Hand Dyeing Workshop
The farm has begun to dye again; we have new colors at the farm stand and online too. Dominique has done the most exquisite Turkey Red I've ever seen and she got it by adding CaCO3 to the Madder dye bath. Madder is pH sensitive and gives the truest red in hard water when alkaline. Calcium carbonate hardens the water and buffers the bath keeping the pH high during the dyeing period. Kudos Dominique!
We also have Indigo over Cochineal giving shades of purple and Indigo over Weld giving shades of green; stop in Saturday to say hello and take a look.
Laura knit Jen's coat from Ember yarn, both pictured here with Lukas, son & grandson.
"The design is based on The Einstein Coat in Book 1: The Knit Stitch, by Sally Melville. (available on Amazon) However, I modified the length, position of waist, shape of sleeves, shoulder width and collar shape per Jen’s wishes. Essentially, a customization of the basic design...(the coat) accumulated many air miles as I commuted weekly to my project in Houston.The folks at Downtown Yarns on Ave. A had turned me on to the Denise knitting needles (flexible with interchangeable size so I could knit in my coach seat without jabbing anyone."_ Laura Heinrich.
Usually we dye 8 pounds of yarn in a large pot; but if you want to just dye a skein or two of yarn, you can scale your dyeing to stove top proportions quite easily using some high school algebra and still follow these basic instructions.
With the exception of indigo, this immersion dyeing procedure describes dyeing with all the natural dyes I use: cochineal, madder, logwood, cutch, fustic, etc. There are some exceptions to the procedure specific to individual dye extracts and those I detail by color and by extract under the Natural Colors tag of the blog. Indigo requires a different procedure and that is described in Natural Dye Workshops 5, 6 & 7.
We dye outside no matter the weather. There is something beautifully real about seeing a snowflake dissolve in a steaming pot of wine red cochineal on a gray February afternoon.
- Into a 100 qt. stainless steel pot we add about 80 qt. of water (10 quarts per pound of yarn) and begin heating it over a propane burner. These utensils and their sources are noted in Natural Dye Workshop 4.
- In a smaller SS pot we stir & dissolve either liquid or powdered dye extracts in water being heated over another propane burner.
- We add the dissolved extracts to the larger pot, when the water has become warm to the touch, and stir the dyebath.
- In the bath we immerse 8 pounds of wet, mordanted yarn and gently move it around in the pot wetting it well with the dye liquor.
- It will take about 30 minutes for the bath to reach the desired dyeing temperature of 200°F; during that time we gently stir the pot several times moving the solution up and down with a ladle rather than moving the yarn around to avoid tangling it as best we can.
- At 200°F (evidenced by small bubbles coming up from the boiling pot bottom) we turn the heat down and keep the pot at that temperature for 30 minutes or so, occaisionally ladling the bath.
- During the heating process we may pull the yarn from the bath to judge the color: is the yarn ready or does it need more time in the bath?
- When it's ready we pull it and allow it to drip for 10 minutes before rinsing it in a washing machine. We agitate the yarn by hand but spin the rinse water from it with the machine. Three rinses is usually sufficient.
- We dry the yarn by hanging it on a line inside, out of the sun, and put fans on it to speed the drying.
When it's dry, I photograph the yarn for the site and skein some of it for the stand.
Yarn in Beijing Rouge is available from the Naturally Dyed department of the Yarn Store.
Kombu is a seaweed harvested off Hokkaido and is used in Japanese & macrobiotic cuisine as an ingredient in soups & stocks.
From my newfound passion for bicycling comes the name for this bright yellow yarn, Maillot as in maillot jaune. Lance Armstrong, the 7 time winner of the Tour de France, has worn the color well. After 2 years in retirement, he will ride the Tour once again in 2009. Je vous souhaite bonne chance, Lance.
Mordants: getting ready for color
With the exception of indigo, all the natural dyes I use are applied to the yarn by the immersion method and require a pre-treatment, a mordant, to prepare the yarn for the colorant. Mordants insure that the dyes will better adhere to the yarn resulting in brighter colors that are fast.
The primary mordant I use is Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) which is sometime combined with Cream of Tarter depending on the dye used and color desired.
Earthues is my source for mordants; more information on how mordants work is available on their website and in the pamphlet, written by Earthues founder Michele Wipplinger, Earthues Natural Dye Instruction Book. I highly recommend having this pamphlet on hand as a reference when you dye.
The weight of mordant to be used is specified as a percentage of the weight of fiber (WOF) to be dyed. I use 10% and weigh it out on a triple beam balance.
The measured amount of powdered alum is dissolved with hot water in a 5 gal. stainless steel pot*. The dissolved mordant is then added to water (3-4 gallons per pound of yarn to be dyed) in a larger 25 gal. stainless dye pot being heated over a flame. The yarn is then added and periodically stirred as the temperature of the bath rises to just under boiling.
The yarn is kept at this temperature for an hour, then permitted to cool. The yarn is pulled from the mordant bath and quickly rinsed in a washing machine agitating it by hand; the rinse water is spun away by the machine.
The wet yarn is now ready to dye. It can be kept in a closed plastic bag for as long as a week before dyeing.
Indigo Blue, Part 4: Overdyeing Primary Colors
The procedures for overdyeing primary colors are the same as those outlined in the previous syllabus for secondary colors.
Sunset is an orange hue that comes from combining the red of madder and the yellow of fustic. When we overdye Sunset with the blue of indigo, we get the gray called Ember. But we must be cautious when overdyeing because Ember consists of visible variations of orange, blue and gray. If we keep Sunset in the indigo bath for too long, or if the bath is too strong, the result will be a flat, monochromatic gray or dull blue and we will lose the varied colors that we're looking for.
Indigo Blue, Part 2: Basic blues
An indigo bath ready for yarn
The yarn comes out of the bath a teal green; when it contacts the air it oxidizes and turns blue before your eyes. Notice how the color has changed between the top of the skein and its bottom as it is pulled up.
We let the yarn drip back into the pot, then hang it on the overhead rack to oxidize. If we want a darker blue, we will dip the yarn again, oxidize it...and over again... The intensity of indigo blue is additive.
When we have arrived at a shade of blue we like, we will let the yarn oxidize longer, then wash, rinse and air dry it. Indigo is truly a forgiving color.
Next: Over dyeing with indigo, Laura's Ember
Laura wants 15 skeins of Ember, a color that begins as another color called Sunset which comes from mixing madder, fustic & logwood gray extracts.
Jen, Laura’s daughter-in-law, liked Ember for its subtle color variation, she wanted a sweater-coat knit from it and Laura offered to knit the coat for her; but we had only two skeins of that color in the stand; it would have to be dyed. To get Ember we must over-dye Sunset with indigo; fortunately at the farm we had 24 skeins ready to be over-dyed.
To exactly match the color would be impossible, and to come acceptably close to it would not be easy either, but I decided to try. 15 skeins is a large order, Laura didn’t blink at the price, how could I balk over my doubt.
A variety of plants have provided natural indigo throughout history, but most indigo is obtained from those in the genus Indigofera, which are native to the tropics. The primary commercial indigo species in Asia is Indigofera Tinctoria.
Indigo dye is obtained from processing the plant's leaves. These are soaked in water and fermented in order to convert the Glycoside Indican naturally present in the plant to the blue dye Indigotin. The precipitate from the fermented leaf solution is mixed with a base, pressed into cakes, dried, and powdered.
Natural indigo was the only source of the dye until July 1897. Within a short time, synthetic indigo almost completely superseded natural indigo; today nearly all indigo produced is synthetic. In the United States, the primary use for indigo is as a dye for blue jeans. After the Wikipedia entry on "Indigo"
My source for indigo extract is Earthues; it is sold as a powder. When working with extracts & dyes wear a paper particulate mask over your nose and mouth, latex gloves and eye protection as the situation requires.
Thiourea dioxide is a reagent that reduces the oxygen of the dye bath and lye raises the pH. Both an absence of oxygen and a basic (non acidic) dye bath (with a pH of 9-10) are required for the indigo to fix to the wool yarn being dyed in the pot.
Until now we have been scientific and specific, but art and experience are required to get the blues you want. With a spoon, to determine how much oxygen remains in the solution, I check the color of the dye bath: to dye indigo well the solution must be a blue blue-green, not a blue (too much oxygen) and not a lime-green (too little oxygen). Upon addition of the indigo/thiourea/lye solution to the bath its color will be blue at first. One must wait about 15 minutes for the thiourea to reduce the oxygen in the pot. If the blue blue-green is not green enough then add another TBS of thiourea to the bath. If it is too green, agitate the bath to introduce oxygen.
When the bath is ready, judged by its color and its slipperiness, the yarn is immersed in the pot, and your heart pounds, “Did I do it right…bumpety, bumpety, bump…O the art…”
Dyes, utensils & resources
The Catskill Merino Natural Dye Syllabus describes how, using natural colors, we dye yarn on the farm. The history of natural dyeing is fascinating and I will make reference to it occasionally, but our focus here is to show you how we dye yarn so you can begin dyeing it too.
Pictured above on our dye table are a balance and dye extracts weighed out on coffee filters.
You will need an accurate method to weigh the dye extracts to 0.1 gram. We use a triple beam balance like this one available from Scales-n-Tools
The Catskill Merino dye studio is as big as all outdoors, and as colorful. Here is a Kitchen Fantasy 100 qt. ss pot on a Louisiana Lagniappe 105,000 btu burner. Note the garment rack (sans wheels) over the pot to hang the dyed yarn when it is pulled from the dye bath.
To dye one or two skeins on your stove top you won’t need equipment like this; but you should use non-reactive pots, either stainless steel or enamel and never use pots of iron or aluminum as these metals influence the colors. You can get around buying a triple beam balance by using measuring spoon weight equivalents (charted by color and intensity) specified in the Earthues Natural Dye Instruction Book.
October 20, 2006 - June 10, 2008
The interior of my house is white: white ceilings, white walls and white carpet, upstairs and down. With white sheepskins, I draped the love seat, three wicker chairs and an ottoman in the living room. I sleep under a comforter, filled with white wool covered with white flannel.I like white for what it isn’t. Color has to do with place, place has to do with what is there; but white has to do with what is not there and what is not there has to do with desire.Color is felt more than it is seen. According to Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe in his 1807 treatise on color, reddish-green is a color that can’t be seen; but what we can’t see, we can imagine. Last week I dyed a color that Goethe would have been blind to, it was a crimson-lime hue that, it was the color of skin.In the Jean Luc Godard film, Une Femme est une Femme, the tanned skin of his actor, Anna Karina, glows as the camera follows her through the film’s white interiors. According to Goethe, we can not see a brilliant brown in the way we can see a brilliant red, yet her skin is brilliant when seen against the white interior of desire.Color requires us to become its temporal accomplice. When a lone color is seen (isolated in space), the red of an apple for example, a color from the past or perhaps a color from the future, a color heretofore unknown to us, will come to mind. Color can’t be spatially alone, or it becomes white. So through us, the temporal joins and influences color; but white is different, it is unchanging, it is alone, it is beyond time.White is messianic, always to come and never to arrive. When Franz Kafka says, “You are reserved for a great Monday…but Sunday will never end,” he speaks of white. Something that has not yet begun will never end and wouldn't this be white too.To prefer one color is to hide another. The colors we hide become secrets, which are always white, and they determine the strangers in our lives by determining our friends and lovers, those close enough to us to know our favorite color.
"Turkey Red was the name given to a red dye which had been developed from the root of the madder plant. The knowledge that madder was an effective red dye was not new. The Greeks, Libyans and Romans all used it as did the Moors. After its use was lost the Dutch rediscovered its cultivation in 1494 and for the next three hundred years were the world’s largest exporters.
In 1747 Prince Charles Edward Stuart disguised himself as Betty Burke by wearing a block printed madder dress to escape from the English. From the middle of the eighteenth century chemists and industrialists from all over Europe had tried to find the industrial process that would give them a bright, fast, non fade red. Ultimately French chemists obtained the secrets from what is now Turkey and the name stuck." From The Color Museum