Today we dye Cocoons

3 08 2013


I love taking raw materials and turning them into something extra ordinary.  What colours shall I dye these today?  I am thinking pinks and purples and blues.  Why?  Because I can.  Also because I am ready for a taste of spring.  The wattle has started blooming and yesterday, on my walk, I passed a bank of Jonquils that had popped open over night.

Dyeing with Compliments

21 11 2012

Through out 2012, I have been running workshops on creating a run of colour or a rainbow of colour, taking three colours and turning them into six or any larger multiple of three.  It has been fun and a lot of people have walked away with a much stronger understanding of both dyeing and colour theory.  One of the things I have always mentioned in these classes is that you can take any three colours and blend them to make more, but when ever you use colours on the opposite side of the colour wheel, you will get a brown or neutral colour.  This is never bad, just you need to know that is what is going to happen.  Today’s blog post is about that colour theory and how you can make really cool neutrals or browns simply by using the complementary colour.

So, I started with three colours: – Lemon, Turquoise and Magenta

From these, I created 12, blending the three to create secondary and tertiary colours.

From there, I matched the two colours on the opposite sides of the colour wheel and then blended them.  This resulted in six runs of some very interesting blends.  Here are some photos

Run A – Blending an Orange/Yellow with a Blue/Violet.  I did not start in the most logical of places, but have a look at a colour wheel and it will make more sense.

Run B – Orange to Blue.  This one has the straight Turquoise and the a secondary colour – orange.  I love the teal to brown this creates.

Run C – Red/Orange through to Blue Green – two tertiary colours blended.

Run D – Red to Green – again a primary and a secondary colour.  There are some reds here I could get very excited about.  It is amazing that they are made with green!

Run E – Violet Red to Yellow Green - two more tertiaries, but I like this run a lot.

Run F – Yellow to Violet – the final primary secondary run.  This is my favourite with all those glorious rust oranges.  Weird as I would not have though of yellow and orange being ‘MY’ colours.

If you want to have a play with this technique, it is part of my all day dyeing classes or you can attend the Dyeing with Complements workshops at the Quilt and Craft or Stitches and Craft Shows throughout 2013, starting with the new show in Palmerston North, New Zealand February 14 to 17 2013.

We also just got a new delivery of Colour Wheel Posters which are awesome.  If you want one, you will find them here:—poster.html


dyeing scrim – one of many ways to do so

8 07 2012

This post will show you how easy it is to dye a range of colours.  This is a very simple process but worth revisiting from time to time.

From this:

To this:

I cut the scrim into five metre lengths.  There will be some shrinkage so I should get at least 4.5mtrs of useable fabric.  Each colourway has five colours, so 25 mtrs in total per colourway.  Obviously that is not a rule and you can work on a larger or smaller scale.

I pre-soak my fabrics in a soda ash solution.  Soda ash, or sodium carbonate is the mordant for the reactive dyes.  In this process, I am doing 15 colourways of 25 mtrs each, so I put about three cups of soda ash into about 30 litres of water and that will last me through the whole process plus some.  I soak the fabric for at least half an hour and wring it out, reserving the soda ash solution.  Then, each 5 mtr length goes into its own bucket.

I have a fabulous outdoor area that is covered in where I do all my dyeing and other wet processes.

My starting point for my dyes is a teaspoon per litre of water.  While your fabric is soaking in the mordant, mix your dyes.  The Procion MX dyes are a cold water dye, but I tend to use hot tap water to speed up the dissolving, especially when it is the middle of a Canberra winter and struggled to get into double figures temperature wise.

Give the dyes a good stir to make sure the dye powder is fully dissolved.  Then pour the dye over each piece of fabric – one colour per bucket.

This is my Winter colourway.  It is soft and frosty.  Leave the dye on the fabric for at least three to four hours and then rinse until the water runs clear.

Ready to use.

Not all silks are created equal

24 06 2012

I get a lot of questions on what the different types of silk products are that I dye, so this blog post is to explain, very briefly the different types I use and where they come from in the silk making process.  Many are bi-products or part of the silk spinning process.  Others are not.

Firstly lets look at the two types of silk fibre.

There are two, quite different, silk fibres – Mulberry or Tussah.  I did a blog post on these in the past which you can find here:  In both cases, the silk worms eat different leaves.  Mulberry, which is sometimes refered to as Bombyx fibre, comes from the worm eating the leaves of the mulberry plant.  Tussah silk is made when the worm eats oak leaves.

The Tussah is matte, honey coloured and a bit coarser.

The Mulberry silk is fine, cream in colour and very lustrous.

Both dye up beautifully, but put in the same dye bath, will have a different finish.  This is the Rose Petal colour way.  Both bits of silk below are 25grams.  The one on the left is Tussah, the one on the right is Mulberry.  They were dyed at exactly the same time in the same dye bath.

Silk fibre or silk top, whether Tussah or Mulberry can be teased out, spun, made into silk paper, couched down, trapped behind net, felted into wet felt with wool, needlefelted and so much more.  Silk top is made by boiling down the cocoons to break down the protein that makes them hard (sericin).  Once boiled down, the individual strands are pulled out and run through machines or by hand to collect the fibre.

Swapping colourways to my Pretty in Pink colourway now, I am going to show you some of the more interesting bits of silk.

One of my favourites is the Throwsters Waste.  It is a crinkly, textural fibre.  Basically it comes from cocoons that are flawed so that the fibre is not straight and can’t be woven into fabric.  It keeps its interesting texture when you felt, needlefelt or bond it.  Throwsters adds terrific texture to silk paper or when stitched onto a surface.

Still in the ‘soft’ fibres are two that are similar – hankies or caps.  Now neither of these are clothing items.  They are sometimes called mawata silk caps or mawata silk hankies.   Mawata is a Japanese term describing this material.  The Caps and Hankies are made by taking cocoons that have been boiled to remove the sericin like the fibre or tops.  However instead of lifting the individual strands of silk and pulling it out, the cocoon is taken and stretched across a frame.  In the case of the hankies, it is a square frame about 20 to 30 cms square.  With the caps, the cocoons are stretched over a arch type of frame.  In both cases, the silk stretches out and builds into layers which can be used as a solid, lightly bonded silk fabric or can be pulled apart into individual cocoon amounts of silk, like cob webs.

one silk cap


a bundle of silk hankies

I can never determine what ‘one silk hankie’ is, so I sell them in 10gram bundles.  Here is some of the hankie, seperated out.  You can see the white paper behind the silk.  This is the weight that the spinners bring these to and then ‘draft’ the hankie or pull it out to a long piece of stretched fibre that they then spin.

I use hankies and caps as backgrounds to embellish or stitch into, as pieces of fabric to stitch onto things, to needle felt or, when pulled apart silk paper or very fine fabric to gather, scrunch and add as texture.

The next three products are ‘hard’ silks.  That is, they have not had the sericin boiled off and therefor they are still solid and firm.  They can be couched down, stitched into, pulled apart to make them easier to handle, boiled off to make soft.  The three products are cocoons, rods and sericin fibre.  All three are often used in three dimensional works such as embroidery, mixed media, collage, sculptures, jewellry etc.

Cocoons are easy and obvious.  They are the little houses that the silk worm creates so it can metamorphise into a moth.  The worm produces a saliva which contains proteins (one of which is sericin) and spins around and around and around until fully surrounded by the silk cocoon.  This sets on contact with the air and the worm is safely inside.  Unfortunately the worm is usually killed before he makes it to moth as if he breaks out of the cocoon, the fibre is all broken and can not be spun.  The picture below shows cocoons that have been cut to remove the remains of the worm after it has died.  If you have a whole cocoon, then the original occupant is still in there and if you are squimey about this, you might get someone to cut them open before you handle them.

Rods are created in the fibre spinning process.  The spinning machines have many levels of mechanisms where the fibre is carried across rods to keep it straight and untangled.  Over time, the rods in the machine build up layers of silk dust and sericin.  When this happens, the build up is cut off and discarded.  That is the rods.  They are more formally called carrier rods.  When you peel apart the layers, you can stretch the silk out to a consistency similar to a run in a stocking or you can use them as is.  They are very easy to stitch through and make great texture in pretty much anything.

The last product I am showing you today is Sericin fibre or silk string.  It is basically the glue that holds the cocoon together.  When the cocoons are boiled off, the sericin seperates from the silk.  It is like a string of glue which, when air comes in contact with it, it resets.  It is coarse and rough and undisciplined.  I love it but it takes the most creativity to incorporate into your work.  I like it for dimension and body and generally couch over it with a zigzag stitch to attach it to art quilts or mixed media work.  It can be pulled apart which softens it, but it is also great in sculptural pieces or anything that you are shaping.

So they are the main silk products I dye and use.  There are others which I will make the subject of a further blog post at a later date.  I dye these in 30 colourways.


“Unique Textile Art” Classes at Rosehill Craft and Sewing Show.

26 01 2012

Following on from my previous post, I have now locked down the timing for my classes in a studio as part of my stand in Rosehill.  The Rosehill Craft and Sewing Show runs from 10.00 to 4.30 each day from 8th to 11th of March 2012.  It is at the Rosehill Race Course.  It is NOT the Stitches and Craft Show, which no longer exists.  The website for the show is here:  All the workshops and events will be published there in the next few weeks.

So, three classes: one using Procion Dyes and two exploring some of the newer mediums such as TAP, Lutradur, Angelina, Foils, Bonding Powder, Inktense Pencils and other surface colouring products.  All three classes cross over a range of experience, from absolute beginners to people who have started playing with these media but are not sure where to go next.  There will be plenty of ideas and information shared but most importantly you will get hands on and try things for yourself and I guarantee you will have fun.  Each class will run for about an hour, with a bit of slippage.  Numbers will be strictly limited.

You can book at the stand on the day or prebook on  I will hold places in each class every day for bookings on the stand but if you know you and/or your friends definitely want to do the class it would pay to prebook.

The first class starts at 11.00 each day and will be focused on the Angelina and Lutradur.  You can make Artist Trading Cards (ATCs), fabric postcards, or bookmarks.  Here are a couple of examples

The second class will be a dying class using Procion Dyes on cotton Fat eighths. It will run from13.15 each day.  You can choose three colours to blend to make 6 different colours.  Traditional colourways will be blue, red, yellow like this:

or a less traditional combination such as red, orange, purple like this:

other alternatives will be three blues or three greens, or three purple/pinks.

The third class is brand new, so much so that I only finished the sample in time to send the photo for inclusion.  It will run from 14.30 each afternoon.  This one explores Transfer Artist Paper (TAP), foils and a couple of colour products, predominantly the inktense blocks.  You will create a piece of embellished fabric that you can use as a small wall hanging, a cushion centre, a feature fabric or pretty much anything.  Here is my sample.  You can add more colours or more depth of colour with a couple of different products.

this sample is a bit crocked.  You will be given rulers so you don’t rush it like I did.  I am calling this Adelaide River because some of the images came from there and it is a place that has impacted on me.  I have tried to capture the poignancy of the location in the piece, but we will talk about using colour to add emotion to a project.

In the middle of all of this, somewhere between 12.00 and 13.00 I will do a traditional workshop in the workshop rooms on using different fabrics in your patchwork and quilting projects.

I hope that there is something here to tempt all of you living in the Sydney/NSW area and that you will join me.  Of course we will also have our full range of colour, fibre, fabric products; magazines and books; and so much more.

I will run similar classes (though not necessarily the same) in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane also this year.  See you there.

Classes at Rosehill March 8 to 11 2012 – join me!

22 01 2012

We will be trading at Rosehill Craft and Sewing Show this year.  And, following my new format, I will be running a studio on the stand.  The Studio is a bit like the Craft Circles or Make and Takes except because I run them at the stand, I have much more flexibility and time to do a more thorough workshop.  I am still working through the exact timings and kit costs, but here is a taster.  I will do three classes.  The cost is to cover the materials only, no tutorial cost.

One will be a Dye class – 6 degrees of seperation.  In this class, you will choose three dyes and dye 6 fat eighths of cotton fabric, creating a palette of colour.  There will be plenty of information such as dye theory so that in the end you will be able to take the ideas and make your own dyed fabric.  You can use one of several options of yellow, red and blue or step out on the wild side a little and use other colours.  In the sample below, I used orange, red and purple.

The second class is one I ran in Brisbane and everyone had a ball.  It is using Lutradur and Angelina to make a laminated fabric which you can then turn into ATCs or Bookmarks.  These photos may be familiar to regular blog followers but here are two examples:

The third class will use TAP (Transfer Artist Paper), Foils, Inktense and some other colour products.  You will learn how to use all of these and see how TAP behaves on different surfaces.  The finished piece can be a small wall hanging; a feature print for a quilt, cushion, jacket ;a bag panel or anything you like.  You could just mount it on a canvas and hang it on the wall.

Here is the sample.

It is not the best photo as I only finished it about twenty minutes ago and I am running out of daylight.  I will take a better picture in the morning.

What do you think?  Will you join me?

Dyeing and Mixed media classes in Brisbane 19-23 October 11

20 09 2011

I am using a new format at the shows which allows me to run classes at the stand.  I did this for the first time in Melbourne and we had a ball.  Now it is Brisbane’s turn.  The Craft Fair Friend can be down loaded from if you like.  My classes are outlined on pages 32-33 or you can go to my website at www.uniquestitching to see the details and book.  The class fee includes all your materials plus the use of class tools and materials.  You just have to show up and have fun.

However, here are some photos of what I am doing each day:

10am daily   By the Sea Lutradur, TAP and Angelina Sampler

11.30 daily  Quick and Easy Dyeing




12.30 each day  Indigo Shibori on a large Silk Wrap


1.45 daily  Mixed Media Artist Trading Cards with Lutradur and Angelina

2.45 daily – Floral Fantasy TAP and Encaustic Wax sampler

If you can’t make it to the Brisbane Show but would like to play with these techniques with a group or your guild let me know because I have extended versions that I teach.








Dye your own ribbon, yarn or threads – Here is how

18 09 2011

This weekend I have been dyeing ric rac and I thought that I would share how.  It is really very easy.

I bought a large amount of Ric Rac in different sizes and have dyed it in 20 different colorways (more on that later).  You don’t need to want to dye much to follow the instructions below.  Just adjust your process to match the volume you are dying.

You can use these instructions for any cellulose fibre (fibres which come from plants like cotton, rayon, linen, hemp, bark etc) and silk or blends of these fibres.

If you are dying threads or other items which are likely to get into a big knot, you should skein them up first.  Create a skein – size will vary depending on how much you are dyeing and how thick it is – and tie the skein loosely in about four places to hold it in shape and prevent knotting.  Don’t tie this tightly or the dye wont penetrate where the ties are.

I always, or nearly always, presoak my fabric in soda ash solution when I dye with Procion Dyes.  Mix about a tablespoon (Aus measure – 25mls) of soda ash in two to four litres of tap water and dissolve.  Then submerge your fabric etc and leave it to soak.

While the soda ash is soaking in prepare your dyes.  As a general rule, my starting point for colour is about a teaspoon (5mls) per litre of water.  More dye for dark colour, less for pastels.  Adjust your measurements to the volume of dye you need.  You might only need a quarter of a teaspoon in a cup if you are dying small amounts.

Generally, I will coordinate three colours into everything I dye.  This example has chocolate, olive and rust orange and I want it to be light, so I have used less than a teaspoon of each colour.

I am doing variegated or space dyeing on this, so lay out the ribbon, yarn or thread like I have with the ric rac.  I want it in an even spread so that the dye is evenly distributed.

The enemy of this type of dyeing is to have surplus dye in or around the fibre being dyed.  To avoid this, I use a rack and tray system.  The alternative is to put something down to absorb the excess dye such as fabric.  I often make what are known as mud fabrics by using them to absorb the excess dye.  In a mud fabric you let it take all the dyes and because they have some soda ash in them, they take in the fabric differently and you never quite know what you are going to get.

Pour the first colour across your fibre.  You need to go slow and have control.  If you prefer, you can use bottles with nozzles.  I just use plastic cups and go slowly.  Prod the fibre to make sure the colour is all the way through.  You can space your variegations as widely as you want, but try to be a bit even (or not if you prefer).  Keep a little bit of each dye aside to fill gaps and touch up.

Add the second colour next to and slightly overlapping the first.  The overlap creates some blending and ensures that there is no undyed areas.  Of course, you might want some white left in there and that is fine too.

Add your last colour and again overlap, prod and massage to fill gaps.

I then flip it all over.  You may not need to do this, but I always dye large quantities so flip it all over to double check.  Use the extra dye that you have held back to reinforce your colour and fill gaps.  Set aside and allow to batch for a few hours.  I find it useful to wrap this in cling wrap so that the dyes don’t dry out while I batch.  That way if you don’t get back to it for a while the dye remains moist.  It also means that the colours don’t cross infect each other by accidental contact while reacting.

Once you are happy with the colours and have left them for a few hours, rinse out the excess dye and soak in hot water until the colour stops running and your water runs clear.  Hang to dry.

Here is my finished sample.  I will have photos of other colourways on facebook and they will all be loaded on the web in good time.  What do you think?


“Unique” Classes being run in Melbourne

4 07 2011

Hi there

we will be running a number of classes at the upcoming Melbourne Craft and Quilt Fair.  Come by and join in if you can.

the first will be run twice a day and is a great beginner dyeing class:

Quick and Easy Procion dye workshop – Run at 10.00 and 3.00 each day.

Cost is $10 for scarf and $15 for Romper.

Discover how easy dyeing with Procion dyes can be;  Learn all you need to know to dye a range of fabric or clothing items; Dye a silk scarf or a cotton baby romper to take home and share.   Silk Scarf is approximately 38 by 152 cms (15 by 60 inches).  Rompers available in New Born, 00 and 0 sizes until sold out.




for the more experienced dyer or if you have always wondered how Indigo dye works, we will have an Indigo Silk Wrap Class.  Here are the details:

Indigo dyed Shibori Silk Wrap – Run at 12.30 each day

Cost is $35.00

Explore the ancient arts of both Shibori and Indigo dyeing;  Uncover the modern twist that makes Shibori accessible to the home dyer;  Create a stunning one off silk wrap which will be both warm and decorative.

The silk wrap is approximately 55 by 182 cms (22 by 72 inches).

For those who want to play with TAP, Lutradur and Angelina, there will be a mixed media class.

By the Sea – Lutradur and TAP  – Run at 10.45 each day.  Repeated at 4.30 Saturday only.

Cost is $35.00

Play with amazing new mixed media materials such as Lutradur, TAP and Angelina; Construct four panels to make a book, a decorative concertina or elements you can mount on canvas (shown); Be Astounded at how versatile, quick and effective these materials can be for a range of applications.

Finally, by popular demand, you can use velvet to make our very gorgeous positive/negative applique and put it on a hand dyed bag.

Geometric Appliqué Velvet Tote Bag – Run at 2.15 each day

Cost is $28.00

Use raw edge appliqué techniques with velvet and see how luscious yet easy this approach can be; Experiment with positive negative geometric designs to construct a funky contemporary design; Make a fantastic bag hand dyed and appliquéd bag to gift or keep for yourself.

Tote Bag is approximately 35 by 23 cms with a 7.5cm gusset (14 by 9 by 3 inches) and two outer pockets.
Hand dyed by Cecile.  Design only shown.  Bags are on their way!

Anyone participating in the workshops will get a discount on purchases at the stand.

Don’t have time to do a class, pop by and watch Neroli Henderson demonstrating Shiva and Lumiere paints and maybe more or collect your supplies of fabric dyes, paints, pencils; mixed media materials, Angelina, Lutradur, TAP; dyed fabrics such as cotton scrim, velvet cottons and silks; silk fibres; and of course great deals on magazines and books.

A similar program is planned for Brisbane but is still in the planning stage so could change.

Indigo Dyeing that anyone can master!

2 07 2011
Indigo dyeing is an ancient and traditional art but it has not been for the faint hearted. In the past, Indigo dyeing was a difficult and time consuming process. Indigo in its natural form is non soluble, so involved a significant process to get it into liquid form. Originally sourced from plants, somewhere in the late 1700s, a synthetic version was created, yet the process was still difficult to liquify and ‘reduce’ the dye. These days, a pre reduced version is available and this is easily dissolved without turning to caustic chemicals and weeks of preparation. I have been playing with the pre reduced Indigo and it is not only very very easy, but a blast to use.

Linen Shirt with Indigo Shibori

The process is very easy.  You use about 20 grams of Pre Reduced Indigo, 100 grams of Soda Ash and 150 grams of Thiox in about 20 litres of water.  Mix the dye and then the chemicals in stirring gently.  You then leave the dye bath to sit.
Once it has sat for a while, the indigo dye becomes light green and transparent.  A slimy looking skim appears on the surface.  When this occurs, as surprising as it seems, you are ready to go.

Indigo vat is greenish and transparent

The skim on the top - otherwise known as the "flower"

To use, you skim off the flower and save it.

save the flower for later.

You then submerge your fabric, yarns, garments etc.  Today I dyed a pair of cotton socks and a linen shirt.  The shirt I tied with rubber bands.  The socks I just threw in.  They were “cotton rich” – in other words, not 100% cotton.  I wanted to see how the nylon and elastic took the dye.

White cotton socks in the Indigo bath. See how green they are!

Leave your items in the bath for a while.  If you want to intensify the colour, you are better to bring them out for a while and putting them back in rather than leaving for a longer period as the oxidisation is what creates the colour.  More on that shortly.
When you think you have had enough, take the items out of the indigo vat and squeeze the excess dye out.

Remove the items from the dye vat. They will be green.

Hang the dyed items out, take any ties or bands off, unfold any pleating etc.  As the air hits the indigo dye, it oxydises, turning it blue and locking the dye molecules into the fibre.  This is WAY COOL to watch.  Rotate the items if you need to.  Thicker layers such as hems or facings will take longer to go blue than others.

Partially oxydised socks

Once you have taken everything out of the dye vat, replace the flower and stir gently.  The indigo vat will last several weeks before burning out.
Here are the finished socks.  The nylon and elastin has taken the indigo beautifully.  Who knew?


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