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

More of sappan wood

Made this egg few weeks ago, when sappan wood dye was still fresh. Brown chicken egg, etched with vinegar, then sappan wood. Inspired by Natalie Kit and her brown eggs that I saw at Pysanky Toronto.

The pattern is from Odarka Onyshchuk’s album, I already the same pattern in malva and buckthorn and posted earlier. Here’s the photo of both eggs with this pattern together, who knows, I might make more of these still, love that pattern this year.

Goose egg drop-pull spree

I wanted to keep using the dyes I made for the Pysanky Toronto retreat. The dyes were not very cooperative at the event, but when they came back home and relaxed a bit, they were dyeing just fine, so it would be a shame to not use them. Still working on the strokes, and starting to work on the variety of patterns. All these patterns are from the Lithuanian book.

Dyes:

  • Top-left, coreopsis extract then sappan wood
  • Top-right dyer’s broom extract, then mulberry, then sappan wood (red)
  • Bottom: coreopsis extract, then sappan wood, then vinegar etched to white, then dyer’s broom to bright yellow and immediately after mulberry.

Sappan wood, alum vs. iron mordant

For those of you who are wondering, what different mordants can do to the dye, here is sappan wood with alum (red) and the other half of the same dye with iron mordant (purple-grey-black).

Besides changing the colour (or tone) itself, in some cases mordants used of fabric also improve, sometimes dramatically, light- and wash-fastness of the dye. I don’t know what will happen with eggs, I guess, the time will tell.

Here’s the iron mordant I got and used:

Technically speaking, you could just use the edible grade iron sulphate supplement from a drug store, it’s the same formula most of the time.

Another proof that not all that works for fabrics works for eggs also: the iron added to coreopsis dye did nothing, in fact, it just killed the dye, even though iron seems to work well with coreopsis for both plant and animal based fibres.

Coreopsis and sappan wood

More exercises with what can well become my two favorite dyes, and with the drop-pull method. I’m discovering that there is much more potential for different strokes than I initially thought. My grandma only did simple dot and straight line circles, but the actual variety of patterns and stroke combinations is amazing, especially once you hit the google image search. Of course, my hand is still not very steady, needs more practice, but I’m looking forward to it. If someone knows a good book on these Lemkivski eggs, point me to it please!

Dyes:

Yellow – coreopsis extract, a new/different source, seems darker than the first one, I might consider diluting it more, and I ordered seeds, will attempt to grow some in a planter.

Red – still the same sappan wood. This dye is few weeks old now, has developed clumps and stuff, but still smells fine, doesn’t appear to be spoiled, and still gives the color, albeit not as easily or evenly as before.

Logwood dye finally tamed?

I love these kinds of patterns from the North-East of Ukrainian ethnic territories, this area is now in Russia, and this is where one of my great-grandfathers was killed during World War II. These are so earthy and so sky-ey at the same time. I sometimes think, if birds were to make pysanky (the decorated eggs), this of what they would look like. Maybe it’s the abundance of pine-branch motif, that look so much like feathers. They also remind me the patters of native Americans.

The dyes: yellow is probably buckthorn (though maybe still weld? When you make and throw out 3 yellow dyes in 10 days, things become a bit confusing). The red is sappan wood. Then things became somewhat complicated. I was going for dark brown and put it into walnut, but it actually managed to eat out the darker red and gave me quite light brick-brown.

I didn’t mind the color, but for this egg preferred it to be traditional rather than experimental, so the egg waited for about a week till I made logwood. This time, as also previously, logwood on other eggs was coming off with wax, so I made an experiment. After logwood was dark enough, I let the egg dry, and next day put it back into sappan wood hoping the the coat of another dye will keep the logwood from pealing off (that seemed to have worked OK with the dark purple egg in the previous post). Voila! Seems to have worked just fine. Now let’s hope the logwood dye doesn’t spoil before I want to use it again – I have to make new yellow, and possibly also new red, and I used up all of the logwood extract I had left from my first purchase of natural dyes few years ago.

Here’s another take, where you can see the side-band also.

Big eggs, natural dyes

Here is my first experiment using natural dyes on ostrich and emu eggs. I made one of each, first etched them in vinegar, then used the same two dyes – my favorite coreopsis for yellow (turned out sort of green on emu egg) and madder+cochineal for red (brownish on emu).

Here’s the ostrich:

610_8234Photo courtesy of Mykola Swarnyk

The dots are specific to ostrich egg shells. The shell itself is very smooth, similar to rhea, and the wax tends to peel of sometimes – not sure yet what to do with that, perhaps making sure that the egg itself is on the warm side and the wax is well heated would help.

Here is emu:610_8326Photo courtesy of Mykola Swarnyk

It was etched again after the red dye.

In general, I would say, the experiment was interesting. It takes a lot of dye though, and unless one is doing a good number of big eggs at the same time, the amount of the dyes seems rather wasteful, it’s not clear what to do with them afterward – I put mine in a fridge and used some for the eggs in the previous post, but they did not work quite as well as the fresh ones would be expected to work.

For now I only have one or two emus left, and no other big eggs (have plenty of duck and goose instead), so probably will not be dyeing the big ones any time soon. It would be interesting to use dye on rhea egg – the color of its own shell should give nice tones.