02 Jun

Natural Dye Workshop

I attended a natural dye workshop today with members of the local spinning and weaving group. I like dyeing with other peoples’ stuff since they’ve already made the initial investment in tools, supplies, space, and often mess, and have done a lot of the trouble shooting too. I’ve seen and read a lot about using natural dyes, but had not yet tried any, so the day sounded like fun.

Everyone brought yarn or fleece, but I asked ahead if I could bring cotton fabric, so the instructor was ready for me (she said there were always a few people with plant fiber yarns, so it was no problem). For those who don’t know, plant fibers like cotton and linen need different mordants or fixing agents than protein fibers like wool and silk.

We had various colors to choose from, such as Madder (a root), Cochineal (a bug), and Poke Berry for various pinks to reds. There was Osage (wood I think), Goldenrod (flowers), and onion skins for a range of yellows, plus walnut for a medium brown. Finally, there was indigo for blue. The indigo pot was very popular.

Simmering in Madder
With the exception of the indigo, we used alum as our mordant. Copper and iron can be used to vary the colors achieved, but we all had enough color choices that no one bothered to ask for a special mordant pot to get more. My cotton also needed a pre-simmer in sumac to prepare it. Here it is simmering in a pot of madder.

Simmering in onion skins
I put starry fabric in the pot of onion skins towards the end of the day and another workshopper wanted to overdye some indigo yarn. She was willing to wait so as not to taint my fabric, but I was up for experimentation. Hopefully, we both get some variation of olive green.

Indigo and indigo over turmeric
Indigo, and then a linen blend fabric (I think) first dyed in turmeric for a bright yellow and then quickly dipped in the indigo. I really like the way the rough weave took the color unevenly and heightened the textural look.

Our hostess rinsing her goldenrod dyed yarn in preparation for an indigo dip.

Overdyeing Goldenrod with indigo
She got a lovely grass green.

Fabrics Batching
The rest of my fabrics: madder, cochineal, turmeric/goldenrod, and onion skins/indigo. It was a one day, casual, intro to natural dyeing, so we did a lot of simmering rather than just set and wait overnight or for weeks. We kept it all pretty simple. I am letting my fabrics “batch” overnight (at least) in their bags and will let them all cure for a few days before I wash them out. The colors should be pretty permanent, though it’s hard to tell while they are wet just how intense they will or won’t be. I’ll share pictures of the finished product in a week or so.