Rainbow after the storm – a leafy experiment

Recently a massive storm went through Victoria, and with a thunderous crash, we lost an enormous eucalyptus tree in the back of our property.

To most, my husband included, this presented a problem. How are we going to cut it up? Who is going to do this? What are we going to do with all this wood?

My reaction was a little different. I saw ALL THESE LEAVES – within easy reach! Yay! Furthermore, we were just given two more weeks of lock-down, so time reached out before me.

Fallen Blue Gum eucalyptus tree

I immediately decided to conduct a lengthy, leaf-heavy experiment in dyeing using eucalyptus leaves and trying various types of modification. This effort is not a fast process. So I pulled out my well-thumbed copy of Jenny Dean’s book Wild Color. I used her instructions for mordanting and modifying to obtain a range of colours.

To begin, I harvested a large pot of leaves, cut them into pieces, simmered for an hour then let the pot sit overnight. This simmering created my base dye pot.

For my fibre, I used small pieces of a cream-coloured wool blanket, cutting twenty pieces. I mordanted four groups of five pieces: no mordant (control group), iron, alum and copper. Ready to dye!

I placed the mordanted fibre into the dye bath and brought it to a simmer for 3 hours. Then, I turned off the heat and let the fibre cool in the pot.

Here are the results of the dye-bath before modifying.

Contol group - before modification
Mordant L to R – None, Copper, Alum, Iron

Time for modification

I took one fibre piece from each of the dye piles so each modification would have one no mordant, one iron, one copper, one alum.

I used five different modifications: no modification (control group), iron, copper, acid and alkaline.

Each modification had to be done separately in different pots. Only alkaline didn’t require a heating source. The photos below show the results of my testing.

Using a copper mordant
Using a copper mordant
Using an alum mordant
Using an alum mordant
Using an iron mordant
Using an iron mordant

While the differences were not as dramatic as I had expected, they were interesting, and I learned a lot about using modification in natural dyeing.

Vertical order of modification from top to bottom is:

None, Acid, Iron, Alkaline, Copper

Horizontal order of modification from left to right is:

Mordant, None, Copper, Alum, Iron

The complete set for all variations
The complete set of all variations

Moving on

I have since harvested more leaves so that I can do more experimenting! I collected leaves from two different types of eucalyptus, which were also brought down by the first tree. I then conducted a similar experiment on each to see if my results would be different. All of the samples below were mordanted with alum and dyed. The first (blue gum) on the left is from the original dye pot. The second (unknown gum) example came out much more orange. The third (peppermint gum) example gave me more green.

Results from 3 different types of eucalyptus leaves
Results from 3 different types of eucalyptus leaves

A new storm is coming up. We’ll see what is left for me to collect!

Posted by Leslie Edwards

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