Tag Archives: plant dyeing

purple carrot revisited

I recently dyed with purple carrots for the third time and got such different results from the first and second times that it got me reflecting on the variables that might have led to those differences… which I thought some of you dyers might have some thoughts on or just find it interesting. Can you see what I mean?

Varying results

Varying results

The two balls to the bottom right were my first experiment; this is Shetland yarn reclaimed from a jumper, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar and dyed with a bottle of out-of-date organic purple carrot juice someone was throwing out. I thought I’d have a try so I topped the pan up with warm water, added the yarns and slowly raised the temperature to around 70C, held it there for around 45 minutes. I loved the dusty pinks it produced…

Heat-dyed

Heat-dyed

Then I moved on to fresh carrots, the ones that aren’t just purple on the outside (they don’t give you any real colour) but that are purple-black all the way though. I put them through the juicer and then added the pulp back into the juice and divided it in half; it seems that juicy materials like berries, vegetables and soft roots give clearer colours without too much heat so I had an idea that solar dyeing might be a good approach to take. I divided the goopey juice in half and put half in a saucepan with a skein of organic merino yarn, again mordanted in alum and CT, slowly raised the temperature to around 70C and held it there for around 45 minutes. The first skein in the photo below was the result of heating: mauve- grey.

I then poured the rest into a big glass jar with a skein of the same and another of reclaimed wool/ angora, added enough warm water to cover the yarn and left the jar in the sun on my black compost bin for two weeks. Over that time, we had a few days around 25C but plenty of overcast days so the jar wouldn’t have got super hot. The second and third skeins were the result of solar dyeing: bright purple and mauve!

First solar dye

First solar dye

And then, recently, I rediscovered some old purple carrots that I’d bought to have a play with but had never gotten around to using; despite being a few months old, they were still fine, just a little hairy! Like before, I juiced and recombined them and repeated the solar process but, this time, left the juice outside for a week before I added silk fabrics, wool/ silk yarn and white and grey yarn (as always, mordanted with alum and CT). I then left the jar for a week, with similar temperatures to last time.

After one hour immersed in the liquid, the silk velvet looked crazy pink:

An hour after adding fibre to the jar

An hour after adding fibre to the jar

The silk fabrics and yarn were all a beautiful dusty pink after a week but the white and grey wool picked up NO DYE AT ALL! What is that about?!

Second solar dye

Second solar dye

I know that certain dyes have affinities with particular fibres but I’ve never seen wool not pick up any colour where silk has. And, from the first solar dye, I know that wool will pick up purple carrot. The fibres were all mordanted together. So, to me, the only variables are the silk and the fact that the fibres weren’t added straight to the jar. Is it possible that the silk absorbed the dye compounds so quickly that the wool didn’t have a chance? Seems unlikely to me… So could the week between processing and adding the fibres be the reason? It makes me want to dig out my chemistry books and find out what could possibly affect the structure of the dye compounds to lead to this?

I’d love to hear any thoughts!

And, next time, I want to try to capture that hot pink before it softens!

In the meantime, if you’re inspired to try your hand at dyeing with plants, I have a couple of classes coming up at the Handmakers Factory, an introduction to natural dyeing on October 11 and a collaborative class on indigo and shibori on November 15- I’ll be teaching the indigo component, showing how to establish and maintain an indigo vat, which Rosalind Slade will then use for her class on shibori. You can find out more over at Handmakers!

madder, mordants and modifiers

I’ve been experimenting with plant dyes for a while but still feel a bit in the dark when it comes to the effects of pH on plant pigments… Lots of experts allude to the importance of pH in their books and blogs but it seems there is very little detail about it… so I decided to follow an experiment outlined by Jenny Dean in her wonderful dyers bible, Wild Colour (so worth getting your hands on if you’re at all tempted to try dyeing with plants!) which displays the effects of not only pH modifiers but also pre-and-postmordanting.

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Madder in post-treatment groups; none, acid, alkaline, copper, iron

Mordanting is also pretty new to me; I’ve been pre-mordanting yarn with alum and cream of tartar (that is, treating yarn before dyeing) with good results but I feel quite ambivalent about introducing salts and metals, such as copper and iron, and other substances like ammonia into my dyebaths or as post-treatments… I know I can learn more about the potential colours held by a plant if I use them but I’ve been asking myself to what length I’ll go for that knowledge… it is a really personal question and I’m still working out how I feel about the potential environmental cost of my experiments and so I generally avoid using anything other than alum… but I thought it was important to temporarily put aside my ethics for this comprehensive experiment, hoping it would prove enlightening!

To prepare the dyebath, I put 250gm dried madder root (1:1 ratio of madder to fibre) in a large jar, covered with boiling water and set the jar in the sun for 2 weeks to soften the woody roots. I then poured off the soaking water (as madder releases its yellow and orange pigments first and the more desirable red pigments only later) and repeated the process, soaking the roots for another week. I then chopped the madder as finely as possible to maximise surface area, placed it in my large, heavy-bottomed dye pot, covered with warm water and then slowly heated it to 65C for one hour. I left the pot to cool overnight and then heated and held it at 65C for another hour the next day. Phew, it was finally ready for the fibre!

In preparation for dyeing, I wound 25 10gm skeins of 5-ply Polwarth yarn from local producer Wendy Dennis (which I’m discovering takes dye really well, almost as well as superwash which soaks up everything but often has trouble holding colour because of the stripping involved in its production!) and set aside 5 skeins. The other 20 were treated as follows: 5 premordanted in 10% alum, 5 in 2% copper solution, 5 in 2% iron solution and 5 in rhubarb leaf decoction.

Premordanted yarn; rhubarb, copper, iron, alum

Premordanted yarn; rhubarb, copper, iron, alum

All skeins were labelled with a letter from A to Y which indicated their pre-treatment, written on a square of heat-proof plastic (like a milk container) with a permanent marker- this is essential as it becomes impossible to keep track of what is what later!

While still damp from their pre-treaments, I then added the 25 skeins to the dye bath and slowly brought the temperature to 65C for 2 hours and then left the bath to cool overnight. Actually, it was meant to be overnight… but life got busy and I didn’t get back to the pot until a week later! No problem though- wool fibres are designed to withstand permanently damp conditions over long winters!

I removed one skein from each premordant group and hung the 5 to dry with no further treatment.

* I’ve been trying to photograph these for days but the low levels of light combined with the reds make it super hard to capture the colours accurately! The samples are all less orange than they look and there is quite a lot more contrast between the different groups than appears in the group photos. See the top photo for a clearer picture of the contrasts!

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No post-treatment; premordanted with none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

One from each group was placed in a glass bowl with hot water and 100ml of vinegar and left to sit for 15 minutes- the vinegar brought the pH of the water down from 5 to 3, forming an acidic bath, which tends to bring out the orange tones in reds.

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Acid post-treatment; premordanted with none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

One from each group was placed in a glass bowl with warm water and 50gm of washing soda and then 50ml of ammonia and left to sit for 15 minutes- the washing soda took the pH to 7 (still in the neutral zone and wasn’t high enough to change the colours of the yarn) whereas the ammonia brought the pH of the water up from 5 to 9, forming an alkaline bath, which usually makes colours pinker in tones.

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Alkaline post-treatment; premordanted in none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

One from each group was placed in a pot with warm water and 1gm copper dissolved in water and then held below simmering for 15 minutes- copper makes colours greener or browner in tone and often helps to make colours more permanent.

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Copper post-treatment; premordanted in none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

One from each group was placed in a pot with warm water and 1gm iron dissolved in water and then held below simmering for 5 minutes- iron makes colours darker and more sombre in tone and often helps to make colours more permanent.

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Iron post-treatment; premordanted with none, alum, copper, iron, rhubarb

So… lots observed in this experiment:

– Pre-mordanting with copper and iron leads to much stronger colours than modifiying with them after the dye-bath.

– I was surprised that the alum-mordanted skeins turned out a darker, rusty orange than the non-mordanted skeins- Jenny Dean finds the opposite.

– The copper-mordanted and iron-mordanted skeins dyed about as dark as each other, the copper a dark aubergine and the iron a tobacco brown. In the photos outlining this experiment in Deans book, the copper looks much darker.

– The rhubarb-mordanted skeins dyed very similarly to the non-mordanted skeins- I used very fresh, new leaves so will try tougher, older leaves next time as they may hold more oxalic acid, the mordanting compound.

– The acid post-treatment skeins ended up only slightly more orange than those which had no post-treatment- I think this is because my water is naturally acidic.

– As stated by many dye experts, the alkaline post-treatment is the way to go for red tones!

– I expected all the skeins in the copper and iron post-treatment groups to end up much darker than they did… perhaps I didn’t use enough in the baths.

And my thoughts on modifiers and mordants after the experiment? Vinegar I’m fine with using but ammonia is pretty strong so I’m going to try to work out how much washing soda I need to add to take my water to alkaline, as well as capturing rainwater to see how that affects pH. I definitely saw first hand the increased range of colours attained with copper and iron so I’m going to try the methods outlined in Harvesting Colour for using scrap materials to make mordants. I didn’t use them here as I wanted to be exact with quantities but it feels like a much better option than buying powders!

It seems like I ended up with a very seventies palette! I feel like I should be weaving a shagpile wall hanging with them ; ) There are some beauties though…and it is wonderful to have more confidence in extracting the tones that appeal to me.

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Rhubarb/ none, alum/ none, alum/ alkaline, rhubarb/ alkaline/ copper/ alkaline, iron/ alkaline

As for all the little 10gm skeins, I’ll be using some of them for colourwork and passing the rest on. I thought I might hold my first giveaway on this little blog! So leave me a comment if you are interested and I’ll draw it next week- after I show my dye teacher the results!

PS These are silk/wool and angora yarns that I put in afterwards to exhaust the bath… I used an alkaline post-treatment for those pink-salmon tones and think I like it better than the others!

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Exhausting the bath; wool/ silk and wool/ angora with alkaline post-treatment

ornamental prunus

You know those purple cherry trees that used to line every street in Melbourne? This is some of the colour held in those purple-black leaves. How strange that red leaves usually yield greens… and that greens are the hardest colours to find in natural dyes!

Prunus on wool

Prunus on wool mordanted with alum and cream of tartar

 

sticta

Recently, our dye group worked with the common New Zealand lichen Sticta coronata; unlike many lichens, this species is relatively quick-growing and widespread and so its harvest poses less of a threat to existing populations. Apparently it yields a wide range of colours from purples, pinks and browns to yellows and gold, depending on the pH of the dyebath. We only made two dyebaths, one with tapwater and the other with tapwater plus a capful of ammonia. I ended up with soft purple and pink.

Mordanted wool with ammonia afterbath and mordanted wool

Mordanted wool with ammonia afterbath and mordanted wool

I’d like to play around with it, lowering the pH with vinegar to see what that produces… I’m guessing it would take the colour towards the golds and greens. Anyone know?

pokeberry

I’ve been keen to try dyeing with this weedy species (there are numerous pokes around the world but I’m pretty sure the one found in southern Australia is Phytolacca octandra) since I saw it growing at Werribee Gorge last year. I’d read about it in Rebecca Burgess’ Harvesting colour and know the genus from my herbalist days (Phytolacca decandra is a great lymphatic and glandular remedy) but didn’t think I’d ever get my hands on it until I stumbled on it on a bushwalk.  I was kicking myself that I couldn’t get back out to the gorge in time to harvest the ripe berries and then one day found a self-seeded plant in a housing estate around the corner from my house!

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Phytolacca berries

Apparently dyers have long eyed off the purple-black berries as a dye source (even its names serve to tease- phyto= plant, lacca= red dye, common name Inkplant) but couldn’t get the colour to hold… and then the experiments of natural dyer Carol Lee led to the discovery that the pH of the dyebath must be low (acidic) for the pigment to bond to fibres. Revolutionary!

So, temporarily putting aside my greed for usable quantities of dyed yarn (I tend to jump in instead of testing and sampling!), I picked a small handful of berries and heated them gently while pre-mordanting a small hank of wool/ silk with vinegar according to Rebecca Burgess’ instructions. At first, the dyebath was a lovely dark pink but it slowly got paler and paler until all colour was lost- I added the yarn anyway and simmered it for 45 min… and ended up with a very pale yellow-green, not the dark red I was expecting. It started me thinking about cold-dyeing instead- it seems like lots of berries and fruit yield clearer and longer-lasting colours that way- and then found that Dre of grackle and sun had done just that and had great results! So I followed her wonderful advice and steeped the berries (and racemes) in 100% vinegar in a large jar for a month and then added the yarn and left the whole thing to soak for another 10 days. I then removed the skeins, left them to dry and then rinsed them really well to remove the vinegar. I wasn’t sure how leaving yarn in pure vinegar would affect it but it feels fine.

And the results…

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Cold pokeberry on mordanted and unmordanted wool and mordanted wool/ silk

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Initial and subsequent experiments

I’m incredibly excited to get such amazing colours from a weed with no input except vinegar and time 🙂  The wool/ silk yarn is much paler because only the wool fibres seem to have picked up the colour, even though silk often dyes more readily than wool- another enigma!

I was also keen to see how different the colour would be with hot-processing so, once I’d removed the yarn from the jar, I put the remains of the dyebath in a pot with enough water to cover, simmered for 1.5 hours and then added some more vinegar-mordanted yarn, holding the dyebath at 70C for 2 hours as per Rebecca Burgess’ instructions. And the result is quite, quite different.

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Hot pokeberry on mordanted wool

I now need to test them all for light-fastness. I wonder if I’ll get the same results as Dre for this… her work, as well as that of Carol Lee and Rebecca Burgess, has really inspired me to experiment more, whether that be playing around with pH, different methods of dyeing or plants I haven’t tried before. Thankyou!