Wednesday, 1 April 2009

lightfastness and other things

it's been brought to my attention that i [apparently] have paid insufficient attention to 'lightfastness' in my book. should i perhaps have done a lightfastness test for every dye plant that passed through my hands? hmm. i'd still be working on the manuscript if that were the case

let me put this into perspective

back in 2006 at the UNESCO natural dye symposium in Hyderabad a lot of industrial dyers were getting similarly hot under the collar, demanding standardisation of dyes and colours and conformity to set guidelines. there was a lot of spirited discussion.

my favourite contribution was that of Monsieur Coulibaly [forgive me if the spelling of the name has become somewhat tarnished with distance] who stood up from his seat wearing the beautiful costume of his homeland [Mali] and in perfect Parisian French succinctly addressed the assembled gathering...

[here's my translation, a little abbreviated]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
"look about you...we are all different. our skin and hair are different colours, we wear different clothes. as we age our hair turns white, our skins wrinkle and our teeth fall out. this we cannot change, but our clothes can be dyed again" 

and this is what Eco Colour is all about. dyes and dye plants differ from one region to the next. indigo grown in India yields a different blue to indigo grown in El Salvador. eucalyptus species cultivated in the UK won't necessarily give the same colour as the same species grown in Australia.
and what works well in the water available here at Hope Springs doesn't necessarily work the same way elsewhere [for example ice-flower blues were completely eaten away overnight by chemically treated water at Paraparaumu in New Zealand] . so why fuss? some colours will be substantive, others not...when things fade, re-dye them.

one genus that does however remain true to form is my friend the eucalyptus. while the shades achieved might differ depending on the quality of the water used, the colour itself when applied to wool is pretty much bombproof. at Spinexpo in China last year one of my ecoprint scarves was cheekily [and secretly, apparently] tested for washfastness - and came up with a rating of 4.
what does this mean? i'm not exactly sure, but given 5 is the top of the scale, and 4.5 is the maximum ever achieved, a 4 for eucalyptus applied to wool without adjunct mordants is pretty good.

and when one considers the wee scrap of wool that lives wrapped around my wrist has been there since December last year and has been in oceans and under showers and out in the sun with me, i don't think it's doing too badly either... 


  1. Hi! I have been walking around your blog, I like your works. They are great!
    I use to dye fabrics sometimes but, of course, I'm not an artist, it's just some kind of alternative way to see "fashion" :)

    Can I add your blog to my blogroll?

    Greetings from Spain!

  2. that's what is all about - the fun of this eco-printing is dyeing and when wanted re-dyeing. And soooooooooo easy, just walk through your garden, bush, beach or whatever, pick up some windfalls or petals and the next day all it is ready! Today I have picked the last bottles from the plants before they are cut, because the spring really starts here in the Netherlands. I wrapped them together 'viola'-petals' and now wait for the excitement for opening. I a few days I will show the results... xDorie

  3. What about the lightfastnes of life?
    It fades with the year. Nobody gives me any garanties. If it only was so easy to redye.
    But thats what nature is about, its grows, gets stronger, blooms and gets weaker.
    Let me enjoy nature, others may have chemistry.

  4. Now that's a refreshing perspective. Thank you!

  5. Dorie, the thought that people are making little bundles of colour [presents to themselves, really!] around the world is truly heartwarming!
    and Martine, you are absolutely right. we're part of a much bigger picture .
    and i like the idea of a link to Spain [wish my spanish was better, though...]

  6. monika from

    was having trouble getting blogger to accept her comment so we've agreed i should post it on her behalf. here's what she wrote in her email:

    "I think the main issue is that when a customer busy something, they expect it to remain at the state that they purchased it in. I've had problems with my artwork that cracked due to a wrong product (Top Coat by Triart Paints in Kingston Canada), so I've had to rework a lot of pieces. The cracked pieces I rework too put them back out there.. often times I like these pieces more than the originals, however, a client almost never will understand that. Maybe when selling items with eco-dyes, the artist can include a re-dying offer as part of the selling price? As an artist and the maker of things I whole-heartily agree with you India, but from the perspective of clients I can understand their point too... uneducated as it may be.... oh, life... how can we ever get it all right for everyone.... (grin)...."

    and here's what i wrote back

    thanks Monika....i agree with all of that, which is why i only sell eucalyptus dyed items through stores...'direct' clients are made aware of possible changes to some dyes and i do indeed offer a redyeing service for those clients...

  7. I think the gentleman from Mali put it so well.Why do we want things especially clothes and textiles to be the same I think they should be symbols of change like our bodies and everything in nature for that matter.

  8. I have lots of my hand spun wool, that I dyed with gum leaves, onion skins and mulberries, more than twenty years ago, hanging from a ladder in my studio, still looks good to me.

  9. I have to admit I know zero about the dying process, but I have always been fascinated by the thought of natural dying.. part of the appeal is, as stated, the idea that it is an evolving thing.. naturally dyed clothes take on memories as an old pair of shoes would. I love the thought that I could own a piece of clothing for as long as the thread lasted and it would change with me.
    Thanks also for the lovely comment on our blog!.. (the pigs are settled well in their new home!-)

  10. Thankyou for your wonderful book!!! I am extremely excited by the possibilities it has opened my eyes to.

    I have to admit that I am most interested in substantive dyes, as I want to be able to sell things that I make (demands of consumerism etc.), and I don't want to redye each bead strung on a necklace someone owns, or receive back something from the opposite ends of the globe and try to find something again to match those colour/s... so I did find the relative lack of definite information on substantive dyes frustrating, although I appreciate there are many variables that can influence this.

    It's interesting that you say that you only sell eucalyptus dyed garments through stores... perhaps I should do the same, although I'd like to think I could find other native or introduced plants that can produce substantive results. I guess I have many many crafts on the boil, and don't necessarily want to brute-force trial and error on every plant I see and then wash the textiles a lot to see if the dyes stick! I've just started flinging myself across the web to see what is out there, and I'm sure I can find many others, especially inspired by your book, who are discussing their findings!

    Another challenge for me finding substantive dyes is that I live in the tropics, and so there is not as much information available in the West for plants that willingly grow there (though there are plenty of eucalypts!). And clothes I wear have to be laundered every time I wash them, and are constantly broiling in humidity and sweat, so I am guessing that that will stress out colours pretty quick. I don't think I'd try ice flowers or hapa-zome, beautiful as the results are, for my clothing, because I'd get too sad too quick after all my efforts!

    Apart from those concerns I have for long-lasting dyes for selling/tropical wearing, I really resonate with what you are saying about non-permanence, as that's a philosophy that I take to heart, and Western cultures don't appreciate enough of (but paradoxically want disposability and turnover of the things with the appearance of being forever flawless).

  11. i appreciate your concerns and empathise with the problem about lack of information regarding plants in your region. here in Australia it's the same thing...we've established that eucalypts are substantive in the dyepot, but there's a wealth of other stuff out there that hasn't been tried or documented at all [the tip of the iceberg has been nibbled and there's a particularly good book that was published by the Vic handspinners some years ago]
    what i've tried to do with Eco Colour is list ways in which colour can be extracted/applied in the hope that folks can use these techniques and experiment with the plants from their region.
    a student of mine in NZ discovered a fantastic colour [a true pink] from a hitherto untried plant...simply by experimenting with one of the methods that was suggested in class.
    there's bound to be magic closer to home - just a matter of working through the plants you have available..
    good luck!

  12. Thanks :) I do live in Australia, just in the hot end of it where many plants are bizarre and most European and Japanese weeds and dye plants refuse to grow. I should pop into the Guild the next time I'm in Melbourne; I'm also interested in the workshop you might be running there again at Beautiful Silks! I've started a personal Google Map where I'm pinpointing plants of interest (so far mostly for seed jewellery or bushfoods) and I'll be adding dye plants to as I find them - maybe others would find starting one of their own useful too (it's pretty easy)!

  13. wandered into the goatsfoot pages and saw that you'd been in kakadu.
    Imbi [see Two Worlds blog in the sidebar] is in Darwin and knows a lot about the plant life up there
    seems to me there's a connection that could be made?

    and i'm still plotting a visit up there, just trying to find a time-hole to make it happen. maybe we'll all play together in the tropix?