Wednesday, April 16, 2008

coffee as dye

Mountain Man recently handed me a pair of white linen trousers. He told me he never wears them, and he asked me to dye them. Yay! I love a dyeing challenge.

The reason it was a bit of a challenge is that plant fibers are much less receptive to natural dyes than animal fibers. They usually require a labor-intensive series of mordants, and even then they often don't come out with the same pleasing colors.

I decided to search for a substantive dye, which is one that requires no mordant. I thought about pecan hulls and tree barks, but I settled on the nearest one at hand: coffee. (A big thanks goes out to Mama Java's, our local independent coffe house, for collecting some grounds for me.)

Before I got to the main event, I wanted to do a little experimentation. I set up two dye vats: (1) one for the stovetop, with a conventional 1-hour simmer of dyestuff and 1-hour simmer of fibers, and (2) one for solar dyeing, with a 2-day soak of the coffee grounds and a 2-day soak of the fibers. I made mini-skeins of wool, handspun alpaca, and cotton yarns for each vat, and I added a silk skein to the conventional vat as well. The results:

Left to right: tussah silk, conventional wool, solar wool, conventional alpaca, solar alpaca, conventional cotton, solar cotton.
Overall, I was pleased with how the solar dyeing compared to the stovetop dyeing. It produced slightly lighter colors, but it was free, carbon-free heat.

I love the caramel color that came out on the silk and wool. You'll notice, though, that the cotton just came out looking dirty. Had me a bit worried for those trousers, but I tried them out anyways, solar-style (that was the lesson I took from the experimentation). And, reasonable success!
I did two rounds of solar dyeing on them, and they came out a light khaki color, a little warmer than it looks in the photo above. I had to agitate them in the dye pot (basically, plunging my hands in every couple of hours and giving them a good scrub) pretty often in order to get the color even. Both my hands and the fabric seem coarser after all that, but it was worth it. Now Mountain Man has a pair of pants he can spill coffee on with impunity!


Leslie said...

hey, just wanted to say I love your green knitting site... sustainable knitting/spinning is a big interest of mine and it's great to see more people with the same interest.

Veronique said...

What a great idea to use coffee! The silk came out so well :)

cmm said...

just found your blog thru ravelry. Love how you did this experiment and shared it. The solar colors are very nice. I would never have thought to do a "dye" test first to see how the colors would come out.

I look forward to reading more of your blog.

Mary said...

I love the colors you got in the wool and silk! I never thought the solar dyeing would work so well. And the pants came out great.

Anonymous said...

I do love your blog! and these coffee pants are my favorite project yet. hey, OT but I wanted to let you know that magknits no longer exists, and I did not save your wonderful Rivendell hat (which I planned to knit one of these days). Any chance of you publishing the pattern here on your blog?

HeyCarrieAnn said...

What a great idea! I've actually had this idea in my head to paint with different kinds of coffee and tea on a canvas of linen or muslin. We're on the same wavelength, my friend.

Barbara B. Solbrig said...

Did your coffee shop save "used" coffee grounds for you? I have used both used and freash and there are differing results, and you get darker dye resutls if you use more weight of coffee. It is fun to play around and see what happens. I have the steps I have gone through as a link on my side bar at:
I love your Green Knitter info, thanks for compiling that and sharing it with us!

John B in DC said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have a white cotton-linen suit that as you can imagine I have no opportunities to wear. (Even in French Polynesia I was overdressed!) I've thought about dying it with coffee, and after reading this I just might. I'd love to know if you've dyed any more garments since these pants last year--or if the pants held their new color well.

I'll check back here in case you get a chance to reply. Thanks!