Following up on my experiments with wild leeks, I have discovered a few key and interesting facts. Not all cotton is equal. I had experimented in May with some very fine cotton I purchased at the fabulous Ribes i Casals fabric store in Barcelona. Though the results were not as stunning as the silk, the color still had a rich, buttery quality to it, that proved a nice contrast to the silk. So I felt sure the cotton sheeting my friend Cristina from Hotel Cal Llop had given me was going to be great. Our idea was to recycle the fine cotton sheets used at the hotel that were too worn for use. The cotton had a nice, tight weave, and a good brightness to it. However, when I went to dye, as I stated in my previous post, the results were disappointing. And the boiling recommended by my neighbor in La Figuera, though helpful, still was not yielding the results I was looking for. Anxious that my extraction process was flawed, I decided to dip some mordanted silk in to the bath. And sure enough, gorgeous, magical color.
Conclusion: my original concept of making teas in the sun, for maximum energy efficiency, is still viable. The problem was not with the bath, but the fiber. The recycled cotton , though of a great quality, may have been too tight a weave, washed too often with soap that created a barrier (even though I wash all fabrics prior to dyeing), countless possibilities why the color wouldn't penetrate.
Next experiment with the wild leek: tap water versus salt water from the Mediterranean Sea.
After lunching at one of my favorite beach side restaurants, El Vaixell, and a swim in the sea to digest (contrary to the popular childhood adage, wait 30 minutes), I hauled out two 5 litres bottles of salt water to experiment with. Needless to say, the sight of a tall, rather pale woman hauling water out of the sea raised some eyebrows. Oh well, all for the cause of discovery. After gathering a new batch of leeks this morning, down behind La Perla del Priorat, I boiled one batch in tap water, one in salt water. The results were interesting.The silk manifested a rich, herbed butter color in the tap water, and yielded a color more akin to the color I managed on the cotton in the salt water bath. So, as I have been suspecting, the alkalinity of the water is going to prove to be an interesting aspect to this process. And perhaps the cotton I got from Cristina had been washed so often in water high in alkaline that the fibers have been compromised. Yikes, I didn't mean to turn my art in to a science! But it seems that the marriage of the two is inevitable.
I was traveling down the back road from Falset to El Molar, past Bellmunt del Priorat, the other day, thunder and rain drenching the earth, glazing it with a radiant red wash. It may have been the light, so very different on a cloudy day, that made me pause and notice flora springing up everywhere. Most noticeable were the patches of wild leeks, Allium ampeloprasum, whose fantastic globes were bobbing in the rain. I thought to myself, wild onion, onion skins, classic natural dyestuff. Pulling my Smart over to the side of the road, I got out, and with a bread knife I happened to have for my impromptu picnic, I began cutting the heads off. But as I did, I managed to pull up the entire plant, bulb and all. Not wanting to destroy flora uselessly, I grabbed enough to do my test.
I have been dyeing cotton for the bags I make for the silk scarves, as I wait for my bounty of silk to clear customs in Madrid. The results were proving disappointing, my sun tea baths just not yielding the same exuberant color as on the silk. I kept trying all manner of ideas, from salt water gathered from the sea, to longer baths, to my black tub method. Other than the unbelievably reliable "Priorat Gold" (read Straw Into Gold), I was disheartened by the not only lackluster color, but in fact very unattractive colors I was getting.
Adjusting jars and putting out new baths on my terrace, I was greeted by my neighbor below, who, I could tell by the look on her face, was curious about my odd assortment of jars stewing in the sun. I told her I was extracting colors from the flora of the Priorat, using my very useful guide, Flora de la Serra de Montsant, by Roger Pascual i Garsaball. We chatted for a moment, I told her the colors were amazing on silk, but that I was having a bit of difficulty with cotton. Oh, she said, cotton is tricky. I used to worked in a textile factory, she continued, and we had to get the temperature of the cotton bath really high. Wow, I responded, I perhaps should try boiling my bath.
And so I find myself boiling wild leeks in my kitchen, the delightfully pungent scent an added bonus. I have to say my neighbor was one hundred percent correct. The boiling bath is yielding considerably better results. So, lesson of the day: keep your eyes open for the new flora, keep your ears open for the new insight, and turn your disappointment in to a new discovery. Guess what I'm doing tomorrow? You got it. Back to my favorite back road to collect wild leeks. Fortunately I don't have overnight guests until next week, because not everyone likes their house to smell like onions!