Archive for the ‘Dyeing Tips & Recipes’ Category

More Skeins for Ditchling Museum

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I dyed a final set of samples for the Ethel Mairet project at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, following recipes in the 1916 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”.

Below are the details of the recipes and the results.

Samples of wool and silk were dyed following the instructions on p 103 Recipe no. 7 for MADDER Red for silk

A cold 25% alum mordant was applied and the fibres were allowed to soak in the cold alum mordant solution for 24 hours. 50% madder was placed in the dye pot, together with a handful of bran tied into a muslin bag, and water was added. The fibres were rinsed and then added to the madder dye bath. The temperature was raised gradually to just below a simmer, the heat was turned off and the fibres were then left to steep in the dye bath without further application of heat. When the dye bath was getting cool, heat was again applied until a simmer was reached. The heat was then turned off and the fibres left to steep overnight. They were then removed, rinsed and washed.

Further samples of wool and silk were mordanted with 2% copperas (iron) and dyed as above, as suggested in the above recipe for brown shades.

From the left: wool, silk, wool for brown, silk for brown

Samples of wool, silk, cotton and linen were dyed following the instructions on p110 Recipe no. 1 for WELD  Yellow for Silk

Wool and silk fibres were mordanted with 25% alum sulphate and the cotton and linen fibres were mordanted with 5% alum acetate. 200% weld was simmered for 15 minutes then the dye liquid was strained off into a dye pot and left to cool. When it had cooled a little, the silk and wool fibres were added and left to steep in the dye solution. They were then removed. The weld was simmered again with the addition of 2 teaspoons of soda ash and this solution was then strained and added to the first dye solution. The dyed fibres were added to this solution and allowed to steep until they had achieved a suitable depth of colour.

From the top: wool, silk, cotton, linen

Samples of wool and silk were dyed following the instructions on p121 for DYER’S BROOM

The fibres were mordanted with 25% alum sulphate. The dyer’s broom was simmered for 45 minutes to extract the colour, then strained. The fibres were gently simmered in the strained dye solution for 45 minutes and left to cool in the dye liquid. They were then removed, rinsed and washed.

From the left: wool, silk

Samples of wool, silk, cotton and linen were dyed following the instructions on p125 Recipe no. 9 for CUTCH Brown for Wool

The fibres were not mordanted. 15% cutch extract was dissolved in boiling water then gently stirred into a dye pot of water. The fibres were added and simmered in the solution for about an hour, then left to cool for a while.  2% iron (ferrous sulphate) was dissolved in boiling water then added to a pot of water. The cutch-dyed fibres were added to the iron solution and simmered for 15 minutes. They were allowed to cool, then rinsed and washed.

From the left: wool, silk, cotton, linen

Samples of wool, silk, cotton and linen were dyed following the instructions on p139 Recipe no. 8 for GREEN WITH INDIGO EXTRACT & WELD FOR WOOL.

Wool and silk fibres were mordanted with 25% alum sulphate and the cotton and linen fibres were mordanted with 5% alum acetate. They were first dyed blue using indigo extract (Saxon Blue). The fibres were simmered in this indigo solution for about 45 minutes then allowed to cool a little. The weld dye bath was prepared by simmering 100% weld to extract the colour. The solution was strained off and the indigo-dyed fibres were added to the weld dye bath and simmered for about 45 minutes. They were left to cool in the dye bath, then rinsed and washed.

NOTE: Although this recipe is specifically for wool, it was used on this occasion to dye all four fibre types. However, as noted by Ethel Mairet, indigo extract is less suitable for cotton and linen and these fibres did not take up much blue dye. The silk reacted better but the depth of blue on the silk was still less than that on the wool. This meant that the greens achieved were less blue and more yellow in tone.

From the left: wool, silk, cotton, linen

Dyeing with bracken

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

It was interesting to read that one of the dyes used most frequently by Ethel Mairet was bracken (Pteridium aquilinum). In my garden I have several bracken or common fern plants which need to be cut back, so I decided to experiment with them.

I started with the old pruned leaves (see photo below) and was pleased with the results, especially from the alkali (washing soda) modifier.

Below are the results from this dye bath. From the top: no modifier, washing soda modifier, iron modifier, exhaust dye bath no modifier (All 10% alum mordant on wool)

For comparison, I decided to also make a dye bath from the new fiddle-heads (see photo below.)

Below are the results which rather surprised me, as I had been expecting the colours from the fiddle heads to be more yellow in tone.

From the left: alum mordant, alum + washing soda modifier, alum + iron modifier

I then decided to try a cool dye bath with the old leaves. I left the samples to steep in the dye liquid for about 12 hours and this cold soak produced the colours shown below.

Upper skein: no modifier, lower skein: washing soda modifier (Both alum mordant)

I then re-simmered the old leaves, strained off the dye liquid and added more skeins, this time unmordanted. The results are below.

From the left: no modifier, washing soda modifier, no modifier but skein simmered in the dye bath for a longer period of time.

Although the skeins are browner in tone than the photo suggests, these results were quite surprising, as I hadn’t expected to get deeper colours from the re-simmered leaves.

These experiments gave some interesting shades and I am not surprised that bracken was a dyestuff frequently used by Ethel Mairet.

Natural Dyeing Workshop at Ditchling Museum

Monday, April 10th, 2017

As part of the Ethel Mairet project at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, I recently led a workshop based around Ethel Mairet’s recipes for madder, weld, cochineal and indigo, which are the dyes she most frequently used.

I am extremely grateful to fellow-dyer Deborah Barker, without whose support and assistance with lifting and carrying I would not have been physically able to manage the workshop. The photos in this post were all taken by Deborah, for which I thank her.

We dyed wool skeins and used alum as a mordant, following the recipe below except in the case of cochineal, for which we used 20% alum, as in Ethel Mairet’s instructions in the recipe we used for cochineal.

ALUM MORDANTING RECIPE  (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Example of mordanting with alum –  ¼ lb of Alum and 1oz cream of tartar for every pound of wool. This is dissolved and when the water is warm the wool is entered. Raise to boiling point and boil for one hour. The bath is then taken off the fire and allowed to cool overnight. The wool is then wrung out (not washed) and put away in a linen bag in a cool place for 4 or 5 days, when it is ready for dyeing, after being thoroughly washed.

When we used iron as a colour modifier we followed the instructions given below:

IRON (ferrous sulphate) also called copperas  (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Copperas is mostly used for the fixing of wool colours (Fustic etc) to produce brown shades; the wool being boiled first in a decoction of the dye for about 1 hour, and then for ½ an hour with the addition of 5 to 8 per cent of copperas. If used for darkening colours, copperas is added to the dye bath, and the boiling continued for 15 to 20 minutes.

NOTE: to avoid the need for extra dye pots, sieves etc, we put the dyestuff for each recipe into a muslin bag, which could be removed once the dye colour had been extracted. In the case of madder, the bag of madder root dye pieces remained in the dye bath the whole time. A little more dyestuff was used to allow for the fact that some dye would be taken up by the muslin bag itself.

These are the details Ethel Mairet gives for madder in her recipe book:

MADDER (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Madder consists of the ground-up dried roots of a plant Rubia tinctorum, cultivated in France, Holland, and other parts of Europe, as well as in India. Madder is one of the best and fastest dyes. It is also used in combination with other dyes to produce compound colours. The gradual raising of the temperature of the dye bath is essential in order to develop the full colouring power of madder; long boiling should be avoided, as it dulls the colour. If the water is deficient in lime, brighter shades are got by adding a little ground chalk to the dye bath, 1 to 2 per cent.

Madder is difficult to dye as it easily rubs off and the following points should be noted.

  1. The baths should be quite clean. Rusty baths must not be used.
  2. Before dyeing, the wool must be thoroughly washed so as to get rid of all superfluous mordant.
  3. A handful of bran to the pound of wool, helps to brighten the colour.
  4. The wool should be entered into a tepid dye bath and raised to boiling in 1 hour and boiled for 10 minutes or less.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to look at Ethel Mairet’s own copy of her dye book “Vegetable Dyes” and discovered the following notes written in pencil by Ethel Mairet inside the front cover.

Madder must be fresh. Chalk essential for madder dye bath.   Mordant: 4oz alum ½oz cream of tartar. Wash after mordant & dye after 24 hours. Boiling water kills alizarin therefore put madder in cool water and keep under the boil.   Dye quickly. Bath 80C. Strong bath for short time (20 mins). Put in dye bath 5 ½ozs madder, a piece of chalk or lime, teaspoon sodium carbonate.

Recipe 1 Red (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with ¼ lb Alum to the pound of wool. Boil for 1 hour, let cool in mordant, wring out and put away in bag for 3 or 4 days. Wash very thoroughly. Then dye with 5 to 8ozs madder according to depth of colour required, and a handful of bran for every pound of wool. Enter in cool bath and bring slowly to the boil in an hour or more. Boil for a few minutes.

NOTE: as the water at Ditchling is “hard” we didn’t add chalk to the dye bath but we did add bran, which we tied into a muslin bag. We noted the comments made by Ethel Mairet in her own copy of her dye book and raised the dye bath temperature slowly to just below a simmer, making sure not to boil it.

Yarns developing colour in the madder dye bath

Madder for Brown (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

(1lb wool) Mordant with 1oz copperas and 1oz cream of tartar. Dye with 6ozs madder

Or: “If used for darkening colours, copperas (iron) is added to the dye bath, and the boiling continued for 15 to 20 minutes.”

COCHINEAL (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

The dried red bodies of an insect (Coccus Cacti) found in Mexico are named cochineal.

Recipe 4 Crimson (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with 20% alum or with 15% alum and 5% tartar. Dye in separate bath, after well washing, with 8% to 15% cochineal. Boil 1 hour. A slight addition of ammonia to the dye bath renders the shade bluer.

Samples dyed with cochineal

Recipe 7 Violet for Wool (1916 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with 2oz alum for 1lb wool. Dye with 1oz cochineal and 1oz of solution of iron in which the wool is kept till the shade is reached.

Adding the iron to the cochineal dye bath

WELD (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Weld, Reseda luteola is an annual plant growing in waste places. The whole plant is used for dyeing except the root. It is the best and fastest of the yellow natural dyes. The plant is gathered in June and July, it is then carefully dried in the shade and tied up in bundles. When needed for dyeing it is broken into pieces or chopped finely, the roots being discarded, and a decoction is made by boiling it up in water for about ¾ hour. It gives a bright yellow with alum and tartar as mordant ………… 8 percent of alum is often used for mordant for weld. A little chalk added to the dye bath makes the colour more intense; common salt makes the colour richer and deeper.

Recipe 2 Yellow (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with alum, and dye with 1 lb of weld for every pound of wool. Common salt deepens the colour. If alum is added to the dye bath, the colour becomes paler and more lively. Sulphate of iron inclines it to brown.

Samples dyed with weld

INDIGO

NOTE: In the 1916 edition of “Vegetable Dyes” there are recipes for indigo extract, for the ferrous sulphate vat and for various fermentation-style vats. However, there are no recipes for the hydrosulphite vat, which is the most common method of using indigo today. The 1924 edition of the book gives recipes for the hydrosulphite vat but I decided to use indigo extract, or Saxon Blue, in the workshop .

INDIGO (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Indigo is the blue matter extracted from a plant Indigofera tinctoria and other species growing in Asia, South America and Egypt. It reaches the market in a fine powder, which is insoluble in water. There are two ways of dyeing with Indigo. It may be dissolved in sulphuric acid or oil of vitriol, thereby making an indigo extract. This process was discovered in 1740. It gives good blue colours but is not very permanent, darker colours are more so than the paler. It does not dye cotton or linen. The other method is by the indigo vat process which produces fast colours but is complicated and difficult. In order to colour with indigo it has to be deprived of its oxygen. The deoxidized indigo is yellow and in this state penetrates the woollen fibre; the more perfectly the indigo in a vat is deoxidized, the brighter and faster will be the colour. For wool dyeing the vats are heated to a temperature of 50C. Cotton and linen are generally dyed cold.

 Indigo extract (4 to 6lbs wool) (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant 25% alum. Stir 2 to 3ozs Indigo extract into the water of dye bath. The amount is determined by the depth of shade required. When warm, enter the wool and bring slowly to boiling point (about ½ an hour) and continue boiling for another ½ hour. By keeping it below boiling point while dyeing, better colours are got, but it is apt to be uneven. Boiling levels the colour but makes the shade greener. This is corrected by adding to the dye bath a little logwood, 10 to 20 per cent which should be boiled up separately, strained and put in bath before the wool is entered; too much logwood dims the colour. Instead of logwood a little madder is sometimes used; also Cudbear or Barwood.

Note: Extract of indigo, also called Saxon Blue, is a mixture of oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid), precipitated chalk and finely ground indigo. It can be purchased ready made from Fiery Felts or DTCrafts. (See list of “Useful Websites” opposite.)

Samples developing colour in the Saxon Blue dye pot

GREEN (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Green results from the mixing of blue and yellow in varying proportions according to the shade of colour required. Every dyer has his particular yellow weed with which he greens his blue dyed stuff. But the best greens are undoubtedly got from weld and fustic.                 The wool is first dyed in the blue vat; then washed and dried; then after mordanting, dyed in the yellow bath. This method is not arbitrary as some dyers consider a better green is got by first dyeing it yellow before the blue. But the first method produces the fastest and brightest greens as the aluming after the blue vat clears the wool of the loose particles of indigo and seems to fix the colour. The wool can be dyed blue for green in three different ways;- 1st in the Indigo vat, 2nd with Indigo Extract with Alum mordant, 3rd with logwood with Chrome mordant. For a good bright green, dye the wool a rather light blue, then wash and dry; Mordant with alum, green it with a good yellow dye, such as weld or fustic, varying the proportion of each according to the shade of green required. Heather tips, dyer’s broom, dock roots, poplar leaves, saw wort are also good yellows for dyeing green. If Indigo Extract is used for the blue, fustic is the best yellow for greening, its colour is less affected by the sulphuric acid than other yellows.

Recipe 2 Indigo extract and weld for wool (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant 1lb wool with 4ozs alum and 1/2oz cream of tartar. Dye blue with sufficiency of indigo extract, wash and dry. Prepare a dye bath with weld which has been previously chopped up and boiled. Enter wool and boil for half an hour or more.

Recipe 3 Green for wool (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant with alum and cream of tartar, add to the mordanting bath a little weld or fustic. Dye with 6ozs fustic (or weld). Dye in a separate bath with indigo extract, a rather bluer green than is wanted. Then put into a yellow bath till the right shade of green is got.

Each student went home with 10 dyed skeins, eight dyed as in the recipes above and two dyed in dye bath exhausts chosen by each student.

The eight colours from the recipes given above. From left to right: cochineal crimson, cochineal violet, madder brown, madder, weld, weld + Saxon blue, weld + iron, Saxon blue

Some sample skeins labelled ready for the students to take home

Ethel Mairet Recipes

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I dyed some more samples for the Ethel Mairet project at Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, following recipes from the 1916 edition of Ethel Mairet’s book “Vegetable Dyes”. The recipes and fibre samples were selected for me by the project co-ordinator, who decided that where possible each recipe should be used on wool, silk, cotton and linen fibres, even where the recipe was for specific fibres and not for all fibres. Most of Ethel Mairet’s recipes assume that the dyer has some experience, so the instructions are often brief and some tend to be little more than a list of ingredients. Also, as the recipes are often for large quantities of fibres, working out how to adapt some of the recipes for dyeing 10g skeins can be quite a challenge. (However, for dyers wishing to participate in the Ditchling Museum Ethel Mairet dyeing project, there is plenty of information on the Ditchling Museum website about mordanting and dyeing methods, plus some guidelines for adapting Ethel Mairet’s recipes for small quantities.)

My first samples were dyed in Fustic (Chlorophora (or Morus) tinctoria) which comes from the heartwood of a tree grown in South and Central America. It was one of the dyes introduced into Europe in the early 16th century, following the discovery of the sea route to the Americas at the end of the 15th century.

1. Samples of wool, cotton & linen were dyed following the instructions for dark yellow given in Recipe 2 on p114 (YELLOW FOR SILK). However, as the museum already had a sample of silk dyed following this recipe, I had only wool, cotton and linen skeins to dye.

“Work the silk for 1/4 to 1/2 hour at 50C to 60C in a bath containing 16% alum and a decoction of 8% to 16% of old Fustic. For dark yellow the silk is mordanted with alum, washed and dyed for about an hour at 50C, with 50% to 100% of Fustic. The colour can be made faster and brighter by working the silk in a cold solution of nitro-muriate of Tin for an hour.”  (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe was relatively simple to follow because the measurements are given as percentages. I decided to follow the instructions for dark yellow and to omit the final step using solution of tin.

The samples were first mordanted in alum. The wool sample was mordanted using 25% aluminium sulphate and the cotton and linen samples were mordanted using 5% aluminium acetate. The samples were rinsed well then dyed using 100% dried fustic woodchips.

2. Samples of cotton, linen & silk were dyed following the instructions given in Recipe 8 on p115 (YELLOW FOR SILK)

“(5 lbs) Work the silk through an alum solution of 1lb to a gallon of water. Wash in warm water. Boil 2lbs Fustic for 1/2 hour in water and in this work the silk for 1/2 hour. Lift and add one pint of the alum solution. Work 10 minutes longer, then wash and dry.” (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe required some calculations in order to adapt it for 10gm skeins. The samples were first worked in a solution of aluminium acetate then rinsed well. A dye solution of 40% dried fustic woodchips (Chlorophora  tinctoria) was prepared by simmering the wood chips in water for 45 minutes. The dye solution was strained and the samples were dyed in this then removed. Some of the remaining aluminium acetate solution was added to the fustic dye liquid and the samples were returned & dyed in this for a further 10 minutes.

The photo above shows from left to right: Recipe 2 p114 wool, cotton linen and Recipe 8 p115 silk, cotton, linen

3. Samples of wool & silk were dyed following the instructions given in Recipe 10 on p115 (BUFF COLOUR ON WOOL) This recipe uses a combination of fustic and madder root.

“(45 lbs) Boil 4 1/2 lbs Fustic and 1 1/2 lbs madder. Add 7 lbs alum and boil up together. Allow to cool a little, enter wool and boil for 1/2 hour.” (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe required some calculations in order to adapt it for 10gm skeins. 10% dried fustic wood chips (Chlorophora  tinctoria) and 4% dried madder root (Rubia tinctorum) were simmered in water for 45 minutes and then the dye solution was strained off. Approximately 20% aluminium potassium sulphate was added to the dye bath, which was simmered for 10 minutes then allowed to cool. The samples were added and simmered for 30 minutes.

4. Samples of cotton and linen were dyed following the instructions given in Recipe 10 on p126 (CATECHU STONE DRAB) 

Catechu is another word for cutch, which comes from the heartwood of Acacia catechu, a small thorny tree cultivated mainly in India, the East Indies and Southeast Asia. The dye is supplied as a powdered extract which dissolves in water. It should be mixed and stirred well to avoid lumps. Cutch does not require a pre-mordant. Logwood is also used in this recipe and this comes from the heartwood of Haematoxylon campechianum, a tree grown in Central America. Logwood was one of the most significant dyes introduced into Europe in the early 16th century, following the discovery of the sea route to the Americas at the end of the 15th century. The alum used in the recipe is for the logwood, which does require a mordant.

” (10lbs cotton) Work the cotton for 1.4 hour with 2 pints catechu (1lb catechu to 7 or 8 gallons water; boil and add 2 oz copper sulphate) in hot water, lift and add 2 oz copperas in solution. Work for 1/4 hour and wash. Add 2 oz logwood to a bath of warm water & work cotton in this for 10 minutes. Lift and add 1/2 oz alum. Work 10 minutes; wring out and dry.”  (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe required some calculations in order to adapt it for two 10gm skeins and some of it had to be guesswork, based on experience. 2 teaspoons of powdered cutch (Acacia catechu) were mixed to a smooth paste with boiling water then added to hot water, to which 1 teaspoon of copper sulphate was also added. The cutch mixture was simmered briefly then unmordanted samples of cotton and linen were added and worked in the solution for 15 minutes. The samples were removed and then 1 teaspoon of ferrous sulphate was added to the cutch dye solution and stirred in well. The samples were simmered in this for 15 minutes then removed and rinsed. 1 teaspoon of logwood chips (Haematoxylon campechianum) was simmered in hot water & then the samples were simmered in the strained-off logwood solution for 10 minutes. They were then removed and half a teaspoon of aluminium sulphate was added to the logwood solution. The samples were simmered in this solution for 10 minutes then removed and rinsed well.

A wool sample was dyed following the instructions on p128 for MADDER for BROWN

(For 2 1/2 lbs wool) Mordant with 2 oz copperas and 2 oz cream of tartar. Dye with madder (From “Vegetable Dyes” 1916)

This recipe required some calculations in order to adapt it for one 10gm skein. The wool sample was first mordanted with iron (copperas), using a solution made by mixing half a teaspoon each of ferrous sulphate and cream of tartar in boiling water.  50% madder root (Rubia tinctorum) was simmered for 30 minutes then strained to make a dye solution, in which the wool was gently simmered for 30 minutes.

This photo shows from left to right: madder for brown on wool, buff on wool & silk, catechu stone drab on cotton & linen

Dyeing with safflower petals

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Recently I was asked to dye some samples using safflower petals from Nepal. The dyed samples are to be exhibited at Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden as part of an exhibition highlighting the flora of Nepal.

Safflower is a thistle-like plant and nowadays it is grown mainly for the oil from its seeds, which is used in salad oils and margarine. It is also occasionally referred to as “bastard saffron” because it is sometimes used as a substitute for the true saffron from the stigmas of an autumn-flowering crocus. Stems of safflower are often sold for dried flower arrangements.

Safflower has been used by dyers for centuries. It was one of the dyes identified on early Egyptian textiles and in the East it was also used to make pigments and cosmetics. Safflower is remarkable because both a yellow and a red dye can be extracted from its petals.

safflower blog 3 IMG_2117

The photo above shows a range of yellows and reds from safflower petals.

The red dye was used from early times in India and Japan to dye cotton and silk shades of vibrant pinks and orange-red, which tend to fade with the passage of time and frequent exposure to light. The yellow dye, although deep and brilliant at first, also has relatively poor fastness. The red dye from safflower was used to dye the tapes tied around legal documents – hence the term “Red Tape”.

To dye with safflower, use at least equal weights of dyestuff and fibres. (Stronger colours will result if you use twice the weight of the fibres to be dyed.) No mordant is required for pinks and reds. Although no mordant is necessary for yellows, using an alum mordant will improve fastness.

Note: the same petals can be used for both yellow and red.

The yellow dye can be applied to animal and vegetable fibres. The red dye, which is applied at room temperature, is suitable for cotton, linen and silk, but not for wool, which does not take up the red colour.

Dyeing reds with safflower is not straightforward, so below are some details.

First of all the yellow dye must be extracted from the petals. It is advisable to wear rubber gloves or your hands will become stained. Tie the petals up in a piece of muslin or old net curtaining and immerse this bag of petals in a bucket or bowl of cool water and leave to soak for a while. Then start to press and squeeze the bag to extract the yellow dye. Remove the bag from time to time to check how much colour is still running out. When the water in the bucket is strongly coloured and the petals no longer yield much yellow dye, squeeze out the excess water from the bag. Remove the petals and put them into a pan or plastic container and reserve the yellow dye for a dye bath later.

To extract and then apply the red dye,  first cover the petals in your container with enough cold water for your subsequent dye bath. Then add enough washing soda to bring the solution to pH 11 and turn the petals reddish-brown. Leave for about 1 hour, then squeeze the petals well and strain off the liquid. Don’t throw away the petals because the same petals can be used again for paler pinks, following the same processes.

Then add enough clear vinegar or lemon juice to the strained-off liquid to bring the solution to pH 6. It should now be bright red and ready for use.

Do not heat the dye liquid, but add the fibres and leave them to soak for several hours or overnight. Rinse well and dry away from direct sunlight.

Silk treated in the red dye bath becomes coral or orange, rather than pink. This is because the acidic dye liquid that contains the red dye also contains a second yellow dye, which is taken up by silk but not by cotton.

safflower blog 2 IMG_2113 reds

The photo above shows from the top: coral/orange on silk and red on cotton

To produce pink shades on silk an extra procedure must be followed. First add some cotton fibres to the red dye liquid as above and leave them for several hours or overnight to absorb the red dye.

Then discharge this red dye from the cotton fibres back into a solution by placing the dyed cotton into an alkaline solution of water and washing soda at pH11. Soak the cotton in this solution for about 30 minutes or until the solution becomes red.

Then remove the cotton, acidify the solution to pH6 as described above and add the silk fibres. Leave them to soak until they have become pink.

safflower blog 3 IMG_2117

The photo above shows pinks on silk after the extra step.

Dyeing yellow with safflower petals is much simpler. Put the dye liquid into a dye pot, add the fibres to be dyed and heat to simmering point. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes then turn off the heat & allow the fibres to cool down in the dye bath. Then remove them and wash and rinse them.

safflower for blog 1IMG_2112

This photo shows a range of yellows from safflower on wool (top), silk (centre) and cotton (bottom)

 

 

Alkanet Root

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

One of my first experiences of using alkanet root (Alkanna tinctoria) was when I was asked to dye wool for making kneelers for a church in Wales. They wanted blue and a warm grey and from the dyed samples I sent they chose the colours from indigo and alkanet root. I was a little apprehensive, as I know alkanet doesn’t have the best reputation for light fastness, but as the kneelers would not be in much sunlight in their positions in the church and the customer was adamant she wanted to go ahead, I decided to risk it. This was about twenty years ago and as they were delighted with the results when the kneelers were completed and I haven’t had any complaints since, I assume the colours have remained pleasing.

In our search for lavender and purple colours for South Downs Yarn, preferably using dyes grown in the garden or harvested locally, Louise and I decided to experiment with alkanet root. It is important to use dyer’s alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) and not plants commonly called alkanet, such as common alkanet (Anchusa officinalis) or green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens), which do not have the dye properties of dyer’s alkanet.  It is not easy to source plants or seeds of Alkanna tinctoria, so we used dried dyestuff from France.

According to what I had read, the red pigment in alkanet root is not water soluble and can only be extracted using something with a high alcohol content, such as rubbing alcohol.

NB Great caution must be exercised when using alcohol, as it can easily catch fire and should not be used near a naked flame. Rubbing alcohol also has a rather unpleasant smell and gives off unpleasant fumes, so it may be advisable to wear a face mask to avoid inhaling these fumes.

Some references indicated an alum mordant should be used so, although I usually use alkanet without a mordant, I mordanted some wool with alum ready for the tests. I steeped the alkanet root in rubbing alcohol for a week and the liquid became a deep red, which seemed full of promise.

blog x2016-04-20 10.04.58

Above: the alkanet and rubbing alcohol solution ready for use

I strained the liquid into a dye pot, added more water and gently simmered the mordanted wool in this solution for about 30 minutes. Initially it looked as if the red colour would be absorbed by the fibres but sadly this was not the case and when the wool was removed from the dye bath it was green and definitely not red or pink or purple. Although this was a pleasant colour, it was not what I had been aiming to achieve, so naturally I was rather disappointed.

blog 20160522_153304

Above: the green skein produced from the alcohol-extraction alkanet dye bath (Photo courtesy of Louise Spong)

My next step was to try and work out where I had gone wrong. Following further study in reference books, I discovered that some dyers recommend keeping the temperature of the dye bath well below a simmer, so my mistake may have been in allowing the dye bath to simmer. Next time I will keep the temperature low and hope for better results. However, it will be a while before I try again with rubbing alcohol, as the unpleasant odour remained in the house for about a week afterwards. (I realise it was not sensible to use rubbing alcohol indoors and I will use it outdoors next time.)

I wanted to try some more experiments with alkanet, this time without extracting the colour in rubbing alcohol, so I decided to follow a recipe I found in Gill Dalby’s book Fast or Fugitive. After simmering the alkanet root in water to extract the colour, I added a little clear vinegar, stirred well and then added the wool samples, both unmordanted and alum-mordanted.

I also did a further test, this time without adding vinegar to the dye bath, and I applied an alkaline modifier, using soda ash, after dyeing.

The results of these experiments confirmed what I had already discovered when dyeing with alkanet, namely that the results can be very variable and much seems to depend on the mineral content of the water used for dyeing. When I travelled around the country teaching workshops, I sometimes used alkanet and I could never predict what shades and tones of colour would emerge from the dye pot, as the colours varied considerably from area to area.

The photo below shows the results of my tests.

blog P1030416

From left to right:

Skeins 1 & 2: dye bath + vinegar, no mordant and alum mordant

Skeins 3 & 4: dye bath followed by alkaline modifier, no mordant and alum mordant

The first skein has a pink tone, although I wouldn’t describe the colour as pink; the second and fourth skeins (both alum-mordanted) have a green tinge and it would seem that alum brings out the green tones.

Louise Spong of South Downs Yarn also did her own experiments with alkanet root and used cheap vodka as the alcohol to extract the colour. She used de-ionised water and steeped the roots for two weeks before using them. After my failure to achieve purple when I simmered the dye bath, Louise wisely kept the temperature of the dye bath below a simmer and she produced a pretty lavender colour. Success at last! (But sadly not mine.)

alkanet lavender 20160612_175340

Louise’s lavender skeins of South Downs Yarn (photo courtesy of Louise Spong)

Workshop at Plumpton College

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Earlier in March I taught a workshop for my dear friend Sue Craig and the students on her “Grow Your Own Colour” course at Plumpton College Brighton. Although I no longer lead workshops myself because of my physical limitations, I am always happy to work with Sue and her students because Sue provides all the materials and equipment and prepares everything in advance and she and her students do everything that is required as far as the hard physical work is concerned. I just sit and talk a lot and give the orders, which suits me very well!

This course was “Marvellous Madder”, which showcases the remarkable colour properties of this amazing dye plant. Last time I did this workshop I attempted too much and rather over-worked the students, so we decided to limit it to 26 wool samples this time.

We used the madder as follows:

Use about 80% madder and wash the madder pieces in cold water to remove some of the yellow and brown pigments. Then pour boiling water over the washed madder pieces and leave them to steep for about 45 seconds. Then strain this liquid into a dye pot and repeat this process twice more. This forms the first “pour-off” dye bath. (See second photo below) NOTE: I usually make this “pour-off” dye bath because it helps to use up some of the yellow and brown pigments that might not have been washed out and that can make the red colour from the main dye bath too dull or brown.

Then simmer the same madder dye pieces for about 30 minutes, strain off the dye solution and leave to cool slightly. Then add the fibres and leave them to steep for about 45 minutes to one hour. If necessary, the madder dye bath can be heated gently but keep it well below simmering point. NOTE: madder can safely be simmered to extract the dye colour but it is better to keep the temperature below simmering point after the fibres have been added, otherwise the colour may become too brown in tone. The same madder pieces can be simmered at least once more to make a further dye bath; indeed, the same madder pieces can often be re-used two or three times. So if we had had time to do this at the workshop, we could have doubled or even trebled the number of samples we achieved.

After dyeing, the samples were modified. (Instructions for making and using colour modifiers can be found in my books.)

As so often happens at workshops where time is limited, the colours achieved were not as deep and intense as I would have liked, although we did achieve a wide range of shades. Had we been able to allow the fibres to remain for longer in the dye bath, we would have had some much richer reds.

MM blog

This photo shows 24 wool samples.

Each group contains a sample of no mordant, alum mordant, tannin (oak gall) mordant and rhubarb leaf base, in that order. From left to right the groups are: no modifier, acidic (vinegar) modifier, alkaline (soda ash) modifier, copper modifier, iron modifier, iron modifier followed by alkaline modifier (2 modifiers applied in succession)

2016-03-05 15.23.18

These samples, also wool, were dyed in the dye liquid poured off when preparing the madder dye bath. From left to right: alum mordant, no mordant

 

ø;

Sue (left) and I obviously enjoyed ourselves!

More experiments with the alkaline extraction method

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

I am very interested in the dyeing techniques of the past and recently I read Krista Vajanto’s dissertation on Dyes & Dyeing Methods in Late Iron Age Finland, http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-51-1790-8, which contains some interesting details about dyes and possible methods for achieving reds (or reddish colours) in areas where madder and madder-related plants were not available. I corresponded with Krista before her dissertation was published and conducted some of my own tests, which I wrote about in my book  A Heritage of Colour. Since then, I have been able to obtain some more information from reading Krista’s dissertation and I have started to experiment further.

One method that would seem to have been used in the Iron Age in northern Europe is what Krista calls “the fermentation of tannins”. Apparently tannin-rich plant materials such as barks and the roots of tormentil (Potentilla erecta) will give red or rust colours if treated in wood ash water or a similar source of alkali. This is very similar to what I call the alkaline extraction method, which I use mainly with madder root and buckthorn bark. In my method, the barks or roots are soaked in wood ash water with no application of heat and the fibres are dyed in this alkaline solution, usually without application of heat or occasionally at a very low temperature. After some time, fermentation will begin and the dye solution will start to become neutral and then acidic.

From my experiments using this method with madder root and buckthorn bark, I have found that if the pH becomes too acidic the red colours become more orange or rust in tone so, in order to obtain true reds, it is important to keep adding alkali to maintain a pH of at least 9. The method Krista used for her experiments with the tannin fermentation method differs somewhat from mine; she fermented the plant materials before adding the fibres, rather than adding the fibres to the wood ash water at the same time as the plant materials. In her dissertation Krista describes how, in her tests, the plant materials were steeped for four weeks in the wood ash water, which started off at about pH10, and then as the time passed the pH values decreased from alkaline to neutral and then to acidic and pH6 as the plant materials fermented.  The fibres were then added to the dye liquid and steeped for two weeks at room temperature. So the main difference between the two methods is that Krista does not add the fibres to the dye solution until it has fermented and become acidic, whereas I add the fibres together with the dyestuff and maintain an alkaline pH while the fibres are steeping in the dye pot and I do not allow the solution to become acidic if I am aiming for reds.

For my latest experiments I decided to first try my method and then the one described by Krista. So I set up some dye baths in glass jars, using alder bark, birch bark, white willow bark and tormentil root. For comparison, I also conducted the same test with buckthorn bark, which I have already used in several tests using the alkaline extraction method. (See my 2013 post Buckthorn Bark)

I half-filled the jars with wood ash water and then added the dye material and wool samples.

AA jars blog postP1030294

The dye liquid became deep red after a day or so and I checked the pH of the solutions every day and added more alkali (wood ash water or soda ash) as necessary to maintain a pH of between 10 and 11.

The samples were finally removed after two weeks. Although they appeared deep red/pink as they were removed from the dye pot, the red colour gradually disappeared as the samples were rinsed and washed, leaving much softer, paler shades. This was interesting, as the colour remains red when using this method with buckthorn bark and does not rinse out.

Below is a photo of the colours achieved. (I would not describe any of the colours as “red”.) There are 2 skeins for each dye; the first skein in each pair is alum mordanted and the second skein is unmordanted.

alkaline extr. method 2016-03-08 11.45.22

From left to right: birch bark, tormentil root, white willow bark, alder bark.

I will now leave the dye solutions to become acidic and ferment before I add a further set of samples to each dye pot.  Once my next tests are completed, I will write a further post on this topic.

For interest, below is a photo of skeins dyed in an alkaline solution of buckthorn bark, following the same method as described in the tests above. The dye bath was kept at around pH10 to pH11 and these skeins are definitely red.

P1030322 blog 5 buckthorn bark

Dyeing with frozen woad leaves

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

 

Recently I read a post on India Flint’s blog (prophet-of-bloom.blogspot.com), in which India suggested using her method for dyeing with frozen flowers as a way of extracting colour from the leaves of indigo-bearing plants. So I decided to try this method with the last few remaining woad leaves in my dye garden.

 

The leaves must be frozen as soon as they have been collected and they must be completely frozen before they are used, so they should be left in the freezer for as long as this takes. They can also be left in the freezer for a longer period, if you don’t want to use them immediately.

 

I managed to collect just about enough leaves for a small trial dye bath and as soon as I had harvested them, I put them into a sealed plastic bag and left them in the freezer for about 24 hours. I then removed the leaves from the freezer and squeezed the bag to crush them before removing them from the bag. I then immersed the leaves in a bowl of lukewarm water. Out of interest I checked the pH of the dye liquid and it was pH7 (neutral). I added some silk and wool fibres, squeezed them with the leaves for a few minutes and then left them to soak for about half an hour. After this time the fibres looked blue. I then left the samples to soak for several more hours, after which they had become a grey/blue. I removed this first set of fibres and added soda ash to the dye bath to make it alkaline (about pH9).  I added a wool skein to this alkaline liquid and left it to soak for several hours. This sample became tan/pink.

 

The results can be seen in the photos below. (Note: The actual blue colours are rather greyer in tone than they appear in the photo.) The blue/grey colours are shades that are sometimes obtained from an almost exhausted woad vat and are also similar to those I often achieve from frozen purple flowers, such as pansies, using the same freezing and dyeing method. However, I was able to harvest only a few leaves for this experiment, so I intend to try it again next year earlier in the growing season and see whether a higher percentage of younger leaves gives different results. I will also try removing the fibres as soon as they have become a reasonable blue, rather than leaving them in the dye bath for a longer period, as it seems possible that prolonged soaking caused the blue colour to become greyer in tone.

The pink/tan colour is similar to the shades obtained from woad leaves if they are simmered to make a dye bath.

 

Although this method may not necessarily produce true indigo blues, it is certainly a useful way of using woad leaves and I am grateful to India for suggesting it. However, without experimenting further and conducting fastness tests, I cannot be sure that the colours achieved from woad leaves by this method would be as fast as those achieved by the more conventional methods.

 

 

281 frozen woad leaves

 

 

 

 

Buckthorn Bark

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

 

Buckthorn bark (Rhamnus spp.) is an extremely useful dye which can be used very successfully without a mordant and gives colours ranging from mustard yellows to true madder-type reds.  (The bark of alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) can be used in the same way as buckthorn bark and gives similar colours.)

 

For reds, buckthorn bark is best processed using the alkaline extraction method, which means soaking the bark in a solution of water and an alkali, such as washing soda or wood ash water. The exact proportions of water to alkali don’t really matter as long as the solution has a pH reading of 10 to 11. As the solution begins to ferment it will become more acidic, so more alkali may need to be added to maintain the degree of alkalinity necessary for reds and pinks. If fibres are added at different stages, a range of shades can be obtained, with colours becoming more orange and less pink in tone as the alkalinity decreases. No heat should be applied to solutions with high alkalinity and the colours develop gradually on the fibres in a cool solution.

 

The fibres can be added together with the buckthorn bark and left to soak with the dyestuff until a suitable depth of colour has been reached. Alternatively, the dye solution can be poured off once the colour has developed and the fibres can be added to this dye solution. Whichever method is selected, no heat should be applied.

 

for blog 172 buckthorn bark alkaline extraction samples p113 lower

 

This photo shows some of the colours achieved from buckthorn bark using the alkaline extraction method described above. (No mordant)

 

012

 

This photo shows some colours from the exhaust dye bath. (No mordant)

 

The alkaline extraction method is a very useful way of extracting and applying colour and can be used with a variety of dyes. It is one of the techniques I shall be featuring in my new book “A Heritage of Colour”, which is currently scheduled for publication in February 2014 and which will include details for using over 50 plants, including buckthorn. I will give more details about this new book in a later post.