Grackle & Sun

Dye Day #1 Extra Credit: Black Beans

We have come to the final installment of Dye Day #1—the extra credit bonus points assignment:  Black bean dyeing.  I’d first heard of black bean dyeing on two of the natural dyeing forums I belong to on Ravelry.  I was intrigued by the beautiful blues that people were getting from this common kitchen staple.  Well, I’m half Puerto Rican, so it’s always been a staple in my kitchen (along with red beans and pinto beans and gandules and garbanzo beans…lol)  Nothing else that we were dyeing with was going to give us this colour, and I thought that it would be a fun and easy project for everyone to do on their own at home and then bring for show-and-tell on Dye Day.

None of my dyeing books had any information on dyeing with black beans, so I started combing through posts on Ravelry to get more information.  This is definitely a case where being able to see pictures helped in determining the best instructions.  On Ravelry, you can make a search pull up only the posts in a thread that have photos.   {Because Casey is a code genius and should design ALL THE WEBSITES}.  The results people got with black beans were incredibly varied—everything from pale blue to cadet blue.  I wanted the most saturated blue possible, so I read through the posts written by people who got the darkest blues in order to find what the common denominators were.  Here’s what I found:

1.  Use superwash wool mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.

Mordanted superwash wool was the only fiber that consistently achieved saturated dark blues with black beans.  Unmordanted superwash did ok, but black bean dye is fugitive, and the mordant is what gives it half a chance of not fading the first time you wash it.  Mordanted regular wool got significantly lighter blues, and unmordanted regular wool got very light blues with little staying power.  The light blue shades were pretty, but I thought that everyone would have more fun if they got something bold out of the dyepot.   All the participants were natural dyeing newbies, and I figured that the better the colour, the more successful they’d feel about their results, and the more confident they’d feel about their ability to dye on their own.

2.  Soak 4 lbs of dried black beans in water for 24-48 hours.  

It was actually pretty hard to find much specific information on dyestuff to fiber ratios.  I found a few references to soaking 4 lbs of beans for 1 skein of yarn, and I figured it seemed like a good enough amount as any.   I used a 100g skein of Knitpicks Superwash Bare, which means that I had 1814.37g dyestuff to 100g fiber.  That’s a big ratio.  Judging by the amount of dye left in the exhaust, I could easily have dyed with half that amount.  The 24-48 hour difference is for this reason:  If you want to eat the beans, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, you want to soak them in a kitchen-safe, non-reactive container (stainless steel pot or ceramic or glass bowl) for no more than 24 hours.  Any longer than that, and the beans get tough and start to go bad.  If you don’t want to eat your beans, then soak them in any non-reactive container (plastic bucket, stainless steel or enamel dyepot, etc) for up to 48 hours to get the most colour out of them.  Any more than 48 hours, and you’re on a one-way trip to funkytown.  They start to smell pretty fast.  Make sure you cover your beans with at least an inch or two more water than the level you expect them to expand to.  That way they stay covered.

Word to the wise:  Black beans expand to a millionty times the original volume.  No, really.  If you are going to use 4 lbs of black beans, you need a VERY LARGE pot or bucket.  If you choose not to listen to me, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  I learned the hard way.  There is still a blue spot dyed onto my kitchen floor from where the beans frothed over the pot.  Frothed.

3.  Very carefully strain off the dark liquid from the top of the beans. 

When you soak the beans, a lot of grainy particulate will accumulate in the water.  It is very important not to get this particulate in your dye liquid as it will adhere to your yarn and jack up your blue.  Most people said that they carefully ladled the dye liquid off the top of the bean pot, so as not to disturb the particulate which settled at the bottom.  That didn’t work for me, because I soaked my beans in too small a container.  They expanded like something out of a science fiction movie all the way to the top (and over) of the container.  So, I strained the whole mess through a colander into big glass jar.  I let that sit on the counter for a few hours so that the particulate would settle, and then I ladled off the dye liquid.  In retrospect, I like this method a lot better.  It was easier to ladle off the liquid without having to dodge beans, and I got more of it.  Win-win.

4.  Soak your yarn in the bean juice dye liquid for approximately 2 days.  

All the instructions I saw for black bean dyeing recommended doing it as either a cold or loosey-goosey solar dyeing process.  What I mean by that is that some people (myself included) put theirs in a glass jar in a sunny spot—not so much for the heat as for the…?  Well, it’s easy to dye in glass jars, and it’s fun to be able to see what’s going on while you do it.  It could just as easily be done in a bucket under the sink.  The one cardinal rule of black bean dyeing is that you never heat the dyebath.  I repeat, DO NOT HEAT THE DYEBATH!  It will totally jack up the colour, making it muddy and gross.  And then every time you eat frijoles negros, you’ll have negative associations with failed dyepots, and we want to avoid that.  Oh, the pH for this dyebath was 5.4.  That’s down from the pH 8.8 that my tap water measures.  By the way, if you don’t have 2 days to soak it, it should be mentioned that a substantial amount of uptake was achieved in just a few hours.  The yarn got a bit darker over the next day, but still, a good blue was had early on.

Warning:  Black bean juice gets righteously funky when it sits out for a few days.  Remember, by the time your yarn is ready, that bean juice has been stewing for 4 days.  That’s 4 days of whoa! your yarn just soaked in.  It will wash off.  But I highly recommend that you use tongs and wear gloves when you pull that skein out, because you don’t want to find out how long it will take to wash off of you.  I am quite curious to find out if this whole process could be accomplished in the refrigerator.  If so, we could avoid the fermentation and get the blue stink-free.  That would be nice.

Looks pretty, doesn’t it? I had to hold my breath while I took this shot.

So far, so good.  Easy, right?

The results?  Well, my skein looked pretty much exactly like it did in the picture above when I first took it out.

After being rinsed, hanging to dry on the back of a chair.

But I’m a curious thing, and I just couldn’t resist finding out what would happen if I modified the results in various after-dips.   I tried ammonia and copper.  Here’s what I got:

Ammonia turned the blue into a drab olivey-green colour.  Copper, however, brightened the blue up beautifully and gave it almost a violet hue.  Very pretty.  I’ll be modding black bean dyes with copper in the future for sure.  I’d also like to see how yarn premordanted with copper will turn out.  I bet it would be pretty…

But that ammonia was a mistake.   Oops.  All in the name of science, right?  So I had to fix that.  But how?  Re-acidifying those spots with vinegar did not work.  So I decided to overdye the ammonia section in the onion exhaust bath.  I am very pleased with the results!  It’s got kind of an earth-sea thing going on.  And I like how those ammonia greens now just blend the brown and the blue together.

I’m really excited to see how this knits up.  This past weekend, two of my good friends and I wen to Chicago to the Stitches Midwest convention.  This is basically a KnitCon, as my daughter calls it, where knitters and crocheters get to go geek out.  There are classes offered by mad skillz knitters and authors and a huge, huge, huge area for vendors to sell ALL THE YARNS.  Well, almost all the yarns.  Am I the only one who lusts after skeins of small batch Romney or Icelandic wool that still has bits of grass in it?  Lol.  But still, it was good times.  We just went for the day to check out the yarn market.  There were lots of gorgeous handdyed yarns.  There was quite a bit of llama and alpaca, musk ox, and bison wools.   I bought some gorgeous soft grey alpaca from Village Spinning and Weaving.  It’s a deliciously soft and lustrous natural silver grey from Peru.  We got to meet some of our fellow Ravelry friends in person, which is always fun.  Stitches!

Anyway, the rest of the trip was all about wandering around Chicago and involved lots and lots of public transit, including the 12 hours roundtrip on the Amtrak from and to St. Louis.  What does this mean?  Knitting time!  So I cast on the black bean yarn for a pair of socks.   It’s fascinating to see what pattern of striping emerges from a variegated skein.   It’s never what you think it’s going to be.  I’m also interested to see how wash- and lightfast the dye ends up being.  Will the mods effect the fastness?  I don’t know.  We’ll find out!

Live happy, dye happy!  And, as always, tinks on me!

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27 thoughts on “Dye Day #1 Extra Credit: Black Beans

  1. Love it!! I still have a copper sponge sitting in vinegar water to get my copper liquor but I am now thinking it may be more fun than anticipated. I wonder what it would do with the indigo blue. Hmmmm. How have you been doing with lightfastness of colors when you added the onion skins. My understanding of onion skin dye is that it is not very lightfast so I am wondering if, when blended with another dye, it might hold up better. Let me know if you get any fade and if so, the resulting color. Hee Hee. Isn’t this fun?!!

    • If you look back a few posts, I showed the results for all the lightfastness tests for Dye Day #1, including the onion skins. Note that these were all on unmordanted yarn. The onion faded a little bit, but not as much as some of the others. This black bean and onion yarn is both mordanted and superwash, and I don’t anticipate the onion fading much if at all, but we’ll see. I’m knitting the socks now, and am eager to see how all the colours hold up. I have no idea if the fact that the onion was overdyed over ammonia modified black bean will affect the results. That a lot of variables! But you’re right, this is all a lot of fun.

      I hope you do try the copper over indigo—I would love to see if it does anything!

  2. In fact I’ve just been testing how to avoid funkyness when solar dyeing…. Yarn looks great, we can’t get black beans here, so I’ve never tried.

    • I’ve heard that it also works exactly the same with black turtle beans. Can you get those?

      I’m running a series of funk/extraction tests on avocado pits right now….

      • Never heard of them… Anyway, I just did a cold dye with birch leaves, one bucket had preservative in it, the kind I use for jam, the other none. With the preservative, no mould at all, the other funky. I’m going to test with large amounts of vinegar also, dunno which plant. Just home from dog walk with a bag full of tansy!

      • Very interesting…

  3. SO glad for the warning about the black bean funk! It’s a beautiful color though, well worth it.

  4. erinraeart on said:

    oh, i’m going to have to try this.

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  6. Thank you so,much for the generous sharing. This is awesome dye chem/science reporting!

  7. Who knew? . . . I may have to move beyond mushrooms and introduce beans into my dyepot!

  8. Oooh black beans sounds like something I would like to try. I love blue. Maybe over my birch bark fail.

  9. Susan Stepp on said:

    I sure wish I had read your blog before I tried the black beans! The directions I had never mentioned soaking the beans and then draining them to use only the liquid! Also (and I, of all people, should have remembered this)I, too, have a nice blue stain on my deck rail. I cook black beans all the time – must have had a senior blonde moment. Anyway, my yarn is a yucky gray and stinks. I have it soaking, but I don’t know if that will work. I used alum and some vinegar with 50 gr of 100% alpaca yarn. Any ideas on what I can do, at this point, to get the beautiful blue you got?

    • Susan, sorry you got a colour you don’t care for. The stink, however, is normal for black bean dyeing no matter what colour comes out, lol. It will fade if you rinse the yarn and air it out. To be honest, I have not seen anyone get the really bright blues on yarn that is not superwash. On non-superwash wools, it tends to be in the light blue range and not as colour-fast. I think you should try re-dyeing it—see what happens! It can’t get any yuckier, right? :D

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  11. I learned in the last year that with mushroom dyeing, when going for blues and purples, it’s important not to go much above 160 degrees F. And I’ve learned from you not to heat black beans if you want to get blue. If I were a chemist, I’d understand the priniciples at work here – the chemical construction of these pigments, and what happens when they’re exposed to heat.

    I’ve always just gone with what happens, but I’m starting to realize there are reasons why these things happen.

    Thanks for your detailed descriptions of what you’re doing.

  12. Heather on said:

    I think I just dumped dye that I could have kept, because it was going moldy and I have to prepare everything in small batches. Drat!

    I had read that black bean juice was pH sensitive, so to play I splashed a little vinegar into a sample of the dye and got this incredible crimson! Adding ammonia made it go forest green. I was wondering if you had ever tried dyeing with the altered bath and gotten any results. I have yet to even proceed with the blue, so I’m not ready yet to experiment farther than that.

    So far I’m adding two cups water to every one cup beans, and after straining I end up with one cup dye. Does that sound about right?

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  15. I’d also like to thank you for the nice detailed instructions– I currently have a (very funky, lol) jar of yarn in bean juice. It looks promising! I have some copper-penny-water, as well. Is that how you did your copper modification? I’ll do some experimenting before sticking the whole skein in, though! Thanks again!

  16. I added vinegar to one dye bath and it went a lovely purple however when I washed out the vinegar the cotton yarn went grey/blue. I dipped it in a vinegar and water solution and it went purple again. Any idea how I can fix the colour?
    Thanks Kylie

    • The color is pH sensitive. A lot of water and many detergents are alkaline, which would explain the color shift. If you have to wash the yarn again, just add a little vinegar to keep it more acidic or use a pH neutral soap. Hopefully this helps!

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