts next Wednesday evening, the day Mum returns from my sister’s. It lasts for five weeks. There is another module in February, also for five weeks.

All I need now is a ready supply of energy and lots of time. I hope that’s not a pipe dream!

Edit: Photo of materials after drying overnight.

07 Materials Dried

Unfortunately the photo doesn’t show the colour of the lace very well. The lace at the top (cotton crochet) has taken up virtually no dye, but the front two pieces are actually more pink than the photo indicates. The Merino roving has felted slightly, but fortunately I can still pull the fibres apart.


  1. Go for it! I'm sure you'll have an amazing time!

  2. That is so neat! I never would have expected that color from avocado! Love the goodies package, too. :)
    Thanks for sharing! Have a good week. Hugs, Kathy Jo #41

  3. How interesting - I was surprised you got pink from the avocado - and it's such a pretty shade of pink. I hope you enjoy your felt making classes - I'm sure you will have great fun. I like the look of your stash and I'm looking forward to seeing your envelopes, as I keep hearing about the new envelope punch board but don't quite know what it is!


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