Iâ€™ve been interested in natural (vegetable) dyes for a long time. Rather than planting a dye garden or gathering wild plants (and spending too much time extracting dyestuffs!), I invested in a collection of Earthues plant extracts. Iâ€™ve only dyed wool with acid dyes and food coloring, this is a new experience for me. The procedure is not particularly complicated, but it takes more time to color fibers, especially when compared with synthetic dyes. (Itâ€™s not for instant-gratification types.)
Scoured, dry wool (in this case, more of the Corriedale cross from the quasi-Amish) was weighed. Before dyeing, the fiber had to be mordanted. I soaked the wool for 30 minutes in warm water with a squirt of dishwashing detergent. I drained the wool, squeezed out the water briefly with my hands. Next, I dissolved alum (the Earthues book recommends 12% of the weight of dry goods) in warm water, added wool and enough water to cover the fiber, and heated the pot slowly (~45 min.) until it was 200 F. The pot was held at that temperature for 1 hour and cooled overnight.
I decided to use madder root extract (color range is supposed to be pink to dark red) at 4% weight of fiber (WOF), supposed to produce a medium-light shade. I followed the generic dyeing instructions (â€˜cuz Iâ€™m dumb and didnâ€™t read the dye-specific page) and heated the dyebath to 200 F for an hour. Well, as it turns out, the dye component of madder degrades at temperatures above 160 F. Oops. In addition, I didnâ€™t rinse the fiber after mordanting, I just extracted it by hand (pressed on it in the sink) and put it into the pot. I think I allowed a lot of â€œlooseâ€ alum (not bound to the wool) into the dyebath, and free alum molecules reacted with the dye and didnâ€™t allow it to interact with alum fixed on the wool. In the end, I think the effective madder concentration was much less than 4% WOF. The dyebath was milky orange when I pulled the wool out. I threw the rest of the liquor away.
Itâ€™s not bad â€“ a healthy â€œwhite personâ€ flesh tone. (Hey â€“ were any of you on the Knitlist last winter when I got reamed a new hole by asking for â€œflesh toneâ€ (meaning peach) yarn, and number of people felt compelled to email me about my ethnocentric racist tendencies?)
For the next batch, I decided to use more of the Corrie and remembered to rinse the fiber after mordanting. The extract was made at a 10% WOF concentration, supposed to be a dark shade. The dyebath was taken off the heat after it reached 160 F (well, it crept up to 164 F for a little bit). What a difference in color! I rinsed and rinsed this like a crazy person, but the wool still exuded tons of red and started to feel crispy-dry after the 4th or 5th rinse. I emailed Earthues to see if Iâ€™d messed something up (got a speedy and detailed response), and the level of dye run off apparently is normal for my newly soft water conditions. They reported rinsing madder up to 8 times!
Both lots have much more orange color than I was expecting. This has to do with the soft water. More on that in the next installment.