Dye Diary is a year-long visual and written ‘journal’ in which I documented the dyes I prepared from one hundred plant materials grown or sourced in my local area, the Inner North of Canberra. By undertaking the Diary for one year I could record and document seasonal changes in plant availability and colour. The Diary consists of four separate but related bodies of visual and written work— pieced fabric samplers, woven tapestries, drawings made from pressed plant materials and a written record of empirical data, recipes and my subjective observations.

Dye Diary (pieced works) , 2012. Plant dyed wool, silk and linen. Approx. 6.8 x 3 metres. Photo: Brenton McGeachie

Dye Diary (pieced works), 2012. Plant dyed wool, silk and linen. Approx. 6.8 x 3 metres. Photo: Brenton McGeachie

I used seven different natural fabrics in the pieced works to record each dye. These fabrics all take up the plant dyes in unique ways, giving seven different tones from each dye.

 
Brown onion skin on silk satin, silk noil, linen, silk organza, wool, silk/wool voile and linen pre-soaked in soy milk

Brown onion skin on silk satin, silk noil, linen, silk organza, wool, silk/wool voile and linen pre-soaked in soy milk

 

I also used five different mordants to get a wider range of colours

 
Red onion skin samples .  (L-R) water only, soda ash, alum, iron, copper and white vinegar

Red onion skin samples.  (L-R) water only, soda ash, alum, iron, copper and white vinegar

 

I made a small tapestry, approximately 17 x 10 cm, each week of the Dye Diary after dyeing the yarns in one of the weekly dye baths with mordants. Tapestry is a dense and compact medium, quite different to the light and sometimes transparent fabrics of the pieced works. This means the colours from the dyes are made manifest in a different way.

The tapestries revealed some surprising colour outcomes. The first and last tapestries made for this project show distinct colour changes (see below). The yarns for these tapestries were made with flowers from the same tree, at the same time of year, but a year apart. The increased intensity of colour in the second tapestry is obvious, but the reasons for this can only be guessed at without specific and specialist scientific experimentation, experimentation that was beyond the scope of this research. When I collected the flowers for the first tapestry it was raining, and the increased water load in the flowers may account for the ‘diluted’ colours. These uncontrollable variations relate to the poetic possibilities and mysteries of nature, a wonderful reminder that much of what happens in nature is beyond human control. 

 
Acacia baileyana tapestries

Acacia baileyana tapestries

 

Where possible, I pressed the plant materials used to make the dyes and glued them onto paper to create works reminiscent of the botanical samples kept in herbariums . I did this to give more information and detail about the physical conditions of the plants that had created the colours. For example, some leaves had been nibbled by insects, some were fresh and new, and others had changed to their autumn colours. I selected individual leaves, flowers, bark and seedpods as representative of the dye source and for their own unique qualities.