Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tales of madder, walnut & chickens

I began the journey of fiber arts including natural dyeing in 1972 where I worked as a docent at a fairly new/rough-edged living history museum as a docent on an 1880's farm  in the Midwest.  I had to spin/dye/make soap/build log cabins/harvest hay/cook over a wood fire/etc.  It was definitely learn by doing.

To this day, I still do most of that stuff (except the hay and building cabins).

I tend to feel somewhat skilled given the number of sheep fleeces I've taken from just cut off the sheep to balls of wool yarn brightly colored with gathered dyestuffs and the zillions of bars of soap I've made.

It's been a humbling week.  Made a rookie mistake.  Tried to dye with 2 of the most puzzling natural dyes in one day.  Madder root and walnut.

I see myself as Captain James T. Kirk shaking my fist at the sky "Madder root and walnut!!!!"

Okay, maybe not.

Score after the latest foray:  Still puzzled.  And a bit heart-broken.

Madder.  Still can't get red from madder root.  Just orange.  Still can't figure out why.  Madder is credited with creating reds all the way back to as far back as Minoan times in 1900 B.C.   Some dyers show pictures of red madder root dyed wool.  Other dyers say things like - tried everything I could think of, couldn't get red.  Others say, tried everything I could think of, couldn't get orange.

I won't bore you with what all Kathy and I have tried.  Let me draw a veil lest I break into ice-cold bitter tears.

We have gotten close once with a deep reddish-orange but this time - nope.  Not even close.  Got some lovely oranges.

No pictures either.  (Ice-cold bitter tears, remember?)

Walnut hulls.   We worked up our next-to-the-last pots of the year until the next walnut season.  The penultimate walnut pot was created with great hope in my heart.

Let me get it out here.  I have a problem with brown yarn.  I love it.  A lot.  It makes me happy.  I pet it and try to put it out for sale.  I set it aside to think about.  Pet it some more, and boom!  it's in my stash.  I tend to make off with most of it.

I have skeins stashed for an emergency brown yarn situation.

Prepping last week for some upcoming sales we noted our boxes of yarns are full of all the rainbow of lovely natural colors, except for the box of browns.  It's mostly empty.  Hence the pot of walnut dye this week and my hopeful heart.

3 shades of brown
and copper buttons
My wall of shame:
fingerless gloves in brown
<-- for sale on Etsy

On exhibit at Fiber Arts gallery show-->

And these are lovely shades of brown.  Don't get me wrong.  Lovely.  Making these things was greatly satisfying and very fun.  I love them.

But what I really want is the color the yarns are in the pot.  Deep, dark, mysterious, alluring.

So pretty, look at the color
of the dye

 <--In the pot with the dark dye liquor, such a deep color.

I squeeze out the skein, wash it with soap, and rinse until the water runs clear.

Top half - not rinsed, bottom half- rinsed --
Same skein

A lot of the color rinses out.  You can see here on the left where I only rinsed out half of the skein.

It's a nice brown after it's rinsed.

But it always breaks my heart to watch all that color rinse out.

Sometimes, I take it personally.  I should know how to keep the color.  I should do it better somehow.  Why haven't I figured this out yet?

Clearly the skeins don't care.  They are happy being the colors they are.  Life lesson?  Nah....

So in some clearly masochistic urge, I mixed a pot of half-madder, half-walnut.  Maybe 2 difficults will make a pretty?

This is what happened:

Redder one - 100% walnut (left)
Browner one - half walnut/half madder (right)

With flash - walnut on bottom,
half & half on top

Natural light - walnut on right this time
Crazy.  It just make me crazy.

In the interest of full disclosure,
we did try using an alum mordant to see if the color would stay better.

Nope, but it certainly did change it from a brown to a russet.

I really wish you could see the actual colors.  I didn't realize how hard it is to get real colors in photos, much less transmit them over the interwebs to all the different monitors.

I think I'll remember to use alum mordant when I want russet.  And no mordant when I want a brown.

Leaving the studio in a bit of a funk I find the chickens have had themselves a digging frenzy in my walkway beds.  Worst of all, they dug in one of my just-up sugar snap pea beds.

They have 2 acres to dig and they dig up my peas.
:-(  Dead pea plant.

Hopefully, this will deter them!  You can see the remaining
peas coming along.

More nature fun.  Deer ate the newly transplanted
Pasque flowers.  grr.

And now stuff that makes me happy:

Fragrant double daffodils.  So lovely and so fragrant!

Arugula gone to flower.  Look at the veining on the flowers.  So lovely!
And soon, more arugula! 
I was glad to see that a fire ban has been put into effect for our county.  It is so dry.  I'm glad they didn't wait until we were on fire to ban open burns.  Like they have most years.

Anybody up for a rain dance?


Ladka said...

It may help to follow Helen Melvin's advice on Yahoo group [NaturalDyes] Re: Mordant to encourage reds. She wrote:
"I use 22 % alum and no COT if I want to get the madder reds. COT moves madder to the orange.
Best wishes Helen in North Wales

Spike said...

Thanks for the comment, Helen! I hadn't seen that advice.

I'll be sure to post about it if it works!

I'm enjoying your blog as well, thanks for the link!

Ladka said...

BTW, I am Ladka and re-posted Helen's comment from Yahoo. I also admire her blog and learn much from her.

Ladka said...

Here's another piece of advice that may help:
I feel sorely with your frustration and would love to help out a bit.

Spike said...

Oh, thanks for the additional information!

I've been suspecting that we need to change either the wool we use (currently Peru Highland) or the chemistry of our water.

This gives me some more ideas.

You are very kind to help out a frustrated old dyer! :-)

We have a saying: it is easy to get a color from natural dyes, it's harder to get a specific color, and to get a specific color repeatedly is an art.

Blessings to you!