Bundle Dyeing on Silk and Wool with Homegrown & Foraged Plants and Food Waste

In preparation for my upcoming workshop at Bath City Farm on August 3rd, I’ve been making some bundle dye samples using silk and wool, with plants from the garden, dried petals, leaves and food waste.

To prepare the fabrics for dyeing, I mordanted both the silk and wool sock blank in alum and cream of Tartar. This helps the colours stick to the fabric, produce a brighter colour and reduce fading with washing and light exposure. The cloth should be damp, and I would recommend putting a drop cloth on the table, unless you’d like a dyed table!

The first sample was made with an offcut of silk fabric from my wedding dress (waste not want not) using fresh cosmos, dahlias, dyer’s chamomile and cornlflowers from my garden. I placed these on the cloth in a random pattern.

The second silk sample was made from an offcut of my wedding dress lining, using dried petals and leaves that I have gathered over the years; cornflower, calendula, hibiscus, lavender, eucalyptus and onion skins. Both samples were sprayed with white vinegar as the leaves and petals were added to assist the uptake of colour on the cloth.

The silk fabric was then rolled tightly into a roll, then folded into a spiral before being tied tightly with string. Here I’ve used wool twine from Twool - it’s more pliable than standard string, but also hardwearing meaning you can reuse it for further projects. In the second sample below you can see how much the hibiscus petals have reacted to the damp cloth with vinegar added!

My third sample was a sock blank that I have machine knitted with Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage Naturals. This is in preparation for one of my workshops at Shetland Wool Week. I decided to use this long blank canvas as a sampler and so laid the various plant materials in blocks, rolling as I go as my table isn’t very big! As well as the dried and fresh materials used on the silk, I added some herbs and leaves found in the garden. Again I sprayed vinegar onto the fabric as I laid the materials.

As you can see, bundling a knitted fabric tightly is a lot harder than a woven cloth. It’s very important that the bundle is as tight as possible to help the colour imprint onto the fabric.

All three bundles were added to a steamer basket with hot water underneath - they were steamed for an hour at 80 degrees with the lid on. I turned the bundles every 15 minutes with tongs to ensure the heat was evenly distributed.

After an hour, I removed the bundles from the pot using tongs and left to cool. And now for the exciting part- unbundling! I carefully unrolled the cloth revealing the colourful print underneath, brushing off plant material as it dried.

The fresh flower piece looks amazing, and as I’ve used reasonably substantive flowers here such as coreopsis and cosmos, the colour won’t fade too much when laundered. The dried material sample (the pink one) has been dominated by the stain of the hibiscus petals. Sadly, hibiscus is fairly fugitive so most of the colour will likely be lost when it’s washed.

I let the fabric dry outside in the shade, shaking off any bits of petals that might have stuck whilst the fabric was still wet. I then put the pieces of cloth in the airing cupboard to cure - the jury is out as to whether this helps the longevity of the colourful print, but I like to do it anyway. I’ll leave these for a week before washing very gently in cool water with a pH neutral soap.

The wool sock blank was more of a mixed bag in terms of success, but I was expecting this in some areas as I was using things like leaves that I’ve not used before in bundle dyeing. It worth taking extra caution when unbundling a knitted fabric as the nature of the material means it absorbs more water during steaming, and retains the heat in the middle for longer.

The lavender and rosemary made lovely purply-grey speckled prints, and had the added benefit of making the bundle smell gorgeous! Onion skins make for a great brightly coloured print, with the brown and red skins making different colours, it’s a really good cheap material to start with.

Things like oak leaves didn’t do a lot, but I suspect they need longer in the steamer to release any colour, or perhaps they are better used as a resist in a bundle that is added to a dye bath, rather than steamed.

As with the silk, this has gone into the airing cupboard to cure. I’ll lightly launder all three samples in a week and share my results.

If you’d like to learn about natural dye plants I’m running a natural dye workshop on Saturday 3rd August at Bath City Farm.

I will lead a walk around the farm learning about common dye plants, gathering some for the dye pot. Then we will use these plus food waste such as avocado skins to dye cotton and silk cloth a variety of colours, using simple shibori folding techniques to create a pattern on the fabric. We will also bundle dye with petals and leaves to produce a unique and colourful print on silk. You will leave with a variety of colourful swatches that could be used for craft projects such as a patchwork cushion cover or for handkerchiefs.

Saturday 3rd August, 10am-1pm, £40.

Email info@bathcityfarm.org.uk to secure your place.