Thursday, December 2, 2010

Natural Dyes

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, our local A&S group did some experimenting with natural dyes. On Friday, we applied the mordant to our materials, then on Saturday, we did the actual dying. The largest batch we did was of black walnut, then there were smaller batches of 2 types of madder, mums and osage orange. Here's a chronicle:

1. Mordants and a scale. All mordants and materials needed to first be measured out to ensure that the ratios were correct to achieve good results. We decided to mordant the entire batch in alum with cream of tarter. 2. Several of the dyes had already been created, including both mum heads and mum stems (two dye batches) and sassafras. 3. A large number of whole walnuts soaked in water over several days. 4. To generate a useful dye bath, the bucket was poured through a strainer to remove the walnuts. The walnut dye had a unique and unpleasant odor.

1. The walnut dye was further refined by pouring it through some nylon hosiery. It was clear in this stage that the dye bath would offer a good amount of color. 2. Mom and I used 100% wool yarn. All 6 skeins were placed in the mordant bath, placed over heat and stirred occasionally. 3. After the wool simmered for about an hour, we removed it from the water and rung it out. 4. The walnut dye bath had meanwhile been heating up, so that the wool and dye were close to the same temperature. We placed 3 of the skeins in the walnut.

1. After another hour or so of simmering in the walnut (occasionally stirring), we removed it and 2. placed it in a bowl to cool off some. 3. Once it had cooled slightly, we put water in the bowl to rinse the wool and keep it wet for the next stage. 4. Interestingly, a gray wool roving that had been mordanted the same and also placed in the walnut bath came out significantly lighter.

1. The following morning, Dearg went out and harvested about 2.5 cups of osage orange (or hedge apple) bark. Mom and I had previously found the tree and mistakenly gathered the fruits. After doing some research online, we realized we needed the bark to make a dye. The bark was in small pieces that were placed in a pot of water. 2. I slowly brought the pot to a boil then let it simmer for roughly 2 hours. 3. After straining out the bark, I jarred the dye to take to the workshop. 4. Once there, 1 skein of the previously mordanted wool went in and it was heated in the same fashion as the walnut. A linen bag was also getting its mordant.

1. We'd decided early on that we wanted to try and achieve the darkest possible shade with the walnut, so iron was added to the bath and our first batch of wool (now brown) was placed back in. 2. The same process of slowly heating and simmering for an hour or so was employed for the walnut/iron bath. 3. The wool was rinsed in cool water until in ran clear. 4. The walnut/iron dye was successful in creating a very dark brown- barely visible in the bowl. The un-dyed wool in the bag shows the original color.

1. The osage orange bath simmered for 2 hours (maybe a bit more), then the wool was removed and rinsed. 2. The result was a very pretty pale orange (not peachy). A darker shade may be achievable with more bark than what we used soaked in water overnight before heating. 3. We also dyed a skein in the mum head dye bath, using the same method for about the same amount of time as the osage orange. 4. This color was a surprise as we thought it would generate a tan-yellow based on information we'd found online. Instead, it turned out to be a vibrant green-yellow (which the photos don't do justice).

1. The final skein was placed in a dye bath of old-world madder. Immediately after putting it in, the skein turned pink. 2. The linen bag that had mordanted earlier was placed in a bath of new-world madder. The difference was clear- the old-world was brighter while the new-world had a more earthy rust quality. 3. We kept the wool in for only an hour (or maybe it was a half an hour?). Straight out of the bath is was a pinkish red. 4. Interestingly, once the wool was rinsed, the color was a deep orange-red instead.

Once all the skeins were rinsed, I took them home and hung them up to air dry. There's still a small amount of color coming out of the walnut, but only with excessive handling (like untangling it from the knotted mess it had become). The madder skein had been tied together a bit too tightly so there were small sections that received no dye. Overall, however, all 4 colors were a success as far as they were pretty much a test. We learned a great deal about the process, and a few lessons on what to do next time.

Thank you to everyone that participated, especially to Shadow Harper for lending us your knowledge and guiding us in these experiments!

This batch of wool, by the way, is now slotted to become the fancy embroidery for Dearg's Irish jacket which will be a dark green linen. Also, I now have the knowledge to dye the silk yarn I've been holding on to for my wide 15th century belt. There's a slightly different process for silk which I still need to research, but I am now confident that a walnut/iron dye will get me the dark color I want. There is still plenty of the dye left for use, but I may wait until next autumn to gather walnuts from my brother-in-law's yard and make my own simply because the belt provides the opportunity to apply a variety of skills on one object, and it would be neat to be able to say I did the whole thing from scratch (except for spinning the silk, but I had to draw the line somewhere....)