Friday, June 23, 2006

Indigo and back again

I apologize for the delay. I've had some trouble making these pictures come up properly, but now everything seems to be fixed. So, then, indigo dyeing.

First, you have to make the dyebath. I got my indigo from the Weaving Works, and it came in gravel-sized chunks that I chopped up with an old knife into a fine powder. Now with a regular dyestuff, this should be sufficient to create a dyeable medium, but indigo requires two further steps. First, the dyebath has to be extremely basic (as opposed to acidic), so I mixed one cup of soda ash into warm water and added it to a stainless steel pot with 2 gallons of warm water. I then combined the now-powdered indigo (about 2 ounces, which was way more than I needed) with a bit of warm water and worked it up into a paste. I added progressively more water to this until I thought it was thin enough to add to the dyepot, which I did. This is the result:

I warmed this to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, without stirring. It is important when dyeing with Indigo to not introduce any extra oxygen into the mixture by stirring it or sloshing it around. One book I read even said not to let your yarn drip back into the pot when you pull it out after dying. This, it turns out, is just a bit too persnickety. Drips, as long as they are kept to a minimum, are fine.

Now, to the 140-degree dyebath, which I was heating on a hot plate on my back porch, I added one package of RIT color remover. This is a "reducing agent," which removes all unattached oxygen from the dyebath and turns what was now a deep indigo color into NEON GREEN. This is referred to, for unknown reasons, as "indigo white." It's not. It's neon green. I can't show you a neon green dyebath, unfortunately, because the surface, which stays in contact with the air, does not reduce, and therefore remains blue.

It worked, but you'll just have to trust me. Now this "indigo white" is what you need to dye fibers. The plain blue dye will not bond to your yarn, but the neon green will. And, boy, does the yarn come out green. Exposure to oxygen, however, returns it to a blue state. Observe:

And that's all there is to it. For the actual dyeing, I dropped already-wet yarn into the dyepot, let it simmer for 15 minutes, and pulled it out again. For darker blue, I repeated the process two times. For light blue, I dipped it in and pulled it out immediately. Here, you can see the results of my experiments:

The green and purple skeins were originally dyed with cochineal and osage orange, then overdyed with indigo. After the skeins had cooled, I rinsed them out, which was a very labor-intensive process, since I had used far too much indigo in the dyebath. Next time, I will use half as much. I never even came close to exhausting the dyebath, nor did my dipping and dripping ever turn the indigo white back into indigo blue, which indicates that the bath has become useless. All in all, I'd say this was a successful experiment. Not something I'd want to do every day, but something I'll definitely do again in the future.


Blogger Jeana said...

Wowsers! I love all the shades and tones you came up with! Very pretty--hooray for natural dyes!

9:27 AM  
Blogger laughingrat said...

That was a really cool, informative post. Is there any way you can store the indigo bath for later use? I've heard they used to do that in Japan, but like a lot of things "I heard once," I might be misremembering or even just plain wrong. ;) Of course I can't see how you could pour the solution out of the pot without oxygenating it again, so it might be a moot point now. But still, cool results!

3:41 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

I think I could have stored it, if I wanted to. It would have turned blue, due to the oxygen, but reheating it and adding more RIT color remover should have re-reduced the dyebath. There was so much dye left in the dyebath that I even considered going out and buying more yarn to dip, but reason prevailed. What was I going to do with 20 skeins of indigo yarn? Sell it, I guess, but since I'd never put any of it in my shop, I didn't know how well it would sell.

10:32 AM  

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