Thursday, November 22, 2012

Naturally dyed for Nuno felt, with Jude Craig

Jude, while not a felt maker generously allowed me to experiment with my felted samples. Prior to the workshop I worked over a couple of weeks to make my Nuno felt samples and mordant the ones done on cotton.  I was mindful of not making them too large and hogging up the dye pots. 

On the morning of the workshop, I arrived at Jude’s studio, which is only about ten minutes away from my house, with around 16 pieces, including three scarf lengths, as well as an old t-shirt to over-dye; and my favourite pieces of found scrap metal from my backyard.  I’d made some extra Nuno felt pieces for other participants Bernadette and Helen to also have a go with, if they so desired, as sharing of materials is encouraged by Jude.

We started with the wonderful aromatics of the eucalyptus bath and after lunch, the more stinky purple cabbage; as well as the pungent brown onion, after I made a request for it. I was keen to try out the eucalyptus on my Nuno samples done with cotton muslin and gauze as carriers, as I prefer working with cotton.  I’ve not had great success with Nuno felt and the eucalyptus bath in the past because of my tendency to use cotton as a carrier. But I have to also add I haven't done a great deal of experimenting. 

The eucalyptus dye pot, with some of my bundles resting outside
Nuno on cotton muslin, on left was mordanted with alum and citric acid, on right mordanted with soy. No metal was introduced with the bundle on left.  Both were popped in the euca bath.  Cured for 21 days
I had intended to take all my bundles home and allow them to rest for up to three weeks before opening.  I'm not very patient with the waiting aspect and find myself prodding and poking and willing to see what is happening within the folds of the bundles, until I can no longer withstand it and have to open and satisfy my curiosity.  Over the three weeks since the workshop, I have opened the bundles and not only been thrilled but also dismayed at the results.  However, the one thing with this natural process is that if you’re not happy you can always over-dye.    

Both samples are felted on silk carrier, the top was placed in an onion dye bath while the bottom went into the purple cabbage bath.  The onion sample was opened at the workshop, as I had used one of Jude's lovely copper scrap pieces.  I took the sample home and over-dyed by steaming, as there wasn't a leaf print to be seen.  The copper, however, had left a nice patina to the fabric

Nuno on silk, cabbage dye, left lovely blues at the edges where I had used a rusty clamp but centre of sample full of white patches

Nuno felted with merino on cotton gauze, mordanted with soy, no metal introduced into the bundle, euca bath, cured for 7 days
Nuno on cotton muslin, mordanted with alum and citric acid,  small pieces of metal used as resists, euca bath, cured for 18 days. There were a couple of white patches although the cinerea leaf left a bright orange print.  This one has been wrapped again with leaves and steamed

My favourite piece, nuno felt on cotton muslin using merino and merino silk blend, mordanted with soy, wrapped around a rusty piece of metal, euca bath, cured for 14 days. Jude had the water of the bath barely at a simmer and the bundles were allowed to seep more so than simmer  

Three small scarves, all with cotton as carrier.  On the far left I used merino as well as adding a little silk embellishment, at centre merino silk (70%) blend roving along with pure merino was felted, and at far right no silk was felted with the merino into the cotton. Although wool is said to have a natural love affair and marriage with eucalyptus leaves, I find this not wholly true, as it seems for Nuno felted on cotton, it helps to have the silk.  The centre piece yields a much lovelier sheen because of the high silk content and perhaps the scrap metal has worked a bit of magic as well 

What I have learned
Tight bundling, as well as sandwiching two pieces doesn’t work because the dye can’t penetrate between the layers. So keep your Nuno bundles loose, unless you’re steaming and desire only the leaf prints.  Jude is adamant that the introduction of metal will make for a more alchemical effect, which I have to admit is true, when I compare those pieces where I have incorporated metals to those where I haven’t.  Allow your bundle to seep slowly in the bath after simmering. This is really important for the thick layers of felt, or even for the thinner layers of Nuno. 

Soy mordant is excellent for both the cotton carrier and the silk content of my merino/silk blend roving, and it allows for a deeper take up of colour. I also tried a mixture of alum and citric acid (as suggested by Fabienne Dorsman-Rey) but think the soy superior. Fabienne told me that alum would increase the likelihood of yellows and I would lose the vivid orange of the leaves, but I didn't find this to be the case. Or perhaps it was beginner's luck. While the cabbage dye bath yields some stunning effects on silks (see Not Just Nat), for Nuno felt – even that done on silk Georgette or China silk, I found cabbage rather insipid. 

Those cabbage dyed samples wrapped again for steaming

Jude, opening her lovely silk bundles
T-shirt, onion bath, small pieces of metal used as resists were wrapped into the shirt. This may find its way into the steamer again

Detail of t-shirt

Needless to say, I enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with different dye baths without having to mess around with the brewing myself (and the yakking with the others).  As well, I was thankful for the warmth and generosity with which Jude opened her studio and shared her fantastic scrap metal collection, her collection of recyclable silk and cotton clothing from Op shops, and her knowledge on the 'naturally dyed'. Jude said something which struck me as sound when I asked her whether she'd tried the alternate soy and ash water mordanting for cottons - that she kept her method and aesthetic 'simple'. She had found what worked for silk - tight bundling and the inclusion of metal. The challenge for me is to find what works for Nuno felted on cotton gauze and cotton muslin, and as Jude, to keep the working process simple. 


  1. Fantastic post Joni. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and all of the wonderful photos, too. Happy that you found such a giving teacher and enjoyed the workshop so much.

    1. Dawn I love you for always reading and posting a comment :-) Thanks dear

  2. An excellent post Joni. Very helpful for me, a felter/nuno felter as I have become addictied to this eco print process but not very proficient yet...I tend to lean toward silk and wool and have yet to find my own style..I like your wonderful photos and the tutorial aspect of this posting and the way you are figuring out what your way and style is while learning from others. Thanks.

    1. Hi Ginny, sorry to be so late replying...I'm still finding my feet with 'the eco-print' and sometimes it seems a hit or miss and I find it frustrating. I have more success when I simply steam the bundle. BTW I loved the jumper you made in Irit's class and it's beautifully dyed. Well done :-) I would love to have a class with Irit and I'm sure you learned a great deal from her