A year ago I saw some references to avocados giving a delicate pink colour without the use of any additional mordants, relying on the tannin contained within the stone or skins, I was fascinated and shortly gave it a test. There were several methods advocated , generally long soaks in water and ammonia mixes perhaps for several months, or long simmering at low temperatures. I tried a few tests and was a bit disappointed with the results, pale pinks but nothing that I thought I couldn’t have got with a little bit of exhaust cochineal, so the idea of using avocados didn’t last.
Fast forward about 9 months and I found an old large jar filled with avocado bits and rather dark red liquid, so certainly worth using with some yarn. I made two small skeins of shetland wool, one alum mordanted and the other untreated, soaked them and pushed them into the jar making sure they were well covered and left them overnight, and indeed for a few days. The liquid didn’t feel soapy so I didn’t think there was much alkali left, but I didn’t check the pH.
By chance it was tricolore salad for supper, so I saved the skins and pits , washed to remove any flesh, smashed the pits, let them dry and the next day very slowly simmered them for about 8 hours or so, topping up with water as needed, and pleased to see a very strong colour appearing, almost as much as the 9 month jar.
Another day passed and tests in the simmered dye bath proved positive for a good strong colour, and when put alongside the fermented bath showed a lot of similarities on the un mordanted skein , but the alum one was a much stronger colour – not so much pink as a light brick red ( on the right of the picture)
With this revelation I decided it was certainly worth using the avocados for a little more research.
For a local Heritage Day event, the sort that buildings are open to visitors to look around and explore, perhaps with a guide and with extra historical explanation, I decided that I would contribute to the local church’s one. Parts of it date back to Saxon times, but the bulk of it was rebuilt around 1611, enlarged in Victorian times, and further enhanced in early 2000’s. It is situated in a very pleasant churchyard with old graves and a few tombs, surrounded by meadows and fields. The grounds are carefully managed in a conservation way with a good sprinkling of unusual and special native flowers and fauna. It sits just above the Hogsmill, a tributary of the Thames, it’s largest claim to fame is that it was the inspiration for “Ophelia” by Holman Hunt.
I had the idea that I would create a selection of dyed skeins of wool, showing the range of colours possible even within a small area. I decided that I would have three skeins of each, one as normally, and then the others modified, either with iron or with ammonia. These choices were historically correct, the iron “saddens” colours, making them greyer or darker, and the ammonia helps to make some colour brighter and changes other very dramatically but increasing the pH.Iron could have been introduced by dyeing in an iron pot, it takes very little to have an effect, and the ammonia could have been nothing more complicated than aged urine.
The iron rinse was made by keeping iron nails in a light vinegar solution for several months, cooking it up every so often, admittedly not terribly scientific but it works, and the ammonia was simply a standard household cleaning product rather diluted.
There are lots of other modifiers around but I wanted to keep it fairly simple and reasonably possible for a simple basic dyer of perhaps 500 years ago.
The first collection, but many more to go, these are mostly spring leaves, but the autumn leaves and twigs will be a little different
I’ve completed the final display board which can be seen here
Queen Anne’s Lace is everywhere around my neighbourhood at the moment I’ve often seen it mentioned in dye books, but until yesterday hadn’t done anything with the rather delicate flowers.
I’d been told they can give a good yellow, and as it is easy to find, and free , it was worth a test or two
I picked about 20 or so heads, soaked them in boiling water overnight, and I also soaked some handspun 2 ply in a 15% Alum solution as well.
Each skein was simmered for about 30 mins, and then some were treated with modifiers, I was happily surprised to see how bright the yellow was, and after a washing soda rinse lost a little of the greenishness and became slightly more eggy. All told a successful morning, and I’ll be very happy to try it again.
There are a few names for Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota , part of the wild carrot family