Monday, September 16, 2013

Green, brown, yellow and purple...

For the first time in my adult life I have tried to dye something, and it came out great!

 I have memories of dyeing a cotton scarf at a camp when I was maybe 12. The plant we used as dye was birch branches and aspen leaves. The people that used aspen got these really nice yellow scarves. We that were stuck with the birch got dirty light-green to beige scarves that looked old and worn... It was a major disappointment, especially since I had asked for permission to use the aspen, and the camp leaders said - no, we will split all groups in two parts, and you can't be in the other group. Why not? No idea. Probably some kind of semi-I-will-show-the-kids-I-have-the-power scheme.

Anyway, since then I have not dyed anything with natural colors that I can remember, and I am not counting stains from tomato sauce, blueberry jam, wine, or coffee on my shirts. In early summer I bought some undyed white silk scarves, white cotton yarn, and cleaned wool rowing (basically unspun naturally white wool). We got some books, and read and learned. The materials have to be pretreated with alum, a chemical, so the dye takes better, so I did that.

 Now, what to use as dye? I knew I wanted to make different colors, and base it on all natural, things I had at home.
RED ONION: Natural dyes on silk, cotton and wool
The first batch was red onion skins. Who knew that red onion can give green colors!? Surprise! The colors showed in the book didn't really match what I got, and that is probably due to the chemistry of our well water. I also dyed some filter paper in this batch.
 COFFEE - Natural dyes on silk, cotton and wool
Second batch, coffee... Old coffee grains, cooked up again, filtered off, and then used as a dye bath. I think my coffee was pretty weak, so it became a light brown. TURMERIC: Natural dyes on silk, cotton and wool
Third batch, yipeee, Turmeric! From the spice cabinet. What a color! Bright orange!!! Like, like, I don't know what. A living, deep orange. BLUEBERRY - Natural dyes on silk, cotton and wool
Final fourth batch was a little test. Sometimes we have fresh blueberries from the store that go bad (=mold) in the fridge, so I had saved up a bag of them in our freezer. I cooked the berries down, filtered them, and then used the blueberry juice as a dye bath for 4 days. I had put the textiles and the dye liquid into an old orange juice bottle. Unfortunately I screwed on the top tight and left it out in the sun - after 4 days the bottle was ready to explode. Fermentation! :) Nothing got destroyed, and the colors of light purples are gorgeous.

The dyed wool and cotton yarn is now in Baltimore in AREA's artsy hands, to be used in some creative work. I can't wait to see what she will do with it.

What I learned?

  • Always treat your fibers with mordant, then the colors will be better. 
  • Don't hang the finished textiles for too long in the sun or they will become sunbleached. 
  • Do not make fermented blueberry juice. 
  • Big-mouthed orange juice plastic bottles are great for long-term dyeing.  No risk that an animal will drink it and you can shake it a lot to distribute the liquid well.