Natural Dye Play: pH And Heat

Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing with some natural dye process variations. On Saturday, I took some of my experiments to show at a demo at our local farmers market. I love doing demos at the market, and thought this would be a perfect time to celebrate the color potential of what you can grow or gather in this area.

Natural dye demo at the farmers market.

For the demo, I took some of solar dyed yarns. After last year’s fermented dye experiments, I was a bit reluctant to venture back into the realm of reek. But I thought it was worth taking a chance to see if the addition of alum to a jar of solar extraction would give results worth the potential stink.


solar dyes

Making my solar dye extractions more alkaline seemed to inhibit the fermentation smell, to a point. I can’t say I love all the results, but the willow leaf solar dye was a hit among those who visited my booth. And the second skein, which I popped into an iron modifier and heated briefly once I got home, turned from yellow to a lovely dusty green that I would definitely want to repeat.

ecoprint bundles

I also took some previously cooked hot-bundle ecoprint scarves to unwrap during my demo, as well as some plastic bag solar bundles. I didn’t get the solar bundles set up until Wednesday, and then the sun didn’t cooperate so those were not as dramatic as they could have been.

scarves unwrapped at demo

But the solar bundle with buckthorn leaves and berries bears repeating with a bit more time. Since that bundle wasn’t heated, I was reluctant to open it at the market and take a chance on spreading viable seed. But a peek inside was very promising. And I’ve been liking the results I get from buckthorn in hot bundles, where boiling should kill the seeds. Still, I don’t put buckthorn waste in my compost. Heaven knows we don’t need any more of that horrible invasive to pull up.

indigo potted up

Before the weekend, I potted up one of my homegrown Japanese indigo plants to take to the market.

natural dye samples

It was big fun to show off a plant that can grow in northern Wisconsin — and the blue I got from it!

Ragweed, bindweed, bracken, yarrow

I also took along some recent samples I made from dyebaths made more alkaline during extraction. I have a new appreciation for ragweed that was not shared universally. OK, not one single person at the market exclaimed, “Really — ragweed!” But I like the color it gives and we sure have plenty of it.

keeping track

I’ve been trying to be better about keeping track of what goes into the results I get. Here’s the stack of tubs I washed after the market demo. So far, I’ve managed to keep the tags with the textiles through the ironing stage. If I can keep them all straight through photographing the end result, that will be a bigger miracle than what happens with pH shifts and heat.

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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