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  • Writer's pictureSarah Matthess

Natural Dyeing - Ivy Leaves

A sunless day, although I think the sun was up there somewhere this afternoon. Not that you would actually know that.. but it was sort of bright, and not raining, which was nice. Only about 4 more weeks until the shortest day of the year, and by 3.30pm the sun was just resting on the horizon, making driving difficult.

So what to do with a damp and very short day? Cook ivy. Our son looked at the pot when he came in, rather worried, and asked 'is this dinner?' Interesting smell, but we've smelt worse.

One recent winter edition of a glossy gardening magazine actually had an article in it on 'how to grow ivy'. I kid you not. My eyes popped. I actually paid money for this magazine. Instructions on how to plant and propagate the dear sweet little plant and train it up your fences for the birds to sit on. Unbelievable. Anyway out here in the Real World we just rip it off the trees. No doubt someone will write in to tell me all about the vital role of ivy in the scheme of things, and I'm sure they are right.

I decided on 600 grams of leaves to 200 grams of wool, although recipes say 1:1, I want a deeper shade.

Let you know tomorrow. This has been on the simmer for an hour, and I'll leave it to steep overnight.

Well this morning, the dye bath looks like this...

A bit murky brown/green and not very promising. But the point of this blog is to let you see the failures and successes. Natural dyeing is rarely predictable. Anyway after considering the depth of colour in this dye bath, I simmered it a further hour. Not much change, so I decided to dye less wool, and removed half of it, so we were down to 100 grams. In went the pre-mordanted wool (alum and cream of tartar), WITH the leaves.

Another hour simmering and, then removing the wool, I put into an after-mordant of weak copper solution (half teaspoon dissolved copper crystals with 40ml clear vinegar) and simmered 20 mins. So here's the result, which is photographed next to the white fleece it came from. Ok, so it's definitely a shade of green, but nowhere near the saturation of colour I had so hoped for. But still I think it will be a valuable addition to the palette for Shetland wool designs or some art-yarn.

Sorry these pictures lack true vibrant you can probably see, I took them in the...yes you guessed it....rain. You can just see the puddle on the right.

Don't forget to save your mordant. You can pour into old cartons, and label. Keep out of the way of children as the copper is toxic. Mordant is never all used up and there's always a little left in the water. Waste not, want not, add around a third of the required mordant again to previous solutions, and reuse.

A quick spin in the spin drier and up on the pully over the fireplace. I hope to get this spun up next week, it's nice soft fleece.

One last note on this: don't omit the stage of leaving the leaves to soak overnight. It actually does make a difference to the final dye, although you won't appreciate this by looking at the dye in the pan, but the final wool will be greener if you leave it over night. Well, mine was and successive batches proved this.

Since writing the above, I've tried this dye twice more, and neither batch has given me the nice green in the pic above. What did I do differently? Absolutely nothing at all. The only difference is that I gathered the leaves a little further down the lane....

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