Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “alkanet”

The Fast and the Fugitive

It’s time to play…


It’s all fun and games until your colours fade away.   When we talk about dyes, we often refer to them in one of two ways:  substantive or adjective.  A substantive dye is one that does not need a mordant to adhere to the fiber.  It is capable of bonding directly to the fiber on its own.  An adjective dye does not bond to the fiber on its own and requires a mordant to help the dye adhere in a lasting manner.  We also use a few other terms when talking about dyes—like fast and fugitive.  A dye that is fast means that it has staying power.  A dye that is fugitive means that it’s going to run for the hills–ie, is going to fade in some manner and make you weep tears of woe for all your hard work wasted.  This fading can happen by washing, wearing, or being exposed to light—the latter being one of the more common ways for a dye to fade.   From what I’ve read, there are very few substantive natural dyes.   The majority require you to add a mordant to your dyeing process to help not only bond the dye to the wool, but also to help a fugitive dye become more wash- or lightfast.  It is recommended that one perform a lightfastness test on naturally dyed yarn to determine whether or not you’ve achieved a relatively stable dye.  This is also recommended to test for fastness anytime you experiment with a new process or dyestuff.  It lets you see firsthand if it worked.

Following are the results from the lightfastness test I conducted on the dyes used for Dye Day #1.  It is very important to note:  This is the unmordanted yarn that I used as a control.  I repeat, this yarn is unmordanted!   I wanted to see how fast these dyes were on their own.  To my knowledge, with a mordant such as alum, these dyes are all quite lightfast.  The lightfastness test was conducted for exactly 1 month, from June 23 to July 23.  Swatches of each yarn were collected, and half was tucked between several sheets of dark construction paper, while the other half was left exposed to full sunlight outside.  Here goes:

As you can see, the majority of the swatches demonstrate a study in lightfastness FAIL.  A few, like the elm and onion, only faded a little bit.  The alkanet faded more than I expected, but given how super unexpectedly dark it dyed to begin with, it’s really faded to closer to the colour I thought it was going to dye anyway.  Particularly low scores go to safflower and eucalyptus.  They surprised me.  And the TOTAL FAIL! of the lightfastness test goes to… annatto seed.  Whoa, nelly!  For something that was so willing to dye everything in sight, it sure did fade fast.  The annatto was gone by week 2.  Some of these dyes, like the eucalyptus, are said to be substantive, and I think that perhaps under normal circumstances it would not have faded so much.  We’ve had crazy high UV days here this summer, such that it would test the lightfastness of dirt, I think.   I suspect that if this test were conducted at a different time of year, the onion, alkanet, elm, and eucalyptus would have faired much better.  Just conjecture, but I think a safe assessment.   As always, I’d love to hear about your results with natural dyeing.

Live happy, dye happy!

Results from Dye Day #1: Alkanet Root

So, let’s break it down by dyestuff.   We’ll start with Alkanet Root—the biggest surprise of Dye Day.

Dried Alkanet Root, post-dyebath

Although the primary source of our information on how to dye with Alkanet Root was from Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour, I did get some very helpful advice from Carol Lee on Ravelry.  Carol Lee is a font of wisdom regarding natural dyeing.  I’ve learned a lot just by reading her posts on Ravelry.  But, she was kind enough to give further advice by email, as well.   With this said, let’s dive in to the methodology!

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Alkanet,  Alkanna tinctoria

Parts used:  Roots, dried

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

Source:   Hillcreek Fiber Studio.   The roots are a wonderful deep purple with a reddish cast.  I was surprised by how light and almost papery they are.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:   226g of alkanet : 160g wool yarn.   This ratio is higher than the 1:1 recommended in Wild Colour.  I chose to up the grammage on this one for a couple reasons.  First, the 1:1 ratio frequently given is a basic amount that should give good dye results.  However, Carol Lee says that she more commonly uses a 2:1 ratio for many dyestuffs to get better, more saturated colours.   I bought an 8oz bag of alkanet, which is 226 grams.   This made it 66g more than a 1:1 ratio and  94g less than a 2:1 ratio.   I figured, we might as well chuck it all in and ask questions later.   Finally, I knew that in addition to the 160g of yarn we were dyeing,  I was going to dye and unknown quantity of cane as a favour to my basketweaver friend, Martha.   I wanted to make sure that there was enough dye in the dyebath to cover this experiment, as well.

Extraction method:    This is where cross-referencing multiple sources really came in handy.   The recipe given in Wild Colour is for a water extraction.  She does, however, talk about alcohol extractions more on her website.  However, it was Carol Lee who recommended soaking alkanet first in alcohol—specifically Everclear or a grain alcohol over 90 proof.    She says that this is the best way to get the Alkanet to readily release its colour.

I soaked all 226g (8oz) of the dried Alkanet Root in 750ml of Everclear overnight.  Important note:  Whoa is this flammable!   I kept it covered and away from anything that would even look at it sideways.  Cautious, that’s me.    But wow, did that release a lot of colour.  It was a deep, deep burgundy purple.

Dyebath:  The next day, we strained off the dyed liquor into a large stockpot.  We then put all the bits of Alkanet Root into some pantyhose, tied it off, and added it to the dyebath.   Wild Colour notes that Alkanet Root is sensitive to both the pH and the minerality of the water used in the dyebath.   My tap water has a pH of 8.8 (as measured by my trusty pH-o-meter) and a lot of minerals.  Because of this, we decided to use distilled water for the dyebath.  Unbeknownst to us, we accidentally bought distilled water “with added minerals”.  Oops.  Lol.    Not sure if that had anything to do with our results or not.  In any case, we added about 2 to 2.5 gallons to the dyebath.   We tested the pH, and got a reading of 5.5, so we added a little sprinkle of washing soda (also bought at Hillcreek) to the dyebath to bring up the pH.  This INSTANTLY changed the colour of the dyebath.  Before it was a dark purple with more greyish undertones, and the washing soda made it redden and deepen a bit.  It was pretty cool.   We retested the pH, and had a reading of 6.9.

At this point, we added our yarn.  Everyone came with different brands and weights of yarn, both superwash and non-superwash, but my Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool was the only unmordanted yarn in the bunch.  I wanted a control of sorts.  In retrospect, I would have left some superwash unmordanted, as well.  I was really amazed how differently superwash wool took up the colour vs non-superwash wool.  In the future, I’ll dye both kinds mordanted and unmordanted to see the results.

The dyebath was slooooowly brought up to temperature and then simmered for an hour.  The yarn was then allowed to cool in the dyebath overnight.  In the future, I’d like to get a thermometer to more accurately measure temperature in these dyeing experiments.  The only thermometer I had this time is our beer-brewing thermometer, and that could not be sacrificed to the cause.

The results?

Superwash and non-superwash wools dyed with Alkanet Root

Purple-black what???  Not what I expected at all, but I’m very pleased with it.  My only regret is that somehow in the process, one of the knots on the superwash hank slipped and tightened, creating a very distinct resist on the yarn.  No colour got through on those spots.  It was a good lesson in how effective that method can be in creating resist patterns on yarn in the dyepot.   I’d be curious to hear from anyone who has also gotten this dark of a colour from Alkanet Root or if anyone more versed in natural dyeing can explain why we got this colour.

Dye Experiment Aside:

One of our dyebaths on Dye Day #1 didn’t work really at all.  This was the birch bark dyebath.  I would call it a total FAIL except that by not even imparting any colour, we were left with skeins that could be modified guilt-free.

I decided to overdye my superwash skein of birch bark un-dyed yarn in the exhaust from the Alkanet dyebath.  I also decided to see what would happen if I made the pH acidic.  So I used distilled vinegar and dropped it down to 3.9.  The colour of the dyebath didn’t really change much.  I added my yarn to the dyebath and simmered it for an hour.   Results?   I got a slightly purple-ish undertoned brown:

Birch bark superwash overdyed with acidic Alkanet dyebath exhaust

This was a surprise both because the “exhaust” bath really was not at all exhausted.  There was still a ton of colour in there.  Also because the bath was in fact purple.  I’m not sure if this is a result of dropping the pH so low or of a reaction with the colour over the birch bark.  Probably some combination of both.  But, as brown is my favorite colour (followed closely by orange and turquoise), I am fine with the results.

Live happy, dye happy!

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