Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Hopeful Farmer - on Dyeing

    Yesterday I posted about death, so it seems fitting today be on dyeing.   I have been working on  dyeing using a variety of local  dyestuffs.  Here is an example of  the wool I dyed with wild grapes  using an alum mordant. I will have to wait to see how  fast the colour is.
natural wool yarn - I forget what type of sheep it is from - I spun it a while ago, heating in an alum mordant

This is the left over pulp from making wild grape jelly, and I hated the  idea of  wasting it, so I experimented

The colour in the pot is very different from the colour on the finished wool

a nice earthy purple

 I also tried dyeing some yarn using poke berries.  I have a poke weed in the middle of my currant patch which  seems a permanent fixture.  I have tried chopping it,  pulling it - I cannot eradicate it, so I will try to utilize it.  I know that poke berries stain things, but the color has been deemed not fast by many  dyers.  I found one book in which a dyer  found that using a vinegar mordant, AND adding vinegar to the dye pot makes the colour fast.  SOooo, I went out last weekend and cut off all the poke berries remaining on my huge weedy interloper.
The berries were past their prime, and next year I will work earlier in the fall to obtain more, and juicier berries.  After gathering the berries and picking them off the stems, they are mashed and set to simmer at 160 - 180 degrees, with vinegar added.  Meanwhile for about half an hour, the wool was simmering at 160 degrees in  vinegar water.  

After about 30 - 40 minutes, strain the  berries out of the  dye bath because there are MANY tiny little black seeds in poke weed berries and they get caught in the yarn.  Add the yarn and simmer for at least an hour, it you can let it sit overnight after that hour, do so, but with the heat turned off and a lid on the pot.  I was expecting to get a reddish yarn, but after the first hour, I had a nasty, muddy tan.  
     After about an hour of  resignation,  I remembered our fish tank.  What??  What does that have to do with dyeing.  Well,  every time we had to change the fish tank water, we had to adjust the ph. A lot.  The package said add 10 drops of "ph up" to each gallon to reach neutral, and we would have to add 40 drops.   So, I dumped another cup of vinegar in the water, and almost instantly - pink! After an evening in the dye pot. It came out red.  Very pretty.

 Now, I am a frugal soul, so I thought I would try running a second batch of wool through the already used dye pot to see if it would come back somewhat lighter.  The dye still looked red, but apparently was nearly exhausted.  What I got was this golden colour- after following the same mordanting process.
 This is what they look like together.  I really like it, and  I am eagerly awaiting  next year's poke weed to fruit!
          I have begun a several month long process of creating a dye using ammonia fermentation on lichen.  I really am flying blind here for one reason: I am certain of the process, but not what lichen I am using.  I need a friendly mycologist to help me out.  I may ask a friend who heads up the biology program if he or any of his colleagues have expertise in this area.  
            This is the lichen I am using.  I took it off some small trees that had blown down in our forest.  My husband and son cut them out and got them off the road, bringing them down the mountain with the intention of burning them later.  I saw tons of gorgeous lichen and  grabbed a knife and removed it from the logs.  After a long time on the internet and with several library books I learned two things: #1  mycology is an under represented area, and #2 books and internet photos are not very helpful in identifying lichens.  I need a  nature walk with an expert!
    When working with lichens, patience and care are very important.  Harvesting the lichen takes time - I was on my knees for an hour or two collecting what you see in the bowl.  It is a slow growing, yet important  part of our planet, so harvesting ALL you can find is an ethical no-no.  I  did not feel guilty taking everything off the logs that are going to be burned after having fallen, but I would be much more frugal about harvesting it when it has good growing conditions. The fermentation process will take several months, and even then, if I have the wrong lichen, I may end up with a brown dye rather than the magenta that I am hoping for!  I'll let you know in February how it turned out!  I love how nature teaches us not to rush.


  1. That's some pretty amazing stuff, Barby!

  2. Thanks Adrienne. I love experimenting with the plants and mordants - it's like chemistry class without the professor grading my lab write-ups!