Petalplum

Botanical Dye

in the garden - gathering flowers and plant dyeing and feeling abundant

Slow & Sustainable Living, Botanical DyeEllie BeckComment
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Every year we try to plant a garden, of some sort or other. Some years we’ve had flourishing garden, picking veges and flowers, other years barely anything at all. Some years it’s determined by the floods or the lack of water. I’ve done a lot of hand watering, carrying buckets from the creek to the garden over the years (especially when we first moved here to this land, and didn’t have water plumbed in yet). Some years I’ve watched all the soil and the plants washed away by a giant flood. Or the seedlings eaten by possums or wallabies, or the fruits picked off by bush turkeys.

But this year I have this. Three raised beds (metal frames) and a raised no-dig garden bed. And a whole lot of flowers that are blooming and thriving - despite our low-quality soil, but perhaps due to all the love and watering and conversations I am having with the little plants.

The dahlia tubers were gifted to me, from my dear sister-in-law and also a dear woman who I met recently, and makes magic with flowers. The cosmos keep getting taller and taller, and gifting us new blooms each morning. The tomatoes have grown past the bamboo teepees we built for them, and are giving us sweet little pops of deliciousness every day at the moment.

Having a small space right outside out home, that I can see from my kitchen window, makes me so so happy. The pure joy and pleasure of waking each morning, to water or tend or talk to my plants begins my day with a nourishment and uplifting feeling of possibility.

We planted more seeds this week past, including some woad and indigo. Next year my dye garden, flower garden and even perhaps vege garden will grow and expand. But for now it’s helping me to grow and expand, to nourish myself in simple small slow ways.

A feeling of abundance & garden metaphor for creativity ~

My garden, for me, is a very visual representation of the way we can feel about ourselves and the world, and how we can respond and react. Tending baby seedlings is like tending to the creativity inside us, the more we watch, water, talk to, nourish, spend time with the better the plants grow. Same as giving yourself the permission to nourish your self - giving yourself good soil (materials or time or simply kind words), and time. Watering a garden everyday is necessary in our climate here. When I’m watering, I’m also watching for weeds or bugs that might each the plants.

If I spend time with my creative practice, I am noticing the things that guide me towards blooming more openly, more rawly. I can start to spot when something is wilting or something is getting ready to bloom.

Tending weeds, in the garden, or choosing to pull them up is a lesson, for me, in allowing things. Some weeds are good (especially for my dye pots), whereas other weeds I don’t want to encourage at all. If I encourage weeds in my creativity I have to look at what they’re bringing to me - do they nourish my soil in a way I might not have imagined, but actually need. Or are the weeds taking away from other things growing more happily. So.. looking at this - letting some plants develop is like letting some ideas develop and grow. Pulling a weed out is like saying no to the wrong things in my life.

You can choose, in life, in creativity, in the garden, to be happy and content with one small simple garden bed and help it to grow and bloom. Or you can wish for more, constantly spreading yourself thing tending many things, many garden beds… and nothing quite blooms the way it could.

GO plant some seeds. A tiny pot is all you need. Some herbs or flowers. Sometimes to bring a joyful feeling when you water it, watch it, pick from it, eat from it. Plant a herb pot to gift to someone else, or a little patch of sunflowers.

I’ll be sharing my new dye garden journey over the coming year - from seedling to plant, to the colours they make on my fabric… but for now I wanted to share these photos of our little garden and this tumble down tea-house that will one day be a studio space, and extra bedrooms for my kids.

PS - If you’re looking for some books* to help in your garden… these ones are on my book shelf, and I refer to them often - for different reasons. I’ll do a separate review of them in the coming weeks, if you’re interested.
Milkwood by Kirsten Bradley & Nick Ritat - so much excellent info about tomato growing, as well as foraging, wild foods, seaweed, mushroom growing and bee-keeping. I can’t wait to see what their next book might be about.
Grown & Gathered by Matt Purbrick & Lentil Purbrick - this book has SO much info about gardening, growing, eating locally.
Floret by Erin Benzakein - I am referring to this regularly at the moment. Mostly to work out at what stage of bloom should I pick a certain flower, and how best to help it last longer in the vase. A beautiful book for any flower grower.

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  • If you purchase through these links I receive a small commission from Book Depository. It doesn’t cost you any extra, it simply means a small contribution to my family income - which can go towards paying my internet bills. I thank you for your support.

Dyeing Sunshine : Natural dye with coreopsis flowers

Craft Tutorials, Botanical DyeEllie BeckComment
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Dyeing with coreopsis is like making sunshine. I haven’t even pulled the fabric from the dye pot, and I’m already in love. I’ll be honest and say I’ve been on the lookout for coreopsis flowers around me for a long time. When I saw some pots of colour at the little local nursery, I had to bring some home, as it seems there’s none growing anywhere nearby for wild picking.

This is pretty much one of the easiest dyes around. Flowers like this are full of colour, just waiting to imbue their warmth onto your cloth or yarn. You do need to prep your materials first, pre-mordant and all that. But apart from that you really can’t go wrong with dyeing with luscious blooms like this. I have the details of how to dye with flowers on online ecourse (and I’m working slowly on an ebook as well, join my newsletter list if you want to know when).

In the sunshine warmth that we have at the moment, solar dyeing is the best option. Any chance that I have to reduce the resources of my dyeing process, I’m happy to go that way. I wish I could solar dye everything, and often I do a lot, but some things do need direct heat, and some days the sun just doesn’t come out. But I am ever conscious of the impact of my dyeing - the gas used to heat the dye bath, as well as the water needed, and the mordants that I use. Not to mention the fabrics and yarns themselves.

Is this important to you, in your practice? The whole process of how you dye, where the materials come from, and what they’re used for?

I’ll be back with the results of the dye pots next week. Once the fabrics have soaked up all that colour, and have dried. For now, I really wanted to share these photos because they make me so happy - such glorious colour.

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If you want to try it yourself, here’s a quick how-to dye with coreopsis flowers :

  1. Scour, then pre-mordant your fabric or yarn*

  2. Gather as many flower heads as you can. I’m using fresh flowers, but dried works as well. I’ll be adding extra flowers to the jar all week, as more bloom and are ready for picking. But aim to use at least 50%, ideally 100% weight of flowers to fibres. With most dyes (fresh flowers) the more dye stuffs you have, the more intense the colour, and the better results you get.

  3. Fill a large glass jar with the flower heads, then pour kettle boiled water over it. Just like making tea. The colour will show itself straight away.

  4. Put your rinsed material straight into the jar, on top of the flowers and give it a little stir. Close the lid and leave the jar in the sunshine for at least a day, and up to a week. Depending on a) what depth of colour you want and b) how much sunshine you’re getting. Move the jar around to get the most light / heat.

  5. Stir the fabric every day, so that it is more evenly dyed. Or otherwise you can leave it, and the folds create little landscapes, patterns and designs. A very beautiful way to dye.

*(I use alum, but not sure if I’ll buy more once I’ve finished this batch up, but I don’t know that soya beans are any better. The ethics of it all is a bit much for me sometimes).

NOTE: If you’re dyeing yarn, it’s best to the put the flowers into a fabric mesh bag - like a large muslin tea bag or even a produce bag. This way you can add more flowers, and build up the colour over the days, but not have to worry about the petals getting stuck in your yarn. No need to worry about this with fabric, but you still can do it to create more of a consistent dye without patterns, if you’d like.

I used three different types of coreopsis. Also known as tickseed, they’re actually part of the daisy family. As far as I can tell there are a lot of different varieties - I’d suggest looking out for the yellow ones, especially these bigger fluffy ones. While the smaller two (in my photos) looked yellow-red tinged when I poured the water over them, the cloth so far is looking more brownish than the brilliant yellow of the larger coreopsis. Waiting to see if they turn out blugh-brown or ahhh-brown…..

Keep your eyes peeled for those bright yellow flower heads - I hear of people finding them on roadsides, council plots and cemeteries. You can pick them and freeze or dry them, while they’re in abundance. They like being deadheaded, so don’t worry about taking them from the plant. Leave one or two heads for the bees. I’m pretty sure they’re easy to grow in your garden, but this being my first time I can’t tell you from experience.

If you want to read more natural dyeing tips, how-tos or processes, these ones might interest you: eucalyptus & rust dyeing, garden bundle dyeing, dyeing with golden rod flowers (perfect for late-Summer foraging), and dyeing with turmeric (while not very lightfast, it’s such a satisfying & easy dye for simple projects).

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Nothing ever stays the same : process of my textile art-making

Fabric, Creative Process, Botanical DyeEllie Beck2 Comments
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I am working on some new pieces, with the hopes to get myself together to have a solo exhibition next year. I need to put the entry in by the end of this month.

Nothing ever stays the same > Pondering the way that my visual voice shifts & morphs, but I think still similar. Do you think? Do you see ‘me’ in my weavings and my stitch work? 

I guess the only way is just to listen to my whisper, the quiet soulful voice of working with the muse and making my work. And if I make it with my own voice, then it must be my voice. 

These pieces look totem-ish to me. They feel like trees of memories. I know what the exhibition will be called (I’m going to keep that quiet to myself for a little while). But it’s about memories, motherhood, self, ideas, thoughts, the shifting shadows in our souls & minds ... and other stuff. Haha.

Thought I should finally start using this blog to document my process as I happens. Small quick snippets of work. Would you be interested in seeing that? 

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Its raining here today. Again. Yesterday was pure glorious sunshine and now we are back to the moody skies, those feelings of internalising a day. It’s been raining for weeks. But the grey clouds have a good way of talking to me. 

I saw the moon last night. A moment of wakefulness. 

Heres the fabrics - naturally dyed with a combination of eucalyptus, iron-y water, seedpods & leaves gathered, bark (eucalyptus), silky oak leaves, rose leaves, onion skins. And the pinks are ranunculus & anemone flowers - the darkest purple ones. I can’t wait for more of them next Spring!  

I’m using a combination of vintage kimono silk, scraps of other fabrics from my collections and also a little bit of new silk or linen. 

 

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Artwork Process : Cocoon | Emerge

Creative Process, Botanical Dye, FabricEllie BeckComment

Last week I went to Sydney, with my teenage son, to attend the exhibition opening which my work was in. Being part of a textile award exhibition was wonderful - in a room full of other textile artists, and textile work. Seeing loom weaving, basket weaving, stitching, quilting, fabric dyeing, felting and more being shown side by side, being promoted and loved, and enjoyed. I want more of it, I realised.

I wanted to put this work up here to share with you too. Because I think one day I’ll wake up and my whole Instagram account will be lost and gone, and I’ll have nothing much to show on the internets of what I’ve done, my journey these past years. Do you ever feel like that might happen?!!

I made this piece, called Cocoon | Emerge {self} using the silk offcasts from spinning the threads, they’re called silk rods. They came from my fabric supplier and as soon as I looked at them, they started talking to me. The rough bark-like texture, the soft silky feel, the depths of them, the way they called out to be stroked. They took beautifully to the colours in my dye pots - being like raw silk and all. Of course they’d take amazingly to natural dye.

This work feels, to me, like the ripe opening - the pulling of my soul. The near-whiteness of the external with the colours hidden underneath.. like caves of colours, pockets of what we keep hidden to protect us, to protect our internal thoughts, emotions, feelings. I wanted to share these pockets - to be opened up.

Society isn’t always ready to see the colours we keep in our depths. Society wants to see the outside being a little more neutral. We can of course show some of ourselves, but once we start sharing too much — people get afraid. That’s what I’m experiencing anyway. That’s the journey I’m going through. Maybe my colours are too much.

But, in Emerge I wanted to open up. To not hide behind the bark-like exterior. I wanted people to reach in, to look closer, to ponder what’s behind, underneath. To accept and express joy in that.

While it looks bark-like and tree-ish, it also has a wing shape. The flight of the cocooning. Those opposites of self…… staying closed and metamorphosising towards flight, freedom of self. I think that’s what we exist in : all aspects of who we are, as humans. We are neither fully sealed off, nor are we fully able to be 100% ourselves.

The exposed copper pipe, to hang the piece, feels to me a little like some of Frida Kahlo’s paintings of her spinal cord, wrapped in bandage. The journey and the process of healing herself. That’s what I went through - not physically of course, not so dreadfully painfully. But emotionally, spiritually.

During making this piece, which was both machine and hand stitched, my family went about their own days. Walking past me, making comments and noticing things about the work, giving their ideas and interpretations, shedding light - for me - on different viewpoints. Often I wouldn’t want something like this, viewpoints and expressions of someone else’s ideas about my work, especially not before it’s finished. But my work takes place around my family, with my children a physical part of the process. I stop and start at their whims, and their timetables. And I’m able to work because they take for granted that this is what I do. They sit beside me and draw, or chatter, or play. And their words, their feelings, their thoughts shared become part of me, and part of my work. So - for this reason I will always value the thoughts, and small noticings from my family of my work. And I will always cherish it.

This piece is currently available from the Seed Stitch Textile exhibition, at Australian Design Centre, in Sydney’s Darlinghurst. You can purchase it from there directly, or if comes back home to me unsold then it will be available through my website. I’d love to make some more of this work, in this feeling….. am open to commissions if you feel like something for your walls.

thoughts on my process making : stitching colours, making tea quilts & breathing

Creative Process, Botanical Dye, Weaving, Words & poetry thoughtsEllie BeckComment

This is the colour palette that I’ve been working with lately. It’s so very different than what I’d usually use or work with, and maybe that’s the reason I’m loving it so much. It’s always good to mix things up isn’t it - to push ourselves in a new direction. Maybe it’s just because seriously, look how good it all looks together.. So shimmery and lovely. I’m making tea quilts out of these pieces of my naturally dyed fabrics.

The goldens and yellows were all dyed with onion skins - if you’ve never dyed with onion skins before (either red or brown onions), they’re seriously the most satisfying to dye with. So much colour, so much depth and variation with different fabrics, weights and weaves, and different processes in the dye pot.

The greys are eucalyptus which was overdyed with iron. Here’s a little how-to if you wanna do this; it’s a great way to ‘fix up’ a piece that wasn’t so spectacular in the first dye pot, because sometimes that happens. And over-dyeing is the best ways to rework a piece of naturally dyed fabric or yarn.

Anyway - tea quilts. Ain’t that a sweet name. I’m not sure where I first saw it (somewhere on the vast amazing internet of inspiration - though I just did a teeny search and most images come up as quilts with tea cups on them… so mine isn’t that). These are lovely little placemats just for one person, for you to sit and enjoy your quiet moments of sipping tea.

A dreamy little moment we can all hope for. Quiet tea sipping and pondering some thoughtful words.

Lately I’ve been asked about my ‘process’, and sometimes it’s hard to articulate exactly what and where and how. Mostly - it comes in spurts and bursts. Keeping on trying, feeling and catching teeny glimpses of inspiration and working with that. And then pushing on without the inspiration. I feel like we have to be here ready and waiting, and working and always working, the inspiration comes and goes, but if we’re not here working then it will most probably slip on by without stopping beside us.

What do you think? Do you agree?

My process is mostly based on the materials themselves, and the pockets of time that I have to work within. I am learning to not limit myself to one form or one medium or only one ‘style’. Sometimes words come out, sometimes images, sometimes simply lines and rows of stitching.

The process of these pieces mostly came about by the dye pot colours. I have a vague idea of what colours or what dye stuffs (plants / flowers / etc) that I want to work with, but then I allow things to evolve. Once the colours showed themselves to me… quilt ideas started forming. The greys particularly keep talking to me and leading me somewhere further and further.

A lot of my work is a journey towards the next thing. While I’m working on something, ideas are forming and evolving and becoming more articulate, easily to recognise and put into form (rather than vague images / dreams in my head). The process of making a piece guides and informs the next piece.

I don’t often use a sketchbook or plan out what I’m making, because the piece becomes the sketchbook for the next piece. If that make sense at all.

So - my process for my creative making & art-making is :

  • having materials that inspire me - natural materials, in colours of the earth & sky & ocean (ie - naturally dyed. I am being drawn more and more to the more muted hues of things lately, as a general rule - but not always, of course!).

  • grabbing any and every moment when something sparks in me - and making it happen. Or writing little snippets of words down to guide me at a later time.

  • always having materials on hand - even just a small pile of fabrics, needle & thread. In my handbag, in the car, beside my bag, little baskets around the house

  • being open to what evolves. Not doing a lot of self-editing while the inspiration is flowing. Just moving with it, trying to listen and hone in my own voice.

  • when the inspiration strikes I get offline (no Instagram or Pinterest to distract me, or pull me away from my own voice), and I settle into where I am.

  • making mistakes.

  • having lots of unfinished pieces. This is ok, because these often form and spark ideas down the track. Nothing is every complete.

  • remembering that I am ever evolving, as a person, as a creative, as an artist - and it’s ok for my work to keep evolving.

  • and just doing the work. Keeping on doing it, showing up again & again & again.

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eucalyptus and rusty iron dyeing :: natural & botanical dye how to

Botanical Dye, Craft TutorialsEllie BeckComment

Last week most of my dye pots were giving me brown and more brown, which you know is sort of pretty, but can get a little tedious. Especially when I'm trying to get beautiful, fun, exciting colours to send out for my Little Moments of Creative fabrics. When I dyed with eucalyptus, or gum leaves and seedpods, gathered from around here a little while ago I got these lovely purples, with orange hints. But this time, just some brown with the very faintest orange-brown prints through it. So, I did what only i knew to do, and that was over-dye with iron water. Which I made from rusty things gathered from the shed and some vinegar. 

I put the fabric and the rusty water, and all the old rusty nails and bits and pieces into a glass jar, filled it up to the top with tap water (we use rain or creek water) and left it in the sun for a few days. I only need a couple of days of solar dyeing here, and it warmed up quite a lot, more than I thought it would on these short Winter days. 

Here's the beautiful results that I pulled from the dye pot. I wish I'd photographed the before-browns, but of course life doesn't always allow for the camera to capture everything.

Making iron water is pretty easy, and a great way to colour change your dye pots. You can make your own using white vinegar and whatever rusty things you can find, or you can buy iron as ferrous sulphate from a garden centre (or from a dye place, there's a few different ones online depending on where you live). Take care with using iron on wool because it can weaken the fibres, so don't leave it too long (ie not more than a day really). Homemade iron water, using rusty metals, will be gentler than ferrous sulphate, so if possible I'd suggest gathering and making your own. 

Of course you can also dye directly with the rusty things, in a bundle dye, and get marks and patterns upon your cloth or paper, without needing to make an iron water mordant / colour modifier. Gathering rusty nails, bits of wire, unusual shapes and layering them into your fabrics when you fold or roll or bundle, then dye using any method you prefer (check out my course for different methods possible). I've used tins from our recycling box as a colour shifter, and while I know there's no iron in the tin, the metals created beautiful patterns and colours on this cloth, when heated in a dye pot. 

This is just another way to create different colours from one dye pot. Iron is often 'saddens' or darkers the colours, but also shifts the ph somewhat. Pinks, reds and oranges can turn to purple before they change to greys. Sometimes blacks are possible, but do take care of how long you leave your fabric in the iron to achieve this black as it will weaken all fibres.

How to make iron water:

  • Put as much rusty things into a glass jar as you can find. Add more over the days and weeks when come across them. Once you start looking I'm sure you'll find them in the streets and the gutters, or hiding in the garden, or the shed, or if all else fails perhaps the demolition yard or op-shop, or a tip-shop.
  • Fill the jar with 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water (or thereabouts; you don't have to be too accurate), and put the lid on (or cover it up somehow).
  • Leave for at least a week or two then add as an after-mordant / colour shifter.

 


I'd love to see what you've been dyeing lately. Or hear if there's anything else you'd like to read about on this blog, more tutorials, more mindful thoughts or parenting, or.... ?

You might like to read more from my Botanical Dye how-tos here, particularly
Eucalyptus leaves & seedpods - check out that purple!
Eucalyptus Dyeing for weaving
 

 

A garden bouquet ~ from my natural dye diaries

Craft Tutorials, Botanical Dyeellie2 Comments
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Do you want to learn how to make the most beautiful colours on fabric, using gathered garden treasures? Here I've got a simple, yet ever so magical, tutorial so you can create your own. I love the whole process of this project, from the quiet joy of gathering your supplies through to the patience of waiting of it to 'cook' and be ready, through to the marvel of opening up the treasure that you've created. 

Each time you dye in this special manner, you get different results, depending on the flowers, leaves and seedpods, and even the fabric that you use. To me, that's a big part of the whole natural & botanical dye process. I don't want things repeated exactly the same, but love the nuances that come out of working with nature, with variations of technique and the simple alchemy of cooking.

You can learn all about this in my online ecourse about Natural & Botanical Dyeing, but here's a little how-to for you, if you want to make your own this weekend:

You'll need:

  • Some fabric - silk or wool works best, but cotton is good too, something not too heavy or too sheer. You can use small pieces or one large piece, it doesn't matter at all
  • Flowers, petals, leaves, bark, seedpods gathered from the garden or nearby fields*
  • Kitchen scraps such as onion skins (brown and red), coffee or tea left overs, passionate fruit skins, avocado skins and seeds (I'll share a full tutorial for this alone soon).
  • String and scissors
  • An old saucepan - it's best to use one that you won't be using for cooking again. A second hand one from an op-shop is fine - stainless steel or aluminium.
  • White vinegar

Here's what you do:

  • Gather your supplies from the garden. This can be a beautiful way to get kids outside exploring and enjoying the sunshine, and noticing the beauty all around them.
  • Lay out your fabric and arrange your petals, leaves, bark, onion skins, etc in a pretty pattern. Don't be too worried about the pattern as things shift a little when you roll it up, but what we're hoping will happen is colour and prints (leafy marks) will transfer to the fabric, so keep this in mind when you're arranging. This is a mediation in itself - don't rush this part. (see photos). Don't overfill the fabric, leaves space. 
  • Roll and bundle your fabric as tightly as you can. If you have one large piece you could fold it in half, then roll it up. I've had people aliken this technique to trussing meat, but being a vegetarian I don't know about that. If you roll the fabric into a log-shape as tightly as you possibly can, then you should be good. 
  • Take the string and tie it, super tightly, around your bundle. I've included a few photos to show you the different tying options possible. The string needs to pull the fabric even tighter, because this is the way you'll get contact prints with the leaves. The string will make a mark on your fabric too, which I think is one of my favourite parts of the result.
  • Put your bundle into the saucepan and cover with regular water **, add in about a cap or two of vinegar and put the lid on. Allow the whole piece to gently simmer for a couple of hours, keep making sure the water is covering your fabric - top it up if necessary. Three or so hours of simmering should be enough, turn the heat off and leave it (lid on) overnight to stew in it's own juices. 
  • The next morning you can unwrap the present you've made yourself. Don't wash straight away, but allow to dry in the shade (the pieces of leafery and petaly loveliness will fall off as it dries, so don't worry too much as picking it off). Once your fabric is fully dry you can gently wash under the tap; I don't use any soap, but you can use a ph-neutral soap if you'd like. You may find some colour runs off, so wash until the water runs clear, then line dry in the shade again. (Why do I dry, then wash? Because I find that the longer before I wash off the colour the more chance it has of embedding itself into the fabric, as it dried rather than washing it all away straight away). 

+ The vinegar acts as a mordant (which helps to bind the dye colour to the fabric), but it's also a ph-colour changer, which means it will shift / alter some things in your dye pot. This is totally ok, and very wonderful, but just something to keep in mind. You can do this without vinegar, but you'll need to either be happy with the fact that some flowers might fade quicker, or know a little more about mordants. Adding some rusty nails / metal to your dye bundle helps a little too, as do other certain plants (barks contain tannins that act as mordant, as does avocado seeds).
+ The fabric in the top picture was bundle dyed in a pot of coloured dye water - so the parts that would have been white got dyed pink. Do achieve this you could add avocado seeds to your cooking pot, and you'll get some pink, apricot, brown-ish hues. NOTE: do not boil the avocado seed dye pot, as this will turn it brown.

If you want to know more, or delve deeper into Natural & Botanical Dyeing I have an online video course available here, or a downloadable Kids Dyeing booklet. And make sure you read my Natural Dye journal posts, which shares more tutorials and how tos, as well as notes from my dyeing. 

Natural Dyeing with Golden Rod flowers

Craft Tutorials, Botanical DyeEllie BeckComment
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One of my all-time favourite local weeds to dye with is golden rod, solidago. Which is funny cause yellow isn't usually my colour, but the brilliance of golden rod in the dye pot is enough to entice anyone towards to sunny disposition of life. Each year I wait, with an eager patience & delightful anticipation, for the flowers to grow and bloom. Dyeing in this manner, as things are in season, is for me one of the joys of natural dyeing - watching the landscape around me and waiting for things to be in their prime.

The first workshop I picked these for, quite a few years ago, was in Brisbane. My family and I cut stalk after stalk of the showy stalks and loaded them into the car with all the other workshop supplies, alongside three kids and their luggage too. Little did we know that the flowers were filled with teeny tiny greeny-white spiders, that over the course of the drive overtook our car! It took quite a long time for my family to forgive me, and they still remind me to this day. If you buy golden rod from a local florist or the flower market I'm sure it's been grown commercially and isn't covered in little bugs, but every time I pick the flowers now I make sure to give enough time for the spiders and grubs to crawl off before I load up the car!

Golden rod is a weed in our country, and I've noticed it growing along fencelines where the farmers can't mow them down. They die back after their flowering season, and grow up again each year. They're often used a filler in flower bouquets, so you can get them from a florist or ask your local garden centre to get a bunch in for you. 

Ellie Beck Petalplum golden rod natural dye.JPG
Ellie Beck Petalplum golden rod natural dye.JPG

How to dye with golden rod flowers:

You need to pre-mordant your fabric with your desired mordanting technique. I used to use alum, but nowadays I'm moving towards no mordants at all, and allowing the colours to shine themselves through longer dyeing time. Though, alum does often make dye colour brighter, so do keep this in mind. I've noticed also that alum brightens dye colours more than soy mordanting does - from my experience. But the beauty of golden rod is that a whole lot of flowers make a brilliant colour on their own. *also remember that alum, if not used correctly, can colour shift yellows towards the green spectrum.

If you use the flowers when they're still closed, in bud form, you'll get more of a green-chartruese hue, whereas if you pick (or use) the fully opened blooms you'll get more of a clearer brilliant yellow. Don't use any leaves in the dye pot, only flowers.

Fill a saucepan with as many flowers as you have - separate the buds from the open blooms into two dye pots for different tones of colour. Cover with water and gently simmer to extract the colour. Don't boil your dye pot, but allow it to come to heat slowly, until just before simmering. Leave it at this point for about 15 minutes or so, and then turn the heat off and allow to cool. Check the colour - if you think you've extracted as much from the flowers as possible strain the coloured dye water into another saucepan or bucket. 

If the flowers still have some colour left in them you can do a second dye bath, but it will be much paler. 

Put the dye water back into your saucepan and add your pre-mordanted fabric. Remember that fabric and yarn doesn't want to be plunged into boiling water as it can felt wool, make silk loose it's shimmer, and affects cotton slightly too. Bring the saucepan back up to just-under-simmer point and leave there for about half an hour. Watch the colour on your fabric. If you're happy with the depth of colour you can remove it from the dye pot, or otherwise turn the heat off and leave the fabric in the pot to cool. 

Allow the fabric to dry fully before washing it out. In our climate two days in the shade is good for 'curing', but you might find you need a little longer. Then gently wash, with a ph-neutral soap (or I use no soap) until the water runs clear. Hopefully you won't have much run-off if you've left the drying stage for long enough. 

How to determine what colour you want when the fabric's wet? This can be hard, and takes practice to recognise, but think about when you do your washing and the clothes are darker when they're wet. Silks keep their colour a lot more, whereas cottons can be up to half the depth of colour from the wet stage. So, I always err on making my colours stronger than I think I want, rather than paler. 

You can find out more about Natural & Botanical dyeing through my online course here, or follow along my Dye Diaries here

Ellie Beck Petalplum blog natural dyeing with golden rod flowers styled image with scissors and string.JPG
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Slow Mindful Stitch - how to sew slow into your days & a free tutorial

Creative Process, Craft Tutorials, Botanical DyeEllie BeckComment
Ellie Beck Petalplum blog Mindful stitching for slow living

If you've spent much time around my blog, my Instagram, or my days then you'll know I do live a little slower and simpler than many people. That my days are focussed around thinking mindfully about bringing slowness into my life everyday. I talk a lot about it. But I do actually think I live it a lot too. Some days not so much, other days more so. Mostly through my creative work and my intentions with my days.

Being a multi-passionate creative I do have many different skills & techniques that I work with, but over the years I've found some that are more inclined to make me breathe deeper and think slower (in a good way!). Hand stitching work is one of those processes that really brings me back to the moment, to my self, to my thoughts, to my environment.

And I wanted to share that with you too. Because while some crafts are harder to learn, stitch work is something that I'm pretty sure at least 90% of you could pick up fairly quickly, if you wanted (I'm being generous, I truly actually think that 97% of people could learn to sew if they took the time and overcame some prejudice about it). You don't need much more than some fabric scraps and a needle & thread. The scraps could be worn out clothing, a linen tea towel, an old scarf, a piece of special child's clothing.... anything. The lovely thing is it doesn't matter what your scraps are. Just collect them and start creating.

I have a whole video session available for free on my online course teaching site, but I've also managed to work out how to embed a snippet of one of those videos here for you... a little preview to get you started..... and you can find the rest over here (*you do have to 'join' my teaching school, but that's a free sign up and gives you access to this FREE slow stitching video course).

Here's a few reasons why I think Slow Mindful Stitching is perfect thing to bring into your busy days and guide you towards a Slower & Simpler Living Journey:

  1. It's fairly easy to learn, so once you've overcome the "it's not perfect" aspect you can be stitching within a very short amount of time.
  2. You can create something useful & practical, or something simply just for the joy of creating.
  3. You can stitch at home, with children or family by your side. In bed, at the kitchen table, in the garden.
  4. You can put it all in your bag and take it with you for the day - stitching while watching kids at sport, or art lessons. Or on a picnic or at a school assembly, or waiting for the doctor or public transport.
  5. You can stitch while sipping coffee with friends at a cafe, or slurping tea at home. Both bring you back to the moment; stitching while talking actually has this excellent magical way of making you truly present in the moment, not thinking about something else.
  6. You don't need to invest in many or expensive equipment, and can fit a few stitches here & there around your day.

You can see some more of my stitchwork over here if you'd like a little of my messy inspiration. The first two pictures below are what I create in the free online video course, but you will probably make something a little different, check out #petalplummakers and #theCreativeYear to see what others have been making. And please share with me any that you make yourself. I'd love to have a little gallery on this website of 'made by you' collections. 

Ellie Beck Petalplum web sizeB37880F2-5837-4711-B8CE-59B4A2924C26.JPG
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Natural Dye Journal : eucalyptus leaves & seedpods

Craft Tutorials, Botanical DyeEllie Beck1 Comment

Here's some pieces from my dye pots lately. I created this piece using fresh eucalyptus leaves and the green unopened seedpods that had fallen (due to a lot of wind and rain) on my dad's driveway. I started thinking about a piece of cloth my mum had, with lots of little bumps all over it. A Shibori pattern, that I didn't know the name of then, but which I think is closest to kanako shibori.

I do wish I knew the different species of eucalyptus trees around our property, but there's a lot. And sometimes I don't know which leaf has fallen from which tree. But this is one my goals for the coming years, to better document and understand the trees in my region. It does make it a bit hard when often I only get versions of brown and brown and brown from the eucalyptus leaves. 

But then - of course, that makes the oranges and purples that much more dramatically wonderful and exciting. 

Here's what I did:

  • Gathered windfallen leaves and green unopened seedpods
  • Arranged them in a pretty pattern, which to be honest doesn't really matter too much as it shifts about, but some version of a pattern still evolves in your final piece, so do keep that in mind. 
  • Roll the bundle very very tightly, the tighter it is the better because you get the direct contact of print onto fabric. 
  • Place it in a pot and simmer for quite a while, sometimes it might take an hour, often I leave it (heat turned off, lid on to contain the heat) over night for the colour develop more. Other times I'm too impatient and simply have to peek at it after an hour or so. *It is generally always better to leave it overnight, allow it to cool down before opening. You get better colour and print transfer, but a few hours is enough as well. 
  • Hang it up to dry, with the leaves and seedpods still on it - they'll fall off as they dry. Don't wash it straight away, once it's dried then you can wash it. I find this helps the colour to set a little more, rather than washing it out straight away. 

Eucalyptus works best with animal fibres such as silk or wool, rather than plant fibres, but it doesn't mean you don't get some results on cotton or linen. Give them a go, but don't expect the colours to be as vibrant or dramatic. You can also experiment with thick (watercolour) paper for fabulous contact prints. 

If you'd like to try more natural & botanical dyeing I have a whole online course, with videos and downloadable pdfs, as well as unlimited email access to me for any extra help you might want. I talk about mordants, local colour, different dye techniques. 

Tools & Materials: thoughts on using only sustainable fabrics & what to do with the "other stuff" in the craft cupboard

Creative Process, Botanical Dye, Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie BeckComment

One of my ecourse students recently emailed asking me this:

ok, I'd like to share a personal questioning and reflection

REFLECTIONS ON Natural or synthetic materials

Between my visual art materials (gathered for years and years) and my textile materials (gathered mostly during the last 10 years), I have a lot of natural, ecological and sustainable stuff and a lot of synthetics too. The thing is, I have always this eco-living-thinking philosophy and it's getting very hard to use non eco-sustainable fabrics and threads.. At the same time, keeping all that in boxes and shelves is neither useful nor ecological or Feng-Shui attitude. So, what to do? Just thinking aloud.... 

 

I'm glad you asked this, because it's something that I ponder a lot too. And I'm pretty sure we're not the only ones. There must be many others who start their creative journeys, which then evolve through to deeper meaning. And while we're learning we use more and different materials than we might today. 

I myself have boxes and cupboards of materials and tools and.... stuff.. that I used to use. I even have books that I've bought over the years, that I no longer need or want. And piles of fabric that no longer fits my aesthetic, or needs (either personal, creative or business). I have boxes of threads and zippers and tags and labels... All the things I've thought I might need, or used to use long in my other creative outlets. I have tubs & tubs & tubs of screen printing paint / ink from when I used to make and sell homewares.

I think one thing many of us creatives most often have in common is that we like to dabble and discover new things, which means new tools and material required. Am I right?  

So... now the ethics of it all. 

What I personally think is this:

  1. If you keep it stuck in boxes, piled into your storage shed or garage then it's doing two things - a) being wasted and hence adding to the environmental problems by not being used or re-used. and b) making you feel overwhelmed and guilty by the fact you've spent money on it, it's taking up mental, physical space.
  2. If you get it out and use it in any way possible the environmental factor doesn't come into play, because the product already exists and needs to be used, not become landfill (even if not for another 30 years... it's still landfill).
  3. If you don't want to use it - due to changes in your aesthetic - that's absolutely totally ok. Makes sense to me. But I know that there is a big probability that there's someone out there in the world who might be able to use it. Or perhaps you can re-think a way to re-use it.. to change it, alter it to fit closer to your personal ethics, creative looks. 

Here's what I'd do:

  • Sell it or give it away - consider (before sending it to an op-shop) places like pre-schools, primary or even high schools (who have a small art budget), GumTree or Craigslist or Facebook buy, swap & sell groups for your region. I recently sold a heap of beautiful craft books that I no longer needed and were taking up space in my home, through an Instagram page I set up - I made over $200 and other people got some fabulous books at excellent prices.
  • Use it! Is it horrible fabric that you can't imagine using or wearing? Perhaps you can cut it up and weave or crochet it into a new fabric. Perhaps you can overdye it or print or paint it. Or turn it into fabric gift wrap. Or tear it up into strips of fabric and weave with it, or crochet or knit.

I don't think you should guilt yourself about what you have, but rather find a solution for moving it from your life. And most importantly, learn the lesson from it (whatever lesson you want to learn).. think clearly before you buy new supplies, look at those same places to see if you can buy someone's cast offs, and research your new purchases to know if they fit your current ethics. 

I'd love to hear what you're hoarding in your art, craft cupboard (shipping container, garage, loft..)...... 

naturally dyed fabric and reasons that I blog

Botanical DyeEllie Beck2 Comments

Sometimes I wait for the right story, or perfectly composed messages to share here. Once upon a time I used to just share words and images, as they happened. I didn't worry about them needing to be 'on brand' or fit within a theme or category. I just wrote what I felt, thought, saw, made, wanted to make... You can still read my old blog  from all those years ago. I am planning on bringing some of my old blog posts over here, but as always time is time and mostly I want to play in the garden with my little ones or sit and sip tea and stitch or weave. Or chat with my husband. So... it might take a while, or it might never happen. 

At any rate. Here's some lovely photos I took of some of my botanically dyed fabric pieces. And they're so pretty I thought I should share them here, rather than only always sharing things on Instagram. 

I dyed these with a combination of my bundle dye method and hot dye methods (both of which I talk about in my online course). Using gathered flowers and leaves, as well as kitchen scraps. I wish I could tell you what each one was individually coloured with, but this is a selection over time, and my dye note keeping isn't that excellent.

The piece below (on the right) was dyed wrapped around an old tin can (we barely ever buy these, so I've not had them to experiment with before. Now I'm saving whatever I find, because I love the way it dyed - the colours and the patterns). The yellow through the middle was from dried sweet pea flowers. I didn't get them in the dye pot while they were still fresh, but I'd like to try that because I think the purple blooms might have given a purple colour. One fell, while still fresh and juicy, onto a piece of cloth and coloured it .... a stain or not, I'm not sure. 

These were all bundled up, tucked into the fabric and then wrapped around the metal tin (what metals do they put in those tins?). And then cooked on and off over a day. This silk had no mordant, the metals in the tin and the iron (rusty nails) that I had in the water would be enough mordant, especially on silk. Plus I won't be wearing this fabric or heavily exposing it to sunshine.

I took these photos as part of some styling videos for my upcoming Unfurl & Bloom online course. I shared some of the ways I style my creative work, especially for Instagram. I'm thinking of writing a little ebook thingy as a free download, would you be interested?

I've been looking back at my old blog this past week, and it made me sad that I don't blog regularly anymore. And that all the "rules" of being in business, combined with an increasing want for privacy, I don't share photos or stories of my little ones any more. Especially as they're getting bigger. My blog used to be a diary; I don't keep a paper diary, or have a very effective photo archiving system. My blog did a good job of that. 

So... I might start blogging again, maybe less of the kids, but more of my thoughts and processes and the things I'm making / made / working on. And not worry too much about the rules of blogging for indie business that say you must tag all your photos to be pinterest worthy, or you have to think about seo in the post heading and first sentence. And you have to be on brand, or why would people visit. My favourite blogs to read (not that I read as many as I used to), are simply the ones that share the stories and life and what we're all going through as humans together in this funny world. 

Naturally dyeing fabric with Turmeric - a how to tutorial

Craft Tutorials, Botanical DyeEllie Beck4 Comments
Turmeric Natural Dyeing - Petalplum
Turmeric Natural Dyeing - Petalplum

The smell of turmeric naturally dyed on fabric takes me straight back to when my mother made fairy costumes for my sister and me. She dyed white singlets and endless swathes of tulle in a big pot of turmeric. I can remember that we both smelled like that wonderful spice for the whole party. What sweet flower fairies we were!

Turmeric is fabulous and super easy for special events such as a party dress, to decorate a wedding or event, to show children how to make colour in a safe manner, and even great for dyeing eggs for Easter time. Turmeric is what's called a fugitive dye; this means that the colour will fade pretty quickly regardless of anything you do to it (mordanting wise). But please be aware that the colour will fade in the sunshine and run out in the wash really quickly. Despite that it's a magical colour to dye with and makes me smile every single time!

Some notes before you start: remember that natural dyeing and some natural plant based dyes can be toxic. If you intend to boil and dye in your kitchen, please only do so in a well ventilated space and use a pot you won't be using for food purposes. Do some research before you head out foraging for plant material. Wear gloves to protect your hands from any chemicals or chemical reactions.

Also, the process of natural dyeing is such that results vary with materials and quantities used. You cannot expect to achieve perfection or repeat performances; you will instead be surprised and amazed each time you unfold your fabric - and that is better than perfection any day!

Turmeric Natural Dyeing - Petalplum

You will need:

  • Some plain undyed natural fibres. You can use linen, hemp, cotton, wool or silk. Silk is often the easiest to achieve brighter colours than plant based fibres; but you'll find through experiments that different fibres give different results. Use pieces of fabric, as well as lengths of yarn.
  • Turmeric powder, from your health food shop or the spice section of your supermarket. Find the brightest freshest powder you can find. Or freshly grated turmeric root if you can get that.
  • A big saucepan, glass jars with lids, rubber bands, pegs, string.

:: 4L of water and 2 heaped tablespoons of turmeric.

To start with: Soak your material in cold water, so that it is totally wet. This allows the dye to permeate all the way through. Half fill your pot with tap water, add the turmeric powder. The amount of powder you use will depend on how much you are dyeing and how vibrant you want the colour. I don't measure. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, and add your wrung-out materials (you can strain off any un-disolved powder before adding your fabric, but I don't bother). At this stage you can either let it simmer on the stove top until the desired colour has been achieved, or you can fill your glass jars with the fabric and the dye water and place it outside in the sun to continue dyeing for a few days. This is called solar dyeing.

{I love solar dyeing as it gives you the chance of watching the colour develop over days to a week. You aren't using gas or electricity to dye your items, just harnessing the heat of the sun (you could even build a solar oven if you wanted to boil your water that way!). And those colour-filled jars sure look pretty sitting in your garden. (Just make sure the lid is tightly secured and your jars are away from children and pets). }

Once you are happy with your colour, rinse out the fabric. Hang to dry in the shade; your piece will fade in full sun.  Turmeric is a fugitive dye, which means it doesn't last as long as some other natural dyes; but I have found that some fabrics take the colour and keep it better than others, so testing your own fabrics is the best thing. The excellent thing is that it's so easy to re-dye once the colour fades, and it gives us a new appreciation of colours and dyes.

Turmeric Natural Dyeing - Petalplum
Turmeric Natural Dyeing - Petalplum
Turmeric Natural Dyeing - Petalplum
Turmeric Natural Dyeing - Petalplum

To achieve the different patterns on my fabrics I use the following techniques: Shibori folding: This is an age-old Japanese technique of folding or stitching fabric to achieve amazing patterns and shapes. This is an art-form in itself. At this stage, I have neither the time nor inclination to be stitching work just to unpick it (though I crazily admire those who do!), maybe one day I will...

For this pattern, I simply fold and continue to fold the fabric into squares onto itself, in a concertina manner. Then secure it tightly with pegs or clips along the edges, or wrap it with twine (which will also dye).

Dip dyed: An easy and beautifully effective way of allowing the natural process of the coloured water moving up the fabric. This always reminds me of the marks left on sand by waves - you know that slightly transparent line left behind. Ombre continues to be popular - so why not try your hand at making mountain peaks. Start with one end of your fabric in the dye, and the rest hanging out. Leave for at least half and hour. Then slowly move the fabric down into the water a little bit more. Do this as many times as you want, each time leaving it for about half an hour in between. The amount of time you wait before you lower the fabric in, will determine how dramatic the colour change is. Being a natural dye, this process will not be as predictable as with chemical dye.

Scrunch effect: I simply tightly scrunch and then tie (with string that will become coloured as well) or peg the fabric. Place it into the glass bottle and cover with dye. Put a stone on top to weigh it down if need be. Leave this for at least a few days, without agitating or moving it about. The dye will settle into different sections of the scrunch to create the marks; if you move it too many times it won't be as dramatic pattern.

If you're interested in doing any natural & botanical dye, be sure to check out my online natural dye course filled with natural dye love.

 

* this is my most popular blog post ever from

my old blog, Petalplum

with over 20,000 hits on the one post. Wow - you guys really love sunshine colour!