Zac loves to see what color each dye bath will make and, most of all, he loves to SMELL each color of yarn. I find this hilarious, but he thinks it is fascinating that not only is each yarn a different color but a different scent.
I've bought a bunch of books on natural dyes but I'm determined not to open them until I've done all the experiments I can think of. When I run out of ideas, then I'll see what they say. This is not pure stubbornness on my part... I want to keep the playfulness of it and recipes can ruin that. It's like the difference between a see-what-happens smoothie concoction and baking a birthday cake that everyone expects to be delicious.
I'm afraid if I start reading the books I'll be locked into what they say and I'll lose my own ideas. Of course, there are probably lots of things I would benefit from knowing, but I'm really enjoying being a novice at this and I don't particularly want to rush the process.
If you're looking for some free inspiration, the lovely people over at The Spruce have put together a list of blog posts for different color dyes, with photos and some brief instructions. Here they are:
alfalfa seeds, barberry bark, bay leaves, burdock, celery, chameleon plant, crocus, daffodil, dahlia, dandelion, dyer's greenwood, goldenrod, heather, hickory leaves, mahonia roots, marigold, mullen, old man's beard lichen, osage orange, oxalis, peach tree leaves, red clover, safflower, sassafras bark, saffron, st. john's wort, sumac bark, sunflowers, syrian rue, tansy, turmeric, willow leaves, yarrow, yellow dock roots, yellow onion skin
- alder tree bark, barberry shrub, bloodroot, butternut seed husks, carrots, eucalyptus, giant coreposis, lilac twigs, paprika, pomegranate, sassafras, turmeric, yellow onion skin
- annatto seeds, bee balm, jewelweed, plum tree bark, virginia creeper, weeping willow bark
- autumn red leaves, bamboo, bedstraw root, beet roots, brazilwood, canadian hemlock, chokecherries, crabapple bark, elderberry, hibiscus flowers, madder root, portulaca, rose hips, st. john's wort, sumac fruit, sycamore bark
- british soldier lichens, cherries, grand fir tree, pink camellia, raspberries, roses and lavender, strawberries, sumac
- basil, blackberries, cherry tree roots, dark purple iris blooms, daylily blooms, elderberry, grapes, hibiscus flowers, huckleberries or blueberries, mulberries, pokeweed berries, raspberries, red cabbage, red cedar roots, red maple bark, sweetgum bark
- cornflower blooms, dogwood bark and fruit, hyacinth flowers, indigo, japanese indigo / dyer's knotweed, oregon grape, saffron crocus petals, purple iris, woad / dyer's woad
- artichokes, black-eyed susan, chamomile leaves, coneflower, foxglove, grass, larkspur or delphinium, lilac blooms, lily of the valley, mint, nettle, pigweed, plantain roots, purple milkweed, queen anne's lace, red onion skins, red pine needles, scotch broom stems, snapdragon, sorrel, spinach, tarragon
- amur maple leaves, beet roots, birch bark, broom bark, broom sedge, coffee grounds, colorado white fir bark, coneflower, dandelion roots, fennel, goldenrod shoots, henna, hollyhock, ivy twigs, juniper berries, maple tree buds, oak acorns, oak bark, pine bark, st. john's wort, sumac leaves, tea leaves, walnut hulls, white maple bark, wild plum root, yellow dock
- carob pods, iris roots, oak galls, rusty nails, sawtooth oak acorn caps, walnut hulls
Here are our first 15 colors and white. I'll do a post right after this with the "recipe" for each color and some close up photos in better light.
My basic no-fuss natural dye process at this point is to put a lot of water, a cup or so of white vinegar, a dyestuff, and several hanks of pure wool yarn into a crockpot, turn it on Low for 8 hours, and then turn it off and leave it sit overnight to cool in its bath of color. If there is still color in the water when we remove it the next day, I've been putting in another hank and seeing what happens. I do have a dye pot, which I used for the mint + iron, since we eat out of our crockpots and so I don't put anything in them I wouldn't want to eat. That one I simmered on the stove for several hours and then turned off the heat under it. The iron continues to work, so that was the only dye pot where the aged dye bath produced a stronger color than the initial round of dyeing.
You are supposed to thoroughly soak your yarn first before you put it in, so that it doesn't float on top. I have never yet remembered to do that.
Lots of people cook their dyestuff to make a dye bath, strain it, and then put the hanks in. I am also not organized enough to do that. When I want to dye something, I want to do it right then and then I need to move on to the next thing on my list. I'm a bit of a hasty dyer.
I did notice that powdered spices are a pain because you have to brush them off the yarn after it dries (same goes with coffee grounds... I would try instant coffee next time). Interestingly, I got a brighter color with my turmeric root than the powdered spice.
The sun jar technique is just as it sounds. Get a large jar such as a gallon or half gallon size, and pop your water, dyestuff, and hanks into it and set it in the sun for several days when it's hot outside. It is easy to keep tabs on what is happening with your color, and a row of jars lined up looks so pretty!
For each color, I take the yarn out and let it rest on a flat baking cooling rack set on a rimmed baking sheet, so that it can drip, for one day. Then I squeeze out all of the extra liquid and hang it on a wooden clothes drying rack set up in the bathtub. I have found that if I squeeze the yarn aggressively right away when it comes out of the dye pot, some of the color goes too. Having it rest flat before it is squeezed dry and hung gives a stronger color. It usually hangs on the clothing drying rack for two days before I wind it into a ball. My hanks are approx 25 grams of wool yarn.
I'm not yet experimenting with mordants other than iron or vinegar, or fibers other than wool. My intention is to use my first 30 days to get a sense of what color recipes I like, and then go back and put hanks of several fibers into the same bath to compare the results. I also will next work with alum and cream of tartar as mordants. It is also on my list to experiment with cochineal, madder, and logwood. Zac is interested in combining dyestuffs to see what we get (like beet + turmeric). So there is a lot left to play with!
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