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Posts Tagged ‘alum’

This weekend, I met up with my friend Tiffany to give her a brief introduction into natural dyeing. Since it was the following weekend after the mushroom dye workshop, I was excited to put some of the new things I learned into practice!

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Here’s my impromptu dyeing setup in the backyard: table chairs and stove! I dream of the day when I can have my own dye workshop …

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First new thing I tried different than in the past – little tests of yarn! Here Tiffany is tying small bundles. Since it is between seasons here, we didn’t really have any good plants to collect, so we used plants from our kitchen! We tried dyeing avocado skins and red cabbage leaves.

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The other new technique I tried was the double boiler! I really like the way it allowed to do multiple colors at the same time. Controlling temperature was also easier, as the jars never went up to a rolling boil. However, I should have taken the time to see how hot they did get. Next time!

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Avocado skins on the left, cabbage on the right.

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The avocado skins came out a simple tan color (alum mordant). Lovely!

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The red cabbage we did a neat experiment with! All three little skeins were mordanted with alum. After pulling all three out of the dye and rinsing them, we left one with only the alum mordant. The other two we played around with the pH. One was dipped in a vinegar bath and simmered for five minutes, and the other soda ash. The vinegar was supposed to turn it more red, and the soda ash green.

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The word supposed to is never good to use! When we first dropped the yarn into the soda ash, it did turn a pretty green. But then after leaving it for five minutes, the color changed to the muted yellow. Above, you can see a little green on the yarn when rinsing one skein touched the soda ash skein. Next time we should try pulling it out sooner! Above is also the vinegar on the left and the no change on the right. I don’t see any¬†difference in their color, do you?

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A very fun experiment for a Sunday afternoon. Can’t wait for spring and summer to collect more dyestuff and to continue to¬†play!

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Saturday morning, Lesley, Becca and I hopped on our bikes and rode down to the Owens River to harvest rabbit brush.

We quickly noticed that there were a lot of bees, all going for the same flowers we were! This made for slow work, but luckily no one got stung.

Some bushes had larger flowers than others, and we gravitated towards those, which filled our buckets quicker. We harvested from one bush and then moved onto another, covering a pretty large area, but there was no end to the rabbit brush!

After almost an hour of collecting, we had ten pounds of rabbit brush, which would dye about three pounds of yarn and fabric. Yikes!

We loaded the flowers into my bike trailer, and pedaled home.

Then the boiling began. First, we mordanted the yarn and fabric in alum, and rinsed it prior to dyeing.

Next we boiled the rabbit brush for an hour. I started to get excited when the stirring spoon started to get yellow! After boiling for an hour, we removed the flowers to make room in the dye pots for the fiber.

The second the yarn was placed in the water, it started to turn yellow!

Then we simmered the fiber and dye together for another hour. With great anticipation, we removed the dyed fibers from the dye pot to much oohing and aahing, and rinsed before hanging to dry.

Some rabbit brush flowers still stuck to the yarn!

Just look at the color. So brilliant and happy.

The work went quickly with three of us working to rinse and hang the fibers to dry.

The finished product: nine hanks of yarn and two yards of fabric. Note the color difference, the cotton not taking up the color as brilliantly as the wool.

What would you do with yarn of this brilliant nature?

Learn to knit a sweater of course! More on that coming soon.

What’s next? Maybe dyeing with pear bark from Lesley’s tree?

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Here are the results from my natural dying with lupine and iris:

The lupine fabric is above, it dyed a slightly darker green, with the iris fabric below, dying a very pale pale pale green. You almost have to squint your eyes and imagine it to see it.

So what happened? Here are a few of my thoughts, and I can’t wait for another free day to get back to my dye pots and experiment some more.

1. Cotton is harder to dye than wool.

Cotton is a cellulose- or plant-based fiber, along with linen and hemp. The recipe I was following called for wool, which is a protein-based fiber, along with silk, alpaca, angora, cashmere, etc. Different fibers take on the dye molecules in different ways, wool, often resulting in brighter colors than cotton.

2. I skipped the tannin mordant step.

Almost every book I have recommends that when dyeing cotton, first mordant it in alum, and then mordant it in a tannin bath (think oak tree acorns!). I skipped this step, and is perhaps why I had less brilliant results. This is definitely something to try next time, as I am a quilter I will want to continue to dye with cotton!

3. Recipes vary.

I have been surprised at the great variation in recipes. One book will say simmer for 30 minutes, let sit overnight, another book will say simmer for an hour, sit overnight, simmer again for an hour the next day . . . Kind of like cooking, there can be many different ways to come out with the same result.

I followed the recipe in my Nature’s Colors, by Ida Grae book, which has you boiling the fabric with the plant matter for 30 minutes, let sit overnight, and rinse. Many of the recipes in the Harvesting Color book, have you boil the plant matter for an hour, let sit overnight, boil again for an hour, then put in the fabric and simmer. Then rinse. The book explains this is to fully extract all the color possible from the plants. Especially as I am working with cotton, this might be something to try, since the fabric won’t be taking up color as easily as wool.

4. Maybe cotton had nothing to do with it at all, and iris and lupine just don’t dye good colors.

Did I harvest the plants too late in the spring? Do wild iris produce lighter colors than cultivated iris? There are so many variables. My good friend Lesley who is also a phenomenal knitter is also interested in dyeing her yarn from natural fibers. Next time we are going to dye the cotton and wool at the same time, to get a sense of what color variation there is between the two.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt, which puts into perspective the challenges of dying cotton:

Secrets of the Masters

From about 1660 onward, when the cotton chintz craze began to sweep across central and northern Europe, textile printers felt pressured to duplicate the permanent, colorful designs of Indian imports, though they had neither the training nor the practical experience to do so. India’s master dyers had known for centuries – thousands of years, more accurately – that intense vegetable dyes will not penetrate into waxy cellulose cotton; they scatter on the surface and run. Not only did the masters have to find a way to treat raw cotton cloth to make it receptive to color, they also needed to make the dyes permeate the fibers to achieve colorfastness. Through trial and error, Indian artisans developed primitive but effective methods to do both, and they were not about to share their hard-won knowledge with foreigners. This secret wisdom, assiduously guarded, was passed from one generation to the next. It owed its science to bonding through molecular chemistry, but of course the ancient Indians knew only that they could trust the urine of goats and other barnyard animals to get the job done.”

from Big Cotton, how a humble fiber created fortunes, wrecked civilizations, and put America on the map, by Stephen Yafa

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I woke up yesterday morning with a hankering to go outside, and to dye fabric. A quick look through my Nature’s Colors book, revealed that Wild Iris dyes fabric a deep purple and Bush Lupine a vibrant green. We took a look at the map, found a high elevation meadow down a four wheel drive dirt road, and took off for a morning adventure.

Sure enough, we found cattle grazing in the meadow, and lots of wild iris. I went to collecting them (they are poisonous to cows, so I didn’t think the rancher would mind), and soon had a bag full. Next was lupine, and we found just enough at about 8,000 feet that hadn’t gone to seed already, along the road side.

Beautiful shooting star in the meadows with the wild iris. What a magenta color!

Back home, I weighed my plant matter. 20 ounces of iris and 6 ounces of lupin. The recipe called for a ratio of 6:1, so I could dye 3 ounces of fabric with the iris and 1 ounce of fabric with the lupin. It takes a lot of plant matter to dye a little piece of fabric!

Weighing the plant matter.

The iris recipe called for the flower heads to soak in water several hours before boiling.

Meanwhile, I per-mordanted my fibers with alum, the most environmentally friendly of the mordants, and least toxic to humans and the world. After an hour of simmering, I rinsed out the fabric, and prepared the pot for lupines.

Into the pot went the pre-mordanted fabric, the lupin, and just enough water to cover it all. This simmered for an hour, and then was left to sit overnight in its juices.

By now, the iris had been soaking for several hours. I added the pre-mordanted fabric to the pot, and simmered them for one hour. This was also left to sit overnight. Now it is the next morning, and I am headed out to the back yard to take a look. Will be back with pictures once the fabric drys!

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Day 2 began with rinsing the fabric from the two pots of alum and tannin mordants that sat overnight. I lay a plastic drop cloth in the bathroom floor, opened the window, and proceeded to rinse and rinse and rinse. All waste water went down the drain (remember the mordant part is the messy chemical part).

Then it was time to dye! I did my calculations, for every 100 grams of fabric . . . Dissolved the dye powder in water, and brought the dye bath and fabric to boiling. I then reduced the heat and let simmer at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.

Multiple trips to the pot to stir and check the temperature.

I chose to dye with two plants, that I purchased in powder form from the internet: madder and logwood.

Madder is a perennial plant that has been used as a dye for over 5,000 years. The dye doesn't come from the leaves but from the root of the plant.

Logwood is a tropical hardwood in the legume family.

Madder dyes a red color, and logwood a purple color.

Stirring the dye bath as fabric turns red from madder.

And, after much boiling, simmering, and rinsing, the final product! With one dye bath, you can produce many colors depending on the different mordants used. From left to right: 1 – Logwood dye with tannin mordant, 2- Logwood dye with alum mordant, 3 – Madder dye with tannin mordant, and 4 – Madder dye with alum mordant.

Four lovely colors.

What’s next? I am going to test their color fastness. I also am going to try a third mordant, which is more involved, alum-tannin-alum mordant. I am on the tannin step. We’ll have to compare how the color comes out different. I’d also like to try collecting some plant stuffs myself, and creating my own dye colors. Maybe collecting dye stuffs locally, creating a color pallette specific to our region.

For this first experiment, I followed the instructions in “The Craft of Natural Dyeing” by Jenny Dean. Anyone else have a favorite dye book? I’d be curious to try other methods or to read more.

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This weekend I decided to dive into the world of natural dyeing. It is a long process, with a lot of measuring, boiling, and rinsing. The fabric needs to soak in the mordant bath overnight, so it is at least a two day process.

Day 1 began with scouring and mordanting.

It was 36 degrees outside at 11am when I brought the fabric out to scour. As you can imagine, it took a long time to reach boiling temperature!

Scouring is the process to get the fabric completely clean. After weighing the fabric dry (to calculate how much mordant I need later), I immersed the fabric in water with soda ash and laundry detergent, and boiled for 45 minutes. Then rinsed.

Stirring the fabric into the soda wash bath to boil. I set up a stove outside to have better ventilation during the mordanting process.

Mordants are substances that are used to fix dye to the fabric. Alum (aluminum sulphate) is the most common mordant used for cotton. Tannin (from oak galls) can also be used as well. So I tried both! After measuring the chemicals and dissolving in the water, I added the wet fabric, and brought the bath up to simmering, turned it off, and left it all to sit overnight.

My measuring station. All fabric and powders were weighed in grams on a scale.

Sounds simple, right?

Day 2 will be more fun, when I get to make colors!

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