Monday, June 24, 2013

Dyeing with fresh plants - how I do it

Clipped from my dyeing with apple leaves blog, just to make it easier to refer to in other dyeing blogs.

Your mileage may vary, which is to say - everyone does this a bit differently, some dyers do this very differently.  

I have been using natural dyes for over 40 years and professionally for the past 5 or so.  Experiment with methods and find out what works best for your plants, water, and yarns.

Gather the plants you want to dye with.  You may want to clip them into smaller pieces.  Fill your dyeing pot with fresh plants, add water to cover.  Put to simmer on the stove for about an hour.  How long the pot is on the stove depends on how long it takes it to come to a simmer.  Don't skimp on the time the leaves simmer.  Dyeing with natural dyestuffs is not for the impatient.
One of my favorite garden weeds - the pineapple weed

As far as what will give color and what won't, experiment!  The worst that happens is that your yarn has had an extra bath.  The best, well, you know.

I always carry gloves, a bucket and clippers when
I am driving.  Always on the lookout....

At this point, you may decide to dry the dye stuff.  That is just fine.  Or freeze it.  That works as well.
I just stuff the pot as full as I can.  About 3" from the top
gives the pan room to simmer with out going over..

Simmering bindweed.  See how the plant mass
creeps up the sides of the pan
during the simmer.  Don't over fill the pan!
To make your life easy, put the green plant matter in a big bag to make it simple to remove.  I get the 5 gallon paint strainer bags from Sherwin Williams but I hear they are available at other places where paint is available.  You can also use a washer bag.  It makes a giant tea bag and is a lot easier than trying to fish out the bits and pieces.  Or trying to shake the VM out of your dyed yarn!

Whole black walnuts in a paint strainer bag.
While this is going on, make sure the things you want to dye are tied well.  Make a "figure 8" or more of your ties.  Tying tightly will give you a variegated skein of the color you are dyeing and your base color yarn.  (So if your yarn is white - where you tie will most likely remain white while the rest of the skein will dye.)  If you want a uniform color, tie loosely. 

These are after dyeing in walnut, see how the
skeins are tied to keep them tidy.
Weigh your dry yarn. 

Mordant your yarn with your choice of mordants. 
Pineapple weed: alum gives yellow (left);
iron gives olive (right).  Many green plants
give these colors with alum and iron.
Everyone will tell you how to do this differently, so here is how I do it.  What each of the mordants do (by my observations) is at the end of the post.

Standard safety disclaimer:  Mordents are metal salts, treat them respectfully.  If you have never taken any chemistry labs, read up on chemical safety.

For alum, I weigh the yarn in grams.  Then 10% of the weight of dry yarn in alum, and 1% in cream of tartar goes into the pot.  So for 700 grams of wool yarn, I use 70 grams of alum and 7 grams of cream of tartar.

For iron and copper, I weigh the yarn in pounds.  Then I use 2 tbsp. of the metal sulfate per pound.  If it is less than a pound, I get out the calculator.  

It keep things straight for me somehow to do it this way.  It doesn't make any sense but it does.

Wet your yarn in cool water, don't agitate it a lot when it's wet or it might felt.

Wetting the yarn;
wet yarn is darker, dry yarn is lighter.

Simmer the yarn and mordant in enough water so the yarn can have some space.  I gently push the yarn around for the first few minutes.  The minimum time I suggest is 60 minutes at a simmer.  Again, don't forget to wait until the pot is at a simmer before starting your timer.  (You will want a timer if you do this much.  You think you will remember when you put the yarn in.  You won't.  Set the timer.)  Longer is fine, overnight is fine.

Adding the skeins to the pot for mordanting

After the mordanting is done, carefully extract the yarn from the pot.  I use tongs and grab the skein where the ties are to try to keep the skein from going all funky. I put the skein in a pail and let it cool down some. 

Rinse the excess mordant off the skein with water that is about the same temperature as the skein.  If you are using tap water, direct it at the side of the pail not on the skein to prevent felting.

Remove the dye material (see if you use the bag, just lift it out and let it drain into a big bucket).  Add your mordanted skein to the pot and simmer until you have the color you like, usually 1 hour or so.  Again, set the timer.

Remove the skeins, squeeze any excess dye out of the skein and return to the pot.  (You can use the dye several times usually.  You will get lighter colors but those can be very pretty.) 

Skein of bindweed dyed yarn coming
from dye pot to bucket to cool before
squeezing out the extra dye.  

Let the skein cool.

Rinse the skein carefully until the excess dye is gone.  The excess dye will not somehow magically adhere to your skein.  It will just make a mess in the future.  Be ruthless. 

Hang to dry.  
I use these clothes dryer racks for my yarn.
Hold a lot and fold up for storage.  

Enjoy the colors!

All these are natural dye colors!
I will talk about how to reduce your water usage in dyeing in another post.

Your set up doesn't have to be fancy!

So get out there and dye!

I get mordents from:

Griffin Dye Works


Hill Creek Fiber Studio

You are welcome to share where you get your dyes and mordants in the comments section.  I'd love to hear from you!

In response to a question about mordants:

Each of the mordants do something different to the colors the plants create.  Here is what I have observed.
I will also suggest an idea of how to decide what to do based on a cool technique I learned from Carol Lee up in Encampment WY ( .
List of mordants:
Alum - yellows slightly, brightens slightly
Iron - “saddens” or darkens, yellows go to olive, madders go to browns, logwoods go to black, iron galls go to grey. Can be very destructive to wool so make sure to not use lots.
Tin - I only use this sparingly. It really brightens the color up
Copper - greens or blues somewhat. I get all sorts of interesting colors that don’t have names. Makes very complex shades.
Cool technique:
At a dyeing workshop with Carol Lee, she had us tie up a bundle of wool yarns mordanted with the different metal salts.  Each of the yarns were about 10" long before knotting. She has a system for tying knots in the yarn so we could identify which mordant gave which color.  (I remember them by how dark the color the mordant leaves on the yarn.)
No mordant - no knot
1 knot - alum
2 knots - tin
3 knots - (chrome - I don’t use chrome)
4 knots - copper
5 knots - iron
Make a bunch of these bundles and put them into a small sample dye pot to see what you like. You can also use it to test for fading.
It help you to decide what you like and also gives you small samples to store for the future.


Sheryl at WovenDreamsFarm said...

Love the blog! I've done a bit of dyeing but only one class on using natural dyes. I never use mordants such as tin, copper or iron. Why? Because I don't know how to dispose of them when I'm finished. Can't put it down the drain and ruin my septic tank. Can't pour it on the ground because of our well ... I can think of lots of reasons. Help! I'd love to learn.

Sheron Buchele Rowland said...

Sheryl - Thanks for your question about mordant disposal.

The answer begins with making sure you use the correct amount of mordant for your weight of fiber. If you do the math and do it right, there is very little mordant left in the water.

I am on a septic and we have it serviced every 5 years and have had zero problems.

Iron and copper are easy to see there is little mordant left as the water changes color (back to "water color"). If you aren't sure, put in a skein of wool to sweep of the final bit of mordant. You can leave it for several days.

This is what I do to minimize waste - I pour the mordant water into a big plastic bucket at the end of the session and store it until next time. I only discard the mordant water once a year or so. I dye almost every week so it works well for me. I've had the water sitting there for a month or so with no problems.

Good luck with your dyeing!

Unknown said...

Hi, Thanku!
I used a cotton white scarf. Its very thin almost like a cheesecloth. Picked wild black cherries. It was a beautiful purple and sumac which was as a crimson red. The cherry for some reason didn't adhere. Maybe wasent concentrated enough. Re dyed in the sumac. A beautiful pink scarf!!! Few days later rinsed in cold water till dye ran out. It turned a light orchid. Sorta merky color. It lost its vibrant color. I pre soaked scarf in salt as instructions on another site. Added alum to dye pot. The product turned out this beautiful pink. My question is why did the color wash out? What to do to keep color? Second question, will natural dyes bleed on a persons skin as in the neck scarf? Gem

Sheron Buchele Rowland said...

Hi Gemma,

Thanks for your question.

Cotton is a whole 'nuther thing in the dyeing world. There are so many different types and finishes on cotton that I can only make some general suggestions.

If you would like a red color, I suggest you use cochineal. Berries are a tough go for the beginner.

Please refer back to my blog about setting the mordant into the fiber first. Then a tea is made from the dyestuffs. Then the item is simmered for at least an hour in the dye.

Cotton is has additional cleaning/scour mordant processes. An hour in alum, an hour in tannin, then an hour in alum. Then it might be ready to dye.

Unless it's the cotton shirt that is one of your favorites and just happens to get splashed by dye accidentally. Then the dye stays for ever and ever.

I mostly work in silk and wool.

Sheron Buchele Rowland said...

Re: natural dyes bleeding on people's skin

My experience is no, except for sometimes indigo if it's not set correctly will rub off on knitting needles and fingers during the knitting process.

After you dye, rinse well to remove any dye that is not adhered to the fabric.

I use a pan of hot water with a squirt of Dawn dish-washing liquid to get the dyed item clean of any loose dye.

Never had any problem.