Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “annatto”

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!

Dye Day #1 Results: Annatto Seeds

Some dyestuffs are so easy to dye with, and so generous in the dyebath, that they are very nearly foolproof.  Annatto seeds fall into this category.  It would be impossible to not dye your yarn successfully with annatto seeds… or your clothes, or your hands, or anything else they come into contact with.

Annatto seeds drying after dyebath. I think I can get a lot more colour out of them…

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Annatto

Parts used:  Seeds

Source:  Hillcreek Fiber Studio

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

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  226g of annatto to 160g of fiber.  In retrospect, folks, this was too much.  Jenny Dean recommends a 0.5: 1 ratio of annatto to fiber, but since we all did this cooperatively (and paid cooperatively), I didn’t want to have to fuss over divvying out exact amounts of the unused annatto to everyone—especially since it would have been so little per person.  Now I know that one single seed of annatto is enough to dye your whole stash, and that sending everyone home with something like 8g of seeds would have been more than enough to dye an actual quantity of yarn.  For realz.  It’s muy potente.

Extraction method:  I soaked all 226g of seeds in water overnight.  On Dye Day, we put them into pantyhose, tied them off and did an extraction bath by simmering them with a teaspoon of washing soda for 1 hour.  Some recipes recommend crushing or blending the seeds to get more colour.  If, by some miracle, you have a hard time getting colour out of these seeds, then you can try it.  But we got plenty without doing that.

Dyebath:  We chose to do a cold dyebath, and so the yarn was soaked in the dyebath overnight.   The pH of our dyebath was 8.3, which is interesting to me, because my tapwater is pH 8.8 and we added a teaspoon of washing soda to the extraction, which should have further bumped up the pH.  I’d like to measure the pH of the annatto seeds in the water before the soda.   I will add two bits of additional information here.  Bit number 1)  we left the pantyhose bag of seeds in the dyebath.  The yarn that came into contact with this bag dyed darker than the yarn just floating in solution.  Great technique if you want variegation, not so much if you want a smooth solid tone.  Bit number 2)  even though we used whole seeds tied off in pantyhose (ie, a very fine mesh), we still got an awful lot of particulate from the seeds on our yarn.  This has proven quite difficult to get off the yarn even with multiple washings.   Next time I will take greater care to rinse the seeds really well before using them.  Maybe that will help.

The results?  A red-orange that we all dubbed “tomato soup”, which is pretty much what the dyebath looked like, too.

Tomato soup yarn

My Fisherman’s Wool came out really variegated, as you can see on the right.  I think part of the skein was pushed right up against the bag.  The superwash took much more of a burnt orange, whereas the unmordanted non-superwash took more orange-red.  Here it is unskeined:

Drying after the dyebath. Orange!!!

And, as always, for comparison are my friend Kittyraja’s skeins of awesomeness:

This is a great photo, as it clearly shows how kickass that orange is! (I might add that her boyfriend has a sweet, sweet camera—am just a teeny-tiny bit wishing that IT WAS MINE! Mwahahahahaha!) Uh… I’ll stop the camera envy now.  :)

The left is superwash, the right is not.  Both are mordanted the same as mine were.  Infinite variety of the dyepot, right?

Modifiers and other notes:  Ammonia after-dips seemed to brighten the orange, whereas iron, of course, darkened it.  Several people mentioned, after taking their skeins home, that they had a lot of problems with crocking.  I’m not sure what methods they used to rinse their yarn to get any excess dye out before knitting with it.  I will say that my skeins had minimal if any crocking.  I let my skeins hang and cure in the sun for a week before rinsing, and then I triple rinsed them in Eucalan because so much excess dye came out (remember how I said I won’t use that ratio again?).  I think both of these factors made a big difference.

Finally, I had a skein of Fisherman’s Wool, unmordanted, which I dyed with walnut somewhat successfully.  I say somewhat, because the colour came out exactly what the book said it would—sort of a “walnut creme”, which is to say a creamy tan colour.  However, since the battle cry of Dye Day #1 was “NO TAN!!!!!!!”, I decided to overdye this skein.  And since I can never leave well enough alone, I also decided to see what the annatto exhaust would do if I dropped the pH substantially—to 4.0.  I put my skein in this new exhaust bath in a jar on the back porch.  I’m calling this a semi-solar dyebath.  I took it out after 24 hours:

Still kinda tan, albeit a slightly orangier tan.

All in name of semi-scientificalness.  Lol.

Live happy, dye happy!

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