Tuesday, February 05, 2008

dyeing experiments

After my foray into kool-aid dyeing, I've come back to the natural dyeing full force. It's felt like an exciting challenge to learn all about what I can dye with from this new landscape. So in the past few weeks, I've tossed dozens of plants into the dyepot -- our kitchen gives the distinct impression that Macbeth's witches are our houseguests! Here's what it looked like as I was 'loading' the dyepot, with pomegranate rinds drying in the sun:

I have a big enamel pot with a few inches of water in it. For these dyeing experiments, I just pack the large pot with mason jars, each with a plant sample (anywhere from a few teaspoons for something like turmeric to a few handfuls for a plant I'm unfamiliar with). I bring it to a boil, simmer it for about an hour, and then leave it for a few hours to cool. Then I'll add mini-skeins of wool -- alum mordanted or unmordanted -- and simmer those for an hourish.

These were the dyes from my kitchen (turmeric, carrot tops, chamomile) and neighborhood (all the rest). Unless otherwise noted, they're alum mordanted. Starting at the bottom and moving clockwise, we have: cochineal (yes!! I found some growing on a neighbor's cactus), pecan hulls, pomegranate rinds, unmordanted eucalyptus, eucalyptus, rosemary, chamomile, unmordanted carrot tops, carrot tops, turmeric exhaust with a pomegranate mordant, and unmordanted turmeric.

The turmeric is fantastic but not very light-fast, although the pomegranate rinds are supposed to help it (I'm interested in them more as a source of tannin mordant than a dyestuff). The carrot tops were a real surprise, and the fresh cochineal is divine. All in all, I was exceedingly pleased with the results.

The next task was to explore the desert plants. Mountain Man and I spent a day rock climbing in the nearby McDowell Mountains, and I came back with a backpack stuffed with plants: jojoba leaves, desert mistletoe, creosote bush, willow, ferns, and many others that I couldn't identify. Here they are, layed out on the counter in the evening:

The results were rather disappointing, with muted, washed-out colors. Some of the brightest yellows came from the most odiferous plants - creosote bush and turpentine bush (named because they have these smells). But I am curious about the pale reddish color that I got from the mistletoe, which is on the bottom, so I may try working with that to see if I can find another way to extract it.

And that's it for now! I've got another set of samples simmering away as I write this, but it's time to focus on the knitting again for a while ...


Veronique said...

What a great experiment! Love the turmeric colors :)

sarah said...

ooh! The cochineal is amazing but I think I really like the soft brown of the pecan hulls best.