Thursday, January 20, 2011

Natural Dyeing

Brazilwood and goldenrod samples
Over the past couple of years some good friends and I have been meeting and experimenting with natural dyes.   It's been amazing.  I can't say enough good things about study groups.  We wanted to do it right and keep good records, so we spent a lot of time planning and prepping so we could do ten different fibers in ten different natural dyes, with various combinations of  pre- and postmordants and an ammonia dip.   And we wanted to put everything on sample cards.  Each sample card shows 24 combinations of mordants and dips for one fiber in one dye.  So far we've done eight different dyes:  logwood, goldenrod, brazilwood, comfrey, walnuts, madder, cochineal and osage orange.   When we are done, we will all have large notebooks bursting with samples.

Some day we'll finish the cards!
We have learned all kinds of things about fibers, natural dyes, mordants and organizing large projects.   It did take us months to get everything ready to dye but once we got going, we got efficient very quickly.  Then we learned that it was way more fun to do the dyeing than it was to put the samples on the cards.   We're a little behind.

Dye days go like this:  We meet in the morning and get things set up and in the pots dyeing - outside over a fire if possible.   We try to do two dyes at a time.  While the fibers dye, we have a pot luck lunch [the food is fabulous!] and catch up on the latest news, projects, patterns, books and plans that we are working on.   We always have show and tell and let me tell you, these women are master spinners and weavers and fiber artists.  Their projects are amazing.  As we talk, we put sample cards together or prep for the next dye day.   We play until people drag themselves home again at the end of the day.

We're in the planning stages for indigo, but there are many ways to do an indigo vat and we're not sure which we want to try.  We'll likely try a thiox vat and we've found recipes for a yeast vat and a urine vat.    No one is really excited about the urine vat, though I confess that many years ago when we had sheep, I did manage a weak indigo vat with urine by using the skirtings off our fleeces.  It worked and the colors were very fast. It also smelled to high heaven.   Definitely an outside project.

After indigo, we've got two more dyes to do and then we've been tossing around the idea of doing an overdye day where we can play with dyeing things in one color in the morning, and then overdyeing them in another dye in the afternoon.    We'll keep you posted.

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