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Posts Tagged ‘natural dyeing’

Two weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending a Mushroom and Lichen Natural Dyeing workshop at the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, taught by Alisa Allen.

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This was my first formal natural dyeing class, all my previous experience has come from books and experimenting on my own. It was great to learn from someone with a lot of experience and passion. I picked up a few neat tricks that I look forward to incorporating into my home dye practice like pre-making test strips of yarn. Each string is a different mordant, tied together, ready to put in a small experiment batch of dye to see what range of colors can be achieved.

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Another trick I think is just brilliant is using one big pot with smaller glass jars as a type of double boiler. This allowed her to have multiple small batches of color going. This is a great way to speed up the process, dye many colors at the same time, and control temperature easier.

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Alisa discussed basic mushroom and lichen ecology, how to identify and where to collect. She brings a dehydrator in the field to dry the mushrooms after collecting to save for later! This also allows more predictability in repeating recipes, as the dry mushroom can be accurately weighed.

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Some of the lichens shared were crazy! When collecting lichens, she explained you only harvest off of falling branches, never live from a tree. Some lichens dye this crazy magenta purple. To test to see if the lichen has that ability, she shared a neat bleach testing method. Look at that color!

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The other very fascinating thing about mushrooms and lichen in dyeing, is that in addition to using mordants to bring out color, they are extremely susceptible to changes in pH. By making the dye bath more acidic or basic, the color can wildly change! Alisa would add vinegar or ammonia, checking pH as she went, to achieve optimal colors.

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By the end of the five hour class, we had twenty glorious colors all made from mushrooms and lichens the instructor had collected in California. DSC01664

Each skein was divided among the class participants, and we made a card showing the recipe to make each color. Along with a guide for what the mushrooms and lichens look like and where to collect them, we left the workshop well prepared to give it a try.

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We also each got to make a shibori silk scarf. We wrapped the scarf around a tube, wrapped with twine, scrunched it all down, and submerged it in dye. After unwrapping the whole bundle, a pattern almost like that of tree bark emerged. I can’t wait to try more shibori in the future.

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While I’m not sure if we have any mushrooms or lichens that dye colors here in the desert, I look forward to using some of the techniques learned in my other dyeing, and to forage for mushrooms next time I find myself in a more wet environment. I highly recommend taking one of her workshops if you have the opportunity. Thanks Lesley for being my model!

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On our fall colors adventure weekend, day two, I started getting the itch to dye some yarn. I had seen in one of my natural dye books that yellow aspen leaves dye a yellow color. I wanted to give it a try!

IMG_8756Our second day adventuring in the mountains, we headed up to Bishop Creek. The color was just brilliant!

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So I started collecting. The recipe called for a four to one ratio of leaves to fiber. And my family helped too!

tjp_1342_2459.ARWIt didn’t take us long to fill a couple of tote bags full of leaves!

IMG_8755Once home, the leaves filled a canning pot about half full, and their weight was six to one for the one skein of fiber I wanted to dye.

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I started with two pots, one with an alum mordant for the fiber, and the second boiling the leaves. The timing worked really well. By the time the fiber was done mordanting and rinsed, the leaves were ready for the fiber.

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I was pleased to see that right away the yarn began to take up a yellow color, always a good sign! I then simmered the yarn in the leaves for another hour. At this point, it was quite late in the evening, after hikng all day, bbq in the back yard with family, and lots of boiling. I turned off the heat, and let the yarn stay in the leaf water overnight.

tjp_1342_2481.ARWPulling out the yarn to rinse the next morning before I left for work, I was pleased to find the yarn a warm golden color!

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Rinsed and dried, the yarn is warm, though not bright. It does have a hint of a dull tone to it, which I find quite nice.

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I didn’t quite want to knit something all yellow – for whatever reason I wasn’t feeling yellow – so I thought something striped might be nice. I had some leftover pastel yarn from my last acid dye session, and paired the aspen yarn with that.

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Here is the cowl further along. I added in some of my coffee yarn and some blue scraps I had left. I rather like how the yellow turned out paired with the other colors!

Thank you Treve Johnson and Aaron Johnson for sharing a few of your pictures with me to put on my blog. What a fun weekend it was!

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On Sunday, Lesley, Brianna and I experimented for the first time with dyeing yarn and fabric with indigo. Lesley had ordered a kit from Dharma, and we started by dissolving and mixing the indigo powder and reducing agent in a big pot of warm water.

After stirring, we let the pot sit for an hour, while the chemical reaction worked its magic. When the water turned a yellowish-green, it was ready to dye. The instructions said to remove the “flower”, a bubble of blue stuff that formed on the top of the water. Lesley gamely jumped in to give it a try. It was very, very stinky.

Then it was time to dye the material! After soaking each hank or piece of fabric in water to wet thoroughly, we held in the pot for three minutes or so, gently agitating to make sure the dye penetrated the whole piece, without making bubbles or splashes.

When the fabric was removed, it was a bright yellow color, which rapidly started to turn blue as it was exposed to the oxygen in the air. Wild!

We lay out the pieces for twenty minutes, watching with excitement as the colors continued to deepen and darken as time passed.

I  then rinsed, washed, and dried the fabric. I made different colors by starting with white fabric or yellow fabric, and varying the amount of time the fabric was exposed to the dye, sometimes dunking the pieces for two times.

Such a different way to dye fabric, stretching my understanding of chemistry a bit, what with reacting agents and oxidation and the like. Crazy to take a moment and imagine that this is how our blue jeans are dyed!

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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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