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this is Shetland yarn reclaimed from a jumper, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar and dyed with a bottle of out-of-date organic purple carrot juice someone was throwing out.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!

more madder

Well, it’s been so long between posts that I’ll be thrilled if anyone at all is still reading this little blog of mine… It’s been a very busy few months- both at Sunspun and in my own work- but I’m finally getting my feet back on the ground and have emerged from winter thoroughly inspired and ready for spring!

There’s so much to share that it might require a few installments. But I’ll start with the glory that was and is the Craft Sessions

I have to admit that I was a little worried going into the second CS. It couldn’t possibly be as ace as last year. Could it? The answer to that was a deafening YES! I don’t know how Felicia did it, organizing such a amazingly successful event while traipsing around Europe in a campervan with her partner and three kids and very sporadic internet- what a champ!  As a teacher at least, it was such a happy event, with a lovely balance of challenge and enjoyment in the classes offered and, like last year, a group of people willing to be vulnerable enough to come away with a group of strangers and take on something completely new. That’s a rare thing.

My CS classes were in the same vein as last year- colourwork knitting and dyeing with plants- but with some twists. I love spreading the joys of stranded colourwork and this time, I had 12 newbies working on a 10ply hat (that will be available very soon on Ravelry) and learning to work with a yarn in each hand- fun!

New hat design coming

New hat design coming soon

I also ran a class on steeking, a technique that is so perfect for a class because it can be such a scary thing to try on your own. I think my students were blown away by how secure a steek actually is and also reassured by the fact that there is a steek for all yarns and circumstances! I’m running the very same class at Sunspun on October 8th and there is one place still available so get in quick if you’re keen to try this ace technique.

And then I spent the whole day on Sunday repeating an experiment that I’d tried a couple of years ago as the basis for a class to introduce new dyers to the processes involved in dyeing with plants and other natural materials. I really wanted participants to come away with a good understanding of the process from start to finish and how to achieve different colours using different mordants and modifiers. We used madder as the dyestuff and then alum, rhubarb leaf, copper and iron as mordants before dyeing and vinegar, washing soda, copper and iron as modifiers after dyeing. As always with dyeing, I learned a lot and found that, as opposed the last time I did this experiment where pre-treatments seemed to have more impact on colour, this time it was the post-treatments that affected the colour more. And that the pre-treatments weren’t as effective on silk fabric at the concentrations I normally use on wool yarns.

Here you can see the 5 groups of 5 pieces of silk, each piece having had a different combination of pre-and-post-treatments. Next time I’d increase the amount of mordants used when pre-mordanting the fabric to get a wider range of colours, especially copper. But the colours are lovely anyway!

Silk habutai samples

Silk habutai- from left to right: no modifer, acid modifier, alkaline modifer, copper modifier, iron modifier

No modifers

No modifers- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Acid-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Acid-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Alkaline-modified

Alkaline-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Copper-modified

Copper-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Iron-modified

Iron-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

After we’d dyed and then modified the skeins of yarn, we finished the day by making shade cards of both yarns- I was super excited to make my very first shade cards!

Wool and silk/ wool shade cards

Wool and silk/ wool shade cards

Silk habutai shade cards

Silk habutai shade cards

We didn’t have time to make cards of the silk fabric so I decided to take them home and cut them up for everyone. The fabric colours were just too lovely to miss out on. I mostly dye yarn for knitting with but I was super inspired to dye more fabrics from now on…

The whole weekend was such a joyous experience and the culmination of so much planning and prep (I’m a chronic over-preparer!) that I felt quite flat after it ended. So now I’m counting down until the next one! A huge, huge thanks to Felicia, her support crew, my co-teachers and the many participants for your incredible energy and joy xx

classes at handmakers factory

I’m super excited to be running some knitting and dyeing classes for the Handmakers Factory! If you’re not familiar with Nichola and Liesl and the project they are building, you can read about it here… as well as a strong focus on making clothes and other stuff to reduce industry waste and build resourcefulness, I think what is really lovely about this project is the diversity of classes on offer in one place (already, they have sewing, machine and hand knitting, dyeing, knit-a-longs and social sewing sessions) and the way that participants can then document what they make on the Handmakers site… all these things should go a long way in helping to build the community that the project is all about.

All the classes are practical and focus on building skills from the beginning up. For example, Brianna Read of Jack of Diamonds is running a series of individual classes on machine knitting, but you can also sign up for a course of 5 classes which will take you from the first step of assembling your machine (which can be more daunting than it sounds!) all the way to finishing a pair of fingerless cabled gloves. I’ve done a couple of workshops with Bri and she is a great teacher with the rare ability to stay calm in a room full of newbie machine knitters. If you have any inkling that machine knitting is for you, you should sign up for this course- I would have killed for it when I first started working on my machine!

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Once Liesl has worked her magic teaching the basics of hand knitting, my Knitting Tips and Tricks class covers all the little details that enable a new knitter to move on from scarves to all the fun stuff… We’ll cover working accurate swatches, salvaging dropped stitches and fixing mistakes, choosing the right increases and decreases, picking up stitches to work button bands, joining in a new ball and weaving in ends neatly, working a 3-needle cast-off and more.

Finishing Knits follows on and covers the essential skills involved in putting together knitted garments in a professional way, including short-row shoulders, seaming, easing the pieces to fit, grafting, weaving in ends, blocking (when and how to do it), sewing on buttons and trim and more. Knitters of all levels often start to feel faint at this point of the knitting process, which is why so many garments lie unfinished for years- I thinks it’s important to learn how to break the process down into individual, manageable steps, so that you feel confident and inspired to get all those UFOs out of the cupboard!

And, just in time for the beginning of summer, I’m running a Basics of Natural Dyeing class to demonstrate the essentials of dyeing with natural materials. We’ll cover the main methods of extracting colour and how to apply it to fabric and yarn, fibre preparation and mordanting, equipment, safety and more. We’ll then look at the colour potential of our kitchen and medicine cupboards, garden and surrounding landscape, as well as sourcing more exotic dyestuffs and will work with several dyebaths from seasonally available materials. Participants get to take away small samples of yarn and fabric from the dyebath. Should be lots of fun!

You can find the dates and details of my classes at Classes at the top of this page; for details on the whole range of classes available, go to Handmakers!

workshops at the craft sessions

I’m starting to get very excited about all of the workshops on offer at the Craft Sessions … I really wish I could participate in all of them- if I could pick one class from each teacher, they’d be Leslie‘s blockprinting on fabric, Sophie‘s sewing with knits, Melissa‘s embroidery from the natural world and Georgie‘s intro to design… I think there are even a few more classes to be announced over the next few days, so it’s kind of lucky I’ll be busy teaching all weekend because I really don’t think I’d be able to choose!

My classes all revolve around colour- unintentional but not surprising for me, I suppose. I’ll be spending all of Saturday with my dyepots and the morning session will focus on sources of local colour- the plants that grow all around us in our gardens and wider landscapes. We’ll go for a walk to explore the indigenous species, common weeds and landscape plants and trees that hold pigments in their  roots, leaves and flowers and spend the rest of the session dyeing with a few of them and exploring the basic theory and practice of dyeing with plants. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be running this workshop- it is such a perfect pairing of my two great interests, plants and textiles…

Local colour

Local colour; Feijoa

My Saturday afternoon session focuses on dyeing with indigo; we’ll explore the history of this ancient and venerated dyestuff and create an indigo vat, a seemingly mysterious and specialised process unlike most other dye preparations. We’ll prepare fabric and yarn for dyeing, explore patterning using shibori (methods of folding, clamping, binding and stitching) and then get into the actual dyeing process, dipping multiple times to achieve a good depth of colour and overdyeing to create complex colours.

Wool/ silk: indigo

Indigo on wool/ silk yarn

And I’ll spend Sunday with knitters keen to try their hand at stranded colourwork (non-knitters, read Fairisle!) and this workshop is all about empowering participants- I wish I could have taken a class like this when I first tried stranded knitting! We’ll cover the how-to of this deceptively simple knitting style as well as basic colour theory, combining motifs and shaping so that participants come away with their own colourwork hat design.

Stranded colourwork hat

Stranded colourwork

And, just so you know, the dyeing classes require absolutely no previous experience in dyeing but the colourwork class does require basic skills-  but only casting on, knit, purl and increasing and decreasing.

So that’s my lineup… If you haven’t already, do have a look at the Craft Sessions website- registration opens at midday tomorrow (Monday July 15) and places are very limited, so you’ll need to make up your mind very soon about which workshops you want to do!

Happy Sunday!

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