And the season is over for now…

All of these colors were achieved with the combinations of saskatoon berries (blue), sappan wood (red, pink), buckthorn (yellow), buckthorn with iron (brown), gardenia (yellow/gold), coreopsis (gold), elderflower (yellow) (except emu where no dyes were used), plus the natural variations of eggshell color and vinegar for etching.

I’m becoming more comfortable with drop-pull technique, seeing more possibilities. While most of these eggs are trying to be strictly traditional as much as possible (mostly Ukrainian, some Lithuanian), a few patterns have just appeared out of nowhere, non-traditional (though not necessarily anti-traditional) which is nice. To write “my own” design is something that almost never happened to me in the other more common technique, so to have it happen in drop-pull after a relatively short time is rather surprising and even inspiring. 🙂

I’m getting ready to put away the dyes and tools for now, but there might be some more posts of close-up shots, and who knows when the next time will be…

Chinese yellow – gardenia

A lady working at Herbie’s Herbs in Toronto suggested that I try out gardenia when I was shopping for dye-herbs there. She said, gardenia is used to color food in Chinese cuisine. So I bought some to give it a try. Apparently, it’s not just food.

Dominique Cardon writes about gardenia in her Natural Dyes:

Huangzhi is the source of a brilliant golden yellow that was of great cultural importance in ancient China. Together with madder red, indigo blue, white and acorn black (see Ch. 9), gardenia yellow was one of the five ‘pure’ or ‘correct’ colours to which numinous power was attributed and to whose di (power) shrines and ceremonies were dedicated as an integral part of wu xing, the philosophy of the Five Elements (see Ch. 4, p. 137). Of these five elements (fire, earth, wood, water and metal), earth was considered as the centre of all creation and was represented by the colour yellow obtained from gardenia. Not only did the emperor and imperial family wear huangzhi robes, but even the paper of imperial documents was of this colorur. (McClintock Dusenbury 2004)

The dye is supposed to be a direct dye, that is, it is supposed to work without a mordant, but I haven’t had time to play with it properly yet, so I used my usual recipe: about half of the packet above (so about 50-60g) of dried gardenia fruit, simmered with about 1.5 cup water, strained, added alum.

The dye came out rather viscous, and soon became too sticky to work as a dye on an egg (it was sticking to the egg surface and not coming off evenly), so I set it aside after the one initial use (the yellow on the brown egg on the left). It did layer quite well with sappan wood, you can see the result, before it became too sticky. After a while I decided to give it another chance, so I strained the dye through a paper towel to remove the thick gluey formations, added more water and brought to a boil again, and when it was thus diluted, it worked perfectly again – see the egg on the right. Probably the way to go would be to use less fruit from the beginning.

It is supposed to give quite a range of colors on fabrics (when changing time, Ph, temperature, oxygen content, etc.) and it is also supposed to be an excellent ground for safflower red (used with safflower pink, which otherwise seems to be rather moody and weak), so I might play some more with it in the future. And I might end up buying more books of the ones Dominique Cardon refers to when talking about gardenia, its a never ending story :).

Buckthorn bark

Buckthorn berries (and less so the bark) have been traditionally used for dyeing in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, later also by professional dyers in North America. I didn’t have access to the berries, but I bought the bark in the herb store and tried it. This buckthorn variety is Rhamnus frangula, other varieties exist and have been used for dyeing even more than this one. The egg on the left is the dye with alum, the one on the right is the same dye post-mordanted with iron.

The books (Wild Color by J.Dean) say that you can extract the dye from this bark without even cooking it, by just pouring boiling water over it and soaking overnight. It is suggested to then simmer the bark again to obtain the second batch of the dye. I tried both, with more or less the same result, so you could make half a batch by soaking and the other half by simmering and then mix them together. Like most wood or bark chips, you can dry them out afterwards and try using again for lighter shades. I have also added some cream of tartar to one of the dyes, as this was suggested by Maiwa, but didn’t see much of the difference. Still it’s something worth experimenting with in the future.

The dye itself doesn’t have a very nice smell, however, unlike most natural dyes it did not spoil after sitting for months on a warm counter. I have made it in mid-December, and it still works in March. From that point, it is definitely a keeper, worth exploring more. The color is also very nice, and seems to give a lot of potential for over-laying with other colors. The iron post-wash was not particularly effective and has partially come off when the wax was removed, it might have worked better if I added the iron directly into the dye instead of soaking the egg in iron-water. I might try that next time, I actually do have two batches of this (and it doesn’t spoil!), so I can turn one of them into an iron batch.

Coreopsis + old sappan wood

Made this egg for someone’s 60th marriage anniversary, based on the traditional design, double yolk goose egg, vinegar etch, gold- coreopsis extract, orange – old sappan wood, then egging etch to white, and backround pink – same sappan wood. The contrast between pink and orange is not clear enough, should have made the background lighter or gone for a dark dye.

Traditional patterns and their surprises, didn’t realize there’s a star at the narrow ends, until I actually made it:

Chestnut and oak young leaves

Something you can easily find in the middle of the city. Chestnut on the left, oak on the right. The chestnut is the variety with yellowish-green blossoms. Perhaps the one with white or pink (haven’t seen the pink ones here) would give a different shade? The oak is a young tree, also just bloomed recently (if those are considered blooms), according to my dad the variety is the Northern red oak (Quercus rubra or Quercus borealis). The lighter shade is after less than an hour in a dye, the darker one – overnight. No issue with chestnut whatsoever, the darker shade of oak was powdery and was coming off, but it’s possible that would be rectified with repeated dyeing rather that the whole night straight, or also overdyeing with another dye for final color.

The recipe is very simple, took a bunch of young green leaves (use as many as possible, a good bunch), soaked in water overnight, cooked for about 20 min., when cool strained the leaves, added alum and started using. Didn’t prep the eggs in any way at all, didn’t even wipe them with vinegar as I sometimes do. Excellent results, highly recommended.

I also tried a maple with reddish brown leaves, and it did give green but very uneven, it might take some more playing with.