Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “dyeworks”

At the Burrow DyeTable # Two: A Little Poke in the Night

Oh, my friends, have I been harvesting poke.  I’ve been harvesting poke for weeks.  Over hill, over dale, thorough bush, thorough brier, over park, over pale, thorough flood, thorough fire, I do wander everywhere… collecting all the pokeberries I can find.  Well, not all of them.  I left plenty for the songbirds.  Husband lent a handsome hand, as well, because he is all things good.  Happily, despite the drought this summer, there is many much poke.  It is glorious.

And for what do I gather these succulent little berries that cling in clusters on their pendulous racemes?  For dyeing, of course.  To make that dyer’s alchemy happen—to pull colour from one to put upon another.  Transference.  The dictionary defines alchemy as “any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.”  If turning the often (but wrongly) despised pokeweed into gorgeous dye doesn’t qualify as alchemy, I don’t know what does.  Chemistry, science, botany, magic.  I sing songs of the poke while I play with my temperature probe and pH meter.  All business on the outside, all earthy poetry on the inside.  It’s how I roll.

My friends, E and Hollie, came out to play in the dyeworks last night, bringing yarn and knitting and good company.  We all worked together to mordant our yarn and get the dyebath ready.    We worked well until midnight to perfect our dyepot.  Thanks to Hollie for taking notes.  :D

We used the dye recipe from Rebecca Burgess in the beautiful book Harvesting Color.  She says that this recipe came from dyer Carol Leigh from Columbia, Missouri, who devised a way to make pokeberry dye lightfast.  It is important to note, however, that the instructions for pokeberry dyeing on Carol Leigh’s own website are rather different than what is found in Harvesting Color.  I am not certain as to the reason for the differences—maybe it’s an older set of instructions?  The instructions in Harvesting Color are a bit more user-friendly in that they require less time and use vinegar, which is readily available.  But the instructions on Carol’s site seem more definite in their ability to give lightfastness.  All I know is that now I’m curious to try them both to compare.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Parts used:  The berries

Source:  My yard, the Haggencrone’s yard, a friend’s yard, and the farm

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  We used a ratio of 20:1 berries to wool.  We had approximately 2800-2900g of pokeberries and 150g of wool.  Burgess calls for a 25:1 ratio, but at the end we decided to add just a little more wool because it was sitting there staring at us, just begging to be put in the pot.  Far be it from me to ignore wool.

Yarn:  The yarn that I used was Paradise Fibers 4-ply undyed wool yarn mordanted in vinegar as per the instructions in Harvesting Color.  For 150g of yarn, we used 3/4 c. of distilled white vinegar in enough water to cover the yarn.  The pH of the mordant bath was 3.1, and after we brought it up to temperature (160-180F), we held it within that temperature window for 1 hour.  I won’t say simmered, because it never bubbled.  It was very gentle.  It mostly stayed around 175F.  We also put a piece a ceramic in the pot to hold the yarn up off the bottom so that it wouldn’t scorch or felt.  Dyeing on a campstove with limited controls can be tricky.  It’s a delicate dance of turning on the heat, bringing up the temperature, and then tossing a lid on the pot and turning off the heat to maintain the temperature without it getting to a boil.  Fun times.

Extraction Method:  Since I started collecting berries over a month ago, I had to come up with a way to keep them from molding or going bad before I could use them.  This is one case where drying won’t work.  Apparently, even using the pruned berries off the plants will make your dye go toward brown.  So I only used the plump berries for this bath.  I didn’t have room in my freezer for them either (and I did NOT want them sitting next to the blueberries the kids use for smoothies).  I had to come up with something different.  So, after I picked them, I took them off the racemes, placed them in a jar, and covered them in vinegar.  I figured that since the dyebath requires vinegar anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to preserve the berries in vinegar.  I haven’t heard of anyone else doing this, but it seemed to work just fine.  Better than fine, actually.  (Update 10.5.12:  I’ve been digging around on the natural dyeing forums on Ravelry and found a few references to people saving their pokeberries in vinegar until they need them.  Like minds, and all that.  :D  I’ve also read about some people dyeing with pokeberries in pure vinegar instead of vinegar in water.  I was wondering about this, too, and would like to try it!)

I read about different ways of straining the pokeberries and tiny black seeds out of the extraction bath, but they all sounded kind of like a pain in the ass.  So we filled a leg of pantyhose with the berries and tied it off.  This worked fantastically well.   Kept all of the little seeds and smushed berries out of the yarn. To make filling the hose easier, we took the ring lid of a large Mason jar and threaded the neck of the pantyhose up through and around the ring to hold it open.  That made feeding berries into the pantyhose a piece of cake.  Then we tied off the top of the pantyhose and squeezed the berries to thoroughly mash them.  It looked like something out of a voodoo ritual.

The berry bag, and the residual vinegar from the preserving (about 3 cups), was added to a large stockpot full of water.  We added a bit more vinegar to lower the pH to 3.7.  Burgess says a pH of 3.5 is good for the dyebath, but we couldn’t get the pH to budge despite adding 2 more cups of vinegar.  So we called it good.    At the same time we were heating the mordant bath, we heated the berry extraction bath on the other burner.  We slowly brought this up to the temperature window of 160-180F, and then we held it there for an hour.  No simmering, no bubbles.  Gentle, gentle.

Dyebath:    Since our pantyhose bag worked so well to contain the particulate, we decided to keep the bag of berries in the dyebath, too.  This is a divergence from all the pokeberry recipes I’ve seen, although I’m really not sure why taking the dyestuff out of the bath is recommended.   We didn’t want to risk uneven dyeing due to the yarn resting directly against the bag, and we also wanted to avoid any scorching or felting of the wool from touching the bottom of the pot (this happened to a couple spots on one of my skeins from Dye Day #1).   So I had the idea to put the bag of berries on the bottom of the pot and cover it with an inverted wire mesh colander.  This held the yarn up away from the dyebag and where the heat would be more even.   Seemed to work great.

We held the temperature of the bath between 160-180F for 2 hours.   At temperature, the pH of the dyebath was a perfect 3.5.

After 2 hours, I turned off the heat and put the dyepot to bed, letting the yarn cool in the bath overnight.

The Results…

After a 12 hour sleep overnight in the dyebath , the skeins were removed by hand, and the excess dye was gently squeezed out.  Fresh pokeberries will temporarily stain your skin, but the dye is so water soluble that you don’t even need soap to wash it off.  Dyebath poke, however, after being acidified and stewed, is another matter entirely.  It will stain your hands.  I hope this shift in fastness is a sign of good things to come.  By the way, I’ve read that absorption of poke juice through the skin is a good lymph detoxifier.  Interesting, yes?  I know that poke root works this way, but I’ve only read one reference of it with the dye.  No idea if it’s true, but I suffered no ill effects from having it on my hands so much.

Here is the yarn out of the dyepot but before rinsing.  It is recommended that you leave them to hang in the shade for at least 20 minutes to half a day before rinsing out the excess dye.  My day got away from me, what with ferrying the Chickpeas around town and working on the kitchen floor.  So these hung for 24 hours.

Wowzers, right?  And there is still so much colour left in the dyebath it’s ridiculous.

And here is the yarn rinsed, dried, and reskeined.  You’ll notice little pink flecks in one of the skeins—that is from some resist experiments I did.  I tied off the skein in several places to see what kind of pattern it would make.  I’m pretty happy with this deep, deep plum colour from the first dyebath.

There are more posts to come about the adventures in pokeberry dye.  So many exhaust baths…  And lightfastness tests are underway.  Until then:

Here’s to good friends, good wool, and good plants.

Live happy, dye happy!

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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