Monday, 28 September 2009

Failed Experiment?

Isn't it amazing how the mind can play tricks on you?
Between my back door and the dyehouse door there is an elder tree, at the moment it is overloaded with berries and taunts me everytime I walk out of the back door!
In the back of my mind I was convinced that I had read in Ethel Mairet's book (Natural Dyes) that if you dye linen with elderberries then it is a permanent dye, so I thought I would do an experiment!
The first thing was to find the book - this was a success!!! I found the relevant page and read under
"Elder Sambucus nigra Berries"
then a little further down
"Sloe* Prunus communis. Fruit"
"*on boiling sloes, their juice becomes red, and the red dye which imparts to linen changes, when washed with soap, into a bluish colour, which is permanent"
Aha - I had read it, but got my berries muddled! So off I went to the sloes at the end of the field. This photo looks like a damson but I can assure you the thorns got us when collecting the fruit! (I fancy having a pick at the lichen, but I'm a good girl and I won't touch it!!!) from the bush we got about 750g of fruit. Into the pan it went and was boiled for about 3/4 hour. I then left it overnight and maybe this is where things went wrong!
The colour of the fruit when boiling was much darker than this pinky colour I have here - this was taken after straining out the mush, it's frothy cos it's just been strained into a jug and then poured back into the pan.
I had a piece of linen cloth and a piece of wool cloth which together weighed about 150g, so I thought that was a very generous ratio of dyestuff to fibre and immersed them and heated them back to boiling and kept there for about another 3/4 hour.
The colour was a pretty wishy washy pink as far as I can see! The linen is on the left and the wool on the right.
So the instructions say wash in soap and the colour should change - out came the soap flakes - hmmm neutral, olive oil soap? Still no colour change, in the end I decided that all my detergents are neutral and tried adding washing soda to the washing water!!! I have to be honest and say I can't see much happening in the water, but I left everything soaking overnight again in the vague hope that some miracle would happen. !
I guess the answer has to be - NO!
The wool (on the left) has actually changed more than the linen (which looks exactly the same to me!)
I will do a lightfastness test on them in my South facing window and see what happens, but I don't think that this has done what Ethel suggested!
I have also now found a reference in Dominique Cardon (Natural Dyes) to dyeing with Elder - so maybe I will collect the fruit and try it. Bilberry seems to be the best of the fruits with quite a few finds showing evidence of being dyed with them, however my absolute FAVORITE pie is bilberry, (or whimberry if you're a Lancashire lass like me) so if I pick any I know where they'll be going and it won't be a dyepot!

1 comment:

Helen said...

Fascinating experiment Debbie. I have no idea why it did not work. Part of the fun or otherwise of natural dyeing! I hesitate to challenge Ethel Mairet but I cant help wondering if this is another recipe that has got into dye books without anyone actually doing it. Akin to amgenta from dandelions and blue from elecampane. hmm!