More On Willow Natural Dye

Having a jar of willow bark alkaline extract sitting on the shelf comes in handy when you need some quick color. This is silk ribbon and silk cord immersion-dyed in liquid from the jar of willow bark extract I’ve been working on since last fall. I just keep topping off the liquid in that jar, adding a bit of soda ash when I do.

Willow bark alkaline extract natural dye on silk ribbon and silk cord.

The color on silk from this method is much like the buff color of willow boiled or steamed with the bark on before peeling. But in this case, no heat is applied to extract the color from the bark — only when I simmer the fabric.

Willow bark alkaline extraction for natural dye.

For this dye job, I dipped liquid out of the jar and into a dye pan, and added a splash of white vinegar. That dropped the pH to a more neutral level. Then I added the wetted silk, brought the liquid to a boil, and simmered it for about an hour. I left the silk in the dye liquid overnight before rinsing and washing it.

In the Spring 2015 Turkey Red Journal, Lithuanian fiber artist Giedra Dagiliene writes about color tests she conducted using goat willow bark simmered in water made alkaline by the addition of washing soda. The cold extraction method I’m using came from Jenny Dean’s book A Heritage Of Color: Natural Dyes Past and Present. The cold extraction method may take longer initially, but I’ve been impressed with how much dye has been rendered in this jar.

Even so, I mean to sample some simmered willow bark dyebaths (fresh and dried, peeled and on the sticks) with the addition of soda ash. The process and results are first cousin to the lovely red basswood bark turns when simmered with wood ashes or lye to raise the alkalinity — one of the first bits of pH dye magic I experienced.

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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin