Thursday, October 8, 2009

How To Dye Naturally

Where to start? I have so much to say! This past Tuesday my cousin, Debi, came to visit us for a couple of days. We had all manner of things to chat about and all sorts of things we were excited to share with one another. But I won't get into all of that right now. This post is about the plant dyeing we did on Wednesday. I have been interested in plant dyeing for awhile now but I don't think I would have done anything with it quite yet if Debi hadn't nudged me into the dyeing process this week.
Now I am very excited about it. I am going to use the winter months to plan my herb and flower gardens. Right now I plan on the main focus of my garden being geared toward dyeing naturally.

This here is our wool soaking. We had 4oz. that we used to make four different colors. The book that is visible in the back of the photo is where we got most of our information. It is call "Craft of the Dyer: colour from plants and lichens" by Karen Leigh Casselman.
I have looked at a couple books on dyeing and noticed that a lot of the plants they describe are not even ones I have ever heard about. I wouldn't know where to find them. What really struck me about this book was the vast array of plants described and all the detailed information. Pretty much anyone could go out into their yard with this book and find things with which to dye fiber.As you will see, a few pictures down, we found several things out in our backyard, and there were several more that we could have used but didn't.
Debi had brought along some black eyed Susan from her house so we threw those in a pot to boil and added a mordant. A mordant is a substance used to set the dye in the fiber by forming a coordination complex which then attaches to the fiber. It is also used to intensify the colours.
Based on the type of mordant used you can determine (to some extent) the color your fiber will be. There are chemical mordants, which we preferred to stay away from, and there are natural mordants. Some of the natural mordants include, iron, copper, tin, and baking soda.
Our mordant of choice was iron, because that is all we had on hand at the time. We used a rail road spike. For one batch we did use copper.

Basketful of dyeing material.
Marigolds, pine cones, and pine bark. I put the maple leaves in for color, although you can use fresh maple leaf to dye. We also used parsley but we didn't think of adding that to the list until later on.

Here is the bark simmering. We added pennies to make our copper mordant. We figured we probably didn't have nearly enough bark because the dye bath was not getting very dark. So we threw in the pine cones for good measure.
This is the batch that we used the copper mordant on.

They marigolds are from my little garden on the south wall of the garage. I planted it late in June, and to my delight it flourished and is still producing flowers. However I think the weather has turned cold for good so this is probably the last of the marigolds.

Pot of Parsley.
When I planted my herb garden I never imagined I would be using it to dye wool!

Here are the four finished batches. From left to right: #1 Parsley. #2 Black-eyed Susan. #3Pine. #4 Marigold.

The marigold turned out different than we expected. The book never mentioned using iron as a mordant, and it describe the colours as yellows and golds. The colour we ended up with was more of an olive green. When we first put the wool in the dye it quickly turned a minty sort of green which we loved. Our mistake was not taking it out then and there. Instead we left it in and it turned this colour. We both like this colour, but we were a little disappointed that we didn't whisk it out when it was minty.

This colour is not showing up as to what it truly looks like. It is more of a lemony-yellow colour. Once I took it outside I was amazed by how it seemed to glow, almost to create it's own light.

Black-eyed Susan.
This actually is not dyed with just black-eyed Susan. We found that we did not have enough leaves/petals to make a very strong dye. So later we dipped it in the pine bath to darken it up a bit. It came out this lovely linen colour and I am quite pleased with it.

I don't have much to say about this one, other then I like it! But I think next time I'll add more pine bark and cones.

The sun was out by turns and the wind was blowing so I left the roving out to dry for awhile.
We learned quite a bit, at least I know I did! It was a lot of trial and error. We were not too precise as to the measuring of our water and ingredients. But I do believe we discovered some things about the plants we were working with and also the mordants. We'll have to keep notes each time we dye and we'll learn as we go. There are some other books I would like to check out concerning plant dyeing.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!

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