Grackle & Sun

Extraction Action

I’ve been working on some extractions over the last month.  Many experiments.  Am too curious and in possession of enough jars to make it happen.  I’m not ready to talk about all the results yet, because I’m still formulating what the next step is for some of these.  Not sure if I’m going to try dyeing with all of them or if I’m going to tweak the pH and see what happens.  Here goes:

Carol Lee of Encampment, Wyoming, is a well-known authority on dyeing with avocados.  She has given tremendously helpful instructions for dyeing with both the pits and the peels on the natural dyeing forums on Ravelry.  In May, I began an extraction of avocado pits as per her instructions.   I chopped up (and admittedly put many in whole—which is not what she says to do) my squeeky-clean pits and put them in a jar filled with water and a very generous glug of ammonia.  I left it out in the sun on the back porch and watched it get darker and darker and darker.  I also kept adding pits to it.   There are now 600g of avocado pits in the jar.  The liquid is so dark that light will not shine through it.  This is a monster vat of avocado dyeing goodness.  I hope.

pH on this bad boy is 9.4

But then with all my brainstorming about solar solutions, I got curious about how avocado pits and peels would extract in other solutions.  I also was curious about how well other types of solutions would prevent an extraction bath from going south, as in stinktastic.  As you all know, I’ve had some bad run-ins with extraction baths this summer, and I just want to know if this is something I must come to accept or if there is indeed a better way.  Since I work in a restaurant that uses an extraordinary amount of avocados, and since we also eat our fair share of them in our house, there’s no shortage of pits and peels in my life.   They seemed like a very logical resource to experiment with.

I decided to test extractions of pits and peels separately in vinegar, alcohol, saline solution, and plain water with essential oils.   I made my own saline solution (hereforth called saltwater) by preparing a standard .9% solution.  This process was made a millionty times more fun because Husband gave me his old stir plate from work so that I could mix things hands-free and pretend that I’m a real scientist like him!  :D

Because both the vinegar and saltwater extractions were the ones I was worried about the most (in terms of how much colour they’d actually pull), I decided to put them into a makeshift solar box to see if some additional heat would help out the extractions.  I measured the temperature every day at 3pm to see what kind of temps I was getting.  On the hottest days (over 100 degrees F outside), the temperature of the solutions hit 106 degrees F.   On not so hot days (in the 90s), the temps ranged between 90F–100F.  I know that if I had a proper solar oven, I could get way better temps than that, but I also know that getting avocado too hot will turn the dye brown, so I erred on the side of overly cautious.  I did later add a layer of glass (by way of old storm window) to help retain the heat better.

The alcohol extraction of both the pits and peels was done in Everclear diluted down to be 50% alcohol by volume.  I kept these jars in a cabinet in the dyeworks mostly so that they did not spontaneously combust.  Not that they would.  It’s just that Everclear bottles have a lot of warnings on them.  Makes you paranoid.  It was also important to me that all of these extractions were done out of UV light.   I did not want to have to wonder if UV was effecting anything.  We’ll play with that next time.  The results after 1 month:

pH 4.5 (even though my tapwater is pH 8.8)

pH 3.4

As you can see, none of these extractions have the depth of colour that the ammonia solution has.  I’m really surprised at how different the extractions vary between pits and peels.  The saltwater is a great example of this.  No colour at all with the pits, but some decent colour out of the peels.  The alcohol extractions have the next best colour.  However, plain water with essential oils has almost no colour to speak of.  BUT it also still smells great.  :D  So that is not a total fail at all.  I mixed up a few drops each of eucalyptus, clove, peppermint, and oregano essential oils.  And while there is a lot of particulate in the jar, there is no funk.  We’ll just tuck that into the back of our minds for extractions in the future, shall we?

The plan now:

Alcohol extraction:  I’m going to chop up the pits and see if this will help extract more out of them.   I will do a sample dye with the peels for sure.  If the pits colour up some more, I’ll dye with them, too.

Vinegar extraction:  The vinegar is pretty blah on all counts.  I’m thinking of boosting the pH to see if it will bring out the reds that avocado is famous for.

Saltwater extraction:  Again, I’m thinking of raising the pH to see if the reds will come out.  But I might try doing this with washing soda instead of ammonia.  Just because.

Essential oil extraction:  Clearly not for dyeing, but I’m going to keep it around to see how long it will keep working…

Did you happen to notice the one notable omission from my experiment?  Totally didn’t put ANY peels in ammonia.  :/  Silly, silly me.

And finally, BONUS EXTRACTION GOODNESS!!!  This is a side project to another main extraction project that is going on right now.

Feast your eyes on this:

It’s like a magic trick!  I will mention that I have NO IDEA if the racemes will actually dye anything whatsoever.  But this colour does look promising…

Live happy, dye happy!

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14 thoughts on “Extraction Action

  1. I didn’t know about avocados! I appreciate how thorough you are about the process – I’m more of a “toss it in and see what happens – or doesn’t” person, so I am benefiting from your scientific mind.
    And I have a bag of pokeberries in the freezer right now! I think I’ll wait and see what you do with yours before I start experimenting…

    • Avocados, under the right conditions, give anywhere from peach to brick red. Who would’ve guessed? You know, normally I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person with most things. I hate following recipes, and my success rate in following knitting patterns is kind of a running joke. I like analyzing data as chaos throws it to me. But for some reason I’m really driven to figure out what makes dyeing tick. This is new territory for me, and I’m happy to have you all along for the adventure.

      As for pokeberries, the excellent dyebook Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess has great instructions for dyeing with pokeberries. She got these instructions from Carol Leigh of Columbia, Missouri (not to be confused with Carol Lee from Encampment, Wyoming—although they’re friends and used to be neighbors, lol). Her instructions are supposed to produce lightfast results. I cannot wait to try it. Just have to find more berries!

      • Such interesting test results…That pokeberry has me really intrigued -I just know there must be pokeberries around here somewhere – just haven’t spotted them-must get my hands on some-Do you think it’s too late in the season?

      • I guess it depends on where you are, but they tend to fruit for quite a bit. I have plants that are finishing up and plants that are just getting started. Definitely worth a look!

      • “I like analyzing data as chaos throws it to me” would be a great quote to have on a T-shirt! :)

        Thanks for the tip on the book!

  2. D Achilleus on said:

    Excellent as usual, love, however your saline is 0.9% – sorry for the late data.

  3. I think I must start eating a lot more avocados, just to get some interesting dyeing materials – I’m glad you’re doing the scientific research for us :-)

    But what is a pokeberry please? Is it something that only grows in the US? Or I wonder if we know it by another name as I have never heard of it before.

    • Pokeberries come from a plant that grows native here (is considered a weed by most)—-aptly called pokeweed (phytolacca americana). From what I’ve read, there are varieties of it in North, South and Central America as well as in Asia. Not certain that you have it where you are unless it is there as an invasive species. Here is the wiki on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytolacca

  4. Love the spirit of experimentation! I havenlt got really good access to avocadoes… not sure whether I have the wherewithal either :-) I am very inmpressed that you do!

    • Thanks! I’m having a blast with this. If I get a moment to divvy up and mordant my yarn, I might get around to some dyeing soon. For now it’s just a mess of things hanging to dry or put up in jars soaking in various solutions. Kind of like a mix between a fantastic apothecary and a witch’s hut. :D

  5. Pingback: Chestnut hulls « Colour Cottage

  6. deedeemallon on said:

    cool stuff happening here! and a reminder (because I used to pull pokeberry up at my neighboring elementary school) – the berries are poisonous.

    Who knew about avocados? On an unrelated note, one of my favorite Christmas gifts last year was a forest of avocados grown from pits by my sister.

    • Thanks! Yes, the pokeberries, like many dyeplants, are poisonous. It’s a good reminder to have careful and safe dyeing practices.
      What a great gift! I used to have two avocado trees that I started from the pits. I loved those trees. But they were in clay pots, and one summer they got too hot on the porch—baked their roots in the pots. No more avocado trees. I’ve never been able to get them started again.

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