Sappan wood – brasilwood from India – some history, background, and recipes

Sappan wood (Ceasalpinia sappan) has become my favourite source of red color for now. Native to Asia, it is the “older” cousin of what is now known as Brazil wood. When the Portuguese invaded what is now Brazil in 1500, the redwood trees they saw growing there reminded them of Sappan wood, which they already knew, called it pau-brasil and used for dyeing along with the rest of the Europe. Because of extensive use for dye and for violin bows, or perhaps the opposite, because the dye business was not economically profitable after the invention of the chemical dyes, or maybe due to both these reasons, the Brazil wood (Ceasalpinia echinata, Paubrasilia echinata) is almost extinct now, Wikipedia says that the trade of Brazilwood is likely to be banned in the immediate future. So now we are back to the good old Sappan wood, which is still available and abundant in India and China. It is used medicinally in both Ayurveda (where it’s called Pathimukham) and in Traditional Chinese medicine (where it’s called Su Mu). Continue reading

Raspberry shoots recipe

I tried raspberry shoots, because I had access to them, and they were listed in books. Standard recipe for raw leaves, collect as many as you can, soak overnight, boil for 15-20 min, let cool, strain, add mordant and dye. The left one with alum, the right one with iron. First shade after 20 min, second after an hour, third overnight. I was not very impressed with the result, but still it’s not nothing.

Here is a comparison with chestnut leaves (on the left) and oak leaves (on the right):I would pick chestnut over raspberry any day, and yet if you don’t have one, and do have the other, you might want to give it a try. It can give you a decent yellow with alum after a couple of hours, or if you’re after aged look with that grey with iron, that could also be interesting, especially in combination with other colors.

Chestnut and oak young leaves

Something you can easily find in the middle of the city. Chestnut on the left, oak on the right. The chestnut is the variety with yellowish-green blossoms. Perhaps the one with white or pink (haven’t seen the pink ones here) would give a different shade? The oak is a young tree, also just bloomed recently (if those are considered blooms), according to my dad the variety is the Northern red oak (Quercus rubra or Quercus borealis). The lighter shade is after less than an hour in a dye, the darker one – overnight. No issue with chestnut whatsoever, the darker shade of oak was powdery and was coming off, but it’s possible that would be rectified with repeated dyeing rather that the whole night straight, or also overdyeing with another dye for final color.

The recipe is very simple, took a bunch of young green leaves (use as many as possible, a good bunch), soaked in water overnight, cooked for about 20 min., when cool strained the leaves, added alum and started using. Didn’t prep the eggs in any way at all, didn’t even wipe them with vinegar as I sometimes do. Excellent results, highly recommended.

I also tried a maple with reddish brown leaves, and it did give green but very uneven, it might take some more playing with.

Red tulips, green dye

This idea came from Сніжана Король, who successfully dyed eggs with green dye made of red tulips. Don’t be surprised, it’s quite common for fresh red flowers to dye eggs green. I must say, the tulip dye dyes surprisingly well and surprisingly fast, smells a bit like raw potato, and we’ll have to wait and see about the light-fastness.

Now, the recipe. I didn’t have red tulips, so I bough some in the store (was looking for as dark a red as possible), and enjoyed them till they wilted.

Took the flowers, chopped them with scissors, did not soak them (though you could try, it’s generally recommended), covered with 500ml of hot water and cooked in a pot for about 20 min. at more or less boiling temperature. Let them cool, strained the petals and threw them out, added alum and the dye was ready. The dye gave much even tone on an egg wiped with vinegar before dyeing, so I would recommend that.

The book I have on dyeing fibres with plant dyes suggested that adding alum with vinegar, or, optionally iron, would produce different colors. As you might already know, it doesn’t always work the same for eggs. After playing a bit with the basic alum recipe, I split the dye into two cups, and added a gulp of vinegar into one, and iron mordant into the other. Not recommended, both of these.

Below, clockwise, from top (12) to bottom left (9):

  • untreated chicken egg in a dye with alum, 10 or 15 min.
  • dye with alum, chicken egg wiped with vinegar before the first coat of dyeing, first shade 10 min, next shade 1 hour, next shade about 12 hours. Beautiful (never mind my shaky hands, I’ve been doing so much of drop-pull, that the regular kistka is refusing to make even curves).
  • brown chicken egg, dye with alum – not as even as white egg.
  • goose egg pre-dyed yellow with old coreopsis – ok, but not as vibrant as white chicken.
  • chicken egg, dye with alum and vinegar – became all spotty and coming off easily. Perhaps too much vinegar? Anyway, not recommended, no need to spoil a perfectly dyeing dye.
  • chicken egg, dye with alum and iron

I have no more functional tulip dye left, so my tulip experiment is over for now, but there are still plenty of tulips around Toronto, so now it’s your turn. And yes, my book says that yellow tulips can give a yellow dye, and can also be supplemented with daffodils and narcissi. It says there to use the mordants for yellow that I don’t use (tin or chrome), but you could try just alum, and see what happens, anyway it is different on eggs than it is on fibres.

Buckthorn yellow

Looks like this year, besides doing my usual favourite patterns, I will also be heavily exploring the book by Odarka Onyshchuk.

Here is the first chicken egg this year. The greenish main line is malva, but it is not cooperating very well this year. Then etching back to white with vinegar, and then buckthorn for yellow. Nice yellow, I must say, the way I like yellow to be. I used the buckthorn extract – finishing up old maiwa samples. Took maybe a teaspoon or two of what used to be the powder (hard to tell how much, as it was clumped into one blob), boiled for 10 min. with a little or cream or tartar and alum, let cool, filtered through a paper towel, and here we come. The yellow pigment is supposed to come from unripened buckthorn berries.

The pattern itself (with different colors and some minor differences) is supposedly from Volyn, she calls it “leafy swastika”. It’s surprisingly simple, and at the same time cute. I will definitely make it again, because I really liked it (and that doesn’t often happen to me), and I feel that I didn’t quite do justice to the pattern. So stay tuned for more versions of this egg.

Red cabbage dye

I was a bit sceptical about the cabbage dye, but so far was pleasantly surprised. Let’s see how the color lasts, and whether it withstands time and light. How to make a cabbage dye? Ask google. I did, and found a bunch of step-by-step instructions. I’ll add one more.

Got some red cabbage. Actually, it’s been sitting in the fridge for months and was quite tired looking. If you get a fresher one, perhaps you’d get a better color.

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My first experiment with natural dye powder. So, this is coreopsis extract, I mixed 0.5 teaspoon of the dye powder with 250ml of boiling water, added a pinch of alum. Put the plain egg in when it was still slightly warm, because I was just too curious. As a result, rich gold, quite fast – maybe 15 min. or so. I used an old unemptied chicken egg, it was partially dried out due to sitting on a desk for a few months, had to weigh it down with a spoon so it doesn’t float.

And here is the second egg dyed (the one with a pattern), this one took longer about half an hour, but is looking ok still.

Oh yes, and I almost forgot, it smells beautifully of honey!

For more eggs dyes with coreopsis, see coreopsis tag.