Eco-Dyeing with Caitlin ffrench

I attended the Eco-Dyeing workshop at the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild’s Fibre Camp 2014.  Here is our lovely instructor Caitlin ffrench displaying a sample of what we were to produce from a whole variety of natural pigments in part 1 of the workshop.  Caitlin likes to use materials from nature being aware of protecting the land base and not taking too much.  She harvests from abandoned yards and roadsides and uses “weeds” as much as possible.

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We each were provided with a square of silk, cotton and wool.   On half of one of her squares Rosemary is now assembling her collection of eucalyptus, golden rod, walnut husks, cochineal (not local) and a variety of found materials such as feathers, maple leaves and grass bits.

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The fabric was folded, more material added and then it was rolled over a length of rusty rebar.

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Once rolled the next step was to wrap.  Here Andrea is wrapping her bundle tightly in both directions with thin twine.

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The bundles were placed in pots of water and left to simmer for the day while the rebar did its job of mordanting and the gathered materials the dyeing.  We sprayed on a little vinegar to help set the colour. I like Caitlin’s attitude, “It is OK if the fibres fades – it is still beautiful.  We all fade eventually.”  We took our bundles home and opened them a week later.  What a surprise!  Mine was nothing like Caitlin’s.  It was interesting to see how the different fabrics accepted the pigments.  I think I stuffed in too much though.  A little muddy.  A good lesson for next time.  But what fun!

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The second part of the workshop was dyeing with cochineal.  We first entered our pre-wetted skeins into a mordant bath which was 15 percent alum to the weight of fibre and enough water to allow the fibre to float freely. This was brought to a simmer and cooked for about an hour while the cochineal bath was brewing.  A liquid from iron was added to darken the colour somewhat.

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While we were waiting, Caitlin talked to us about the philosophy of India Flint whom she has taken workshops from.  They both are great believers in creating clothes and household fabrics from materials harvested close to home.  So refreshing!

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Caitlin also told us how the cochineal insect is a parasite living on the prickly pear cactus and found in countries such as Peru where it is grown in special plantations for its beautiful rich red colour.  It is shipped all over the world to produce the red colour in items such as lipstick, rouge, and even Campari!  Soon the dye bath was ready for our beautiful skeins.

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It didn’t take long for colour to start appearing once the skeins were dipped into the bath. Caitlin talked to us about the many different ways to achieve colour by dipping.

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We left the skeins for most of the day.  They had turned a beautiful purple when finally removed from their bath and rinsed.  How rewarding!

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By Merrily Corder

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