Archive for the ‘Dyeing Tips & Recipes’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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)

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

Indigo dyeing with vinegar

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

 

I have been intending for some time to try the vinegar method of dyeing with fresh leaves from indigo-bearing plants and this year I managed to collect enough Japanese Indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) leaves to make an experimental vat.

 

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These rather pathetic-looking plants did eventually  grow sufficiently well to provide some leaves for a small test vat but still only produced enough to fill about a quarter of a small bucket.

 

I must admit that I have been a little sceptical about the likelihood of being able to produce fast blues  from indigo-bearing leaves using only water and vinegar and no heat.  But obviously one should always try a recipe before offering an opinion.

For this method, the leaves must be processed as soon as they have been picked and, after washing them, it is important to cut or shred the leaves very finely. (First of all, I made the mistake of using a stainless steel demiluna chopper on a wooden chopping board and as a result I wasted some of the dye potential and now have a chopping board permanently stained blue. I considered using a liquidiser but decided in the end to cut up the leaves with scissors.) Then I poured enough cold water over the leaves to cover them and added a little clear vinegar to the water – about 15mls per litre – then vigorously kneaded the leaves in the water-vinegar solution for several minutes until the liquid became bright green. I strained off this liquid into a dye pot and then made a second water-vinegar solution and repeated the process with the same leaves. I then squeezed the leaves very well before straining off this liquid and adding it to the bright green liquid in the dye pot. Then I added the wetted-out fibres and left them to soak in the liquid for about one hour until they had become blue in colour. Then I rinsed the fibres and hung them up to dry. The photo below shows the dyed wool and silk.

 

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I decided to try this method with woad leaves (Isatis tinctoria) but unfortunately, as I had already harvested virtually all my woad leaves a few weeks before, all I managed to find for this experiment were about ten thin leaves left clinging to the plants.  So I wasn’t really expecting this test to be successful but these few leaves dyed the fibres a similar, but somewhat paler, blue. I would hope to get deeper blues from a larger quantity of woad leaves but sadly that will have to wait until next year.

Only time and several washes will prove whether this method gives blues which are light- and wash-fast, so I shall reserve my judgement until a later date. Certainly, if fast blues can be produced so easily and quickly, one wonders why dyers would bother with the more usual way of using fresh woad and Japanese Indigo leaves. And I suppose that thought is what made me sceptical about the merits of this method in the first place.

Walnut hulls & madder root again – but no purples or pinks

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

I have now done some more experiments using a combination of walnut hulls and madder root – this time using dried madder root, rather than madder extract. As the photo below shows, sadly no purple or pinks were achieved. So I assume that there must be something in the madder extract that caused the results I described in my last post. Whatever this “something” may be, it would not seem to be present in dried madder root.

From left to right: alum mordant, no mordant, no mordant + alkali, no mordant + iron, no mordant + (1) iron & (2) alkali

I simmered the walnut hulls and madder root together for about 30 minutes, then strained off the dye liquid and added the first two samples. After these had been dyed, I added the three remaining samples. After these had simmered for 45 minutes, I removed them and divided the dye bath into two. I added washing soda to one dye bath and iron to the other. I modified one dyed sample in washing soda and two in iron. I then removed one sample from the iron-modified dye bath, rinsed it well then added it to the dye bath containing the washing soda.

Sadly, no purples or pinks were achieved but the reddish-browns are attractive shades.

Not what I was expecting

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

I tend to stick to a somewhat limited palette when producing items for myself, so I am trying to extend the range of colours I usually work with. My preference seems to be for the strong reds, purples, pinks and blues that come from madder, woad, indigo, cochineal and logwood. So for a change I decided to aim for a rich medium brown that I hoped would provide a pleasing contrast with some indigo-dyed wool I had earmarked for a jacket.

Walnut hulls seemed a reasonable choice of dye and I knew I had a container full of sludge from the fresh green walnut hulls I had collected and processed last year. Fresh green walnut hulls usually give much richer browns than dried hulls and when I used this sludge last year I achieved lovely warm shades, so I was full of enthusiasm. I used unmordanted handspun wool and set up the dyebath. First, I simmered the sludge in its accompanying liquid (plus extra cold water) for about 45 minutes to extract more colour. Then I strained off the dye solution and added more cold water, plus some oak bark solution to increase the tannin content, as this can improve the depth of colour from walnut hulls. The wetted skeins were then put into the dyebath and gently simmered for about an hour, before being left to steep as the solution cooled down.

However, when I inspected the colour on the skeins it became clear that I wasn’t going to achieve the depth of colour I wanted – instead a mid greyish brown (typical of the shades from dried walnut hulls) seemed to be the result. I was still determined to aim for a rich warm brown, so I decided to add some madder extract to the walnut solution, in the hope that adding some red would produce the colour I wanted. I mixed about a teaspoon of madder extract to a paste with hot water, removed the skeins from the dyebath and stirred the madder paste into the dyebath, then returned the skeins to the pot.

To my surprise, the (unmordanted) skeins almost immediately became a purple colour, not the rich brown I was expecting. Then I remembered this had happened before several years ago and I had assumed at that time that it was just one of those strange results that would never be repeated.

I had also made a dyebath from oak leaves and oak bark, as I wanted two slightly different shades of brown, and I had added madder extract to this dyebath too. This time the skein became a rich pink/purple. Both the purple and pink skeins retained their colours after they had been washed and rinsed.

So how do I account for these unexpected results? Well, leaving aside the possibility that some mysterious colour spirit had decided I am destined to work always with the same colour palette, I can only assume that the tannin in the walnut hulls and oak leaves and bark reacted with some pigments or chemicals in the madder extract to produce these purple colours. Perhaps the madder extract contains elements from the processing that are not present in madder root, so now I need to try out this combination using madder root, rather than extract. If this does not produce these purple colours, then the assumption would probably be that something present in madder extract , but not in madder root, was the cause of the purple colours.

If anyone has any other ideas as to how and why these purple colours resulted from these dye combinations, please let me know!

What I was expecting:

What I achieved: