Natural Dyeing: The Many Faces of Indigo (Part 1)

This is a big post. There’s a lot to say about indigo (way more than I know or have experience with), but even for my first foray into the indigo world, I learned a lot.

Indigo was something I wanted to try down the road, and had no plans to get into right away. While I dip my toe in the natural dyeing waters, my whole mantra (as I’ve said in these posts before) is to keep it simple at first, then build, adding one variable at a time. Indigo seemed like a big, scary thing (honestly), with a lot of variables that I didn’t necessarily understand. What pushed me to try it though, were some kind suggestions by experienced natural dyers (including Andrea of Fox Print Fibres – check out her shop, she weaves some amazing magic with natural dyes). I also really, really wanted to fix my skeins from my Logwood exhaust & osage disaster. Indigo seemed like a pretty sure-fire way to fix them, I just had to wrap my head around the whole process first.

I will say, I took a bit of an easy way out for my first indigo experiment – I started with pre-reduced indigo, rather than creating a stock solution from the plant itself to go into the vat. Creating that stock solution is still what I’m trying to wrap my head around, and while I’m eager to learn, I think that’ll be in the “next year” box when I can get elbow deep (so to speak). So I went to an art store close to where I live, and lo and behold, they had everything I needed! I grabbed some pre-reduced indigo, some soda ash, and some hydro (sodium hydrosulfite).

 

A Word On Safety

With the indigo dyeing procedure, you are dealing with chemicals. Soda ash is an alkaline, which can cause skin irritation. Hydro is an irritant to the skin as well, and can be harmful if breathed in. Hydro can also be flammable, and can combust if exposed high heat, sparks or fire. I don’t say this to scare you off – but there are precautions to take. Wear a mask and gloves, and eye protection if you want to be really careful. Don’t do any mixing or storage by things that may spark or emit high heat (so, don’t keep your hydro next to a stove or space heater).

Another tip – add your soda ash and hydro (or whatever reducing agent you use) to water, and not the other way around. This will reduce the likelihood of dust partials rising up from the powdered forms your using (so you don’t breathe them in).

 

Recipe for the vat
    20g of pre-reduced indigo
    50g of hydro
    100g of soda ash

You absolutely do not have to use this exact recipe (but it does fit nicely in a 5 gallon paint bucket). Supposedly this will do about 5lbs of fabric/textiles, but I noticed a distinct change in colour at about the 3.5-4lb mark.

The ratio I followed is 1:2:4 (1 part pre-reduced indigo, 2 parts hydro, 4 parts soda ash). I was a wee bit off (strictly following that recipe I should have used 25g of indigo), but that ratio is pretty solid.

 

Materials

Indigo dyeing takes a few more materials than natural dyeing in the kitchen, so here’s my arsenal of tools that I set up before I got going:

    5 gallon paint bucket and lid
    Gloves
    N95 dust mask (for mixing the powdered ingredients)
    Drop cloth (to cover the area where I would be dyeing)
    48″ Stir stick (just a piece of balsa wood – long enough to reach the bottom of the bucket with lots of handle room)
    3 bowls dedicated to indigo dyeing (1 for indigo, 1 for soda ash, and 1 for hydro, so I can pre-measure and have them ready to go into the water).

 

Setting Up the pre-reduced vat

What I’m starting with is a granular pre-reduced indigo, a bag of soda ash, and the hydro. The pre-reduced indigo only needs to go into the vat, but it was still in pretty good chunks (think something about the size of coarse sea salt). I wanted it to dissolve in the water, so I crushed it up more with a mortar and pestle to get it a lot more fine.

I measured out my weights of all my ingredients and set them off to the side. I took my paint bucket, and filled it with about 4 gallons of warm water (about 55C) and brought it out to my dyeing area. I first added my measured hydro and soda ash, and carefully and slowly stirred the mixture in a clock-wise motion until they were dissolved. Then I took the indigo, and still stirring slowly in a clockwise motion, I poured that in.

At this point, the colour of the water turned greenish, which is what we want! I started to notice a small amount of bubbles forming at the top too (called the bloom) – also good! This is the hydro taking some of the dissolved oxygen out of the water (more on that below), which we want to make the indigo dye work its magic.

Varying dips of indigo drying after oxidization

After it was all dissolved, I slowly dragged the stick in the other direction to get the water to stop spinning. At this point – you wait. I waited about 2 hours to let the hydro do its thing and remove some more oxygen from the water. When I came back, I had a bigger bloom and a nice greenish looking mixture. I knew we were ready to go.

 

Timing

Indigo is all about timing and number of dips. Unlike other natural dyeing methods, where you (generally) plop your textile into the water and wait to get your colour, indigo benefits from shorter but several dips into the same bath to achieve a darker colour.

I read a lot about indigo before trying this first vat – and everything I read said for darker colours do more dips. Leaving your textile in the vat longer, while producing a darker colour, might not produce the subtlety of shade you want. I wanted those subtle shade differences, so I set aside a group of skeins that were all spun at the same time from the same fibre, and dedicated those to creating a gradient using the short but several dips method.

Then we have the oxidization process in between dips. Because the hydro pulls oxygen out of the water, so the indigo can work its magic and permeate the textile, when you first pull those skeins out they look more greenish than blue. So what you do, is allow the oxygen to work its way back into the dye, and before your eyes you see the colour go from a greenish blue to indigo blue (it’s very cool to watch). I’ve read lots of different timings for this oxidization process. Some use the time of the dip to dictate the time of the oxidization (so a five minute dip calls for a five minute oxidization). I’ve read people who do a set time every time, no matter how long the dip. For me, I went with a 15-20 minute oxidization, regardless of the dip time. From what I understand, you can get too much oxidization, and I wanted time to be able to set the skeins out, oxidize, then move them around to make sure all surfaces were being got at by the air.

Let’s look at the photo from the top of the post:

These are four skeins of aran weight 2-ply Tunis I spun up a few months ago. From left to right these were my times:

    1st skein: 2 dips at 5 minutes each
    2nd skein: 2 dips at 2 minutes each
    3rd skein: 1 dip at 2 minutes
    4th skein: 1 dip at 1 minute

All skeins had a 20 minute oxidization between their dips.

The 4th skein, because of such a quick dip (and possibly a tiny bit of lanolin still left in the skein) I got a very slight uneven colouring. The roving I used was made at a mill here in Alberta, and if I were to do such a short dip again from a commercial source, I’d scour the skeins before dyeing. I say commercial, only because I’m pretty fastidious in my own scouring process to get the lanolin out, and I’m pretty confident that what I’ve washed and prepped myself is pretty clean (if not, I can tell during the spinning process).

 

Let’s Talk Mechanisms

There’s a whole lot going on in an indigo vat. There are a few things you absolutely need: no dissolved oxygen (which is free-floating O2 not part of the H2O compound), and an alkaline solution (think pH 10-11). Indigo won’t adhere to textiles if there’s oxygen and a basic or acidic solution during the submersion process, hence the reducing agent and soda ash.

There’s a really, really great (and thorough) explanation of the vat and how it works right here, but for our purposes I just want to quote a specific section of the text:

The indigo pigment molecule, as purchased, will not react with cloth or dye it. It can be rubbed in and will cause a temporary stain, but it is not dye. […] The Vat must fulfill two conditions to properly modify the Indigo, it must first have an elevated pH, a condition know(n) (sic) as alkalinity in which the amount of OH− ions exceeds that of H+ ions in the solution. Second, the Vat must be a reduced solution, meaning (in this case specifically) that the solution is devoid of dissolved oxygen and there are an excess of electrons in solution which causes the oxygen atoms present on the indigo molecule to be reduced (essentially snatching up these electrons into their orbit) and changing the Indigo molecule into what is called Leuco-Indigo which becomes dissolved in the Vat solution. This change is easily visually confirmed! Leuco-Indigo will appear as a transparent yellow-green (not too dissimilar from a childhood favorite soda, Mountain Dew) as compared to the opaque dark blue of Indigotin in suspension.

So now that we’ve pulled out that extra dissolved oxygen out of the mix, causing the solution to grab oxygen from the indigo molecules themselves, we need to reintroduce the indigo molecules to air so they in turn grab what they lost in the vat. This is why the solution – and your skeins when you first pull them out – look greenish rather than blue.

I like to take the skeins out, set them down, then in about 10 minutes come back and move them around, to make sure the air is permeating all the plies of the yarn equally. Referring to the quotation above – what we’re doing at this moment is re-introducing the oxygen that was snatched up in the vat from the indigo molecules and binding them back into the indigo molecules and your textile.

Ta-da! Science and art harmoniously at work.

Now I am 100% not a chemist (not even close), but I am technically minded. If I can wrap my head around the mechanism, I can do the thing better than I could otherwise. For those of you like me, I hope that made what’s actually going down in that vat of yours make sense.

 

Thoughts & What I Learned
  • Indigo is the fixer of all things – I love my skeins of what I considered my biggest failure to date of natural dyeing. They’re by far my favourite thing I’ve dyed at this point (and I’ll be talking more specifically about that in part two).
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  • Indigo is a world unto itself – Before doing this, I thought indigo = denim jeans. I know, that sounds kind of silly, but bear with me. The truth is, using this dye is so much more than producing a jeans-coloured blue. Through this process I’ve become really interested in the history and the tradition of dyeing with indigo. It’s something I’m excited to learn more about.
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  • For the newb, pre-reduced indigo is a great stepping stone – I very much like to do it all myself, but I’m really glad I went with pre-reduced first. It let me focus on the vat system and getting that set up – now that I’ve done it, I feel a lot more confident in starting from my own stock solution (and growing my own plants next year if I can do it in my climate).
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    Check Out Some Resources

    This is by no means an exhaustive list on indigo dyeing. But these are a few interesting snippets I found on the web:

    A Maiwa Guide to Indigo
    Indigo Vat Basics (from textile designer Graham Keegan)
    True Blue: Indigo Dyeing in Japan – a fantastic mini-documentary (less than 3 minutes) about an operating traditional indigo farm, and a traditional dyer in Japan.
    Wild Colour by Jenny Dean and Karen Diadick Casselman. This is a touchstone book for natural dyeing in general, but the sections on indigo are also extremely good.

    Next up will be part two – about fixing mistakes, overdyeing, and further thoughts on indigo dyeing and my first vat.

    Natural Dyeing: Keeping It Simple With Osage

    I did not feel great about these skeins. In fact, I would be so bold as to say I actively disliked the colour you see in the photo. But learning about not just dyeing, but natural dyeing, is all about successes and failures, and this one I would definitely put in the “failure” camp, at least initially. The nice thing with dyeing, however, is unless you’ve already got a very dark colour, there’s wiggle room (more on that below).

    These skeins were some 3 ply Clun Forest that I had spun a few months ago, and while I really liked different aspects of the yarn – the tight twist angle being my favourite – the finished weight ended up being much heavier than I had anticipated. So, as I’m now in the habit of, all skeins I’m not insanely happy with go into the test dye pot pile. Eventually the skeins I am insanely happy with will also go right into the dye pile, I just want to be more assured of what I’m doing first, which is what this whole series of experimentation is about.

      Recipe

      188g Clun Forest 3 ply
      Logwood exhaust
      8g Osage extract (4% WOF)

     

    The Process

    I used the Logwood exhaust from my previous dyebath. I had taken that yarn out, but kept the pot simmering, and at that point added the extra Osage extract for this bath. I threw in my pre-soaked, pre-mordanted 3-ply Clun Forest and simmered the concoction for 50 minutes at 75-80C. At the 50 minute mark I turned off the stove, and put the dyepot out to cool. In there the yarn rested for another 10-15 minutes, then I pulled out the yarn and rinsed.

    I had hoped for an olive drab, or something in that range. However, I got what I referred to in my notes as “pukey khaki”. To say I was not instantly smitten was an understatement. I really did not like this colour, and I could not ever see me using this yarn. I’m not generally against khakis or beiges, but something about this one just rubbed me the wrong way. The Logwood appeared to lend just enough colour to dull the Osage and, to my eye, bring out the worst in both colours.

    I had noticed after I initially pulled out the skeins with the first dyebath of Logwood that there was very little run off during the rinse phase. To me this indicates almost all of the Logwood had been brought up into those first skeins which only left just enough in the exhaust to dull the Osage. I tried the same ratio of Osage extract to weight of fibre in another dye bath (more on that in a subsequent post), just to see what the difference would be without that exhaust Logwood in there and the difference with just that tiny bit of Logwood exhaust was quite remarkable.

     

    Fixing Mistakes

    Fortunately, the colour was relatively light, which meant that I could overdye and fix the colour somehow. I let it ruminate (as they say) for about a week. I had some chestnut and I figured I could just dye the skeins brown. But then, my interest in indigo got piqued, and I went on the hunt for some of those supplies.

    I’ll go into my first foray into indigo in a future post (I’m seriously in love), but what I ended up doing was a quick 5 minute dip in the indigo vat and what came out was pure heaven. I love these skeins now. They are a beautiful petrol blue (one of my favourite colours), and it really solidified the idea in my mind that what you get on a skein with dyeing doesn’t have to become the final result.

     

    What I learned
  • Exhaust is a tricky thing – I’d definitely like to experiment more with exhausts, but it’s inherently a non-repeatable adventure. Knowing what I know now about Logwood, if I were attempt to use an exhaust from that particular wood again I’d use more in the initial dye pot, but that begs the question, will that just make the first bath an even deeper purple? Unfortunately I don’t have an answer on that at this juncture.
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  • Indigo is the healer of all wounds – If it wasn’t for the indigo dip I never would have used this yarn. As it stands now, I wish I had more! This is a colour I will definitely be trying to reproduce.
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  • Osage is a delicate colour – and I think it’s very difficult for a new dyer like me to utilize for mixing. Perhaps if I had dyed with Osage and then did a quick Logwood bath the colour might have come out more what I had originally intended, but I just don’t know since the Logwood is so powerful.

     
    Crossposted from Dominion Fleece & Fibre

  • Natural Dyeing: Exhaust and Osage

    I did not feel great about these skeins. In fact, I would be so bold as to say I actively disliked the colour you see in the photo. But learning about not just dyeing, but natural dyeing, is all about successes and failures, and this one I would definitely put in the “failure” camp, at least initially. The nice thing with dyeing, however, is unless you’ve already got a very dark colour, there’s wiggle room (more on that below).

    These skeins were some 3 ply Clun Forest that I had spun a few months ago, and while I really liked different aspects of the yarn – the tight twist angle being my favourite – the finished weight ended up being much heavier than I had anticipated. So, as I’m now in the habit of, all skeins I’m not insanely happy with go into the test dye pot pile. Eventually the skeins I am insanely happy with will also go right into the dye pile, I just want to be more assured of what I’m doing first, which is what this whole series of experimentation is about.

      Recipe

      188g Clun Forest 3 ply
      Logwood exhaust
      8g Osage extract (4% WOF)

     

    The Process

    I used the Logwood exhaust from my previous dyebath. I had taken that yarn out, but kept the pot simmering, and at that point added the extra Osage extract for this bath. I threw in my pre-soaked, pre-mordanted 3-ply Clun Forest and simmered the concoction for 50 minutes at 75-80C. At the 50 minute mark I turned off the stove, and put the dyepot out to cool. In there the yarn rested for another 10-15 minutes, then I pulled out the yarn and rinsed.

    I had hoped for an olive drab, or something in that range. However, I got what I referred to in my notes as “pukey khaki”. To say I was not instantly smitten was an understatement. I really did not like this colour, and I could not ever see me using this yarn. I’m not generally against khakis or beiges, but something about this one just rubbed me the wrong way. The Logwood appeared to lend just enough colour to dull the Osage and, to my eye, bring out the worst in both colours.

    I had noticed after I initially pulled out the skeins with the first dyebath of Logwood that there was very little run off during the rinse phase. To me this indicates almost all of the Logwood had been brought up into those first skeins which only left just enough in the exhaust to dull the Osage. I tried the same ratio of Osage extract to weight of fibre in another dye bath (more on that in a subsequent post), just to see what the difference would be without that exhaust Logwood in there and the difference with just that tiny bit of Logwood exhaust was quite remarkable.

     

    Fixing Mistakes

    Fortunately, the colour was relatively light, which meant that I could overdye and fix the colour somehow. I let it ruminate (as they say) for about a week. I had some chestnut and I figured I could just dye the skeins brown. But then, my interest in indigo got piqued, and I went on the hunt for some of those supplies.

    I’ll go into my first foray into indigo in a future post (I’m seriously in love), but what I ended up doing was a quick 5 minute dip in the indigo vat and what came out was pure heaven. I love these skeins now. They are a beautiful petrol blue (one of my favourite colours), and it really solidified the idea in my mind that what you get on a skein with dyeing doesn’t have to become the final result.

     

    What I learned
  • Exhaust is a tricky thing – I’d definitely like to experiment more with exhausts, but it’s inherently a non-repeatable adventure. Knowing what I know now about Logwood, if I were attempt to use an exhaust from that particular wood again I’d use more in the initial dye pot, but that begs the question, will that just make the first bath an even deeper purple? Unfortunately I don’t have an answer on that at this juncture.
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  • Indigo is the healer of all wounds – If it wasn’t for the indigo dip I never would have used this yarn. As it stands now, I wish I had more! This is a colour I will definitely be trying to reproduce.
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  • Osage is a delicate colour – and I think it’s very difficult for a new dyer like me to utilize for mixing. Perhaps if I had dyed with Osage and then did a quick Logwood bath the colour might have come out more what I had originally intended, but I just don’t know since the Logwood is so powerful.

     
    Crossposted from Dominion Fleece & Fibre

  • Natural Dyeing: Taking the Plunge with Logwood

    When trying to decide what my first natural dye would be, I wanted something relatively simple. Or, to put it another way, something relatively straight forward that would allow me to get what I’m going for without too many variables. I’m a big fan of when learning a new skill, start really simple and work your way up to adding all the bells and whistles.

    What this means for me and dyeing is starting with one ingredient to get one colour. Logwood seemed like a good choice to stick to that plan because with minimal additives, afterbaths, etc. you’re pretty much assured to get a deep rich colour.

    I had actually read a few things about Logwood before I began. The first being that hard water can actually be beneficial to popping out the colour of Logwood, which is great because my city has hard water. The second was that adding a bit of osage could push the colour into the more green range (I’m forever trying to get a green, I’ll know I’ve arrived with manipulating colour when I can achieve that). So, despite all my preaching to the contrary I ended up mixing some colours and adding those variables.

    But, as you can see from the photo above, the osage made little dent (if any), so I basically ended up just dyeing with the Logwood.

      Recipe

      248g Pre-mordanted Clun Forest 2-ply
      38g Logwood (15% WOF)
      8g Osage extract (3% WOF)

    I used yarn I had pre-mordanted about three weeks prior. As I discussed in my previous post, pre-mordanting yarn has some anecdotal observations that the colour may set better and brighter as opposed than doing all at once in the dye pot. I’m not sure how true this is, but it fits in with my work flow to pre-mordant, then come back later and dye as the mood strikes.

     

    The Process

    I started first by weighing out my Logwood chips to 15% WOF (weight of fibre) the night before, and placing them in a bowl. I boiled some water, and dumped that over the chips, where the colour immediately began to release. The water went from clear to deep, deep purple as fast as the it hit the chips. I put in enough water to allow the chips to move and float around to allow all of that purple to seep out.

    I came back the next morning, and the water had turned almost black; it was an amazing transition to see. At about the 12 hour soak mark, I set up the dye pot, filled it with water, and strained the wood chips out and set them aside to dry. The lovely thing about Logwood is that the same chips can be used to get a lighter shade in a second batch (which I will be testing out later on another yarn this summer!).

    With the dye pot, water, and Logwood dye suspension, I warmed it up to about 75-80C, and when it hit that temperature I put my pre-wetted yarn in the pot. I let that all simmer for about 50 mins then pulled the yarn out and let it cool.

    I had heard that Logwood just takes forever to rinse, but I found that there was very little run-off of the colour. I was quite pleasantly surprised, so 15% WOF seems to be a good ratio. As I said previously, the Osage really did little if anything at all, so in the future I’ll just forego adding that to the pot.

    All I did after the rinse is squeeze out, then hang to dry in a shaded area. The richness of the purple is quite pleasing, although I’m generally not a huge fan of purple. I have about 300 yds of this Clun Forest handspun, and while the yarn is a bit thicker than what I’d normally use for a pair of socks, I think they’ll do the job nicely.

     

    Solution vs. Suspension

    I wanted to go over this idea, because it’s imperative when understanding dyeing. If you remember your 6th grade science classes, solution and suspensions are two different things. When dyeing, you are creating a suspension.

    A solution is where a solvent (in this case, dyestuff) is mixed into the water and becomes a homogeneous mixture of those two. A solution you can dilute with the solute (water in this case) which would make a lower ratio of the dyestuff and therefore create a lighter shade. But this isn’t what happens in a dyebath.

    A dyebath instead, is a suspension. A suspension is a heterogeneous mixture, where the solute (dyestuff) does not dissolve and mix into the solvent (water) to become a homogeneous solution. Instead the dye particles are suspended, hanging around but separate from the water. That’s why when you create a dye bath, the amount of water doesn’t matter, it’s just the vehicle to dye your yarn. Instead, the weight of fibre to your dyestuff is what matters, because those are the two properties of the dyebath interacting.

     

    What I learned
  • Logwood is an overpowering dye – if trying to mix, use a much lower ratio of Logwood because it just cancels out everything.
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  • Alum – I used a 10% WOF to alum ratio when I pre-mordanted this yarn and I liked it much better. There definitely wasn’t that sticky feeling afterwards that made my Cheviot + lilac unpleasant to touch. I might try incrementally bumping up the alum to just under that sticky threshold. I want just enough alum to get a nice saturation of colour, but not enough to make it so I don’t want to knit with the yarn.
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    Crossposted from Dominion Fleece & Fibre

    Adventures in Natural Dyeing

    Last year, in the summer of 2017, I took my first foray into natural dyeing. I like the idea of natural dyeing – scrounging for stuff in my environment and using that to transform my wool and yarn into something different and unique is especially appealing, although the idea of using plant (or bug!) based dyes that I can’t necessarily find in my back yard is also an attractive thought. There’s something about natural colours that I find particularly beautiful – even the brightest reds or darkest greys have an earthiness to them that shines through.

    I’m going to be using this series of blog posts to detail my adventures in natural dyeing – successes and failures. I hope to share in detail with you what I’ve done, my thoughts, outcomes, and what I learned and what I could do better to achieve the intended colour. So I hope you’ll follow along, and rejoice in the successes, but more importantly learn with me from the failures, because that’s the only way we really get to success.

    This series will be an absolute primer as I learn just what the heck I’m doing. I’ll be explaining terms, discussing resources I’ve found particularly helpful, and sharing my recipes and pictures of skeins I’ve dyed.


    My first experiment in natural dyeing last year happened in early summer. I raided a friend’s lilac tree and grabbed flowers, leaves and stems. I had pre-mondanted my skeins using alum, and used about a 1:2 ratio of plant material to fibre. Honestly, I didn’t keep great notes (something I’ve started doing in earnest this year), but the result was a light khaki on some 2-ply hand spun Cheviot I had worked on earlier in the year. I was thrilled, really, that anything happened at all, and it certainly ignited my interest to further explore natural dyeing.

    Despite my lacklustre notes, I do remember what I did, mostly because it was my only experiment until this week.

      Recipe

      15% WOF (weight of fibre) of alum
      1:2 ratio of dyestuff to wool
      282 g of handspun Cheviot 2-ply yarn

    I had pre-mordanted the skeins about a week prior. I had 282 grams of fibre, so using the 15% WOF ratio I used 42g of alum. 15% WOF for the alum left a “sticky” feeling on the yarn, meaning that the yarn did not take up all the alum I added to the water, and instead had left some desposited on the yarn rather than be taken up into it. It’s an unpleasant feeling, so for subsequent dyeing I reduced the amount to 10% WOF.

    The formula is:

      WOF x 0.10 = amount of alum to use

    So, using this formula, if I was pre-mordanting these yarns again, the calculation would be: 282 x 0.10 = 28.2 g of alum. I round up or down to the closest whole gram, so I would have ended up using 28g of alum.

    Pre-mordanting

    Mordanting is important when it comes to natural dyeing – in a nutshell, it improves light- and washfastness of the colours you’re about add to your yarn. I use alum, as it’s readily available at natural dye suppliers, is relatively safe for home use, and has little documented impact on water systems and the environment.

    The alum binds to the yarn, which then in turns helps bind the dye to the yarn in the dye pot. Without that binding agent, plant dyes especially will loose colour over time (some at an increased speed than others). You can use iron, copper, along with tannins as a mordant as well. Some of these can be harmful to you and the environment, so proper handling is extremely important.

    You can mordant and dye at the same time, however for practical reasons (not using the kitchen stove for hours at a time) I chose to pre-mordant. All that means is you do this step prior to dyeing. Pre-mordanting can be done weeks in advance of dyeing. I like doing a big round of mordanting, then I put the yarn aside and have some skeins ready to go for dyeing as the mood strikes.

    I’ve also read anecdotal evidence that suggests dyes will bind better if the dyeing is done after the mordanting process. I have absolutely no idea how true this is, but since it went with my work flow better that’s the way I decided to do it.

    Dyeing

    I took my dyestuff and put it in a big enamel pot on the stove. I set it to simmer at about 75-80C for an hour. After that was completed I removed the plant materials and popped my skeins in, letting them simmer at the same temperature for about 90 mins. I removed the skeins and rinsed, and let dry in the shade outside.

    What I got was the colour you see in the picture above – a light yellowish khaki.

     

    What I’d do differently

    I just kind of did whatever for that first run, and I got a result! I had been aiming for a khaki-ish colour. I had read that the blooms only will give you something greener and the stems and leaves of lilac would give you something in the yellower/brownish range.

  • Dyestuff and WOF – I’d definitely add more plant material to yarn next go around to get something not quite as pale. Most of what I’ve read recommends a 1:1 ration of fibre to dyestuff, if not a 2:1 ratio (so double the weight of dyestuff to yarn).
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  • Less alum – I referenced that a bit earlier, but 15% is just too much. A little of it did come off in the dye bath and in subsequent rinses but the yarn, even a year later, still has a bit of that feel to it. I’ve been debating using some Orvus paste and just giving it a very, very gentle wash, it might go further to get the extra alum off the yarn. All subsequent pre-mordanting will be done with 10%-12% alum to WOF.
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  • Extracting the dye – Now that I’ve worked more with extracting dye from plant material (more on that in another post) I’d extract the colour differently. I wouldn’t rush the process of simmering for an hour then dyeing, I’d cover the plant material in boiling water and let it sit all night, and come back for the actual dyeing the next day.
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    Crossposted from Dominion Fleece & Fibre