Natural dye – Elder berry

The elder berry tree is fruiting and the sight of those little purple bursts of colour proved too much for me to resist. I harvested about two cups of berries and froze them in one of my handy paint bags (inside a silicon container to avoid mess in the freezer). Apparently the freezing process breaks down the cell walls and makes it easier for the colour to leach out. The next day I put them into my solar dye jar with some water and a half cup of home made vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar helps to bind the colour to the yarn.

Elder berries in a paint bag in a silicon bag… in a freezer.
My solar dye jar and home made vinegar
Putting it all together

The jar sat in the sun for two days and on the third morning I suddenly realised that I hadn’t mordanted the yarn before popping it into the dye. So I dumped a tablespoon of alum into the dye bath and plonked the wool back in for another day (I am known for being half-assed).

The first day of sitting
The second day of sitting

After three days of soaking (one full day with alum in the dye bath), I rinsed the yarn out and got a rather gorgeous lilac shade. Beautiful and delicate, but not what I was expecting. I wonder if the yarn would take up more dye if I pre mordanted it?

Before adding alum
The alum
After adding a tablespoon of alum
After rinsing and drying.

Natural dyes – Red amaranth

I have some red amaranth growing in my garden, it self seeds all over the place and the chooks love it. In my current state of natural dye obsession, I saw the colour of the seed heads and thought it must be useful as a dye. So I pulled one up and embarked upon another dye based adventure.

I found a couple of interesting clips and blog posts to get me started: Solar dye with Red amaranth and Vinegar extraction, then I went off on my own tangent (as usual).

I pulled up one plant and broke it into pieces. The leaves and seed heads made their way into a large coffee pot as I wanted to try solar dye techniques. Having read that amaranth is very sensitive to temperature and knowing my habits when it comes to wandering away from stoves, I thought it best to leave the sun with the supervision of the dye bath.

For this attempt I decided to go with plain water (I will probably try with vinegar extraction too at some point) so I filled the jar up to the top and left it in the sun for a full day.

After work the next day I could already see the red colour starting to leach out. So exciting!!

Of course I got impatient and decided to add the yarn to the dye bath before it had all extracted, thinking that it would do two jobs at once.

I quickly copper mordanted a skein of yarn (the same homespun from Eli I have been using all along) and popped it into the jar in one of my handy paint bags (well, squished it in really).

After a week of sitting in the sun (and the rain), all the dye had been taken up, but the yarn looked alarmingly beige. All the red had leached out of the leaves and gone somewhere, but maybe not into the 4aszxrt4fyarn.

Before rinsing the yarn I could see green with hints of pink.

After rinsing, well the yarn is a really pretty green with splotches of darker green. I have used the yarn I dyed with Johnson grass seed heads as a contrast to show just how much green there is in it. I do like the colour, but I am very surprised that such a dark pink dye bath made green???

I will try to extract the pink colours with vinegar next time. I think that solar dyeing is here to stay though. It is simple, flexible and doesn’t use any gas. It doesn’t hurt that the washing up is minimal too.

Natural dyes – loquat leaf

I think natural dyes are a gateway to a life of crime. Let me explain, yesterday I broke into a school (it was the weekend and the gate was open) and stole a bag full of loquot leaves (I had permission to harvest them, but maybe not on the weekend). I was passing by on yet another trip to the vet (not an emergency this time) and saw the tree in the school yard, in my defense, I was overtaken by the insane urge to try loquot leaf dye NOW. I snuck in (with Melvin in tow) and harvested a small bag full of leaves from the defenseless tree, then raced back out to the car (in a non-guilty manner).

I zoomed home with my little bag of stolen goods and cut the leaves up for a dye pot straight away.

My little bag of stolen goods.
The evidence disposed of.

I had a fresh skein of homespun yarn that needed a wash, so I gave it a quick scour and dropped it into a pot of copper mordant (at a rate of 1/2 cup per 100g). Copper mordant is supposed to brighten colours in a dye pot.

When the blue colour had all migrated from the water to the yarn, I dropped in my bag of leaves and continued to simmer the pot. I was very careful to never let it boil as loquot leaf is apparently very sensitive to temperature.

After about half an hour I turned it off (or more accurately, I bellowed out for someone else to turn the pot off) and allowed it to sit overnight.

Looks like a rosy beige to me.

The next morning I heated it all back up again. It sat at a simmer for another half an hour before I left it all to cool down and see what shade of beige I have this time.

The result was, indeed, beige. A lovely shade of rosy beige. I continue my search for a non-beige natural dye and resign myself to wearing beige socks until my old age.

Natural Dyes – Pomegranate skin mordant

Our pomegranate tree is fruiting! It produces a lot of juicy fruit over a long period of time, so when I read that pomegranate can be used as a natural mordant on all sorts of fibres, I got a bit excited. It can also be used as a yellow dye, but my interest at the moment is using it as a mordant so I don’t have to buy alum.

My approach to this project was to pick the fruit, extract the seeds and store for cooking etc, then remove all the pith inside the peels. After that I placed the clean peels on a tray and stored them in the oven for a week. We removed the tray before using the oven, but put it back in while the oven was still warm after use. In this way I managed to dry the peels to rock hardness without using any extra gas.

After the peels were dry, I ground them to powder in the coffee grinder and stored my new mordant in a labelled jar for future use.

To use the skins as a mordant you need to use 50% pomegranate skins to the fibre (by weight). By this I mean that I would use 50g of pomegranate peels to each 100g of yarn I put in the pot. I also have taken to using fresh skins in a dye pot at the same rate (realising that this will change the ratios).

There is something very satisfying about using scraps to do one more job before they become compost.

Natural dye experiments – gardenia powder and alum

My natural dye experiments have continued into the garden; I recently tried gardenia powder to dye some 100% wool yarn, and the results were spectacular. I found a listing for gardenia powder in my favourite dye stuffs shop (for the bits I can’t make myself); KraftKolour, and having a few dollars to spend (thanks to selling some home spun cotton yarn) I bought it. I was really curious to see what sort of colour I could get from a common garden plant. My mother recently found a mixed bag of pure wool in a second hand shop in white which she gave to me (thanks Mum), so I had a decent amount of yarn to play with.

The process is really very simple; weigh your fibre; mine was 123g, gather your equipment and off you go.

My equipment and supplies.

The yarn my mum found in a second hand shop.

I decided to mordant my yarn with alum at a rate of 15g per 100g of yarn (and yes I did use a calculator to do the maths).

I weighed up my alum and popped it into my yard dyeing pot with some water.

Once I had the alum mixed in fairly well with the water in my dye pot I plonked in the yarn in handy skeins (all tied up with cotton yarn so I didn’t end up with a tangled mess). I bought this pot to a simmer then turned it off and let it sit while I made up the dye.

My dye was mixed at a rate of 6g per 100g of yarn (yes…calculator again) in a big stainless steel pot. The dye comes as a sort of bluish powder but the dye pot goes a dark blue colour. I heated this water up almost to a simmer (close enough to the same temperature as the yarn in the mordant).

Then I fished out my skeins (using my trusty serving fork, that is only used for fibre work) and lowered them into the dye pot.

The yarn going into the dye pot. How pretty is that.

After about ten minutes it was this colour.

I turned off the heat on the dye pot and let the yarn sit until it was completely cool. Actually it sat in the dye until I remembered what was in the big pot on the bench while I was washing up that evening.
Then I rinsed the yarn in cool water, wrung it out and whacked it against a post to separate any felted strands (force of habit) and hung the skeins up to dry.

Drying skeins
As you can see the different brands of yarn took the dye up at varying rates. I love the different shades though and they are all very pretty.
My dried and wound up gardenia dyed yarn.

I am so impressed with this colour I think I will get spinning and make some merino home spun to try it out on; maybe I can get enough of a single shade to make a jumper or something.

Natural dye experiments- onion skin + iron = green

I’ve been interested in natural dyes for a while now; I read a lot of blogs and endlessly wonder what colour I could get from plants I pass on a daily basis, but this is the first time I have systematically experimented with them.
After reading about how easy it is to make natural mordants at home and how they can give different colours to dyes, I decided to take the plunge.

First I needed a dye journal (of course) to record all my recipes in so I could repeat a colour if I wanted to.

My new dye journal.

I had a refillable cover made already (see this post for how I did it) so I whipped up some saddle stitch signatures to fill it with and away I go.

Measuring the holes out very precisely (sort of) with another signature.

Punching holes so I can stitch the pages together.

 Natural dyeing is a huge subject, so I won’t try to explain it all in one post. The basics are simple though; natural fibres such as sheep wool, alpaca, cotton and silk can all be dyed using plant and animal products. The general method is to boil stuff and soak fibre in the resulting liquid. Most dyes obtained from plants need a mordant (which helps the colour stick to the fibre), mordants are usually salts or metals such as alum, iron, copper, salt and vinegar, so I read up on how to make some at home and had a shot at it.

 I made iron and copper mordant by filling two old jars with water and a half cup of vinegar then throwing (well placing carefully) copper pipe in one and iron in the other. I left both jars on a shelf and used the iron mordant with great results two weeks later.

The one on your left is iron and the one on the left is copper.
Of course I wrote it all down in my dye journal.

 Having read that onion skins (usually a yellow dye) with iron mordant can give greens I just had to try it. So I broke out my supply of saved onion skins and boiled up a batch of dye; just throw onion skins in a pot of water and boil away (be aware that your partner or children may erroneously believe you are cooking dinner as it smells like soup). Meanwhile I poured two cups of iron mordant into a big pot of water, added 50g of washed merino wool and put it on to heat. When the mordant pot came to the boil I turned off the heat and let it sit for an hour. After that I strained the onion skins out of the dye pot and dumped the liquid dye into the mordant pot. The fibre immediately began to go a dark greenish brown, so I just let it sit.

The colour started to go into the wool straight away, so exciting.

 After a couple of hours (while I was forced to study and do house work) I fished the wool out of the dye vat and took it outside to dry. There was still a fair amount of colour in the pot so I just threw in another 50g of merino to see what colour I would get with no mordant except what was left in the mix.

I’m fairly happy with the result.

Hope it keeps it’s colour as it dries.

It’s the same colour as Barry’s wing feathers.
I dutifully wrote it all down for later perusal.

 The colour is so deep; maybe because it’s natural dye it has the same look as Barry’s wing feathers, they sort of glow with colour. I hope my wool keeps it’s colour as it dries and I can spin up some beautiful green yarn to make a hat or something.

Next I’ll look for a recipe that uses copper mordant and makes purples or blues.
Any suggestions?