Grackle & Sun

Dye Day #1 Results: Elm Bark

It has been written that a dyebath made of elm bark can give a pinky-salmony colour on wool.  I’m sure that under the right conditions, with all variables being met perfectly, that is the case.  But I scoured the interwebz looking for any proof that anyone has ever gotten that colour from elm bark, and I found nothing.   Maybe not too many people like dyeing with elm?  I don’t know.  I liked it a lot, although our results were quite variable.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Elm, Ulmus

Part used:  Bark, split for weaving

Source:  Martha Younkin the fabulous basket weaver and teacher

Yarn:  KnitPicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar; Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  A minimum of 1:1 is recommended.  I soaked all that Martha gave me—842g—but only used 160g for the heated extraction, so that part was done as a 1:1 ratio.

Extraction method:  The elm bark was soaked in a bucket of cool water on the back porch for 2 weeks.  It was covered with saran wrap to keep obnoxious effluvia and mosquitoes out of it.   It took a few days for any real colour to start coming out of the elm, but by the second week, the bucket was loaded with colour.

Day one, fresh into the bucket

The night before Dye Day, Husband and I stayed up until the wee hours to make the bark extractions.  The bucket of elm bark was strained through a stainless steel colander with a coffee filter to get out all the junk floating around in the bucket.  It must be said that the elm bucket was the cleanest and freshest smelling at the end of the 2 weeks.  Some of the others, cough stinkyass osage orange cough, didn’t fair so well.  I then put 160 g of the elm bark into some pantyhose to put into the extraction bath. The elm bark was very, very gently simmered for an hour and then cooled to be used the next day.

Dyebath:  We had 10 different dyebaths going on Dye Day #1, and because we only had 2 campstoves and one hot plate, we decided to do some of the dyebaths cold to help out with the propane usage.   Elm is one that can be done cold.   The dyebath had a lot of colour in it.   We measured the pH at 4.1, which means that the elm itself is quite acidic, as the water used had a pH of 8.8.  This explains, I think, why the elm bucket never got stinky when it was sitting out on the back porch.   Elm is also pretty tannic, and this might have had something to do with it, as well.   So, in went the skeins to soak overnight.  They were in the dyebath for just over 24 hours.

The results?   Actually quite variable depending on the yarn, mordant and modifying done later.   Below is a picture of my two skeins.   The superwash was mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.  It came out of the dyebath with an ever-so-slightly-pinkish tinted brown.

Elm bark with iron modifier. You can see the original pale colour, and then just how dark the iron made it.

I modified it with iron, which took any red out and made the brown more… brown.   The Fisherman’s wool skein was unmordanted, and it came out not quite as pinky as the superwash.  I played with the iron mordant on it, too, but didn’t like it.  So in the end, I overdyed it with more elm bark—-this time doing a heated dyebath.   You can see how much more orange it came out of the bath the second time, especially compared to the other skein.

My elm bark results

So, those first two results are pretty different, right?  Now look at how my friend Kittyraja’s skeins came out (this is her picture):

Kittyraja’s skeins of elm bark awesomeness!

Totally different, and totally peachy-hued.  I think they are beautiful.  Both of her skeins were mordanted with the same 8% alum/7% CoT that mine were.  Both were totally different brands of yarn, though, and one is superwash (guess which) and one is not.

Modifiers:  Various people tried various modifiers on their yarn.  I told you about the iron after-dips above—they saddened and enbrownenated the colour.  Vinegar and copper had no effect.    I tried a solution of washing soda on one bit, and it actually seemed to bleach some of the colour out of the  yarn.  Nobody used ammonia on this one, so I’ve nothing to report there.

Anyone else dyed with elm bark?  What did you think?

Live happy, dye happy!

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7 thoughts on “Dye Day #1 Results: Elm Bark

  1. Pingback: Knit|tinK: A Witch’s House Socks « Grackle & Sun

  2. Billy Maxwell on said:

    Just the outer bark has tint as far as I know

  3. I know this post is old, but thank you for the information! I am dyeing with some bark from a dropped branch from my old elm tree, so rather than the soft weaving bark I have some craggy old bark. It seems to be releasing color well, and I’ll strain it out tomorrow and have a go with dyeing some handspun.

  4. Rick on said:

    I’m doing some elm bark dyeing to day, I’m using tin as a mordant. I’m boiling the bark to extract the tannins. Oh my I can not believe the slime almost like cooking okra. I put some vinegar and salt to hopefully fix the color. So far the color is a light green yellow.

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