Birch bark in a bucket

I know what I’m like. When I try something the first time I can be terribly impatient, I can’t resist turning it out to look to see how it’s doing. With that self knowledge I adopt a “make one to throw away” approach – work on a first attempt at something new with materials that don’t matter too much and expect it to go awry. I rummaged about in my stash for the left over brazilwood from the ink making project in January while I was starting to write the first in my dyeing posts. Owing to a package explosion – safely contained from everything else, just not from each other – I ended up having to go ahead with brazilwood premixed with ferrous sulphate which was not ideal, but I got some purple dye out of it.
Lessons learned:

  • 80% wool 20% alpaca mix doesn’t like too much heat and sort of splits
  • linen will take a colour but less than minimum scouring definitely not enough to keep it colour fast. My purple linen square became grey hung on the clothes line for two days in showers and bright sunshine. (valid scientific experiment, I wanted to see what happened)
  • I’m a total messer and will have to be very disciplined about scouring and mordanting times
  • I underestimate the amount of liquid I can add.

These are the purple bits that resulted anyway, though the artificial light in my kitchen is making the wool top look patchy and it actually was pretty consistent. Image

I’m still waiting on delivery of some supplies but in the mean time I have started to work on a Birch bark dye. I was very fortunate to have noticed that the Lady Cassandra is currently working on her soap project, and conveniently is using birch to make lye. She, wonderful person that she is, agreed to supply me with some bark from the fallen branches she retrieved (with permission) from an Indian Sculpture Park in the Wicklow Mountains. Which is great, I wasn’t going to work on this dye if it involved damaging/felling a tree to get at the best of the bark.   The internet suggests that some people have had limited or little success. I think some of the failures have been from using just flakes of the outer bark, where I believe the inner bark yields the best colour. I think it’s likely that spring is the best time to gather it too, but we’ve had a very late spring this year, so hopefully I’ll do okay with it even at this late stage.

photo (1)

Everything I have read so far suggests that birch gives a goldish brown colour or pinky purple with iron. When I got my bag of bark I noticed there was a lovely pinky colour spotting some of the pieces on the inside, so I’m less surprised now than when I read about it first. The bag was tied and had been in a sunny spot, so when I opened it there was a gorgeous scent, very like incense.

photoStripping the inner bark was therapeutic, it kept me amused longer than it did Art. I think it was probably a good sign that there was a sort of stickiness to the enterprise, and the bucket in which I’ve added the bark pieces to rainwater is spotted on the sides with pinkish spots. I’ve left them to steep for the moment and I’ve started to mordant some wool tops.

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