Experimention with Materials

Greetings Friends,

Now the compost pile is cooking! This is more what I expected to see from a piece of painted canvas buried in the compost pile for two weeks.

Cassandra Tondro natural dyes

It’s interesting how the bugs have eaten part of it and left holes. It also turned stiff, as if it was starched. It’s about 20″ x 24″ in size.

I’ve laid it on top of some painted pieces of canvas so you can see the chewed areas more clearly. Now I’m thinking about how to incorprate it into a larger work of art.

Thank you for your comments last week about ephemeral art materials. I’ve taken your advice about not letting longevity of the art influence my experimentation with materials. I’m starting on a new piece that uses natural dyes to create what I hope will be deep blacks and charcoal grays.

It’s going to be a mixed media piece about Earth, iron, grounding and our need for safety. How can I create a feeling of safety through my art? I’m thinking dark, cavern, cave, womb and earthy materials.

I’ve folded, tied and clamped some painted and iron-stained pieces in shibori fashion to be placed in a dyebath. The folds and binding create areas that resist the dye.

Cassandra Tondro natural dyes

I’m using logwood for my first dye, which usually gives a purple color. But in the presence of iron, the colors turn to grays and blacks. There’s iron in some of the fabrics, and others are wrapped around pieces of decorative iron, so I’m hoping for rich coloration.

Cassandra Tondro natural dyes

So far the dyebath is looking more gray than black, but it has a few more days to go before it will be done extracting color from the logwood bark. If it’s not dark enough, I can always do a second dyebath, maybe using a different dark color like walnut husks. But the grays might be lovely, too.

Stay tuned!

What are you experimenting with in your life these days? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. You can share them with us in the comments section below.

With love and appreciation,



  1. Enjoyed your post and am eager to see results after the logwood bath. I’ve been testing dye colors (& shibori patterns) with various flowers. A dark burgundy dahlia gives shades of green (one hour in pot) and black-green (overnight) with shades of blue in folds. Dark orange/burgundy day lilies give blue and green. Purple morning glories offer up a brilliant blue, which softens to a denim shade after it dries. (This is with alum mordant on silk and cotton.) Soon the deep purple plumes of phragmites (invasive reeds) will open and they yield an emerald green dye bath. Rhododendron leaves give a lovely peachy brown with alum or a khaki green with iron. So much more to try!

    1. Hi Judy. I always wonder about color from flowers being fugitive. Have you had any shifting of the colors, or do they seem to be fairly stable? It’s interesting that the color of the flower often isn’t the color of the dye.

      1. Hi Cassandra,
        Same here. So last summer I tested morning glory, orange cosmos, goldenrod and phragmites plumes on alum-mordanted cotton. After processing in a cold dye pot an hour or so and rinsing, I put them outside in direct sun (and weather) for an entire month. I used round stickers to block original color for comparison. All faded to varying degrees—most kept at least half their true color. (Considering a green cotton dress from India faded by half within a week when draped on the back of a chair waiting to be hemmed, I don’t think this is terrible.) Swatches stored inside, often exposed to light, have barely faded in 2-3 years. I think I’ll test adding a tannin or soaking and aging in soy milk afterward. Soy helps protect color and softens the cloth. Rhododendron leaves didn’t fade at all in that test. Goldenrod was strong, too.
        Yes, as with eco printing flowers—and even some leaves—red or burgundy often prints green. My burgundy Japanese maple leaves print emerald green or blue on paper and hot pink on silk. Alum mordant. Royal Purple cotinus can give us vivid blues and green shades. I even got orange. But never the color it is.

        1. At least your colors aren’t shifting. I’ve had things that were nice bright colors, and then within weeks turned to brown. Not so much fun when that happens! MAybe because you’re using mordants.

          1. Yes, mordants make all the difference, especially on cellulose. Sadly, they still don’t help with the most fugitive color sources—like berries, beets or cabbage.

  2. Always so interesting (your experiments). These are going to be fabulous.
    Safety. Now that’s a topic!!
    I’m painting with everything but oil and brushes-mark making, fun stuff. Exploring. Hope all is well.

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