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.

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First Vat of Homegrown Indigo

On Saturday, I set aside nagging doubts and made my first fresh-leaf indigo vat with leaves from plants grown in northern Wisconsin. And it worked!

Yarn dyed with fresh indigo grown in northern Wisconsin by Donna Kallner.

Usually, I don’t stress that much about experiments that might fail. But with a limited supply of fresh leaves, I was more than a little afraid a mistake could cost me a whole growing season.

Japanese indigo container-grown in northern Wisconsin.

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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.

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Roses In The Freezer

After 10 days, the heads on my 25th anniversary roses were starting to droop. So I channeled my inner Morticia Addams and cut off their heads.

Recycled anniversary roses are saved for ecoprinting.

They’re in the freezer now until I have a chance to use them in an ecoprint project. I also pulled the stems out of the vase to let the leaves dry. When I’m ready to bundle, I’ll rehydrate the leaves with hot water.

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Natural Dyes: Rhubarb Leaves and Bark Extracts

When I can glean materials for natural dyeing that would otherwise end up on the compost pile, I’m a happy dyer. That’s what I’ve been working with lately — the waste from processing bark for this basket, and rhubarb leaves I saved from last summer.

Rhubarb leaf natural dye on wool.

Bill and I grow rhubarb, which we gorge on in summer and freeze for winter. When I harvest the stalks, I save the leaves for natural dyeing. The oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves seems to help yarns take up other natural dye colors better, but on its own the color is not that special. Usually.  This time, I got an electric yellow-green — best color ever for me from a rhubarb leaf dyebath by itself. So now I have a fade test going to see how colorfast this yarn will be.

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Natural Dyes — The Unscientific Method

My cavalier approach to natural dye documentation must drive some of you nuts. Any 8th grader knows from working on science projects that I go about things all wrong. Well, maybe not all wrong. But I certainly don’t make it easy for others to replicate my results. When was the last time you read “weight of fiber” here? Right.

Experiments with pH shifts in naturally dyed wool yarns.

This is going to sound awful, but I really don’t care if others can “replicate” my results. I do care, and care deeply, that others feel encouraged to explore uses of natural dye materials they can grow or gather where they live. That’s why I share these experiments in the first place. Chances are you won’t have access to the exact same materials. Or you won’t have the recommended weight of materials in relation to weight of fiber. Or your water chemistry will be different. Or any number of other variables will make your results unique. That’s why I write about the process, instead of the product.

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More Fun With pH

That’s a variation on one of my alkaline extraction natural dyes on the left, and a pH modifier test on the right. I’m tempted to leave them hanging on the towel rod in the bathroom because they look so pretty in there.

Naturally dyed yarns by Donna Kallner.

For the one on the left, I simmered the wool yarn in a rhubarb leaf immersion bath. That helped use up some of the frozen dye materials that were relegated to the porch in my recent freezer purge.

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