Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Natural dyeing success! And a failure.

One of my goals this year was to experiment with natural dyeing. I started off in the spring very excited about growing herbs and plants to dye yarn with, but my excitement sort of died when the majority of my plants did. :) So I decided to start looking for native plants that are growing wild on our farm.
Here is the progress of my first real handspun yarn, which also happened to be my first natural dyeing success. :)

The other week, me and my dad went scoping out dyeing plants on the farm. We have lots of staghorn sumac growing along the edges of fields close to our house, and I was saving my first handspun (all done on a spindle over the course of 4 months) for that. The sumac berries near our house were still green, so I expected it to be another month or so before I could use them.

While we were walking at the farm, we came across one sumac bush where the berries had already turned. Since my book said that this is a one-day dyeing session (rather than letting the dye bath sit overnight like you typically would), and I just happened to have a free day, we decided to gather some of the sumac. Dad had a grape lug in the back of the truck, so we picked all the ripe berries from that bush.

Then we rode over to a neighboring farm and found several bushes that were even more bright red and ripe than the one on our farm, so we picked some more.

We ended up with approx. 10 pounds of berries. The recipe called for a 10:1 ratio of berries to yarn. I was dyeing 0.6 pounds of yarn, so I used 6 lbs of the berries.

I couldn't believe how all of the color was drained out of the berries after they were boiled for a couple of hours!

I boiled them for about two hours, then strained the berries and stems out. The water was a pretty brown at the stage. Then I added the yarn and let it simmer for another couple of hours.

This is what the yarn looked like after that. You can stop at this point, with your yarn being a perfectly nice tan color. But I had one more step.

I took the iron mordant bath that I had saved and added a bit more iron to bring it up to the right percentage. Then I heated it up and added the yarn into the iron afterbath.

It's the strangest thing. The water in the sumac dye bath was brown. The iron afterbath water was brown (about the exact same shade, actually). But when you add the dyed yarn into the afterbath, the water turns black.

And after soaking for about 20-30 minutes, the yarn has turned from tan to charcoal gray! I hung the skeins out to dry in the shade. For several days afterward, they still smelled a bit too much like iron, but now, a couple of weeks later, the smell is gone.

And here's the finished yarn...

Sorry for the darkness of the photos...the only way I could get the true color to show was to close the curtains. It's a really lovely dark gray, with the tiniest hint of brown still showing in a subtle way. One skein is slightly darker than the others because I had to use two pots to fit all of the berries, and with three skeins, I had to try to divide the dye bath into 2/3 and then 1/3. But apparently the water that the one skein was in was a bit more concentrated than the other.
I'm so happy with how it turned out! I have about 280 yards of this yarn, so I'm looking forward to knitting it into something special this fall...maybe a scarf or cowl or something.

Before I had success dyeing with sumac, I had a disappointing natural dyeing failure. I should have expected it, because I didn't have the proper amount of plant material.

I planted fennel this spring, and while it did better than some of my other plants, it still didn't yield a lot. (Apparently it's considered an invasive species in my state, which I didn't know until after I planted it. But if this year was any indication, I'm not worried about it taking over.) Several weeks ago, I picked every bit of fennel that was left and tried to dye some yarn with it.

This handspun yarn was white originally but when I mordanted it in iron, it turned to this light tan color. So this was after mordanting, but before dyeing:

Cooking the fennel...

And afterwards. No perceptible difference (it might look a bit darker, but that's because the lighting was better). This was supposed to be dark green. But I only had about 1/3 of the fennel I was supposed to have for this amount of yarn, so I guess that's why it didn't work. I'll have to try to dye it again with something else!

Until next time,

1 comment:

  1. how pretty! I love it! :) And its cool that you are learning/experimenting also :)


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