Asa was a Guild member in the past and was a keen spinner until her interest in natural dyes took over. She now buys organic yarn from New Zealand as her dyeing activities (and many other interests) leave her with no time for spinning.
Asa started to spin and dye in 1975 on her parents farm in Mudgee. At the time she had access to a good supply of yellow box eucalyptus which produced a deep orange/ochre colour, a shade that has remained a favourite with her. Eucalyptus dyes are fast, ie they don’t need mordants to fix the colour. This also makes them a favourite as Asa does not use any toxic or dangerous chemicals in her dyeing and tries to use only natural ingredients. Eucalyptus dyes are also light fast and will not fade during normal use. Although what she uses for her dyeing are harmless Asa still keeps all her equipment separate from utensils she uses to cook food, as most dyers advocate.
Many years of experimentation with different materials has given Asa a wealth of knowledge about colours and how to get them. She tries to make use of objects that are on hand or easily found and tries not to buy any of the material that she uses for dyeing, for example eucalyptus leaves are collected (with permission) from a nearby school and iron solution for saddened colours is made from rusty nails. Many of the plants Asa dyes with are grown in her own garden or provided by friends but some colours are hard to achieve with any of the species available in Australia. Blue is notoriously difficult and Asa is constantly looking for a reliable source for blue. There is, of course, an element of chance in natural dyeing so colour batches are never exactly the same. Asa chooses to see this as a challenge and an opportunity for unique, one-off results that can never be repeated but she keeps samples from all her dyeing efforts with notes on how she achieved them to help guide her in the right direction with future experiments.
Some of Asa’s favourite colours come from onion skins, chamomile and the skins from walnuts (not the shells.) She also uses avocado skins and seeds – the seeds provide a deep red colour. Plant dyes work best on animal fibres (wool and silk) but are difficult to use with cotton. Unfortunately dyeing, even with natural ingredients, often leaves wool feeling harsh so Asa suggests adding natural fleece yarn when knitting or crocheting to soften the hand.
Through her adventures with natural dyeing Asa has met many interesting people and helped to spread knowledge about the fabulous colour possibilities available in plants that grow in our own back yards. We hope the Guild will be able to get Asa back for a workshop so we can learn even more.
Some of the books recommended by Asa are:
Dyemaking With Eucalyptus by Jean K Carman
Dyemaking With Australian Flora by the Hand Spinners & Weavers Guild of Victoria
Dyes From Plants by Joyce Lloyd
Eco Color by India Flint
Wild Colour by Jenny Dean (an English publication using mostly English plants but with good basic instructions for plant dyeing.)