July 15, 2013

Colour of New Zealand

Each time I return to New Zealand I have different interests. I remembered the last time I was there I was looking for basket weaving plant fibre. This time I was looking out for plants for dyeing. So each visit expands my knowledge of New Zealand through colour. The first week we spent time with family in Auckland and the second week we took off in the direction of the Bay of Plenty covering Tauranga, Rotorua, and Hamilton. I have been to some of these places before, but each visit is unique in both the weather, colour, landscape and culture. We visited the Te Puia Maori's Cultural Centre in Rotorua. During the tour it was very interesting to hear all about the Maori way of life. We visited a carving and weaving school in the centre. As part of the tour, I heard that the Maori use tea tree leaves and branches for dyeing. We have tea trees here in OZ so I will have to try that soon.  

A group photo taken with the Maori tour leader. All the tour members were from OZ. We had a fabulous guide. He told me he learns more from us than we learn from him. There was a lot of talking on that tour!


The Silver Fern is NZ's national symbol. It is associated with lots of NZ sport teams. I found this silver fern branch on the ground at the centre and it was a perfect shape and colour too. You can use silver fern leaves in dyeing. It gives a lovely imprint on fabric!

Rotorua is a live geothermal zone and it is very active with boiling mud, geysers, and volcanic vents belching steam throughout the district. As soon as you drive into Rotorua you can smell the sulfur in the air. You get used to it after a while. 

I try to imagine what colours would be produced by the various plants in the above photo. I can see the potential in leaving the dye bundles in the thermal mud pool too! 

I saw this trailer load of tea tree branches parked at a petrol station. I wanted to take some of them to dye with, but sadly it was an impossible task. 

We stopped in Hamilton to collect my quilts from Donna Ward who machine quilted them for me. I'm so thrilled with the quilting. Donna is a gem in machine quilting! While I was there Donna's phone rang and Marion Manson was on the phone asking for me! It was a happy coincidence for both of us. Marion's eco-dye exhibition 'Colour from Nature' was on, so we drove to meet Marion and see the wonderful work in the exhibition as well. 

The exhibition was amazing. Even though I do a lot of eco-dyeing myself, this was the first time I saw an exhibition of this craft. The colour of the cloth was so rich and luscious from water and plants growing locally in New Zealand. It was terrific to meet Marion for the first time. We chatted and exchanged a lot of ideas about dyeing. I hope Marion will come and visit me in Melbourne one day. I already got her interested in visiting Ziguzagu to get some kimono silk! 

I was very unorganized before I went to NZ. I didn't take any silk to dye with. I found a piece of fabric at a local op-shop. It looked very much like silk so I tried dyeing with it using some local eucalyptus leaves. I steamed the bundle in the hotel's microwave oven and hoped for the best. 

Here is one of the bundle, with eucalyptus leaves I found at a cemetery where my father in law was buried. The room smelt so good after half an hour of steaming! I waited until I got back to Auckland before I unwrapped them. Sadly to say, I didn't get any colour from it. When I came home I burn tested the fabric and it's not silk! It was a good trial and I got some lovely shots from it! 

At the Te Puia Maori's Cultural Centre there were old concrete blocks under bushes with the names of various plants in Maori and English. Manuka means tea tree. You might have heard of the famous Manuka honey. Yes Manuka honey is from tea tree flowers. It has a unique kind of flavour that my family loves. 

Lots of trees in NZ are covered in lichen. Lichen loves humid and damp climates. Most natural dyers know that lichen gives a beautiful colour, but please only collect lichen off the ground or from dead branches.  

What has a rusty tractor got to do with color and dyeing! Rust is a perfect medium for dye mordant. I can imagine wrapping leaves and silk over pieces of rusty parts and leaving them to dye naturally for a month or so. Unfortunately I didn't have that much time in NZ to wait! I must ask my brother in law to keep the tractor forever! 

I was excited when I got home to unwrap the five bundles I left soaking in an oak bath. I already unwrapped one and I got a wonderful result. I will show them to you on the next post. 

If you haven't visited my Bike Babies's blog please do so. It's a delightful biking trip my son and his family are taking around Hokkaido, Japan. 

Thanks to all the comments you left me on my last post. 

Until next time


deanna7trees said...

looks like you had some wonderful adventures in NZ. thanks for sharing so much of it.

Needled Mom said...

What wonderful inspiration the trip was for you!! I love that Silver Fern. It is such an interesting looking frawn.

What a shame the fabric was not silk. I'm sure it would have been gorgeous.

Dolores said...

Thank you for the lovely photos. I have enjoyed the tour and the art. I may never get to NZ but most of my children have.

Queen Of The Armchair aka Dzintra Stitcheries said...

Great post Nat...welcome back to Oz! That wattle leaf looks very interesting...all those shapes...wow! Sounds like a wonderful trip catching up and sight seeing!

Nedra said...

What a wonderful post, Nat! You have shown us New Zealand from a very unique perspective. I will never look at a rusty old tractor the same again :)

Queen of the Tea Cosies said...

Wot Nedra said :-)

Kim said...

I can't read about their trip anymore because it makes me scared for their health and safety.
How is the strep infection? Are they getting enough sleep and good food?
Oh dear see what I mean?

Lovely pictures as always Nat, happy dying and sewing

Marion said...

HI Nat, looking forward to seeing your results. i have gathereed some Manuaka to try.

Terry said...

Lots of interesting things
to see and do as well as due when ever you travel.
Interesting photos.

Tracy said...

LOVE that quilt... and fun with Marion's exhibit! It's been a treat to see/hear about New Zealand... A place on our bucket list! ;o) I think favorite place that keep calling us back offer us new and different things each time we go... that's part of the beauty of travel. Thanks for taking us along, Nat. ((HUGS))

american barns nz said...

New Zealand is the best place for having a tour to get yourself fresh!

Nora Kennedy @ Split-Site PhD said...

The silver fern is a very impressive plant. I didn’t know you could use it for dyeing. All of these pictures are so awesome. Thank you for sharing.

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Inez said...


american barns nz said...

All of your blog posts are having creative material and stuff which is innovative. Good work!

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