Thursday, August 31, 2006

Natural Dyeing 2

Well, Siobhan and I did our first experiments with natural dyes today. After some research on the internet, we took our basket and went out to gather plants for our dyes. I had a list of plants that I found here:, and armed with Siobhan's knowledge from the class she took on plants that grow in Illinois, we came home with quite a haul. We ended up with sumac; both fruit and leaves; goldenrod, Queen Anne's Lace, and some purple/blackish berries that I thought might be elderberry but Siobhan thought not, and when we looked them up on the internet, she turned out to be right. She was so exhausted from the walk she had to lay in the hammock while she picked the berries from their stems! I decided to try the sumac fruit first, and decided to use salt as the mordant. I've used salt before and although I think vinegar gives more brilliant colors (at least with chemical dyes), I was looking for a more muted red. I cut up the sumac and put it in my dye pot and simmered it for a good hour. After 15 or 20 minutes I was thrilled to see the water turning red! After the first hour, I put in my piece of cream wool that I had already prepared with a salt and water soak, and simmered it for another 45 minutes or so. After about 15 minutes it looked like it was taking on an orangey reddish hue, but I continued to simmer (like the directions said) for another half hour, and what I ended up with was a very nice shade of brown.
I tried it again with the purple/black berries, only this time I used vinegar, and I did things a bit differently. I simmered the berries for an hour, and the resulting liquid was a dirty grey color. However, I had first soaked the wool in hot water, and then in vinegar; when I put the vinegar and wool into the dyebath, it turned a pretty shade of purple. However, instead of taking the wool out, I left it for another 20 minutes, and this time got a nice tan.
In spite of not getting the colors I was looking for, I still enjoyed the experience very much, and am looking forward to trying the sumac at least with some other mordants to see what happens. I am thinking alum, and maybe baking soda. We found several stands of sumac, and one is really big, so I can go and pick a few more pods. I think tomorrow I will try the goldenrod.

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