11 Jan

dyeing with natural dyes: part 3 – the dye bath

Dyeing with natural dyes - preparing the dye bath, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

This post is part 3 in a series about dyeing wool with natural dyes. This part is all about the various steps in preparing the dye bath.

The steps to go through are as follows:
a. Washing the wool
b. Mordanting
c. Preparing the dye
d. Dyeing your wool

Today we are going to make the dye bath! In this experiment I’m going to dye with madder. Below I want to tell you some more about this first.

Madder

Dyeing with natural dyes - preparing the dye bath, a tutorial by La Visch DesignsMadder (Rubia tinctorum) has been used as a dye for many thousands of years. The reason? It is one of the most light-resistant red dyes of natural origin. It was and is used for the coloring of textiles and leather. In the fifteenth century, the Netherlands was the main producer of the madder. Particularly in Zeeland there were many fields of madder plants in the 19th century. At least until synthetic dyes became available.

The plant is about 60-90 cm high and has small yellow flowers. Below ground are the rhizomes, which can go as deep as  50-100 cm. The roots are the part that is of interest for dyeing. Madder is harvested about three years after planting, because only then the roots are big enough. After drying, the roots are ground to small pieces or powder.

c. Making the dye bath

In order to dye  with madder root, you need about 25-50 g of powder per 100 g of wool. The precise amount depends upon the desired strength of the dye bath. For my wool (weighing in at 200 g dry weight) I will use a total of 80 g of madder powder. Here are the steps I followed:

1. Weigh your dye stuff, powdered madder root in my case.

Dyeing with natural dyes - preparing the dye bath, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

2. Put your dye stuff in an old bit of pantyhose or make a “tea bag” from it by other means. You want the dye stuff  in it to have adequate space to absorb moisture and to release its dye to the water. The dye stuff “tea bag” makes it easier later on to remove it out of your dye bath. It also has the great benefit of not having to remove any pieces or powder out of your wool.

Dyeing with natural dyes - preparing the dye bath, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

3. Put the dye bag in a glass jar and cover with boiling water. I understand that madder provides a brighter shade of red when using “hard” water. Do you have soft water? Then add some chalk in the form of calcium carbonate to your dye bath.

Dyeing with natural dyes - preparing the dye bath, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

4. Allow the dye bath to soak overnight. This is how mine looks after one night of patience:

Dyeing with natural dyes - preparing the dye bath, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

Now it’s finally time to dye! More on this in my next post.

04 Jan

dyeing with natural dyes: part 2 – mordanting

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

This post about mordanting your fiber is part 2 in a series in which I tell you all about what is involved in dyeing wool with natural dyes. I guide you through the various steps and take you along with a natural dye experiment.

The steps to go through are as follows:

a. Washing the wool
b. Mordanting
c. Preparing the dye
d. Dyeing your wool

Today we are going to mordant the wool we washed in the previous step.

b. Mordanting

Mordanting of the wool is usually required with natural dyeing to ensure that the wool fibers are all opened up so that the dye can penetrate into the fiber. Without mordanting the dye adheres less well and the resulting color is less bright and colorfast.
There are several possible mordants: alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), chrome (potassium dichromate), copper sulfate, iron (ferrous sulfate), and tin (stannous chloride).

Each mordant has a different effect on the outcome of the dyeing process. Iron for example will “sadden” or darken colors, bringing out the green shades. Because alum is, when compared to the others, much less polluting and releases no harmful vapors during processing, I use it in this step-by-step guide.

1. The amount of mordanting agent to use depends on the quantity of wool that you want to dye. Typically, alum is used between 8% and 20% of the weight of the wool (dry weight!). I start at 15% and have 200 g of wool, therefore I use 30 g alum. (I know that the photograph shows 31 g, have corrected the weight after making the picture!)

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

Tartaric acid (“cream of tartar”) is sometimes used as an additive when mordanting with alum. As I understand it, it can brighten the colors. Use at approx. 7% of the weight of fiber together with 8% alum. In this example, I however do not use it.

2. Dissolve the alum (and, possibly, tartaric acid) in a glass jar or stainless steel pan of boiling water. Use enough water to fully submerge your amount of wool.

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

3. Add the wet wool to the pot. This may be immediately after washing. If your wool has dried between washing and mordanting, let it soak in water for about half an hour first. Adding dry wool to a mordanting or dye bath may cause streaks in your fiber.

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

Many instructions for dyeing wool indicate to keep it all warm at the simmering point for more than an hour. That may indeed be the case, but you can also get good results if you let it cool completely and then allow to stand overnight. This cold mordanting takes more time, but much less energy and therefore has my preference.

4. After mordanting, the wool must be rinsed.

mordanting_4

5. Next you can directly proceed to dyeing the wool, or (if the timing is not quite right) hang your wool to dry. Once mordanted and dried, simply store the wool until you are ready to dye.

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

Now it is time to proceed to the next step: preparing your dye bath. More on this in my next post!