Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “walnut”

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.


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!

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: Barking up the Wrong Tree, or the Semi-FAIL of Walnut and Birch

Not all was a righteous success on Dye Day #1, but lessons were learned on all fronts.  Two such cases were with walnut and birch.  We’ll start with walnut.  This, by all counts, should have been a cakewalk.  Walnuts stain very easily, but getting that colour to stick to wool proved more difficult.  Let’s see why.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Walnuts

Parts used:  Hulls and bark.  IMPORTANT NOTE!  I always thought that a walnut hull was the brown part that directly encases the nut.  Silly me, that’s apparently not the case.  The hull is the green part that wraps around the whole shebang.  The hard brown casing is just the shell.  Why is this important?  Because the bulk of the dye is in the green hull—not so much in the shell.  Oh, you’ll get a very dark, dark extraction—it just won’t be potent enough to stick to the yarn.  Or so I learned.

Source:  Martha the basketweaver

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

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  The recommended minimum ratio is 0.5 : 1.  But as I did not prep this bucket, I have no idea how much was in there.  A fair amount of bark was soaked by Martha for an unspecified number of months.  When I got the bucket, the liquid was black, but not stinky at all.  I added to it a bag of whole walnut shells, meaning the nuts were still in the shells, but there were no hulls.  I soaked all of this together in a warm spot on the back porch for 2 weeks. The total amount of yarn used for this pot was 160g.

Extraction method:  I strained the bucket through a colander and coffee filter and reserved the dye liquid.  I measured out 166g of the soaked walnut shells and tied them off into some pantyhose and added that to the liquid.  This was gently simmered together for 1 hour.

Dyebath:  Yarn was then added the pot, and the dyebath was simmered for another hour.  Everything was left to cool in the pot overnight.  The pH of the dyebath was 6.7.

The results?  When we first pulled the skeins out of the dyebath, we thought we’d nailed it.  And then we watched in horror as the dye liquid dripped back into the pot and all the colour leached out of the yarn , leaving it cream or tan again.  In the end, the results were ok on superwash, not so much on non-superwash.  Unmordanted was a total FAIL.  On the Fisherman’s Wool, I ended up with what I dubbed as ‘walnut creme’, by which I mean a slightly darker cream colour than what I started with.  No photo, as I immediately overdyed it in another dyepot so it wouldn’t stare at me banefully from my stash, a reminder of my failure.  The superwash was slightly better.  I got brown, but not delicious brown.

Walnut on mordanted superwash; iron modifier

Modifiers:  The after-dip in an iron modifier helped to darken the yarn significantly, but it took out any red tones that were originally in the colour.  I’ve heard that some people will just add the iron to the dyebath from the get-go, but I wonder if that ultimately effects the yarn, as too much iron can make it brittle.  It is also possible to continue to overdye the yarn until you get the depth of colour that you desire.

Below is an example of the overdyeing and modifying as done by my friend Kittyraja:

Superwash on the left, regular wool on the right. Both alum mordanted.

She says, “The bulky yarn on the right was also treated overnight in more walnut dye and an iron modifier, which helped to darken it some.”  The superwash appears as-is from the dyebath.  I like that the bulky yarn essentially turned greyish.

Lessons learned?   I wonder if the bark in the extraction had anything to do with these results?  Maybe.  Next time, it’s nothin’ but hulls, baby.  I’d like to get good colour without having to use an iron modifier.  I will definitely mordant my wool and after the hot dyebath, maybe let the yarn sit in the pot for an extra day or two.  Or three.

On to birch.  Oh, I had hopes for this one.  Wild Colour says that it’s possible to get a kind of mauvey colour from birch bark.  Definitely in the light pinky-purpley range.  As that would have been a totally different colour on our palette for the day, I was really hoping that this one would turn out.  I followed ALL THE STEPS, people.  Which is not like me, as my curiousity to randomly follow other paths gets the better of me on most days.  But I did good here.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Birch

Parts used:  Bark

Source:  also Martha the basketweaver

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

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  1:1 is the recommended minimum amount for results.  I used more of a 2.5 : 1.  The total amount of yarn in the dyepot was 160g.

Extraction method:  Martha send over birch bark scraps that she couldn’t weave with.  Who needs ratios?  I decided to soak the whole kit and ask questions later.  So, 394g of birch bark was broken into small pieces and then soaked in a covered bucket of cool water for 2 weeks.  The bucket was then strained through a colander and coffee filter and the dye liquid reserved.  166g of bark were kept out and tied off into panythose and added to the dye liquid for a hot extraction.  This was simmered very, very gently for 1 hour.

Dyebath:  160g of yarn was added to the dyebath for a cold, overnight soak.  The pH of the dyebath was 6.3.  It is said that if you boil this dyebath, you will hate your life.   Boiling is bad news for bark.   It is also said that this dyestuff is suitable for a cold dyebath, but I’m doubting that now.

The results?  So unremarkable, friends, that I don’t even have any pictures of mine.  It pretty much did not dye at all.  For anybody.  Not on superwash.  Not on wool.  Not mordanted.  Not unmordanted.  Not with a fox.  Not in a box.  Zilch.  Nada.  Goose egg.  The upside of this?  Our yarn emerged from the dyepot so pristine that it was ready to immediately overdye a different colour—which is what all of us did.  Lol.  So at least our yarn wasn’t trashed.  That would have been sad.

Modifiers:  Kittyraja had fun playing with modifiers on her skeins of birch (not)dyed yarn.  She also painted them with some alkanet.  They turned out pretty cool:

Kittyraja says, “Birch Bark. Didn’t do a damn thing to my yarn. But, the finished product ended up being one of my FAVES. I modded it with iron and spot-dyed with some leftover alkanet dye, which gave it the pale purple bits. I like it.”

Lessons learned?  I dunno.  The only thing that I can think of is to try a heated dyebath and then go from there.  I didn’t read of birch having pH issues, but maybe that was it.  The one thing we do know is that it wasn’t for lack of dyestuff.  We had more than enough to yield colour.  Maybe it was a species issue?  Could be.  There are lots of different Betulas, and I have no way of knowing what type I had.  I would say that I prolly wouldn’t try this one again, but I feel it’s a challenge now to get this one right.  Has anybody had success with birch bark?

Live happy, dye happy!

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