Grackle & Sun

Dye Day #1 Results: Eucalyptus

Orange.  Beautiful, deep, rusty orange.  That was what made me want to dye with eucalyptus.  I love orange.

Did you know that there are over 700 species of eucalyptus?  And none of them are native to Missouri.  Which meant that I was going to have to hunt for a source.  Somewhere.  Because no dyer’s supplies carry eucalyptus either.  But that wasn’t the difficult part.  The difficult part was figuring out which species of eucalyptus would give me the colour I desired.  In Wild Colour, Jenny Dean talks about dyeing with eucalyptus, and gives good instructions for how to do so, but very little information on what kind to use.   I was able to find a little bit more information onlinemostly from blog posts by intrepid experimenters and comments from other dyers.   I think it’s important to say that if you Google “dyeing with eucalyptus” or some similar search term, you’ll get a surprising number of results.  But a lot of information on dyeing with eucalyptus, while fascinating, was not useful for this project because  A) it was for eco-printing rather than dyebath dyeing  B) used species of eucalyptus that I don’t have access to  C) didn’t get orange  D)  used bark rather than leaves or  E) did not include pictures of results.   By the way, that eco-printing thing?  Very cool.  So totally want to try that.

But by digging around on some of the great links above, I was able to narrow down the field substantially.   I found a number of references to dyeing with “silver dollar eucalyptus”.  Well, guess what.  Lots of species of eucalyptus are commonly called “silver dollar”— cinerea, polyanthemos, cordata, gunnii… See the problem?  I realized that I was just going to have to close my eyes and pick one.   I finally settled on a variety that I could easily find locally:  eucalyptus pulverulenta, aka “baby blue”.  This variety is frequently used by florists in arrangements, which meant that I could buy it fresh by the bunch.  If fact, I actually ended up buying it at Trader Joe’s of all places, for $5 a bunch (which was $10 cheaper per bunch than my local florist was going to sell it to me). Be careful, though— lots of places sell dried eucalyptus for floral arrangements, but it’s been dyed.  Don’t use that kind!

So, I had the eucalyptus.  Now it was a matter of seeing if my research and varietal gamble would pay off…

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Eucalyptus pulverulenta, “Baby Blue”

Part used:  Leaves and thin stems

Source:  Trader Joe’s super affordable floral section

Yarn:  Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted in 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar; Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  The standard recommendation here is a 1:1 ratio.  I used closer to a 2:1 ratio.  We had 160g of fiber in the dyepot, and I estimate that we had about 300g of eucalyptus.  This was the one dyestuff that I didn’t get to weigh, so I’m guestimating that this was roughly the amount used.

Preparing the dyestuff:   Most of the information I found said that eucalyptus dye results are incredibly variable.  Even results with leaves from the same tree can differ based on if you harvested leaves during a dry spell, after a rain, or from the sunny or shady side of the tree.  Amazing!  But most everybody agrees that the leaves that give the most colour are those that have been dried.  So after I bought my fresh leaves, I hung them upside-down in small bunches in the Snug to dry for 3 weeks.  It smelled heavenly.

Eucalypt drying in the Snug

Extraction method:  The leaves and small stems were crumbled up into a stainless steel pot, covered with water (tap, pH 8.8), and then simmered very, very, very gently for 1 hour.

Dyebath:  Yarn was added to the dyepot with the leaves still in, as this is what is recommended for the best colour.  The dyepot was hot at this point, and I was worried about adding yarn to it that way, but it turned out ok.  In the future, though, I’ll do what Rebecca Burgess recommends, and soak the yarn in warm water first.   The dyepot was then brought up to a super gentle simmer again and maintained for 2 hours.  Jenny Dean says that it takes 3-4 hours to get the colour out of eucalyptus, but we found that it happened closer to 1.5-2 hours.  The pH of the dyebath was 4.9.   Again, we were very careful not to boil it.  Boiling will apparently kill the colour and make you VERY SAD.

Delish-alyptus dyebath. Look at all that colour!

And now we pause to discuss the DELICIOUS SMELL that is the eucalyptus dyebath.   Delicious.  Wonderous.  Fantabulous.  I would compose odes to it.  I would sing songs about it.  It is worth it to dye with eucalyptus just to be able to stick your face over the dyepot and breathe in all that goodness.


The results?  TOTAL SCORE!  Which means, we got orange, baby!

Pretty brown and orange. My two favorite colours. :D

Note, that the superwash wool took in a much darker colour again.  Of course it did.  This picture isn’t quite true to colour, because the superwash actually is a more rusty-brown.  That Fisherman’s wool is pretty accurate, though.  That stuff came out mad orange.  I love it.  And bonus score?  The wool comes out smelling like eucalyptus, too!  I think I mentioned how good that smells…

Here is the eucalyptus drying later that day.  It’s been rinsed, but not washed.  Superwash is on the right this time.

Eucalyptus skeins drying right after dyebath.  You can see bits of leaves in it still.

For a comparison, here are my friend Kittyraja’s skeins.  I’m showing these, because she used superwash and non-superwash, but both of hers were mordanted with the 8% alum 7% CoT.

mordanted superwash and non-superwash

Super orange.  Awesometastic WIN!

Now, I haven’t written about the sad, sad part of Dye Day yet.  That would be the stinkyass osage orange FAIL.  The trauma is still too fresh.  But I will talk about how well the eucalyptus works to cover up the bad, bad smells and complete lack of colour of other failed dyebaths.   I overdyed this skein in the eucalyptus exhaust.   The interesting thing is that I first just plunked the skein in the cold dyebath dregs just to get the smell out.  And look at what it did—

Cold eucalyptus after-soak. Interesting colour…

It actually had a bit of a blueish cast to it. Mind you, this skein started out cream coloured.   I wish now that I’d kept at least a sample to see how it would have dried.  But I decided to reheat the dyebath to overdye the yarn.  This is what I got–a very pretty and not at all stinky golden yellow.

Skein overdyed with eucalyptus exhaust

I will absolutely be dyeing with eucalyptus again.  It was my favorite out of the whole day—a total sensory experience.  Absolutely love it!

Live happy, dye happy!

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22 thoughts on “Dye Day #1 Results: Eucalyptus

  1. I don’t know if you’re familiar with India Flint’s book Eco-Colour – she has a whole chapter on eucalyptus dyes. Just wanted to let you know in case you haven’t seen it.
    Your results are great!

  2. Georgia on said:

    Well done! I proposed Eucalyptus for a project in the US, but I wasn’t quite sure how I’d come about it, or how people would react to it if the project went ahead – I’ve become so used to picking up random dropped branches and taking them home to experiment as it so ubiquitous here.

    • Thank you! I can only dream of walking along and picking up whole branches of eucalyptus. Lucky! What was the project in America for? Love the fashion projects you are doing, by the way. Fascinating and so creative!

  3. Love ALL the earthy colors.

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this post because dyeing with eucalyptus has been at the back of my mind for some time now! I belong to an online-based guild of spinners, dyers and weavers and on their discussion forum there have been lots of posts about dyeing with eucalyptus and the species people have been trying (this naturally varies depending on which part of the world people live). Eucalyptus gunnii seems to be a popular one, at least for those of us living in Britain as it is hardy here. I’m thinking of planting one in my garden now – so thank you so much for inspiration!

    Someone there also recommended the following Australian book which apparently has several pages on information on dyeing with eucalyptus:
    Dyeing for Fibres and Fabrics
    Edited by Janet De Boer
    Pub: Kangaroo Press
    ISBN 0 86417 123 4

    I haven’t read this book but have just ordered a second hand copy on Amazon so will let you know if it is any good.

    • I look forward to hearing both about the book and your experiences dyeing with eucalyptus. You’re lucky that it’s hardy where you live. My Gran, who participated in Dye Day, was so enamoured with it as a dyeplant that she bought some from a local nursery to grow as a potted plant. I’m thinking about doing the same. I have a potted ficus that is 9 feet tall that we haul in for the winter every year (we use it as our Christmas tree during the holidays), so what’s one more tree in the house? :D

  5. Oh, this is great, I was asking around less than a week ago about how to get Eucalyptus. Must be synchronicity or something… Not that we have the same type you do, but now I definitely want to try.

    • You’ll love it! Eucalyptus was incredibly satisfying to dye with from start to finish. A lot of varieties will give orange. Some of the links I put in have very helpful lists as to which species dye what colour.

  6. Yes, you found some excellent links! I found a DK site that claims to sell winter hardy plants, Eucalyptus perriniana, Eucalyptus glaucescens, Eucalyptus neglecta, but they haven’t replied to my mail.

  7. Talk about synchronicity! I am enjoying reading your blogs Grackle and sun. Love the pic of the eucalyptus drying in the snug – looks like the juvenile leaves of Tasmanian Blue Gum. You are taking on some interesting projects! The book on Dyeing for fibres and fabrics is edited by Janet De Boer who was my Occ Therapy supervisor in Brisbane Queensland many years ago. I last saw her by chance in an art gallery in Brisbane about 3 years ago! A lovely person, hope the book is good!

  8. Pingback: Knit|tinK: A Witch’s House Socks « Grackle & Sun

  9. Thank you
    Interesting article , lovely colours
    Just one question
    You noted that the dye bath had dropped to pH of 4.8 but didn’t say why . Did you add something ?

  10. You know, you have an amazing source for orange growing on your farm. Jewel week. Pick at the height of flowering. Stuff the pot. Simmer till you have a color you like. Use LOTS of dye stuff to get the deepest orange. Mordant with alum +/- COT. Exhaust provides peaches answer skin tones. Over cooking darkens the color tour dates a burnt or rusty orange. Late season plants give more of a gold.

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