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.

Cabbage with different mordants

Tried the cabbage recipe again, wanted to see what different mordants would do. Shredded a full purple cabbage and boiled for about 20 min in 2l of water. I think it could take more cooking, there was still color left in the cabbage. Drained the liquid, divided into 4 jars, to try iron, vinegar, alum and baking soda. Final result:

Here are the eggs after about an hour in the dyes:These are iron, vinegar and alum. Soda didn’t really work much at all, so it’s not in this picture. Then I added alum into both vinegar and soda jars, to see whether that would improve how the color took. Left the one in just alum and vinegar+alum for another hour to achieve one more shade, left the rest for the night. Here is before taking the wax off, iron, vinegar, alum, soda (that one didn’t change at all after adding alum, and did not give a darker shade overnight, vinegar improved with alum, but the dye didn’t adhere so well to the egg):

So, I recommend alum. Vinegar and soda didn’t work very well for me, however, I used tap water, and it’s full of chlorine here, which might affect the dyes, can’t really be called a pure experiment. Use demineralized or distilled water if you want to make your experiment really “scientific”, and let me know how it goes.

The iron was OK, gave a decent gray after an hour and almost black after a night, but I wouldn’t use cabbage for that, unless you don’t have other options and don’t mind the cabbage smell.

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.

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.