The Colour Project: June Brown

This is the sixth instalment of The Colour Project 10 years on.

In June I focused on Brown, which lead me to think of the textile artists I know and admire who work with natural dyes. The range of colours they achieve from leaves, flowers fungi, bark, rust is amazing…It made sense to attempt some natural dyeing. I had some great results and some total disasters!

Some planning and patience was required to allow the time for the dyeing processes to work, boiling, steaming, rusting take hours, days and in the case of sun dyeing, all month.

Jars prepared for Sun Dyeing – from top left, Bark chips, Puff Balls, Geranium flowers, Bark Chips, unknown succulent, Tea Leaves, Tea Leaves & Puff Balls. The fabrics are silks and cottons. These jars were left out in the winter sun for the month of June.

Eucalyptus Leaves

India Flint on dyeing with Eucalyptus leaves – “Fill a pot with Eucalyptus leaves and water, bring to the boil, simmer 1 hour, put in the cloth, heat a while, allow to cool – it’s as simple as that”Above – my results, two on the left are silk, others cotton.

River Gum and Silver Princess Eucalyptus leaves I used for dyeing and steaming cloth.

Steaming First batch above – Approx. 3-4 hours in an electric food steamer

Light weight cotton rolled with River Gum leaves

Silk rolled with Silver Princess leaves.

Old cotton sheeting steamed with River Gum

Coarse cotton with brown onion skins

Fine silk with brown onion skins

Second steam of eucalyptus leaves all left wrapped until the following morning

Red and brown onion skins wrapped with head cloth and fine cotton.

Above brown onion skins on paj silk, red skins on silk dupion.

Steamed Puff Balls, silk dupion left, and cottons


My first attempt at rusting – an old iron lever folded around light weight cotton fabric, sprayed with vinegar, covered in plastic and left for several days.

Below – Nails, screws, nuts and bolts on cotton. A mirror image is created by folding fabrics over the top of the pieces and spraying with vinegar and left overnight.

Shoe lasts on silk

Washers on cotton

Paj and silk dupion. I love the greens coming through from the copper pieces

Wrapping and boiling

A dye bath of red and brown onion skins – skins were folded in fabric and tied

Above – old cotton sheeting,  headcloth

Cotton lawn

Paj silk, silk satin ,silk dupion – all dyed beautifully!


Experiments with boiling up mulch

Two cottons and satin silk

Much stronger colour, cottons and silks on the right

No colour after two hours of boiling…

It sounded like a good idea at the time…

I read in Machine Embroidery by Valerie Campbell-Harding about baking and grilling fabrics. “turns them into the most wonderful pale to dark caramel colours” wet the fabric, squeeze out under the tap and grill at a medium heat until it turns the colour you want” 

I never quite got the hang of my grill – as you see below…20 minutes of nothing and them 2 minutes and the whole kitchen is filled with smoke, the dog is panicking as 3 smoke detectors are set off and my fabric is on fire!

Texture and Dirt

This piece of bark was quite uneven so I used a roller to apply the ink and then placed the fabric on top to print. Seed pods were individually inked and then stamped onto the fabric.

Three weights of cotton rubbed with red dirt collected by a friend near a rather large rock. Left overnight then washed out well with soapy water.

Sun Dyeing Results

In normal circumstances I would have left the jars for longer than a month, especially with the overcast skies and mostly cold and wet winter days. However, I am quite pleased with the results. Images of the jars just before opening

Tea leaves – three silks and fine cotton

Eucalyptus Leaves – two silks and fine cotton

Geranium flowers – silk and light cotton

Succulent – two silks and light cotton

Puff Ball – as you can see the jar has orange/yellow fabric, when I washed it out, the silk became even brighter, almost fluorescent orange. Then over the next 10 -15 minutes it softened to a pale brown then the gorgeous chocolate brown

Brown onion skins


Note – These samples are all very experimental, created with my very limited knowledge of natural dyeing. I have no idea if any of them are colour or light fast. Even though these are natural dyes, as with all art supplies, don’t use the same pots, jars, steamers and utensils in food preparation and work in a well ventilated area.







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