Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “dyeing of natural causes”

The Fast and the Fugitive: Pokeberry Edition

It is once again time to play…

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OR

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I sandwiched the samples from each of the original pokeberry dyebaths between heavy cardboard and taped it up against a south-facing window for a month.  All yarn is 100% wool mordanted with vinegar only.  Here are the results:

Pokeberry–First Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-25-02 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-24-25 PM

Pokeberry–Second Dyebath (First exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-29 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-05 PM

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-27-47 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-27-35 PM

Pokeberry—Third Dyebath (Second Exhaust):  These are on superwash wool.  Somehow I didn’t test the skein of regular wool from this bath.  Not sure why.

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-29-10 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-28-43 PM

Pokeberry—Cold Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-30-47 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-30-05 PMSo far, I think everything is as should be expected.  We know that pokeberry is not normally lightfast, but that with proper mordanting and dyeweight ratios, can be made more so.   You can see a substantial difference in the lightfastness between the original dyebath and the two exhaust baths.  Here is the good news.  This lightfastness test was conducted in a room in my house lovingly known as The Snug, short for Snuggery, aka the Sun Room.  It is a very tiny little nook of a room made entirely of mullioned windows.  For the purposes of this post, that means that anything in the room gets not only full south-facing sun, but also east and west sun, as well.  The photos you’ve seen so far are of the side of the yarn which had direct south-facing exposure pressed right up on the glass.  The next series of photos are of the back side of the exposed yarn—the side exposed to normal daily levels of ambient light from the east and west windows.  You can just see the outlines of the direct-exposed areas.  It’s like the yarn has tan lines.  Look at this:

First Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-25-17 PM

Second Dyebath (First Exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-42 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-28-01 PM

Third Dyebath (Second Exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-29-23 PM

Pretty cool, huhn?  The first dyebath had almost no fading on the ambient-exposed side of the yarn.  The exhaust baths had very little.  I think this is a good sign that these pokeberry dyed yarns will stand up to regular wear in normal lighting.  I mean, it’s not like anyone is going to be wearing handknit items when the UV levels are crazy high, so I’m not terribly worried about it.  I’m particularly impressed with the cold dye process.  Not only did it dye awesomely, but it was the most lightfast out of the bunch, too.  The back side of the sample was as purple as the covered section.  It was just hard to get a good picture of it.

Next, I’ve got to get lightfastness tests of the raceme dyelots.  Gotta wait for more sun, though.  Until then,

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow DyeTable # 8: Pokeweed Racemes, Take 3

Here is the third and final installment of this first round of pokeweed raceme dye experiments.  I think the racemes are so beautiful.  I’d say “otherworldly”, but it’s hard to think that of anything born out of Missouri Ozark clay and rock.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Pokeweed (phytolacca americana)

Parts used:  The racemes (the part that holds the berries)

Source:  My yard, the Haggencrone’s yard, my friend Debbie’s yard, and the Farm

Yarn:  Mountain Meadow Cody, 100% wool.  I mordanted a little differently this time, opting not to follow any instructions other than those given by the seat of my pants.  I decided to use more vinegar, and pretty much did a 1:3 ratio of white distilled vinegar to water.  The reason for this is that in lieu of using straight acetic acid, I’m hoping the higher acid content will help with the fastness of this dye.  So I soaked 100g of wool yarn in a pot of 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 water.  I heated the pot to 190F and held it there for an hour.  Then I let the yarn sit and cool in the mordant bath overnight.  The starting pH at room temperature was 3.1.  At 188.2F, it was 3.0.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  I only used half of the yarn I mordanted for this particular dyebath, so 50g total.  I’m not sure of the exact amount of racemes.  I didn’t weigh them out, as this was done on a whim.  But I can tell you that when I pulled them all from the bucket, they easily weighed a pound.   I’m sure most of that was the vinegar that they absorbed., so I’m going to say maybe 100g starting weight, and next time I promise to weigh them out.

Extraction:   Chucked the racemes into a bucket and covered them in white distilled vinegar.  Put a plate on top to hold them down.  Left them on their own for a couple months.   As you can see, these didn’t leach out the way the other ones did.  I think had I put much more vinegar in, they would have.  They were pretty compacted in this bucket.

Dyebath:  After the recent success with the cold pokeberry dyebath, I knew that I had to try a cold raceme dyebath, too.  I strained out the racemes through a colander and reserved half of the liquid for the cold dyejar (the other half was used for the hot dyebath).  I added the premordanted yarn and brought the dyejar inside the house, because I was afraid it might freeze and crack if left outside.  I kept it covered with black cloth (actually, just a black shirt—sorry if that is less poetic) to block out the sunlight.  The yarn sat undisturbed for 9 days.

The results?

WOOT!!!  Slam dunk and SCORE!  Cold dyeing with poke is the way to go.

Here is a picture of all 3 pokeweed raceme experiments together:

Fascinating, don’t you think?  That such totally different colours could come from the same plant, the same part of that plant, on the same yarn, and with the same mordant—just because of a difference in the specific dyebath process.  Very cool.  So does anyone want to hazard a guess as to why the cold process put the red on the wool when the heated baths didn’t?  Next I’ll put samples from these 3 up for a lightfastness test.  Will be interesting.  Here’s to curiousity and experimentation!

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow DyeTable # 8: Pokeweed Racemes, Take 2

You have seen the results of the first pokeweed raceme experiment, but that is not all that has been cooking!  Unbeknowst to you, I have been extracting a second bucket of pokeweed racemes!   :D  How cool is that?  Mas racemes.  Pretty fun.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Pokeweed (phytolacca americana)

Parts used:  The racemes (the part that holds the berries)

Source:  My yard, the Haggencrone’s yard, my friend Debbie’s yard, and the Farm

Yarn:  Mountain Meadows Cody, 100% wool.  I mordanted a little differently this time, opting not to follow any instructions other than those given by the seat of my pants.  I decided to use more vinegar than used in the vinegar mordant for the pokeberry dyebaths, and pretty much did a 1:3 ratio of white distilled vinegar to water.  The reason for this is that in lieu of using straight acetic acid, I’m hoping the higher acid content will help with the fastness of this dye.  So I soaked 100g of wool yarn in a pot of 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 water.  I heated the pot to 190F and held it there for an hour.  Then I let the yarn sit and cool in the mordant bath overnight.  The starting pH at room temperature was 3.1.  At 188.2F, it was 3.0.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  I only used half of the yarn I mordanted for this particular dyebath, so 50g total.  I’m not sure of the exact amount of racemes.  I didn’t weigh them out, as this was done on a whim.  But I can tell you that when I pulled them all from the bucket, they easily weighed a pound.  But I’m sure most of that was the vinegar that they absorbed.  I’m going to say maybe 100g starting weight, and next time I promise to weigh them out.

Extraction:   Chucked the racemes into a bucket and covered them in white distilled vinegar.  Put a plate on top to hold them down.  Left them for a couple months.   As you can see, these didn’t leach out the way the other ones did.  I think that had I put more vinegar in, they would have.  They were pretty compacted in this bucket.

Dyebath:  I strained out the racemes and reserved the dye liquor, pouring it into the dyepot.  To this I added the remains of the mordanting bath.  The starting pH of the dyebath was 3.5.  I gently raised the temperature to a window between 175-195F.  At temperature, the pH was 3.2.  I held the bath in this temperature window for 2 hours and then let the yarn cool in the pot overnight.

The results?

Again, unexpected.  This time we had a much higher dyestuff to fiber ratio, but we still didn’t get the red that they dyebath seemed to promise.  Why?  I’m not sure.  I think it could be one of several things.  1)  Perhaps although the bath looks red, there really isn’t enough of that compound in it to dye the yarn?  2)  Although the dyebath never boiled, perhaps it would have preferred to stay under 190F?  Even the next morning, when I took the yarn out, the bath was still full of colour.  It just wasn’t on the yarn.  Will have to play with this more…  Anyway, I think it’s a lovely soft yellow ochre, and I’m sure I’ll find something nice to knit with it.

Here you can see it next to the all-in-one raceme skein from the day before.  I am surprised that the slight difference in dye methods yielded such different tones.  Or was it something inherent in that first batch of racemes collected earlier?  Could it be due to the complete leaching of those first racemes?  I’m not sure.  Two nice colours, I think, though.  I’m eager to see how their lightfastness test turns out…

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow DyeTable # 8: Pokeweed Racemes, Take 1

When I first started gathering the berries of the phytolacca americana, aka the glorious pokeweed plant, I threw the racemes into the compost heap after carefully removing all the precious berries.  Everyone says to just dye with the berries.  But I do so love to figure things out for myself, and besides, just because someone said so isn’t a great reason for doing anything, is it?  So when my curiousity got the better of me (although arguably, it makes me better, so I’ll keep it),  I decided to see if I could extract any colour from the racemes themselves.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Pokeweed, phytolacca americana

Parts used:  The racemes (the part that holds the berries)

Source:  My yard, the Haggencrone’s yard, my friend Debbie’s yard, and the Farm

Yarn:  Mountain Meadows Cody mordanted in vinegar.  I did the mordanting a little differently this time.  I basically mordanted in straight vinegar as part of an all-in-one dyepot.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  To be honest, I have no idea how many grams of racemes I had here.  I’d guess maybe 40g or so.  The hank of wool was 50g.  So, I probably did not get a 1:1 ratio.  But I really wanted to dye the whole hank.  It’s hard sometimes to figure out what to do with all those mini-skeins.  There’s only so much end weaving I can handle, lol.

Extraction:  For this first batch, I put the racemes in pure distilled white vinegar to cover and left them for about 3 weeks.

To my surprise, when I took the racemes out to strain off the liquid (and mostly just to see what was going on in there) I found this:

All of the colour had been leached out of the racemes and magically put into the vinegar.  Pretty damn cool.  Presto change-oh!  And all the colour is in the liquid.

Dyebath:  I decided to do this dyebath as an all-in-one, meaning mordanting and dyeing all in one go.  Why not?  After all, it just requires a vinegar mordant, and the dye liquor is all vinegar… just seemed to make sense.  I didn’t want to have to add any more liquid to the pot, opting to leave it just the vinegar dye extraction.  There was just enough room for the yarn to float around, and since the racemes were totally bleached out already, I did not bother doing a heated extraction with them.  The starting pH of the dyebath was 3.4.

I slowly and gently heated it up to a temperature window of 175-190F.  At a temperature of 188.9F, the pH was 3.1.

I kept the dyebath in this temperature window for an hour, turned off the heat, and let the yarn sleep overnight in the pot.

The results?

Not what I expected at all.  Did you see how red that dyebath was?  And yet the yarn came out this lovely soft peach colour.  It’s ok.  I’m sure I’ll find something peachy to knit with this.  :D  Lesson learned?  Waste not, want not.   Not every dyestuff makes a colour that you’d want to repeat, but to me part of the fun of this great dyeing adventure is exploring all the variables, going down all the roads.  It’s not just about the end result.  Yes, a beautiful skein of yarn is a sweet, sweet bonus, but if that’s all I wanted, I could go buy that at any yarn shop.  That’s not why I’m here, though.  So, I’ll keep my dyestuffs extracting and keep my pots simmering and maybe one day I’ll figure this dyeing thing out.  I’m going to have a lot of fun trying.

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow DyeTable # 7: Lychee LOSE & Walnut WIN

This whole dyeing thing never ceases to amaze me.  Just when I think maybe I’ve figured something out, the dyepot decides to teach me a lesson.

Call me grasshopper.

Back in May when I started the monster avocado pit extraction, I made another little experimental extraction on the side.  One day the kiddos were eating lychees, and I looked over and saw the pile of pits on the plate and a light bulb went off in my head:  if avocado pits can dye things, maybe lychee pits can, too!  So I took the pits and stuck them in a jar and covered them with ammonia and water just like I did for the avocado pits.  And you know what happened?  Let me show you…

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Lychee

Part used:  Pits

Source:  Grocery store/Asian market

Yarn:  Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool mordanted in 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  I used 18 lychee pits, which weighed out to roughly 54g.  The little skein of yarn was around 46g.  So I had slightly better than a 1:1 ratio, bonus points to the dyestuff.

Extraction method:  I left the pits whole and put them in a jar with a 1:1 ratio of water to ammonia.  Started getting colour pretty fast.

This is just on day two.  I added more pits over the next few days.

The extraction went from this clear red to couldn’t-see-through-it brown in under a month:

Total extraction time, approximately 5 months.  I occasionally opened up the jar and shook it up to oxygenate the solution.  I’ve read that it helps other extractions, so I figured why not.  It never molded or got funky.  Just got darker and darker.

Dyebath:  So the pH of the lychee dye liquor was 9.8.  The pH of my tap water is 8.8.  Together they made a pH at room temperature of 9.1.  I didn’t measure out the amount of water since it’s not supposed to effect saturation of the dye, but I’d guess about a gallon to a gallon and a half of tapwater to the one jar (maybe 12 oz) of dye liquor.   I added the yarn and brought it up to a temperature window of 185-200F for an hour.  At this temp, the pH was 6.6.  Isn’t it amazing how much some of these solutions drop when heated?  Maybe it’s not.  I’m not a chemist, so I don’t know why it happens or if it effects the dye results, but I’d like to know.  When I’ve got more time on my hands, I’m going to try to sort this out.  Maybe someone’s done some research on it already…  I did not add the actual pits to the dyebath since the dye liquor was so strong already.

I left the yarn to cool overnight.  Only that turned into 2 nights.  And when I checked on it, I was surprised by the utter lack of saturation of any good colour.  Hmmmm.

So I decided to chop up the lychee pits, toss them in pantyhose and add the to the dyebath.  I reheated the whole shebang again for another hour and left  it overnight to cool one more time.

Results?

Nothing.  Zilch.  Next to no colour at all.  WTH?

Rinsed and awaiting my disapproval.

Lesson learned?  Just because you have a super saturated extraction doesn’t mean it will dye anything.  Maybe I did something wrong?  Maybe some dyestuffs just don’t dye well.  Maybe this would have worked on silk or hemp better than wool?  I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.  I know that this lychee thing can work.  I just have to figure out how…  But listen, we can’t end on a lame bummer dye job.  Besides this wasn’t a total FAIL, because the yarn was pretty much ready to overdye immediately.  So overdye I did.

On to Walnut WIN!

The last time I tried dyeing with walnuts wasn’t so successful.  I didn’t realize that though the nuts and shells will give off colour,  it’s the green hulls that do the real dyeing.  It took a failed dyebatch to learn that lesson.  But learn it I did, and then I waited patiently for a new batch of walnuts to fall.  Every autumn, my Gran asks for help clearing her yard of the millionty walnuts that fall from her neighbor’s tree.  Usually she just chucks them back into her neighbor’s yard (which makes me grin), but this year I was only too happy to help.  I took home two 5 gallon buckets, two 2 gallon bucket, and 3 trash bags full of walnuts.  That’s a lotta nuts.  I made the mistake of setting them outside until I could soak them.  We’ve got very, very ballsy squirrels in the city.  They helped themselves to quite a few of the nuts, tearing right into the trash bags to get them.  So much so, that I finally made a peace offering and emptied the remains of the 3 trash bags under the tree where our squirrel family lives.  I figured, they’ve got to survive the winter.  I just need some dye to play with.  No contest.  I did keep the two 5 gallon buckets and filled them with water.  After the squirrels took all the nuts under the tree—ALL OF THEM—they actually started taking walnuts out of the water in the big buckets.  So I replenished those with what was left in the 2 gallon buckets and then covered them.  I don’t know if it’ll be squirrel proof, what is?  But it seems to have slowed them down.  Enough for me to get one batch of dye, anyway.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Black Walnut (juglans nigra)

Part used:  Green hulls

Source:  The Haggencrone’s yard

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

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  No clue.  I just poured about a gallon of the dye liquor out of the bucket.  Again, it’s about a 46g hank of wool yarn.

Extraction method:  This is a pretty fresh batch of walnut juice.  It’s only been soaking in water for about a week or so.  Doesn’t take long to get good colour of of the hulls.  I’m told, though, that letting it all mold and ferment just makes for richer, darker browns.  It’ll be interesting to see what I get as time goes by.

Could totally do some scrying in this pot.

Dyebath:  The pH of the dyebath at room temp was 6.2.  I heated the dyebath to a temperature window between 185-200F.  The pH at 198F was 5.9.  I held the dyebath in this temperature window for just over an hour and then let the yarn cool in the bath overnight.

The Results?

Mad awesome brown.  Here it is fresh from the dyepot, rinsed and hanging to dry:

And here it is after drying:

This looks a smidge brighter since it’s in full sun.  It’s actually a little darker than this.  I’m really pleased with the results.  I’ll do a lightfastness test, but anticipate that it’ll hold up pretty well.  I opted not to modify with iron, because I really like the colour as is, but I would like to play around with some iron in the dyepot and as an afterdip.  Now I have to figure out what to knit…

Live happy, dye happy!

Dye Day #1 Results: Safflower Petals

Oooh, I was really excited about this one.   A dyestuff that yields two entirely separate colours?  Hell, yeah!  And such pretty colours at that—bright yellow and hot pink.  From flower petals.  It’s so perfect in its beauty and botanical bounty.  Look at the stuff.  Don’t you just want to get your hands in it?

Safflower Petals drying after the yellow dyebath

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Safflower petals, Carthamus tinctorius

Parts used:  Petals

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,  a big 8 oz bag of happy!

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  226g of safflower petals : 160g of fiber.   Yeah, this is one where I think we could have backed of just a little bit—-for reasons that will be made clear in the second part of this post.   A ratio of 1:1 is recommended on this one, and I think that would have worked just fine.  But, as we’d all chipped in for the dyestuffs, it seemed easier to just use it all up than to try to divvy out the remains of 66g to all 8 people (which would only have been 8.25g per person, and who’s going to dye only 8.25g of yarn?)  So, we used it all up.

Extraction method:  We wrapped the petals in a square of muslin, closely tied, and dunked it in a pot of cool water.    We left the petals in for one hour, giving the occasional squeeze to help them release their colour.  I feel it extraordinarily pertinent to say that safflowers are more than happy to give you yellow dye.  They want you to have the yellow dye.   They want your children to have yellow dye.   It just doesn’t stop.  This will be important information later.

Dyebath:  After a final squeeze, we removed the petals and added yarn to the dyebath.   The pH of this dyebath measured 4.8.   The bath was slowly brought up to temperature and simmered for an hour.  The yarn was allowed to cool in the dyebath overnight.

Yellow Safflower Dyebath

See how much colour is in there?  It’s hard to tell with it in the old stainless steel milk pail from the farm (I used to milk goats into that pail at 5:00 in the morning before school), but that yellow dyebath is actually remarkably clear and such a saturated colour.    Safflower hospitality.  Generous flowers.

The results?  Well, they were interesting.  This was one dyebath were the results were very different depending on the yarn and mordant combination.  The first picture is of the skeins drying right after the dyebath.  They’ve been rinsed, but not washed:

Fisherman’s wool unmordanted (left) and mordanted superwash (right) from the first safflower dyebath.

Here they are after being cured, washed, and skeined up:

See how bright the yellow is on the unmordanted Fisherman’s wool?  The mordanted superwash achieved more of a dark goldenrod, almost dijon kind of yellow.   Maybe even more of a stoneground mustard yellow.  It’s important to note that in ALL of the dyebaths, the superwash wool took up a much darker version of the colour than the non-superwash wools, mordanted or not.    Sometimes this meant that the superwash came out of the dyebath with richer colours.  But in this case, although a pretty colour was achieved, it was not the bright yellow that I was hoping for.   This is not something that I’ve seen any dyeing books really talk about or show examples of, although I have heard anectdotes of certain cold dyebaths, like black beans, working better on superwash.    If you want to see even more variety, have a look at my friend Kittyraja’s results.   The skein on the left is superwash.  The bulky on the right is not.  Both are mordanted.   Again, the superwash was darker.   So, lesson learned:  superwash vs non-superwash WILL affect your colours.

Safflower Petals Part 2:    An Epic Saga of Yellow, Yellow and More Yellow

Remember how I said that Safflower Petals are supposed to give you hot pink on the second extraction?  Turns out that was a little trickier than I thought it was going to be. See, the instructions for getting the pink dye imply that it is done merely by changing the pH of the petals—to very basic, and then back to slightly acidic.  And we did this…

Dye Notes:

Extraction attempt number 1:   After squeezing out the petals (which were STILL giving out yellow dye), we put them into a fresh pot of cool water to which we’d added washing soda.  The instructions were to raise the pH to 11, but with the washing soda we were only able to raise it up to 10.2.   We left the petals in this basic solution for an hour.  Then we lowered the pH, as per the instructions, using vinegar.   Two differences from the instructions here:  1)  I only had apple cider vinegar instead of the recommended clear distilled.  2)  We dropped the pH a little low to 5.5 instead of to the recommended 6.0.

No pink dye.

The dyebath was yellow.  A deep, dark yellow.  Hmmmm.  Well, maybe it was the fact that we couldn’t get the basic solution up to 11.  Or maybe it was because of the apple cider vinegar.  So Husband ran to the store and got us some ammonia and some clear vinegar.  And we tried it again.  Because, as you surely must know by now, those petals still had colour in them.

Extraction attempt number 2:   In yet another fresh pot of cool water, we used the ammonia to bump the pH up to 10.9, added the petals, and let them steep for an hour.  Then we used clear distilled vinegar to lower the pH to 5.6.  We did all the things.

No pink dye.

Nope.  This bath was yellow, too.    And I was all like, science FAIL!!!  But waste not, want not.  We dyed with it anyway.   The results?

Here are the skeins drying after the dyebath.  They are rinsed but unwashed:

Mordanted superwash on the left, unmordanted Fisherman’s Wool on the right.

Here they are cured, washed, and skeined up:

Safflower Exhaust Dyebath Results

Warm, buttery yellows on the non-superwash.  No surprise, the superwash was a little darker.  This skein is variegated because I modified part of the skein with vinegar on the second day.  We found that vinegar slightly darkened the colour, ammonia reddened it a bit, iron made it greenish, and lemon brightened the yellow.   Again, you can see more variations on Kittyraja’s Flickr page.  The two on the left are from the first dyebath, and the two on the right are from the second dyebath.  I don’t consider this a total fail, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the hot pink.

So, what happened?  I was stumped at first, but research hound that I am, I think I figured out my mistake—one missed little line in Wild Colour:  rinse the petals until the water runs clear.  This was confirmed on the very excellent blog post by the Barefoot Shepherdess on dyeing with Safflower.   Her work is amazing, and her blog is wonderful to read and to drool over.    Her method also talks about getting most all of the yellow out before moving on to the pink step, however, she leaves her petals in the alkaline solution for 3 hours rather than just 1 hour.    So, I think one of two things was happening here—-either we still had way too much yellow dye in the petals for it to work, or it would have worked had we left them to soak for considerably longer.

The next day, E and I sat and rinsed the rest of the yellow dye out of the petals with a hose.  We saved another bucket full of yellow dye, and the rest we used to water the garden.  It took almost half and hour before those petals kinda sorta ran clear.  Kinda sorta.  As in, THERE WAS STILL YELLOW IN THEM.  But, they looked like the picture in the Barefoot Shepherdess’ blog, so we called it good.  I then dried them (seen in the first picture), because I want to try the pink experiment again.  I’m not sure if it will work after they’ve been dried, but I figure it will be a fun experiment.  :D

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!

The Burrow DyeTable

My yarn hanging to dry after Dye Day #1 at The Burrow DyeTable

There are several reasons why I love natural dyeing.  The first is because dyeing with natural materials allows the dyer to participate in an entire process.  From growing the seeds or harvesting in the wild, to drying and then extracting the dyes, the dyer’s hands have guided each step and created the end result.  There is power in that.  Creative and self-sufficient power.

The second reason why I love natural dyeing is because it forces the dyer to see the world in a new way.  No longer is a hollyhock just a pretty flower, but rather it is a source of gorgeous teal dye.  No longer are oak galls a weird wasp-created arboreal phenomenon, but rather they are a source for tannins used in mordanting cotton. No longer is pee something to flush down the toilet, but rather it is something to save in jars and ferment to create Old Sig indigo dye vats.  Um….  Well, it’s true.  See?  A whole new world of possibilities unfolds before you.

The final reason why I love natural dyeing is because it bridges the gap, in a very satisfying way, between science and art.  Dyeing is all about chemistry and all about variables, and there is always room for experimentation.   The list of variables that affects the outcome is long:  When was the plant harvested?  What part of the plant is used?  Was the plant used fresh or dried?  Was the plant material fermented first?  Was heat applied to extract the dye?  Did the dyebath boil or simmer? How long was the fiber left in the dyebath?  What was the pH of the water?  Was the mineral content high or low?  Was the fiber properly scoured and mordanted? Was a modifier used?  What type of pot was the dyebath in?  The list goes on and on.  It might seem daunting, like there’s no way to get all these things right, but in reality all these variables are chances to play and to be creative.   A natural dyer gets to be a naturalist, a botanist, a chemist, and an artist.  You get to be all the things.

On May 19-20, my friend E and I hosted a natural dyeing workshop for some of our friends.  It was the first time either of us had ever really worked with natural dyes, although we’d both read quite a bit and had been daydreaming about dyeing for ages.  Hosting an informal workshop was the perfect impetus for getting off our asses and getting the dyepots brewing.  It was a total blast, and the results were good.  Below follows the basic process and methodology we used to achieve these colours.   We tried to keep good notes and be at least semi-scientifical about it all.

We used 9 different dyestuffs to create 10 different dyebaths:  alkanet root, eucalyptus pulverulenta, safflower petals, annatto seeds, onion skins, walnut hulls (inner brown hulls, not the green), birch bark, elm bark, and what will forever be known as the stinkyass osage orange FAIL.    Our predominant resource was Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour, but we also supplemented a few areas with tidbits picked up from forums on Ravelry or from other dyer’s notes online.

The format of the workshop was simple.   Everyone came with ten 20g mini-hanks of yarn premordanted with  8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar, and they each brought either a stainless steel or enamel stock pot.    Over the course of the day, we prepared 10 different dyebaths—one in each pot.  Each person then put one of their 20g mini-hanks into each different dyebath.   On day one, we completed the dyebaths, and on day two we played with modifiers.  At the end of the workshop, they took home 10 different colours.

On the whole, the workshop was a total WIN.  We had fun, learned a lot, and got great colours from most of the dyebaths.  It was a pretty adventurous start not only to invite a bunch of people over to dye with, but to attempt 10 different dyebaths in 2 days.   But, I figured that if we could accomplish something that crazy, everyone would go home feeling completely confident in their ability to continue experimenting with natural dyes on their own.  I think we succeeded.

Live happy, dye happy!

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