Friday, October 27, 2017

Silk and Serendipity

Sunflowers on a farm in NH
The more I play with plant dyes, the more I want to play. There are endless variations and the results are unpredictable. I enjoy the surprise and make no attempt to create repeatable processes. Sometimes I chastise myself for not keeping better notes, but not often.

Black walnuts rescued from my local hiking trail
Years ago I spotted a bolt of PFD china silk at an estate sale. I have only just now come to appreciate the magic that is silk. I'm guessing that most silks contain dye magic. Of course I love to sew with cotton and linen but dyeing is not nearly as exciting with those celulose fibers.

My most recent adventures have been primarily with black walnuts but also with leaves and sunflowers. Here is the (first) one with sunflowers. You can see that bolt of PFD china silk in the upper left hand corner.

I started by dipping the silk in an iron bath: The iron bath is water and white vinegar in a glass container with some rusty objects. After about a week of steeping, it was a light orange color. So I dipped about a yard of the silk in it and squeezed it out. Wearing gloves, of course!

Steamer with the silk piece and some Hanji paper pieces
Next I pulled the flowers apart and laid out rows of the various parts of the flowers on half of the damp silk. There were green leaf-like structures (sepals) under the yellow petals, the yellow petals and then the black center torn into small pieces, each placed in rows.  I folded the remaining silk half over the plant parts, rolled it tightly, securing with twine. Then I curled it so that it would fit on top of my steamer.

I am totally in love with the resulting patterns and colors. I believe that the dark navy/purple parts were stained with the dark center seeds and that the other parts produced the orange stains. Now I am itching to stitch and wear this. I've done some research and I'm fairly comfortable that these are safe to use for clothing. For more on this subject, check out this very helpful post from India Flint, as well as this one from Alpenglow Yarn.

Meanwhile I've returned to my black-walnut-dyed silk pieces with plans to make something. The variety of results is endlessly interesting to me. This one was folded and steeped in leftovers from last year. I am amazed to see the pink colors and have no idea what caused it. I was not expecting much from year-old black walnut juice. But silk is magical.

Folded, clamped and dyed with year-old black walnut juice
The fresh walnuts from this year also yielded a wide variety of results. All pieces came from that off-white china silk. The following piece was simply stuffed in the dye pot and left to steep for a week or so, stirring occasionally. It looks more solid in reality. Some combination of sunlight and the camera created a rusty color. Because of the sheen, the color varies quite a lot.

This next piece was folded and clamped between two pieces of glass. It was steeped in a plastic container also for about a week. Perhaps the plastic inhibited the color transfer, or maybe the clamping was especially effective as a resist.

So now I must make something.


  1. Not only will you have unique and special garments to wears but made from unique and special fabrics too. Amazing results.

  2. Some amazing results. The two folded, clamped and dyed pieces are truly magical.

  3. Inspiring! I'm waiting to see what you make.

  4. Gorgeous! I so love personally hand-dyed fabrics and these are beauties. Now to see how you use them. (Unless you’re me and you end up just admiring them forever!)