Monday, June 19, 2006

A Dye Odyssey

Usually, I use Jacquard Acid dyes for the yarn in my shop. Simple, safe, mostly non-toxic, and they yield consistent, perfect results every time. Why, then, should I have a sudden, uncontrollable urge to experiment with natural dyes? Insanity, my friends. Insanity.

I took myself off to the Weaving Works to see what they might have in the way of natural dyes. They have all sorts of things you can imagine: logwood extract, madder, cutch...I came home with 3 ounces of refined indigo chunks, a pound of alum, and a bag of osage orange sawdust. I wanted blue, yellow, and red, for primaries, but the cochineal extract was just a little too steeply priced for my wallet, so I decided to see what Dharma had to offer.

Thankfully, Dharma had little packets of dried cochineal bugs (yes, they're dead bugs) for sale at a reasonable price, so I was in business. I decided to try the osage orange, which really dyes yellow, not orange, first, because it seemed the easiest. It requires no mordant, and I could simmer it in the dyeing crock pot overnight, then strain out the bits, add the yarn, and simmer it some more. Here's what I got:

Pretty good, eh? This inspired me to try the cochineal, which is, of course, dried, dead bugs. I dumped them into my little food processor and gave them a whirl. Not enough of a whirl, I later found out, since there were still substantial pieces of bug bodies in the mix. I couldn't see them at the time, though, so I blithely dumped them into the dyepot with some alum and citric acid, brought it to a simmer, and stuck in some yarn. Here are two of my skeins and some superwash wool roving:

The nylon ribbon is pretty spectacular, I think. I also dyed about 8 other skeins of pure wool, which you'll see at some point either here or in the shop.

But now, the crowning glory of natural dyeing was before me. Indigo dyeing, you see, requires complex chemical reactions. Chemical reactions that have the potential to CATCH ON FIRE. Or totally ruin your dye project, one or the other. But, to keep this post from being too long, I'll just leave you with a teaser shot:


Blogger laughingrat said...

Excellent! I can see the lure of natural dyes. It is amazing that nature yields so many colors, and the skill it takes to bring them out is a tempting challenge in itself.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Jeana said...

Brilliant! I love the yellow and can't wait to see the indigo!

8:50 AM  

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