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.
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 :).
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.
Finally, there were enough blooms on my potted coreopsis to attempt to make a dye, and so I did. This is classic coreopsis tinctoria, or plains coreopsis that I grew from the seeds. First shade took 30 min. in the dye, background- repeated dyeing including overnight. It turned out much more orange than I expected – the extract never gave me orange like this, only gold, but then, I never cooked the extract, just added boiling water to it. It might be worth experimenting with not cooking the fresh flowers also, just steeping in boiling hot water, and seeing whether the color is different. Unfortunately, I probably won’t get a chance to try it this year, but maybe someone else will :). Now, the recipe: Continue reading
Of all the books I’ve added to my egg-related library this year (and I’ve added quite a few), this one is definitely number one treasure. Out of print, I found the used copy and bought it. It was expensive, but worth every dollar, if you are into that kind of thing.
Here are my eggs, all dyed with natural dyes, that I brought as a demo to Pysanky Toronto event last weekend. Photo: Mykola Swarnyk
I wanted to keep using the dyes I made for the Pysanky Toronto retreat. The dyes were not very cooperative at the event, but when they came back home and relaxed a bit, they were dyeing just fine, so it would be a shame to not use them. Still working on the strokes, and starting to work on the variety of patterns. All these patterns are from the Lithuanian book.
- Top-left, coreopsis extract then sappan wood
- Top-right dyer’s broom extract, then mulberry, then sappan wood (red)
- Bottom: coreopsis extract, then sappan wood, then vinegar etched to white, then dyer’s broom to bright yellow and immediately after mulberry.