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Steam and Solar Dyes – New Zealand Plants

12 February, 2013

In this post I collect together the New Zealand plants I have recently used in steam and solar dyeing.

Hebe species.  Steamed bundles

Hebe-plant

Hebe flowers and leaves were laid out on opposite sides of two silk bundles, with hebe twigs for the core. After steaming the leaves produced yellow and the flowers a mix of blue and a grey-pink-brown as is shown in the smaller bundle below.  Although as the silk used was already dyed a pale ‘salmon pink’, this background colour does not look very pink in the photograph…

Hebe small silk

Good colours, but not much definition of leaf or flower shape, and I still had the heat too high causing damage to the silk as you can see at the top the image above.  The photograph below shows part of the larger piece of dyed white silk.

Hebe-large-silk

Beech Leaves – Nothofagus species.  Solar dye

Nothofagus

I placed the leaves in water in a large jar.  No colour emerged, so  I decided to simmer the leaves, but unfortunately damaged them by letting the water in the pot dry out…

In 1849, when the British settlement of Canterbury started in earnest, the area named Oxford  by the early surveyors was covered by a large forest – Harewood Forest, which has been described as ‘the most magnificent stand of virgin bush in Canterbury and unique because of its variety.  It originally covered 56,000 acres [22,662.40  ha] and was the magnet which attracted the sawmilling community from which the present town grew’  (Oliver A Gillespie, Oxford, the first hundred years).  The forest  was logged for timber for the growing settlement around Christchurch and was nearly destroyed in 1898 by a fire which swept through the area, fanned by the strong winds that occur in Canterbury.  The last sawmill closed in 1912.

I will repeat the solar dye at some point, as I am lucky enough to have these trees growing in the garden.  There are still clumps of the forest remaining close by – and we find seeds from these oases arrive via the birds and grow well in the undisturbed parts of the garden.

Kapuka – Griselinia littoralis.  Solar dye

Griselinea

This tree is found in lowland and subalpine forest throughout New Zealand.  Griselinea has small flowers, which are green in the female and yellow in the male plants, and the berries are black when ripe.  For my test I used the green leaves which I cut up, and tied a knot in the alum pre-mordanted silk.  The berries are now on the trees, and ripen from March to June.

Griseliniesilksample

Wharariki, New Zealand Mountain or Coastal Flax Plant – Phormium cookianum.  

Steamed bundle and solar dye.

I think the flax plants in my garden are cultivars of P. cookianum.  The leaves have distinct colours – either green, yellow, pink and orange, or in combination, each plant being different.  The flowers are small and, characteristically for this plant, the seed pods hang downwards and are more or less twisted.  Our flax plants have not flowered yet this year so I wonder if they flower every year.  (See more details here :  <http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/science/plants-animals-fungi/plants/ethnobotany/weaving-plants/information-sheets/harakeke-and-wharariki> )

This piece of silk started life as a steamed bundle containing a fallen Magnolia bud, but very little colour came from this (here the silk is still wet).  Taking this silk I  rolled up a new bundle containing just yellow flax leaf pieces and put it on to steam with the Hebe bundles mentioned above.  The vein down the centre of the flax leaf left a good red mark on the silk.

P1170291

P-cookianum-silk

Makomako or Wineberry – Aristotelia serrata.  Steamed bundle and solar dye

 The plant is found throughout New Zealand in lowland and subalpine forest, especially in clearings.  The solar dye liquid has a sweet, wine-like smell.

Aristotelia-serrata

Incorporated into a steam bundle of mixed flowers and leaves, were some Flax, Wineberry and Griselinea leaves, and Hebe flowers.  The Wineberry leaves gave a good imprint.  This is seen in the two images below.  The purple-grey marks are from the leaves which are thin and translucent.  (The pink in the background of the second  image below is from hollyhock flowers.)

wineberrybundle

Wineberry

The berries, which are edible, are red when mature and black when ripe.  I picked black berries and solar dyed the cotton shown below.  The colour of the dye is very strong.  This entry in my workbook is shared with a eucalyptus solar dye.

Wineberry-solar

The Eucalyptus (I think it is blue dollar gum) shown above, leads nicely into my next post which I intend to be about my other solar dyes.

For information on the plants I referred to NZ Flowers and Plants in Colour by J. T. Salmon, edition published in 1986.  Some of the plant nomenclature has changed since then, but I have used the current plant names.  All plants come from the garden.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 March, 2013 8:18 pm

    Your posts have a quiet, refined poetry about them – thank you

  2. 26 April, 2013 12:38 pm

    Thanks for this thoughtful treatment of native species…

  3. Kathy permalink
    4 May, 2014 10:46 am

    Thank for the inspiration it great to see you trying different plant

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