I hope you are all having a pleasant week so far. I certainly am as I have been enjoying the bright sun shining into our ECA studio (about time Edinburgh!) whilst I work on some ideas for next week’s sample tests.
If you know me, you will know that I have a rather strong obsession with seaweed. Seaweed is the reason for returning to Edinburgh University to do an MFA in textiles and a material that I have slowly developed a big appreciation for over the last five years. Thank you seaweed!
Who needs to go to the gym when you can lift this - Bladder wrack, Yellowcraigs Beach
WHY AM I SHARING THIS WITH YOU?
When I started to look into how I would dye textiles with seaweed, I could barely find anything that was on this subject of seaweed for a non-scientific kinda person. There is so much information out there on natural dyeing with beautiful recipe books such as 'Natural Colour' by Sasha Duerr, to many useful blogs about specific plant dye projects, but nothing really that beneficial on seaweed.
Please, please do let me know if you have any suggestions or links to such a thing, as I love hearing from you!
THE SIMPLE SIMMER
The most common form of natural dyeing is simmering the plant matter in water for an amount of time (normally 1 to 2 hours) to extract the colour. You get some wonderful results using this technique and I also use it to extract colour from bark. Eucalyptus bark is my favourite because it smells so damn good!
Of course, the simple simmer was my starting point, but I was pretty sure that this wasn’t a successful method as surely everyone would be doing it? My prediction was right, if any colour did appear, it was a very VERY pale brown and this was not what I was after...I know you tried seaweed...
With further research, I came across the ammonia and alcohol extraction method which is commonly used for extracting colour from lichens. I wasn't sure about this as I had hoped I could use water to get what I wanted. A totally natural, quick and simple solution would have been great! But, as my tutor pointed out, not everything is perfect and it is ok to make compromises in areas…as long as you’re honest :)
N: B. I collect my water from the sea to minimise my consumption of tap water. Seawater is also meant to help fix the dye to the yarn/fibre…winner winner!
Not the most elegant of poses
ANY EXCUSE TO GO TO THE BEACH
I hope you enjoy going to the beach, as if you decide you want to join me in this seaweed obsession, the beach becomes a second home to you. It's very satisfying when you find yourself being able to identify the different species...especially when you're with someone as you look really smart! Not a feeling I get very often so I always make sure someone comes to the beach with me. Oh, and for a second pair of hands too. Carrying heavy bags of seawater bottles and seaweed isn't much fun on your own...especially in Edinburgh when it is pretty chilly!
Egg Wrack detail, Yellowcraigs Beach
STEP 1: GATHERING OF SEAWEED
Foraging for seaweed, or in fact any natural substance involves care, respect and mindfulness towards the natural material.
YOU WILL NEED:
Scissors or a sharp knife
A bag or bucket per seaweed species
WHEN HARVESTING FOR SEAWEED IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER:
Do not pull the whole piece off the rock
Simply cut the seaweed 2 inches above its holdfast. This encourages the seaweed to regrow. This can also become beneficial because the seaweed tends to grow back quicker and bigger than its previous self
Do not collect in one spot and strip the rock bare, spread your gathering wisely
Fortunately, in Scotland, foraging is legal on both public and, I think oddly, private land. Although this is for personal use only. If you were wanting to sell your work, you would need to apply for a harvesting license. Something I am intending on doing, as I would love to be able to sell my work.
STEP 2: EMBRACE THE BRITLE
Once you have gathered all the seaweed you need and chauffeured it home, it needs to dry out and become all crispy. The reason for this is because the most effective way of getting the best colour result is to use as much of the surface area as possible. The seaweed is to be ground down into a powder and so the crispier the better for this next step.
I am going to pretend now that I have a little studio in the back of my garden where I have a beautiful wooden hanging rail from the ceiling to dry my gathered seaweed. In reality, the spare bedroom and a clothes rack is what it is. Not so glamorous but it does the trick! I haven't had any complaints as of yet from visiting friends that the room smells of seaweed…I also avoid telling them.
YOU WILL NEED:
Mortar & pestle or a grinder (I use a nutri-bullet with the milling blade)
Mask (for the grinding stage)
Extractor fan if grinding the seaweed indoors
Scales As many glass jars with a secure lid as there are species – IKEA
DRYING AND GRINDING
Peg the seaweed out onto the rail as you would your clothes and let it dry. This tends to take 2 days
Once it has dried, the seaweed goes into the oven for 1hr on a very low heat of 50°c. This just makes it super crispy
Put your mask on for this next process
Place the brittle seaweed into your choice of grinder and grind away to create as fine a powder as you can. This doesn't need to be perfectly ground, especially if you decide to use a mortar and pestle
Weigh out 200g of the seaweed
Pour into the glass jars, making sure you label them with the date, weight and species
STEP 3: COLOUR EXTRACTION
Having now ground down your seaweed, we are ready to create the extraction formula. This recipe refers to any type of seaweed species you wish to use.
There are various ratios for the formula measurements and this is something that I am continually testing, however, the one I will share with you today is the simple 1:1 ratio. This is the same format for the weight of dyestuff to the weight of the fibre and seems to have worked well for what I am after. Many natural dyers will use 100% of dyestuff for 50% of the fibre and this depends on the dyestuff they are using to how intense they would like the colour.
YOU WILL NEED:
200g ground seaweed in the jar with lid
500ml Household Ammonia – Amazon
A space away from sunlight
Put your gloves, mask and goggles on for protection – this particular task is best done outside or if this is not possible, indoors with ventilation
Measure out 500ml of both the household ammonia and seawater. Pour it into the jar containing 200g of ground seaweed
Close the lid and give it a good old shake until everything is mixed together
This is now to be left in a place away from direct sunlight for at least 2 weeks, shaking once a day
STEP 4: SEPARATION
Now that the 2 weeks or more is up, we need to separate the liquid with the solid. This is to ensure that we have a pure solution for the dyeing process.
YOU WILL NEED:
A muslin cloth
A glass or stainless-steel bowl
WHAT TO DO:
Place the muslin cloth over the bowl and pour the solution into the muslin – best to be outside for this too or in a well-ventilated room
Make sure you do this slowly to avoid any splash
Once poured into the cloth, gather it up and squeeze every last bit of liquid out of the muslin and into the bowl
Spread the leftover ground seaweed out onto some watercolour paper to dry. Not only does it colour the paper, you could also think of ways to use the leftover dyestuff … just a thought!
STEP 5: A COLOUR FULL OF DELIGHT
I appreciate that this is quite a long old process, however, the results are so satisfying because this has all been done by YOU.
YOU WILL NEED:
200g premordanted fibre, yarn or fabric
A large stainless-steel pan
GIVE ME COLOUR
Pour the dye into the pan
Place on the hob and slowly add the wetted, pre-mordanted fibre, yarn or fabric
Add enough seawater to the pot so that the goods are moving freely
Allow this to gradually rise to a low simmer for 1 hr
Turn off the hob and let this rest to cool
You can keep the dye for another dye bath
Wash the fibre, yarn or fabric in P-H neutral soap until the water runs clear and hang to dry
And there we go my friends! I hope that this has been useful to you. Enjoy foraging for seaweed and testing out some colours for yourself! Let me know how you get on.