Over the Easter break, we took our customary trip south – three and a half hours drive from Sydney to Termeil, tucked into the hills behind the beautiful south coast beaches of Bawley Point. This time my focus was not on capturing images of the beach (although there was a little of that) but on capturing the colours of our bush block. Specifically, I wanted to try my hand at natural dyeing. All the stars were in alignment: I needed a ready supply of eucalyptus leaves and bark, rainwater, old stainless steel pots, some copper plate and rusty nails, and an open space under cover for my workspace. All of these are supplied by ‘Tant Pis’.
As this was my first ever go at natural dyeing, I was reluctant to invest in a large quantity of lovely wool to experiment on. Luckily, many years ago I inherited a stash of very nice, if scratchy, Rowan Light Tweed wool in a pale silver grey. Perfect.
I chose the two most significant trees on our block, both by size and emotional value, as the source material for the dye stock. ‘Big Tree’, the tree that first attracted us to the block, is a giant Spotted Gum (e. maculata) that we have positioned our house to face. ‘Laundry Tree’, in whose shade we camped for the first few years before the house was built, is a lovely specimen of Ironbark (e. fibrosa fibrosa).
By the end of a week of foraging, drying, boiling and experimenting with the addition of rusty nails and left over copper plate to the dye pots, I had achieved seven distinctish shades of yarn. The colours range from tan (the most ubiquitous dye shade produced by eucalypts) through mustards, cool and warm greys and finally some rather lovely chocolates (possible milk and 70% dark?). The yarn is currently being knitted up into a wrap which will be used to warm me when I return to sit on the deck at Termeil and contemplate my trees.
Although I am enjoying my first ever hand dyed yarn immensely, there was another reason for this experiment. I have also come home with four litres of more concentrated dye in four different shades. I am now going to experiment with using it in my drawing in the place of ink. And also with another project I am just beginning to play with, which involves paper yarn made from abaca… I will keep you posted.
I am indebted to several people and sources of information for this project. To Rebecca, of needle and spindle, whose ‘waysides’ project has been inspirational reading and whose meticulous preparation skills (as well as flair) I am in awe of; to the extraordinary body of work that is Jean K Carman’s Dyemaking with Eucalypts (a very lucky second-hand bookshop find); to eucalypso for a website full of good info and ideas generously shared; to my father for carefully identifying my trees for me; and to my partner for silently disappearing then reappearing with half a forest for which he then improvised a drying rack.