Natural Dye- Part 2- Dyebath Prep
First off, a safety warning :-)
NEVER combine a copper mordant and baking soda to raise the pH and cabbage dye. It WILL explode. So there. Don't ask how I found this out. That's the last time I tried concurrent mordanting. The wool turned out a really nice aqua, though
It exploded all over the side of my house, and carried an electrical charge, to boot. You'd think someone with a background in chemistry would have thought before making a weak battery and attempting to boil it, but NOOOOOOOO..........
Moving right along..... So we talked about the different mordants and their effects. Now, there are a few different ways to dye your fiber. We're going to cover three.
First thing, you want to make your dyebath. It's a bit more complicated with natural dyes than with acid dyes. For flowers, you can do dyebath prep and dyeing all in one step, see below.
To start with, you want to use dried materials (except flowers and berries, which are better to use fresh or frozen, but fresh or dried, they fade). Many woods and nuts will give you shades of brown. Many also contain their own tannins, so are great on cotton. Walnut of course gives you a good brown, and can be used with iron as an after-mordant to get black. Some heartwoods, such as brazilwood, logwood, and osage orange will give you really bright tones. I found that naturalpigments.com has a great selection of dyestuffs cheap. They're an artists' supply house.
Most leaves will give you somewhere between a really weak yellowy-green to brown. The only good way to get a great green is really with yellow overdyed with blue :-( I'm not a huge indigo fan (it's a lot of time, and I'm not patient), so that limits my color palette. Cabbage makes a good blue though, and can be used over yellow.
You want to chop up your dye material to get as much surface area as possible for the dye to extract from. In case of bugs, you want to put them through a coffee grinder (NOT one you use for food) Flowers and berries I don't chop, the juice/sap gets everywhere and wastes the dye material.
In the case of anything but flowers, bugs, and berries, let it soak overnight. FOR DYEING WITH BUGS, such as cochineal, lac, and kermes, they can just be ground and boiled. Scale insects make neat dye. I imagine that any bug that makes a neat color when you squish it can be used once you dry it and grind it. Just be aware that it takes a lot of bugs to make an ounce, and that you may just get icky brown. Heat on medium till you get a gentle boil, let it stay there for about 15-20 minutes, drain off the dye, re cover your dyestuff with water, boil again, and so forth and so on till you aren't getting anymore dye. I will wait for shades to get lighter, and keep each shade in a separate glass jar to work from, that way I can dye skeins separately to get lovely gradated colors. It's especially great if you're doing something for embroidery or fair isle work. You can get 5 or 6 different depths of the same shade, which means lovely coordinating colors for doing shading. Keep your dyebath in a glass jar, and use it that day. This is what I got from the cochineal dyebath I used for pinks and reds, left in its jar on a dark shelf for most of a week and then used.
For flowers, I use the coffeepot method Don't knock it, it works!!
NATURAL DYE WAY #1.
I take an old coffee pot I got from the thrift shop, I put a little water in the base to keep my fiber from scorching, and put the mordanted fiber in the pot. I fill the filter with my dyestuff, fill the reservoir with water (PLEASE take into account the volume of fiber and pre-added water when filling the reservoir. I once had dye all over my kitchen because I filled the reservoir too full) and then set it to make a pot of coffee. The hot water extracts the dye from the flowers without overdoing it and turning the color. The hot liquid hits the fiber and dyes it, and once all the dye is extracted, the warmer on the bottom of the pot keeps the "dyepot" at a nice gentle heat to keep the flower dyes from turning funny colors. I was dyeing with blue malva once, and when I first extracted the dye, it's this great rich violet color. Thirty minutes later it turned to reddish, then mucky brown. You have to use the flowers quick. Voila, you're done, you rinse. This one I did on tussah silk, mordanted with tin, with weld, and I used the soaking liquid from my madder for the water in the reservoir
The madder water gave it a lovely peachy tint.
This method works well with bugs, too. Sometimes I'll get the bug dyestuff almost totally exhausted, and then use it in the coffeepot to get the last little bit of dye out, or I'll toss it in with another color to make an orange with weld, for instance.
For everything else......
Once you've soaked it overnight, drain out your dyestuffs, and either keep or discard your soak water. Sometimes I'll use it with something else to richen the color. Usually, it's much duller than the actual dyebath will be, and adding it to the dyebath will dull your finished results. Put your dyestuff in a pot, and cover with fresh water. I use filtered water to keep any weird stuff from messing up my colors. Bring it to a low boil over medium heat, and boil for about 10-15 minutes for berries, and up to 45 minutes for some woods. Strain off the dye into a glass jar, re-cover with water, and repeat. Like I said above with the bugs, you can keep each repeat separate. You can even use the triple threat method to make the same yarn several shades of the same color (obviously, using the different dyes in different jars, rather than different mordants).*****Alkanet (also known as anchusa and dyers' bugloss) should be extracted in alcohol, not water, and Annatto should be done in oil. In neither case do you need to pre-soak.***** Now you have a dyebath. So what to do with it?
NATURAL DYE WAY #2
This is the next easiest way to dye. You put your dyebath back in the same pot (obviously, after rinsing out any dyestuff bits left). Then you chuck in your pre-mordanted and RINSED fiber. Leave it until its the right shade. Take it out and rinse it. One way I will sometimes vat dye is to take all my "coordinating" dyestuffs, like shades of red and purple, or red and yellow, or yellows and browns, etc etc etc, and chuck them all in the pot once I've extracted all that I need from them, and see what kind of mix I get. Then I just strain out all the dyestuff with one of those wok strainers, and toss in my fiber. I did it with logwood, cochineal, and madder and got a great navy black
Still to come.... handpainting in the oven with natural dyes.