The Earth Reliant Artist

Trace Willans All Natural Mixed Media

Thursday, November 29, 2012


A couple of weeks ago
the lovely Patricia
sent me a link

that sent me looking for information
about an ancient but natural
painting process

and since then I have been busy
and it occurred to me that
others might be interested in
what I do

Singing Spring Into Being 70 x 50cm
Sumi-e ink, graphite, titanium dioxide, milk,
rabbit skin glue, yellow ochre, burnt sienna
on watercolour paper

I was thinking I might put together
some limited edition
sample books
which will contain
well samples
and what I did
to get that sample

Such fun
x te

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And then there were Three

The Warm Fuzzies are multiplying

The front of journal no 2

the back

No 3 has got a little jazzy


I am thinking about putting these in the etsy shop
but without the journal inside for overseas postage
as to buy a journal would cost less
than the extra postage
what do people think
are they saleable like that?
or do I just keep them for locals?

Ok the warm and fuzzies are now available in my Etsy Shop
x te

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shed Doings

Weekend Work
Full dyeing power was achieved

A little something from the iron pot
you will have to wait till next week to see the results

Lately I have been playing with dyeing bones
I am very pleased with the results

Some lovely patterns happening

What a fabulous surface


And here we have a new mother
with her first baby CHICKEN!!
Dan's idea not mine

x te

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Warm Fuzzies


The first of my new (for sale) journal covers


Made from naturally dyed recycled
 handstitched blanket

Inside front
with pockets for tucking in papers

inside back

I have only ever made these for myself
up till now
so I thought
I would do some for
the upcoming market
way down south here in
Denmark Western Australia
coming on December 8th.

x te 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Natural Dye Article 1

Onion Skins

This is a copy of an article I wrote for Down Under Textiles magazine
it looks way prettier in print.
Article Number 3 should be out very very soon

Colour Is Everywhere

Why buy imported natural dye when there is such an abundance of colour in plant material surrounding us? Plant material to dye with is in our gardens, our kitchens, our parks, at the local florists, at the green grocers, you just need to get out there start collecting and test, test, test, everything, surprises happen.


It is best to work with silk and wool fabric and fibres, at least to begin with as they are the easiest to dye naturally and will give the best results. I will cover the dyeing of cellulose (cotton, linen, hemp, and ramie) in a separate article. Start by using old articles of clothing, and blankets, visit the op shop or go to a school fete to provide yourself with some test materials.

Home Made Mordants


Mordants assist dye to stay in the cloth, this is not always necessary e.g. in eucalyptus as these are a what is known as a substantive dye, but mordants are often used as colour modifiers. When working with Tasmanian Blue Gum for instance the use of iron promotes a shift to lovely purpley blues. And brown onions skins become a whole array of colours from, yellow, to rust to olive green.

The most common mordants are aluminium which brightens colours, copper tends to enhance and shift towards greens and iron darkens or saddens colours. There are many other substances that are used to assist dyeing e.g. cream of tartar, vinegar, I recommend acquiring a good book on natural dyes to explore this further.

There are several simple ways to mordant cloth. You can use pots of varying metals to cook in, e.g. aluminium, copper, iron, or you can add pieces of the metal to the pot while you are cooking e.g. rusty nails, beer bottle tops, pieces of copper pipe, or you can pre dissolve the metals and add the subsequent liquids/jellies to your pots. To do this place the pieces of copper, rust or aluminium (I save pieces of foil from things like butter, or re-use aluminium foil) in a jar fill with vinegar and leave to corrode, for at least a week the aluminium creates a jelly like substance, while the iron/rust foams up. Replace the vinegar as you use it. The iron can be strained to reduce the likelihood of spotting.

Vat or Pot Dyeing

Pots that you use for dyeing should never be used for cooking. Go op-shopping and pick up a couple of large aluminium and stainless steel pots. Glass and enamel are also useful, if the enamel has chipped this will add iron to the water and can be your iron pot. Cast iron pots from camping stores are great as well. While it is unusual to find a copper pot these days perhaps a brass or copper bowl or ornament could be placed inside a pot.

Never use an aluminium pot for dyeing or cooking an alkaline substance as it gives off a toxic gas. So if you wish to cook any fabrics up with washing soda to scour (though I never do this) it is best to use stainless steel.
The importance of water

What kind of water you have can make a huge difference to the colours you will obtain from your dyes. As a general rule the majority of natural dyes prefer an acidic environment, so if your water is hard it is best to add a good splash of vinegar to your pot. Rain water is often the best if you have access to it. And also be aware that if your local water authority has been adding any chemicals it could very well show up in your pot. Seawater is wonderful to soak cloth in prior to dyeing, but be wary of using added salt as we have a salinity problem already in this country without adding to it.

To heat or not to heat that is the question

How much or how little a plant material is heated can have a huge affect on the resulting colour. If you try putting a load of blue/purple flowers in a pot and boiling the heck out of it chances are you will end up with an undesirable brown colour. If on the other hand you freeze the flowers and place them in a bowl with warm water and allow you cloth to steep with a little aluminium chances are you will get the blue you are looking for. A little copper will shift those blues to greens.

On the other hand if you don’t get those eucalyptus leaves up to boiling point the result will once more be disappointing, as you will not extract the full richness from them. But boil them for too long and they will end up being brown.

Down to Business

Now that we know the basics let’s talk about plants to try. There are no hard and fast rules about the colour you will get from a particular variety of plant, the colour can be affected by the time of year it is picked, the location of the plant and the type of soil it is growing in, the amount of rainfall there has been that year, and even whether it is on the sunny or shady side of the tree. That said we can make educated guesses based on our own samples, but sometimes it is best to relax and enjoy the natural variations that occur.

First, choosing ingredients for colour dyeing - what to look for, what colours will result


Coreopsis, marigolds, black eyed Susan for yellows, perhaps you can plant them so you have your own dye plants in the garden. The flesh the surrounds the Walnut gives wonderful chocolate browns but be warned, make sure you wear gloves or your hands will be brown for a week!! Tomato plants will also give yellow.


Esp silver dollar gum (peach, orange, brick red), though striking up a relationship with your local flower shop and asking if they will save their waste for you will give you lots of scope for experimenting.


Onion skins red ((greens and pinks) and brown ( yellow, orange, rust, green), fennel which gives a lovely green especially with copper, the water from soaked black beans (purple) but don’t apply heat, cold soaking of fabric and fibres only. Carrot Tops are another source of yellow and spinach of course give green. But Beetroot does not give purple in fact it is hard to make it stick at all.

Green Grocer

Esp useful if you wish to gather in abundance

Out and about

Eucalyptus leaves give a range of colours from beige to green to orange to brick red to chocolate. It is best to half fill a pot with leaves then cover with water add a splash of vinegar and bring to the boil. Simmer for an hour then remove the leaves and proceed with your dyeing. You can of course place your fabric in the pot with the leaves for a more mottled effect.

The leaves from any tree are worth trying many will give a gentle green or yellow colour.

Autumn leaves make a lovely pot. These are especially effective when layered through the fabric.

Collect windfalls rather than taking cuttings from parks and check to ensure you’re not taking plants from protected areas.

Onopn Skin Colour Variations on Paj Silk

Demonstration of Colour Variations Using the Humble Onion Skin

I love working with onion skins, they are so easy to collect, I have a net bag in my onion box and every time I use an onion I put the skins in there till I have enough for a dye pot. I also fill up bags at the green grocers and sometimes even get family members to save skins for me. It is best to save brown and red skins separately.

In all my samples I have dyed the fabric with the skins, as I love the mottled effect. I used a stainless steel pot for each sample and used my home made mordant.

Onion Skin Colour Variations on a Matt Noil Silk


Feeling most privileged
to have been so nicely mentioned
over at Robyn Gordon's Art Propelled 
and such beautiful company I am keeping.

a detail from the finished work

  the image used in 'Mending Land'
was directly photocopied from this
while it was a work in progress
and yes it is all handstitched
from memory the finished piece is 1200 x 1200mm

and also by Dorie on her blog Fiberfusing 

I am posively jiggling with joy
x te

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Shed Doings

My new outdoor dye studio

Out of the pot

Hopefully the joey is a little easier to see
in this photo
though he does look might uncomfortable
and so glad they keep out of the vegie patch
which is what you can see in the foreground

The hope of my own pine nuts
flowering for the first time
this year

Native Spring flowers

Some hard to find

Some are a little more exhuberant

x te

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Whats Happenin?

I know this is not a great photo but these critters are shy
If you zoom in you will see a joey
just about to skitter back into the pouch
This is our first little one sighting for the season

The Soak
This is over on our winter creek
We pumped out of it and into the duck pond last weekend

Begginings of something for over here
Best get a wriggle on it is due by the end of the year!!!

This is a large sheet of watercolour paper
I used only chinese waterbased ink,
milk paint with titanium dioxide
and a watersoluble graphite stick

 Some pieces I have been working on in town
I love the way the light shines through
These were taken in front of the kitchen window
as the only other spot I can take pics is outside
and it is pouring with rain out there

This is a smaller piece 8 x 15"
It will be cut into 3 pieces
and mounted on board
then waxed
and sent to the local Art Centre
to be auctioned

and just for fun
ink and milk paint

x te