Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Double, double...

I've discovered a new hobby: natural dyeing.  Spurred on by re-reading "Niccolo Rising" by Dorothy Dunnett, in which the dye-yards of Bruges, and the availablity of alum get more than a mention, I think to recreate the scene in my own kitchen.  Alum is still not readily available so I have to improvise.

I have a small stock of natural cream yarn, from the Falkland Islands by way of a charity shop.  I decide to dye small samples and a slightly larger skein of each for use.  As what remains to be seen.

First up is rhubarb leaf, of which we still have a fair quantity.  This is full of oxalic acid, so is poisonous, but needs no mordant for the wool to accept the dye.  This is my first attempt, and I am rather unimpressed by the muted greeny-yellow. However, it grows on me as I grasp that natural dyes tend to be muted.

Later, I excavate an old rhubarb plant to find masses of orange root, rotted from the centre.  Soaked and boiled, this produces a really strong orange.  It also seems more like cauldron boiling than just the leaf did.  I leave both kitchen doors open and stand well clear.

Next, I try strong coffee and tea, both of which produce robust results. 

Vinegar and salt were often used as mordants and prove useful with sloes, which give a lovely shade of pink.  Carrot tops yield  a strong lime green.

Rose-hips and beetroot, so brightly coloured themselves, produce only pallid tints.

Most interesting and informative, in a scientific sense, is red cabbage.  By itself it is as faint as beetroot, but adding vinegar makes it stronger.  However, adding baking-powder to the juice instead of vinegar produces quite a violent chemical reaction, turning the liquid to a jade green.  This dyes to rather a strong colour, although there were also some brown streaks there.  The fumes from this process seemed quite noxious and reminiscent of old-fashioned perm lotion - so probably ammonia?  This seems odd when red cabbage is surely just cabbage and baking powder must be an edible substance. 

As usual, much can be learned from the endeavours of others as published in their blogs.  Red cabbage even merited a scientific study as to whether it could be used as an indicator to determine acids and alkalis.

We'll see where this goes.  A trader in alum is visiting our Guild later in the month.  Whether I can assemble all the dye-stuffs again remains to be seen.

Tea, coffee, rhubarb root, tea, beetroot, rose-hip, carrot-tops, red cabbage green and pink, and sloes.



SmitoniusAndSonata said...

The muted shades are really lovely , like old fashioned sweets . I feel they should taste of cinnamon or aniseed .
Some Fair Isle perhaps ?

Anonymous said...

The colours are wonderful ..... but I would have used the sloes for gin!!

colleen said...

I'm very impressed by your adventures and the resulting colours are just lovely. I've used teabags to dye yarn, but nothing quite as adventurous as rhubarb or cabbage!