Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Adventures With Natural Dyes

I have had a Natural Dye Sampler Kit from Hillcreek Fiber Studio for forever now. What I needed was a chunk of time when I could take over the kitchen for a while without having to worry about the other members of the family starving.

With Larry and David away on their adventure it seems like the perfect time to jump in. The kit comes with dyestuff for six different colors and some basic and safe to use mordants that help the dye bind to the wool.

I’ll share what I come up with over my next few posts. The kit came with a very clearly written instruction sheet. I’m supplementing that information with some tips gleaned from Trudy Van Stralen’s book “Indigo Madder and Marigold”.

The instructions noted that the dyestuff included would be enough to dye three pounds of wool -and more if you want in lighter colors using the exhausted dye baths. I started with three pounds of locally grown Shetland processed into roving up the road at Zielinger’s. I washed the roving to be sure it was free of any grease. Ater it was dry I stared spinning with the goal to have a small skein finished for each color. I wanted to try to dye both a finished skein and loose roving in the same dye pot. Organizing this was a little tricky because I didn’t want everything to get all tangled in the pot. So I fashioned some bags with cheesecloth and tied the ends closed with the finished yarn inside.

The next step is mordanting the wool – preparing it to take the dye well. This kit uses alum and cream of tartar dissolved in the pot with water to cover your wool. Presoaked wool is added then simmered for an hour. The wool can be dried and stored for future use or held damp and dyed right away. I was thankful that I noticed not all the wool should be mordanted in the same way. The Van Stralen book has some alternatives that I decided to try. With all this soaking, and heating up, and cooling down I decided to just focus on one color a day, reading ahead because many of the dyestuffs benefit from some kind of overnight soaking to really bring out the color.

First Up- Brazilwood

Botanical illustration from -Natürliche Pflanzenfamilien. Vol. III, 3. Paul Hermann Wilhelm Taubert (1862-1897)

I found it really interesting that the word brazil comes from the Spanish brasa, meaning glowing embers, and the country of Brazil was named after the wood found there. A dyestuff that would yield red/purple was a valuable commodity in the age of discovery and it seems there was quite a bit of competition between the Portuguese and the French to corner the market. Traditionally the wood is valued for making bows as well.

I used Van Stralen’s advice to air and soak the chips in some alcohol. I spread them in a pyrex baking dish to sit overnight. In the morning you could see that the dye was being activated. The chips were glossy looking and a deep rusty orange color.

I sewed up a muslin bag to put the chips in.(some chips did escape my bag- Van Stralen suggest using nylons) I debated about adding the liquid in the dish to the pot- knowing it was alcohol. Decided against it. After putting chips into the bag I headed outside to rinse the dish and as soon as the water hit the dye it turned an amazing strawberry/rhubarb color. It really was quite magical.

Once in the big pot simmering, the color shifted to a more grapey  shade.I let the dye bath cool for one hour before adding damp wool as not to shock it. After a one hour simmer at 180 degrees  I let the wool sit in the pot to cool down. Then removed the wool- sqeezed out the dye and placed the wool on a sheet laying in the yard to dry. Rinsing and washing was the next day in order for the dye to really set.

Trying something mentioned in the Van Stralen book I put some Wensleydale to soak- then l reboiled chips in the bag for an hour – cooled- added soaked wool and mordant to the pot in one step – more water as necessary and simmer. The color from the second bath was more of a cinnamon brown/ light rusty brown.(note the Wensleydale fleece was a yellow/cream to start- not the cream/white of the Shetland) My finished skein results from the Brazilwood- a pink/purple- perhaps fushia.

 Next Up Cochineal!

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