There are approximately 900 species of Eucalypts and nearly all are native to Australia except a few that can be found in New Guinea, Indonesia and one in the Philippines.
Eucalypts cover over 75% of native forest in Australia and every state has their own representative species, from tropical to temperate climates.
As a Eucalypt Australia Dahl Fellow for 2022, my work is to create a Eucalyptus Colour Map of Australia. Its almost impossible to drive for more than a few minutes without passing a Eucalyptus tree in Australia! This makes them accessible to everyone, whether you love or hate them!
To celebrate National Eucalypt Day on the 23rd March, Ive written a simple tutorial of how to achieve colours from eucalyptus leaves. This is a technique I am using to create my colours on fabric. Natural dyeing is universal and there are many different methods and techniques to achieve colour. This technique I use is one that I have been taught and still practiced in Laos and Southeast Asia (and many parts of the world) today. There would be no electricity or gas so on an open fire pit it would be and produces the best results.
For this tutorial I have decided to use Eucalyptus cinerea or the ‘silver dollar’ that seems to be a favourite in all natural dye classes. The leaves are silver grey in colour and round or heart shaped but the mature leaves are longer and spear shaped.
Eucalypts like many other leaves, contain a lot of oils and tannins and no mordant or fixer is needed. Anthocyanins are the pigments in leaves and fruits that give them their colours. You will see here after half an hour the yellow is released first.
NOTE : Every eucalyptus will produce a different colour. Yes, every single variety of eucalyptus! If you haven’t achieved a colour, this is most likely the result of water not boiling or not left in the pot long enough. Remember, eucalyptus leaves are made tough! They have to withstand some of the harshest environments on earth here in Australia! The colours don't release for almost an hour after boiling for some of the more dense leaves.
You can use fresh or dried leaves.
Please note this is a simple tutorial to extract colour and I will not discuss other methods to shift colours here.
You may want to premordant cellulose ( cotton, linen hemp etc) The cottons, linens and hemps I have used were soaked in 100grams Acacia Rubida overnight.
100grams (at least) of Eucalyptus leaves fresh or dried. You can add more leaves if you wish to achieve darker colours.
A stainless steel pot with lid
Water (tap or rainwater)
Electric or Gas stove but fire pit is best!
Fabric pieces, yarn or old clothes you wish to dye. 100 grams of dye will dye up to 250 grams. I have calico, cotton, silk, wool, hemp, linen and wool yarn.
For cottons I would use at least 300 grams of leaves.
For this tutorial I have used 200grams of fresh leaves.
Pluck and wash the leaves and place them into the pot.
Cover the leaves with enough water to make sure the leaves are submerged.
Place the lid on and bring the pot to boil. Once the pot begins to boil turn the heat down and allow the pot to simmer for an hour. You should see the a colour change in the water and dyes and pigment releasing.
Here, I have thrown the fabrics in the dye pot. As they are not precious and will be used for various small projects.
If this was for a custom order. I would allow the pot to simmer for at least an hour before straining liquid and removing the leaves.
If you throw in your fabric make sure to stir to make sure fabric and leaves are submerged or floating. This will ensure the fabric absorbs the dye evenly. If the fabric has clumped or folded, there will be discolouring, blotchy and cause the colour on the fabric to be uneven.
If you decide not to throw in your fabric, I suggest simmer for another half hour and add water to ensure the leaves and fabric are always submerged and then strain the leaves to have a liquid only. Then you can place in your fabrics.
DO NOT THROW OUT THE LEAVES!
Once you have removed the leaves and impurities from the dye pot, add your fabric and simmer for another hour.
Check the fabric colour, did you achieve the desired result? If not you can boil a bit longer.
What my Natural dye Masters have taught me was to always leave everything in the pot overnight. Just like a good casserole or curry, everything is better the next day! This certainly is true for dyes.
Below, you see the results on cotton to the left, silk in the middle and the wool is a deep red.
Remove your fabrics and yarn. Rinse under water and leave out to dry.
If your results were uneven, there was not enough space in the pot for the fabric to absorb evenly. When this happens, I will place the fabric back in the pot. This will be mean a darker shade as it will go on the pot for another hour of simmering.
For those of you who dont have easy access to eucalyptus leaves, you can reuse the leaves for up to another two dye baths. However, the colour won’t be as strong. For cottons, I would allow to simmer for another hour.
Have a go and let me know how the results. Dont give up!
You can purchase Cinerea in Natural Dyes.
Cellulose Fibres and Yarn
In the image below you see some linen yarn in the dye pot. For this result, the natural un-mordanted yarn was simmered for three hours and left overnight.