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Natural Dye Recipes.
Excerts from
" A Diary of a West Cork Dyer."
by Kate Jepson.

OnionskinDye Recipe:
8oz onionskins
8oz wool
2oz alum
˝oz cream of tartar

"There are a couple of things that are important to remember when dying I always wear rubber gloves, keep all mordants in airtight jars labelled poison and use pans and utensils that will be used for dying only, ideally use enamelled pans and don't mix dyes with food preparation.
Now we have to mordant the wool, mordanting roughens the fibres enabling the dye to "bite" into the wool, and most dyes do need a mordant. Dissolve alum and cream of tartar in boiling water and add to a pan of water and heat for five minutes. Adding clean wet wool bring the pan to simmering point, taking an hour to do so, simmer for another hour then take off the heat and allow to cool.
Bring onionskins to simmering point and simmer for an hour, drain off liquor and add the mordanted wet wool. Now I bring it all to the simmering point and simmer for an hour. Allowing the wool to cool in the liquor, drain and rinse in cold water until water runs clear. I then keep my dye liquor for further fade dying. To fade dye repeat procedure above for washing and mordanting another batch of wool. Heat dye liquor to simmering, add wool and simmer until you get a good colour. Take wool out, rinse and repeat with further batches of wool until the dyepan is exhausted." (Yellows &Orange

        Lichen: "It was another wet day today so I gathered a bag of lichen from the apple trees in the orchard, when it's raining the lichen comes off the trees easily. I dyed Angora gloves and a beret in a lichen dye-bath that came out a lovely soft brown. Lichen grows where the air is clean; it takes a long time to grow, so should never be collected in great quantities, and when dried it stores very well. Another reason I am fond of dying with lichen is that there is no need for a mordant (substantive). Here is a simple lichen recipe. You can also achieve some interesting results when you ferment the lichen.

Lichen Dye Recipe:

8oz Lichen
8oz clean washed wool

          Wash the wool the same as I described in January. Starting with lichen put alternating layers of lichen and wool in an enamel dye-pan finishing with a layer of lichen, and bring to simmering point for over an hour, then leave to simmer for three to six hours. Allow the pan to cool then squeeze out dye liquor the lichen shakes out easily and rinse until water runs clear. For dyes needing long simmering I often use a hay-box. This is easily made taking old feather pillows to line a dustbin keeping one for the top. Follow directions above bringing the pan to simmering point, then pour into a tub large enough to hold the liquid, that has a lid (restaurants use big tubs for mayonnaise, I find these perfect) put the lid on then place a pillow on top. Finally put the dustbin lid on and leave overnight. The next day, if you've made a good hay-box, the liquid in the dye-pan should still be warm, squeeze out and rinse the wool carefully. The lichen should shake out of the wool easily, and I love the smell of wool when it is dried."(Foxy Browns)

        " I treated myself to a fustic dye-bath today. Fustic is indigenous to the West Indies and gives brilliant yellows. It is important (as Fustic comes in chips) to strain the liquor as there is nothing worse than the chips getting tangled up in the wool, believe me I talk from experience. Nothing like a yellow dye-pan to brighten up a dull day. It also reminds me of a great holiday we had in the West Indies where we went to see Fustic trees and met a Scottish woman researching the use of  indigenous seashells and coral from the area in dying. We had a couple of wool hats with us which proved a bit of a novelty as even the few sheep we saw had virtually no wool and there is little need as you can imagine for our winter woollies in their intense heat. One girl suggested one of our jumpers would be very useful on a motor bike!

Fustic Dye Recipe
8oz Fustic Chips
8oz wool
2oz alum 
˝oz cream of tartar
    Mordant the wool using the same method as we did in January. Put the Fustic in a pan with enough water to cover them and leave to soak for two hours. Next bring the pan to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Allow the liquor to cool with the chips remaining. Strain off the chips and add the mordanted wool bring back to the boil and simmer until you get a good colour. If the wool is taken out of hot liquid rinse first in warm water then move to cold water. Finally wash the wool in mild detergent. The shock of going from hot to cold can cause the wool to shrink and felt together. Make sure you keep the dye liquid for further exhaust dyebaths. Dry out of direct sunlight."(Golds & Orange)

Gorse Dye Recipe:
16oz Gorse petals
8 oz wool
2oz alum
˝ cream of tartar

          "Soak the petals for two hours. While petals are soaking mordant the wool the same way as for the onionskin dyebath, and allow to cool. Bring petals to simmering point over one hour, and simmer for one hour, drain off liquor and add mordanted wool, bring to simmering and simmer for one hour without letting the dyepan boil. Rinse wool well in water until it runs clear, wash and hang to dry in an airy place. Gorse petals have a lovely coconut like aroma on a warm day."(yellows)

Dock leaf recipe:
16oz dock leaves
8oz wool
Rusty iron water (water in which rusty iron has been soaked)

          "Tear the leaves into small pieces and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Strain off the liquid and add the clean wet wool simmering for about an hour. Lift out the wool and add rusty iron water stir and gently replace the wool.  Simmer without stirring for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse in soft water with a cupful of vinegar added. Wash and rinse thoroughly. Using this recipe substitute Ragwort for the dock leaves. I have found it gives similar colours as the dock."(green, browns & yellows)

  "Had an interesting experience recently. Dad let me pick and use his elderberries for dying. They dyed some wool a soft pink, however when I washed the wool it turned green, quite extraordinary. I think the soap I used had something to do with the colour change even though it was an environmentally friendly one. So that was a little bit of dye magic."

"The shop is open and it looks superb, it's up these little stairs it is very rustic and "oldy worldy" full of our craft. When we heard we had the shop I got the dyepots bubbling and dyed some wool red with madder and Owen made a Father Christmas puppet who looks very jolly and full of Christmas cheer. He has a sack of goodies beside him and sits very happily on the mantelpiece. I'm looking after the shop taking spinning to keep me busy throughout the day. My wheel "Maya" gets a lot of attention."

"A Diary of A West Cork Dyer," is an open diary by Kate Jepson who lives and works in West Cork on the Mizen Penninsular the most westerly part of Europe. The Diary is not of one year in particular but snippets from the recent and the past. Kate who was brought up six miles away from where she now lives with her partner Owen, has run a number of shops,  craft markets, exhibitions, tutorials and lectures on spinning and natural dyes. Her dye garden has been well developed combining her passion for gardening with her spinning. They have kept various sheep, goats and rabbits( german Angora) for their fibres. These are some of the recipes taken from her book which also includes many stories and reflections of a West Cork Dyer,knitter, spinner, gardener and soon to be mother.

Copyright © 1998 OKstudios
Most recent revision 11th January 2000

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