An Experiment in Cold Mordanting

Recently, I have wondered how much it is really necessary to heat wool when you mordant it. To the usual 80-90C? Or would 60C be enough? (Yes I wondered about that because I ruined some yarn, and I think I overheated it!)

So I turned to the knowledgeable people on Ravelry’s natural dyeing forum for help, and was told that you can cold mordant. No heating, just steep the wool in the usual alun solution without heating it. And for how long? Sea green and sapphire writes that it is enough to leave it overnight in a cold solution, and that “dyeing results are not compromised in any way by leaving out the heat”.

So it had to be tried! I took:

  • One 10 g test skein of wool, mordanted in my usual way: prepare a solution containing 10% alun. That means if you have 100 g of wool, put 10 g of alun in the pot. Dissolve the alun, add clean and completely wet wool, and heat it to about 90C for an hour. Then, I always just let it cool off in the solution until the next day
  • One 10 g test skein of wool, mordanted by leaving it in a cold 10% solution of alun for 24 hours.

Both skeins then went into the same dye bath in order to compare them directly. The dye bath consisted of 40 g of dried heather from last fall, I had wanted to try that for the longest time, to see if heather yellow is warm or cold. And the result:

testskeins

I am not able to tell the skeins apart, so the conclusion is that cold mordanting us just as good as hot. I think this is great news, because it really saves electricity!

The heater’s yellow is a wonderful warm tone, so I will definitely collect more this fall. Next time I dye with heather, though, it should be boiled and the dye bath strained before the wool goes in. The heather twigs are very difficult to remove – they are like small hooks inserted in the yarn.

FACTS – HEATHER

Mordant 10% alun hot or cold

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio dry 1:2

Conclusion Heating is not necessary for alun mordanting! 

Heather yellow is warm and wonderful

Possible improvements Remove heather twigs before adding yarn

De to nøgler garn ovenover er begge bejset med alun, men det ene uden nogen form for opvarmning. Det ser ud til at virke fuldstændig ens – en god nyhed, for det betyder en stor energibesparelse under naturfarvning. Nøglerne er farved med lyng fra sidste sensommer.

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The Faintest Pink

Once your eye adapts to spotting lichens, there is one in particular that beckons to you from just about everywhere – bright yellow Xanthoria parietina, growing on stones, fences, and branches.

It’s even in my holiday snapshots from last year, taken at Dybbøl, where the Germans beat the Danish army back to the stone age in 1864. Xanthoria parietina is the yellow splotches on these big boulders my daughter is posing on:

dybboel

And here is a branch with the lichen up close:

xathoria

The color of the lichen can actually vary quite a bit. The Wikipedia entry says that the deep yellow color is caused by the pigment parietin, which has a biosynthesis that is light dependent because parietin is actually the lichen’s UV protection. I have indeed often seen intesting lichens growing in the shade, and stepped closer just to find that it was actually a green-grey version of Xanthoria parietina.

The yellow parietin reacts with KOH to give red, one of the standard test one can make when typing lichens. I don’t know the exact chemistry, but I am guessing the same should happen when you steep it in ammonia?

Parietin, Wikipedia informs us, is also found in the roots of curled dock (Rumex crispus, kruset skræppe in Danish). Jenny Dean lists the roots of curled dock, dock, and sorrel as sources of reddish browns, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with its parietin content.

But back to Xanthoria parietina. Irish lichens (one of my favorite web sources on lichens) tells us that it is a very pollution-resistant lichen. It seems to be spreading, and is even considered invasive by some people, so this one is fine to gather whenever you find it.

I have kept a jar of Xanthoria parietina since November 15th last year. It contained 42 g of lichen in ammonia (I buy the ordinary one at a supermarket and dilute it to 1%).

I try to remember to shake my jars of lichens. The book I read on the topic, Karen Casselman’s “Lichen Dyes, The New Source Book” returns to the point several times: “Aeration is important”, “Vats ignored […] may not develop properly” and so on.

But in real life, of course, it’s hard to remember. It only takes moments to take the lid off, replace it, and shake the jar, but like flossing and taking vitamins, initial determination can quickly wear off. Some weeks I may have shaken this jar every day, but at least half of the time, it’s just been on its own.

The dyeing process, on the other hand, is easy. Just pour the liquid into the pot and dye the yarn in it over gentle heat. My 10 g test skein came out a faint, but pretty, pink:

xanthoriaskein

and this is actually the best color that I have achieved with Xanthoria parietina. I think it’s a pretty color, although you are actually supposed to turn it blue by exposing the wet skein to sunlight. I tried that with a similar skein, but the blue tone it turned into was so faint that it was white that just felt a bit blue… My guess is that the initial pink should be very strong in order to get a good blue – this is also based on the photos that mycopigments posted here.

I suspect that the shift to faint blue will eventually happen if the yarn is exposed to sun at all (photo-oxidation). Red2white shows a series of light tests here, and in addition to color loss, there is also a change towards blue. But faint and possibly also quite fugitive – good blue can only come from indigo!

In conclusion, the dye from Xanthoria parietina is fun to play with, but not lightfast. I still find myself planning out more experiments, so next time I pass a yellow branch, something will go into my pocket (for a lovely day of acetone extraction perhaps?)

FACTS – Xanthoria parietina

Mordant 10% alun*

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:4

Conclusion The color is pretty, but faint. And it is not lightfast

Possible improvements More diligent vat-shaking – more efficient aeration should develop the dye better. And maybe ripping the lichen into smaller pieces will also help extraction? According to Casselman, lightfastness improves if the yarn is dried before the dye is rinsed out

*Alun mordanting should not be necessary when working with lichen dyes, as they are substantive = able to bond to animal fibers by themselves. But I just had some mordanted skeins on hand, and it doesn’t interfere, either.

Lav-arten Xanthoria parietina bør, efter extraction i ammoniak, give en pink farve som skifter til blå i direkte sol. Jeg har prøvet at få denne blå frem tidligere, uden held. Denne gang har jeg ladet garnet tørre uden sol og fået en svag fin lyserød farve.

Solving the Problem of Beige

My recent attempt at dyeing with fermented avocado pits was only partially successful – I got three nice pink-ish test skeins out of it (on the left, dry) but two skeins of sock yarn came out a drab beige (still in the pot, so wet, which makes the color look nicer than it is)

avocadopot

So I decided to tweak the color in the pink direction, but only a very little bit.

This could be a general strategy for all those beige skeins!! Beige twisted towards pink is a very attractive color to my eye, an old dusty rose, but beige is just that – beige. My least favorite color. The color that makes even beautiful people look plain. So plain-looking people should steer way clear of it. Not to mention old wrinkled people.

I made a dye bath with 1/4 g cochineal. My ordinary kitchen scale doesn’t go that low, so I weighed off 5 g, divided them roughly in 5, and then took a quarter of that pile. We are down to individual lice, here. I used that on 300 g of sock yarn, two that were already avocado dyed and one white:

avocochineal

The avocado/cochineal skeins are the two in the back, and the middle skein is the one that went into the same dye bath, so it got 1/3 of 1/4 g of cochineal. Not much at all! The two front skeins are two more fresh 100 g skeins of sock yarn that got each 1/8 g of cochineal.

I love all of these pinks, and what is even better is the light-fastness of cochineal. In many ways, the properties of cochineal seem closer to a chemical dye, but it’s all just from a small louse.

And here is one avocado pit/cochineal skein up close

avocado

FACTS – AVOCADO PITS + COCHINEAL

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap (avocado pits) and rain (cochineal)

Yarn Sock yarn 75% wool, 25% polyamide 350m/100g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:1 for avocado pits, then 0.08:1 for cochineal

Conclusion The final color is lovely, and tweaking with cochineal could well be a general solution to the beige problem

Her er endelig standardløsningen på de evindelige beige nøgler naturfarvet garn! Jeg har overfarvet med en lille smule cochineal, og det giver en dejlig gammelrosa.

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Avocado Pits

I’ve experimented with this salvage dye in the past, but not with much luck. Now, having tried many more dyestuffs, I’m returning to it.

The idea that you can get good color out of something you would have otherwise just thrown out is appealing and worth pursuing, especially in winter, where dyestuffs are scarcer.

I’ve saved avocado pits and peels in the freezer over a good amount of time. Maybe from 20 fruits in total? I’m not sure, and I forgot to weigh them before I started. Anyway, what I did:

  • I chopped the pits with my big knife. I read somewhere to blend them to a powder, but I only have my good blender and I don’t want to destroy it
  • Heated the pits in a couple of liters of salt water (2 Tsp salt per liter)
  • Left them to ferment for about a week. It really did ferment – the smell was unmistakable and air was bubbling out. Then it started to mold very slightly and I decided it was time to dye with it

The reason for adding salt is that it should prevent the dyestuff from spoiling during the fermentation time.

I tried the dye bath with 10 g test skeins of supersoft. The first one was a quite dull beige, but the next two progressively darker and more pink in tone. It seems that more color came out of the pits with each round of heating (I’ve seen this before with other dyestuffs, that later rounds with the same color bath actually gave more intense color instead of weaker). I added some ammonia to the washing water of the third skein, and maybe that turned the color more pink.

avocadoskeins

After the 3 test skeins, I bravely threw in two 100-g skeins of sock yarn.

There was still a lot of color left in the pot, but not of the pink kind  – the two skeins came out more to the beige side, in between test skein 1 and 2 in hue. So I didn’t even let them dry, as I’m planning to immediately overdye them – more later on this – and also, more later on the avocado peels (fermenting right now).

avocadopot

FACTS – AVOCADO PITS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g. Sock yarn 75% wool, 25% polyamide 350m/100g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:20 at least for the test skeins. More like 1:1 or 1:2 for the sock yarn

Conclusion The pink shades that can be obtained are nice, but some skeins turned out a dull beige

Possible improvements Maybe I should have used rainwater? It is often said that it helps with red shades. I think that using a blender would have helped extract the color better

 Jeg har forsøgt farvning med gærede avocadosten, og de gav en dejlig gammelrosa-beige farve på nogle små nøgler. Da jeg smed en større mængde garn i blev det dog bare en kedelig beige…

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Beige Again (Walnut Shells)

I lived in Grenoble for 2 years, and everybody there is always talking about walnuts. The region is famous for its walnuts – noix de Grenoble. But I have to admit that I didn’t actually see any nuts growing, nor did I eat very many of them while I lived there…

So one day here in Denmark, when I saw a big bag of noix de Grenoble at the supermarket, I just had to buy it. The nuts are eaten a long time ago, but I remembered reading somewhere that the shells can be used for dyeing (in addition, of course to the well known dye found in walnut hulls, but that’s another story).

I like the idea of salvage dyes, the dyes you find in something you would have just thrown out. So here they are, about 500 g of walnut shellswalnutshells

Following information from this article, I soaked the shells in water a couple of days, then boiled them for two hours. The next day, I removed the shells and simmered a 10 g alun-mordanted test skein in the dye bath for about an hour. As usual with browns, it looked good while in the bath, but after drying, what I have is just another beige skein:

beigeskein

Useful for color knitting, but not very exciting by itself. I had hoped to obtain a deeper brown, but that is, in fact, a difficult color to obtain in natural dyeing.

FACTS – WALNUT SHELLS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:50

Conclusion A lousy dyestuff

Possible improvements I don’t see any – other than forgetting about the walnut shell and befriending someone with a walnut tree, so I can get my hands on the hulls

Last year, I did get good browns from mushrooms. Here is my fresh weakly beige walnut skein next to a very nice brown from last year:

brownandbeige

The brown skein is dyed with a mushroom that is quite abundant around here. I’ve typed it as Ischnoderma benzoinum (gran-tjæreporesvamp) with the help of my Swedish book “Färgsvampar & svampfärgning” by Hjördis Lundmark and Hans Marklund, but it could also be its relative Ischnoderma resinosum (fall polypore, tjæreporesvamp in Danish) . I don’t have a picture of the mushrooms I used, but I’ll look for it again next fall.

Jeg har afprøvet farvning med valnøddeskaller, men det giver kun en svag beige farve. For at få en god brun fra valnødder, så skal man altså have fat på den grønne del der sidder udenpå selve nødden. Jeg har desværre ikke noget valnøddetræ, men sidste år fik jeg en god brun farve med tjæreporesvamp.

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Planning my Dye Garden

Although I’ve had unsuccessful attempts in the past at growing dye plants myself, I’m determined to try it again this year. But it’s always a good idea with a plan B, and that’s my sister.
Last year, she grew Coreopsis in her garden, and since she is not a dyer herself, she decided to give me the dried plants. I threw them in my dye pot with a 10 g test skein, since the amount of dried plants wasn’t that large
coreopsis

but that was just the first skein of many. In the end, the small amount of plants in the top photo dyed 6 test skeins or 60 g of wool in a range of orange colors.

orange
FACTS – COREOPSIS
Mordant 10% alun
Water Tap
Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g
Yarn:Dyestuff ratio about 1:1 dried plant weight, but I could have used less
Conclusion Excellent dyestuff, contains a lot of color

I hope she grows some more this year – after googling around, I found that some types of coreopsis are annuals, some perennials, and some are annuals that self-seed very easily, but I don’t know which one my sister has. So I’m also going to try. So I have ordered these seeds from www.wildcolours.co.uk (they sent the seeds the same day, and they arrived in my mailbox in Denmark in 3 days). It’s woad, japanese indigo, coreopsis, and dyer’s greenweed.
seeds
And this is what I am going to do with them:
  • Japanese indigo – I’ve read in several places that you have to plant the seeds indoors. The timing depends who you ask, anything from 8 to 2 weeks before the last frost (wildcolours say 2-3 weeks). Here in Denmark, 2-3 weeks before the last chance of frost would be the beginning of May, so that’s my plan
  • Woad – I’ve tried planting woad seeds outside in the past and they didn’t grow. The information you can find online is mixed – some people say plant them inside, some say outside. This time, I’ll follow this and plant them outside in March. We’ve moved since I tried it last, and the old garden was in a very windy and cold spot, so maybe it will work this time
  • Coreopsis – this says you can sow the seeds directly in early spring, so that would probably be March-April around here. It also says it likes a South-facing wall
  • Dyer’s greenweed – this says to sow it outside in the fall, but this says you can also do it in February. Since it is now February and my seeds just arrived, I’m just going to try it now. Both sets of instructions agree that you should soak the seeds in warm water overnight or 24 h before planting, so that’s what I am doing. Then plant them outside in pots – they need cold to break dormancy
Jeg har før prøvet at gro farveplanter, uden succes. Men jeg har nydt godt af min søsters høst af skønhedsøje, som farver kraftig orange. I år prøver jeg igen at få noget til at gro: japansk indigo, vajd, skønhedsøje og farve-visse.

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