Dyeing the blues

August 23, 2016

The primary natural dye used for blue is indigo.  After looking through my shelves, I decided to do an experiment with anything that might yield a blue.  The color was the primary focus of the experiment so light fastness, wash fastness, … were not considered.  I just wanted to see the array of blues I had on the same material.  The material is a felted wool mordanted at 20% potassium aluminum sulphate. 

From left to right: indigo, navy blue (dye extract from Sam’s Vegetables in India), blue gardenia (liquid dye from Japan), Saxon blue, Caribbean blue (no longer available).

Weld and dyeing with plant materials versus extracts

August 23, 2016

I dye with natural dye extracts for the most part.  There are a number of reasons for that choice.  I live off grid and roof collect my water.  I live in a high (7500 feet) desert climate.  Some of the dyeing is done in bulk for customers.  I weigh the various options for dye stuffs based on some of the following considerations:

Water is required for the plants themselves, the growing season is short, a fair amount of plant material is required if dyeing quantities of fiber, and there are a lot of rabbits that are voracious.  It is possible to gather local plants in season but then one has to store them and I have allergies to a lot of the local options.

The plant materials often require multiple dye extractions to get the most color from the plant; requiring yet more water.

Most dye plants yield yellow.

It is easier to develop and adjust repeatable recipes with extracts.

On the negative side relative to extracts, one doesn’t know for sure if the dyes are extracted in an environmentally sound way and/or from plants or bugs that are not a limited resource.  One has to trust the dye extract supplier.

There is also the great satisfaction one feels when using plant stuffs that are locally grown or gathered.

As I enjoy experimenting, each year time is set aside to try plant material dye stuffs.  This year, some weld managed to survive the rabbits, drought, and hail.  Last year, the same plant gave less than stellar results but it was worth another try.  The stalks and leaves were cut from the plant and the dye extracted.  Soda ash was added to make the water alkaline.  The result was must better than the previous attempt.  As weld extract is expensive, I don’t often dye with it so in this case, the plant material might work out to be a good alternative.  

Second year weld plant, seeds from Catharine Ellis

First year weld plant

Wool dyed with weld

Baby weld plants

Iron (Ferrous Sulfate) Mordant

July 23, 2016

I have always had mixed feelings about using iron as a mordant when dyeing.  Partly because it must be handled in such a way that the yarn/fabric doesn’t contaminate other yarn/fabric with loose iron before it is thoroughly rinsed and also because there is literature that indicates that yarn/fabric is damaged by iron.   On the other side of the equation, is the idea from Charlotte Kwon that even small amounts of iron will help with lightfastness.  I used 2% wog iron in the  logwood experiments so as to mitigate the lightfastness issues with logwood but felt that I needed to have a better understanding of iron used as a mordant.  Damage in historical textiles with gallic/iron pigment and/or tannin/iron dyes has been documented.  Go to your local museum, look at historical textiles dyed with natural dyes, and see how well the blacks are holding up in the textile.

I did some research and came across the following information specific to historical textiles.   Tannin based dyes + iron will damage textiles due to oxidation and/or the formation of sulphuric acid. The sulphuric acid is formed with unattached iron.  If the textiles are thoroughly rinsed, this is less of an issue as the unattached iron is washed away.  It is also possible that some of the damage is due to high temperatures used in dyeing.  Analysis cannot differentiate between heat versus dye damage.

The Colourful Past: origins, chemistry and identification of natural dyestuffs  discusses degradation of silk due primarily to the lack of regulation of silk dyeing. More iron was used in dyeing silk to get dark colors and the silk may not have been well rinsed.  Wool dyeing was regulated; particularly with regard to the amount of iron that could be used and the dye process quality.

Other sources conclude that tannin/iron damage is more of an issue with cotton, linen, and silk because the dye penetrates the whole fiber.  The dye and iron are found through out the matrix.  With wool, the dyes don’t penetrate the interior of the fiber.  If one rinses thoroughly to get rid of any loose iron, then it is possible it will not be an issue.

I came across another article in Dyes in History and Archaeology – Volume 16/17.  The bottom line in this case is that iron and tannins cause the degradation.  Iron used with dyes that do not contain tannins (madder for example) should be stable. The same paper suggests that the post treatment of an historic textile by an extract from the hinau tree which is a gallotannin will cause the binding of the loose ferric ions to the tannin and stop the degradation.

Cardon says something similar – she suggests that the small amount of iron used with reds could also be a factor in the lack of degradation whereas more is used to get black.

Conclusions?  There hasn’t been a lot of research and tannin/iron dye degradation.   The research does suggest that if the yarn/fabric is thoroughly rinsed and the iron % is not high, it is not an issue.  It also suggests that iron can be used safely with non tannin based dyes.  I did not find any studies on lightfastness with iron mordants; I imagine that is the next area of exploration.  This is all book theory.  If one is not creating art work for posterity, it is non-issue.  If one is, more tests are in order.


Hand painted Lace

June 30, 2016

This project has been on the list for a while.  I chose a lace pattern called Kodama http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/kodama-2 that I thought would work for painting.  The yarn used is Zola from Treenway Silks.  The shawl was knit and then mordanted with 20% potassium aluminum sulphate.  It was blocked after mordanting and then painted with dye extracts.  I debated about using a thickener and then chose not to but painted the shawl wet to minimize the transfer of color from one section to the next.  Colors used: logwood, madder, Osage orange, carribean.  The shawl was steamed after painting and then rinsed.

Water makes a difference

February 26, 2016

Table Rock Llamas got in some new dye extracts; Lac, Logwood, and Mexican Logwood.  A colleague and I tested them in her water (Denver City water) and mine (roof collected water).  We dyed sample skeins of cotton, silk, and wool mordanted with alum or in the case of cotton, the tannin, alum combination.

The Logwood sample was very similar.  That is interesting as usually I have problems with logwood extract but in this case, the water was clear after I dyed which is a nice change.  The Denver city water is at the top.  My colleague had been told that the Denver water changed a little while ago.  I am sure what was added but it makes a color difference.

On the Lac, I got darker results on the wool, lighter on the cotton, and redder on the silk.

For the Mexican logwood, I got redder results on all fibers.


More purple tests

January 29, 2016

Some additional experiments with logwood.  I tried logwood chips and chalk (not much change) and logwood extract, cochineal and iron.  All alpaca was mordanted at 25%.

The chips and chalk is the middle skein in the photo below.  The logwood and cochineal on the right.  All of the skeins are in the next photo for comparison.  See the previous post for information on those skeins.

Shades of purple

January 24, 2016

I was asked to dye some alpaca a dark purple.  My usual recipe is indigo, mordant, cochineal but there always seems to be some discharge with the cochineal; even when the skein is neutralized in vinegar and mordanted after the indigo so the skein is pale.  Logwood is another option so the following are skeins of alpaca dyed with logwood.  All skeins are mordanted at 25% potassium aluminum sulphate as alpaca seems to do better with a higher % of alum.  Cream of tartar was not used as some references say that logwood goes towards brown with cream of tartar.

Logwood extract from Table Rock Llamas at 4% was used for two skeins.  Logwood chips at 20% was used for two skeins.  Boiling water was poured over the logwood chips and the pot was set aside for the night and used in the morning.

Logwood likes hard water so 5% chalk was added to one dye pot with the extract.  One of the skeins with the chips was dyed in a 10% walnut extract dye bath.

Conclusions; in my water (roof collected rain water) chalk makes an appreciable difference.  The tannin did not seem to make much of a difference.

Logwood extract at 4%; skein that had chalk added is on the bottom.   
All four skeins.

 Skeins with logwood chips.  Skein with tannin is on the bottom.  
Other things to try: mordant, dye, oxidize, mordant, dye.  Some sources say that logwood is like indigo and is better in layers.  Use tara as the tannin as logwood works better with that tannin than walnut.  Add chalk to the chips.

Navy Blue and Forest Green

September 24, 2015

A couple of years ago, there was an article in Spin-off Magazine about some extract dyes from a company in India; Sams’ Vegetable Dyes.  Two of them were said to be extracted from indigo.  The extraction method is proprietary but as oxalic acid is listed on the dyes; presumably it is similar to that used for saxon blue with sulfuric acid.

I experimented with the dyes on wool (10-12%) weight of goods.  The yarns are mordanted.  The smaller skeins at 10% wog potassium alum sulfate; the larger skeins with 20% potassium alum sulfate and 5 % cream of tartar.  The reason for the difference in mordanting is the subject of another post but the wools are different; test wool skeins versus cormo wool and require different mordanting strategies.

I did not add anything other than the dye to the pots.

Navy blue and forest green text wool skeins

Navy blue and forest green text wool skeins


Navy blue on cormo


Forest green on cormo (still wet) 12.5% wog


A comparison between the navy blue and caribbean ( the latter was painted so a bit light).

Cochineal scarlet experiments

June 2, 2015

I did a few experiments to see if I could get scarlet with cochineal and a yellow as straight cochineal even with an acid modifier does not get you there.

The silk and wool were mordanted separately with 25% potassium alum sulfate.  The recipes were cochineal and Osage orange 10%, cochineal 10% Osage orange 5%, cochineal 10%, Osage orange 2%, a separate experiment with calcium nitrate, cochineal 10% quebracho yellow 10%, cochineal 10% Himalayan Rhubarb 5%.  The cochineal was powder from bugs.

The most successful was cochineal 10%, Osage orange 5% on silk.  I also liked the cochineal Himalayan rhubarb on wool.

Below are the Osage orange variations.  The top one is the the one with the most Osage orange; bottom one with the least.


And, the calcium nitrate experiment, quebracho yellow, Himalayan rhubarb, top to bottom. 

I finally put all of these on cards.  The recipe that was the most successful Cardinal red was the Osage Orange at 2%




Cochineal dye experiments

May 30, 2015

Another dyer and I got together for a day of dye experiments with cochineal.  We had several questions to which we wanted answers.  The first one and the one which we never resolved was an issue with cochineal washing out of silk scarves.  She used a recipe published in Liles book which uses tin and oxalic acid with cochineal.  We tried washing the dyed scarf in orvis paste and hot water.  The dye washed out.  We soaked another dyed scarf in vinegar and the dye washed out in hot water.  My conclusion is that the hot water is breaking the relatively weak bond between the tin, oxalic acid, cochineal, and silk.  We also tried dyeing silks scarves with the one pot recipe from Garcia.  That also washed out.  Subsequently, I consulted with some other natural dyers and it was explained to me that Garcia’s recipe is more along the lines of an acid dye than a traditional mordant dye so that is why it is washing out.  I assume the tin/oxalic acid is similar.  It was suggested that traditional mordant alum based mordant method would work better.  (As an aside, I looked for the recommended % of alum on silk and it ranges from 5 – 100.  Most of the dye books say mordant like other protein fibers.  I haven’t been able to find any studies that compare % of alum on silk.) Second question: cochineal is very sensitive to water and ph.  It is often recommended that you use distilled water.  Garcia suggests adding cream of tartar to tap water when dyeing with cochineal as the cream of tartar acts as a buffer to what is in the water.  We ran an experiment using different water sources and distilled water with and without cream of tartar.  Below is a picture of the sample cards and a picture of one of the sets of jars with and without cream of tartar.  The interesting observation is that all of jars without cream of tartar had the same amount of particulates in the bottom of the jar.  The jars with cream of tartar didn’t have anything in the bottom of the jar.  My conclusion is that cream of tartar does act as a buffer and it is not worth using distilled water unless you have water that will not work with cochineal.  The three instances that I know of where cochineal would not dye with local water was water that was runoff from a mining area. water with iron, and water in which there was sulfur.  The yarn samples are premordanted with 25% alum.  There are some white, grey, brown, and black wools in the samples. The wool cloth sample is unmordanted.       Finally, I wanted to see the results of two other mordants with cochineal; symplocos (premordanted 50% WOF) and titanium (5% WOF) Below are those results on silk and wool.    


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