In a green shade

After my Shetland exploits, and Wonderwool too, it’s fairly obvious that green is my favourite colour. Not that I have an unfavourite – unless it’s girly-girly icky-pink – but green is becoming more and more dominant. It had to happen. I’m turning into a leprechaun. Next it’ll be the ginger beard…*

I’m not sure what came first, loving green or living where I do.

I was down in London for years, from graduation until the development of t’internet meant I could live where I wanted and still work, and I don’t remember being quite so green-obsessed when I was there. Fairly obsessed, mind.

Of course, green is one of the colours of Wales (and of many other places, especially Ireland – see footnote for grumble), but there’s still no excuse for the rather crude shade of green with which our bus shelters have been adorned. It’s interesting how often local authorities, etc, use green for countryside signs. Well, it will blend in, won’t it?

No, it won’t, not most of the time. Generally it just clashes, though this particular footpath sign isn’t too bad – but only when seen from this direction.

One of the reasons is that, despite all the amazing varieties of greens present in nature,

it’s very difficult to create a green colour using plants. Almost all the greens on cloth, canvas, murals, footpath signs or just bus shelters in Gwynedd involve the use of minerals and/or artificial dyes. And, being a bit more charitable, sometimes these greens look OK. Often, though, that’s when they’re not up against natural greenery.

I’m just starting to mess about with natural dyes, and an inability to get a good green has been a real disappointment.

If you want green – a real green, not a variation on khaki which is, ahem, all too easy to get – you have to overdye blue and yellow or use a modifier like iron. First you have to dye your skein of fibre a shade of yellow that won’t be overpowered by the blue (or vice versa), then just the right shade of blue. And you have to do this repeatedly, matching the blending and the intensity of both colours exactly, if you want to create any sort of reasonable quantity. When it comes to consistency, double-dyeing like this is notoriously difficult. That may be one of the reasons why green never features, for example, in depictions of Minoan clothing – perhaps it was just too much of a pain to achieve. On the other hand, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, and Minoan wall painters used greens made by layering yellow and blue pigment.

One of the oldest pieces of fabric which clearly is green comes from the salt mines at Hallstatt in Austria; it’s Iron Age in date, and a rather interesting weave.

Oh, all right, I know it looks obscure, but it’s over 2000 years old.

There’s been some debate about whether this olive-green colour was created deliberately or whether it was the result of two millenia of environmental changes. It’s uniform, though – if the fabric had discoloured because of something in the environment that would have been unlikely – and it’s present in other textiles. So I think it was deliberate, maybe the result of producing a yellowish colour using something like heather flowers, which would have been easily available, and then letting the fibre steep in an iron pot.

(I wonder – perhaps one of the reasons why green clothing was so often associated with the fairies was because the colour was so very tricksy to produce? And it is markedly a ‘fairy’ colour, even today; hence the leprechauns. And all those Green Men, and the Green Knight, even Tolkien’s elves: in the Western tradition green is persistently associated with the slightly unearthly and the supernatural. In many other cultures it’s often a holy colour.)

Robin Hood’s Lincoln Green wasn’t such a green, though. Lincoln was noted for producing green cloth – another notable British centre was Kendal – and because of the difficulties of the process, it wasn’t cheap camouflage. It was expensive, very expensive, made using woad for the blue and weld for the yellow, and was called ‘the pride of Lincoln’. Another name was ‘gaudy green’. Robin Hood was showing off, or rather the people who told the stories about him were.

So were the Arnolfinis:

Courtesy of The National Gallery, London

Well, if that’s who they were – there’s a lot of uncertainty about Jan van Eyck’s painting. But Giovanni Arnolfini was certainly a wealthy merchant; Italian, but worked and lived in Bruges. Green here probably symbolises hope, life, a sunny future and fertility (though Madame A. is a then-fashionable shape rather than pregnant and a lot of it is bunched-up fabric – another sign of wealth: the more fabric in your clothes, the richer you were). And it’s one of the earliest truly deep emerald greens in painting.

From early times painters had often used mineral greens, generally copper based, often called ‘terre verte’ or green earths. There was a problem, though; they were rather dull, even those derived from malachite. Roman mural painters tended to place green next to red, green’s complimentary colour, because doing so enhanced the rather greyish greens. But copper resinates gave a much better result, and Van Eyck’s oil painting technique of building up layer after layer of thin glazes added to the effect anyway. The National Gallery bought this for £600. Well, it was in 1842.

Oh dear, I’ve got a little side-tracked. That’s what happens with me and green – I ramble. And I’ve been rambling away at a WIP for almost a year now, admittedly not helped by injury (acupuncture going well, fingers crossed). It’s a stole, in a beautifully soft lambswool / kid mohair / something else mix bought at Wonderwool last year. I’m determined to finish it, and I’m trying to do a pattern repeat a night (that’s only four lines – easy?).

It’s coming along well, and I’m hoping it will block nicely. But there is that unspecified third ingredient in the yarn – acrylic? I hope not… I’ve done the burn test, and it should be fine, but we will see. Hm.

And the colour? well, Shetland seaweed:

Another shade of green…

*Green wasn’t normally associated with leprechauns’ clothing until the 20th century, when it was popularised as part of the irritating, ‘oirishry’, dyeing-the-river-green-for-St-Paddy’s-Day shite. Green is associated with the ‘trooping fairies’, the tricky and perilous Sidh. Just so you know. You see a green-clothed fairy, you leave. Fast. Don’t look for gold (men in white coats, possibly).


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6 thoughts on “In a green shade

  1. Knitsister

    Well, I couldn’t agree more…green is simply fabulous and there seems to be no end to your talent, dyeing too now!!! oh, and I love the look of you Wip, can’t wait to see it finished.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thanks Heike… finished? I’m juts over half way (5.5 balls to go) and it’s growing slowly. Did 8 lines last night and suffering today. Never mind – acupuncture on Thurs!

      Reply
  2. fafaknits

    Very interesting!
    I generally say that my favorite color is red but lately the evidence has shown I definitely have a soft spot for green.
    Oh and your stole looks really nice and comfy, I almost started petting my screen :o)

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thank you – and the stole is indeed loooooorrrvely and soft, stroking it is rather like I imagine stroking George Clooney would be like. Ahem.

      Maybe we should open a virtual petting zoo online? (For wool, not Mr Clooney. Oh, I don’t know…)

      Reply
  3. Annie

    Re. the dyes, have you tried red cabbage and alum, modified with bakingsoda and cream of tartar. … pretty fugitive, but it makes a lovely green 🙂

    Muted greens are among my favourite colours.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      How interesting – I must give that one a go. Accessible ingredients, too.

      It’s the fugitiveness (is that a word? WordPress doesn’t think so, but then it doesn’t think ‘wordpress’ is a word either) that’s a problem – I’ve got plenty of skeins in muted khaki / beige / fawn…

      Reply

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