Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Slow Textiles: Experiments in Natural Dyeing

My fascination with natural dyes continues unabated! Here are more of my experiments with immersion dyeing, bundle dyeing, and rust dyeing from the past couple of months.

I. Bundle dyeing

Quick-and-dirty bundle dyeing (aka eco-dyeing/printing, originated by the inspirational India Flint) instructions: Wet prewashed & premordanted cloth, lay out the dyeing agent (leaves or flowers), then roll the cloth around a stick or a copper pipe. Steam or boil for 60 min. Allow to dry for as long as you can stand (ideally weeks, overnight at minimum), then open the bundle.

What I actually did:

The top bundle is a dry premordanted-and-tannin-dyed 8m/m silk habotai scarf around a found stick with lichens growing on the bark (in the centre), and a couple of broken twigs from our new Evans sour cherry, with new leaves and flower buds, secured with cotton kitchen twine. The second bundle is a dry unmordanted 8m/m silk habotai scarf and two cabbage leaves, wrapped around an aluminum soup can and secured with elastics.

Both bundles were steamed 60 minutes, then rolled hard to press everything together one more time and help extract colour from the cooked leaves. The stick-and-twig bundle never got super wet, while the cabbage bundle was pretty damp when the steaming time was up. Both were left in the steamer until the water cooled (an extra hour); the cabbage bundle was left alone, and the stick-and-twig bundle was popped into a jar of the hot water leftover from steaming, then both were allowed to dry overnight before unwrapping.

The cabbage bundle gave a very satisfying result: 

The stick-and-twig bundle scarf developed a faint imprint from the fresh cherry leaves, but nothing worth photographing, and will get layered into another bundle dye. I'm definitely going to be playing with this technique a lot.

II. More immersion dyeing with specialist dyestuffs

I ordered some new dyes to play with: weld and cochineal! (Also alkanet, but the extraction process for that is a bit more advanced than the typical add-boiling-water instructions, so I'll leave that post for another day.)

Testing out part of the first boiling-water-extracted dye. Weld is on the right, cochineal on the left. Each mason jar had one alum-mordanted 8 m/m silk habotai scarf added to it, and they were left overnight at room temperature, then given a morning in the sunshine.
The weld-dyed scarf, still with its wooden resist.
I wasn't thrilled with the pattern when I unbundled it - too much white space -
so this will be the first layer of a multiple-dip pattern.
Dilute cochineal on alum-mordanted silk gives a lovely clear pink hue.
As lovely as that clear, bright yellow is (thanks in part to the local tap water being a bit on the hard side), I'll never wear it - but I will wear green. So the next step will be to set up a bigger weld dyebath (making my kitchen smell like a tea shop) and play with overdyeing something indigo dyed. My first attempt at this, the pot got too hot, and the weld dye went from bright clear yellow to a muddy dark olive green. Oops. I haven't gotten around to a second try yet.

Meanwhile, I wanted to see how dark a colour I could get from the cochineal I had already crushed and extracted, instead of the pretty pink from my first, rather dilute mason jar. After consulting Lambert & Kendall's Complete Guide To Natural Dyeing, I put the contents of the mason jar into a copper pot, added the remaining cochineal powder and 2nd boiling-water extract that had been sitting overnight (although I was still nowhere even close to the 30% wof they recommend for deep reds), and simmered for 30 minutes. At 30% wof, cochineal with a copper mordant would give a deep maroon-red; my pink silk scarf gradually got bluer, until it was a lovely red-violet that reminds me of pansies and iris, but would have needed a lot more cochineal to achieve a deep red. (Then I threw in a pair of cotton socks and a silk scarf to exhaust the bath. They came out much, much paler.)

After about 15 minutes of simmering. Becoming more purple.
Detail of the finished scarf after drying, with the contrast enhanced just a smidge
to make up for indoor lighting. Yum.

III. Rust printing

I followed the instructions here (leaving it in a ziploc bag resting 48h in the sun outside) to rust print an alum-mordanted silk habotai scarf using some rusted tent pegs I had lying around - then, after rinsing, I overdyed the rust print with logwood by scrunching the scarf into a mason jar with the logwood and extract and leaving it for two hours, knowing that the iron from the rust would alter the colour from violet to charcoal. What it actually did was sadden the violet of logwood to a greyer, bluer purple in the rest of the scarf, while the rust prints themselves remained identifiably rusty:

Note: This post is part of my #30DaysOfMaking Challenge.

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