This year, I tried to replicate some of the traditional Lemko patterns from Elyjiv’s book with natural dyes. Of course, Elyjiv’s eggs were not made with natural dyes, neither, most likely, those Elyjiv copied from, but I thought this experiment would be interesting. Sometimes the dyes do not cooperate, and that goes for natural dyes even more than for aniline ones. Sometimes I used brown eggs, and that, of course, changed the colors as well. But, anyway, this was fun.
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…
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 :).
Same elderflower dye that gave bright yellow 10 days ago, now gives a more “mature” slightly mustardy or greenish color, but still works. I filtered it through a paper towel when it was developing “friends” and keep using it.
Left to right: elderflower, coreopsis extract, buckthorn
Berries are special, tricky but special. I didn’t even know this berry existed before I moved to Regina, but it was very much used by the natives here (it was supposedly one of the ingredients of pemmican). It looks a bit like a large blueberry, though it is supposedly more closely related to apple, it tastes a bit more like black currant maybe, and once you cook it, it smells beautifully of cooked sour cherries. And it dyes. This was made from cooked frozen Saskatoon berries with alum.
Shades of blue are just the Saskatoon berry dye, and other shades are over-dyed with other colors. The dye is rather strong and tends to overpower the colors under it, but if you put it into red or yellow after the blue, shades and even different colours can be achieved. The purple egg is sappan wood over sask berries, the green ones are coreopsis and elderflower over sask. The yellow on the light-blue egg in the bottom is elderflower, then the egg was etched with vinegar back to white, and the light blue is a quick dip (maybe 5 min.) of a white egg into sask berry dye.
The question is, how long will the color last? Berry dyes tend to be not very lightfast, so I’ll need to do some experiments and wait and see what happens.
This is how buckthorn dye dyes more than 3 months after it was made. It was not kept in a fridge, no special treatment of any kind. There really is something to those hard core traditional dyes.
And here is a smell from childhood, we used to make a drink from fresh elderflowers. I wanted to try this for a while now, it gave a beautiful and quite even bright yellow in just 10 minutes.
The recipe is usual for dried flowers, put as many as you have (I had a lot, so I put maybe 40g), add water (enough to submerge 1 egg and a little extra), simmer for about 10 min, drain the liquid and add alum to it, once it’s cool, use as dye.
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.