Thursday, April 23, 2009

down and dirty with natural dyes

a quick how-to/show-to on natural dyeing
(quick for me anyway)

materials :
should be designated as "dye only" - just because these dyes are natural doesn't mean you should eat them
stirring spoon or tongs
measuring spoons
stove top
cooking thermometer
(optional) closeable cloth sac
*preferably stainless steel (different metals have different effects on dye color - aluminum may dull colors, copper will change colors and improves the light fastness of some dyes)
prep work: mordant your fiber

for optimal color and light fastness most natural dyes need something to hold onto which is where the mordant comes in -there are a bunch to choose from but only a few that i consider safe tannins (those derived from plants such as oak, sumac and black tea or tannic acid) and alum which is a kitchen grade pickling spice that can be used to water acid loving plants once you're finished with it- cream of tarter is a good companion to alum but not for madder

i use 4tbls/2oz of alum per pound of wool

make sure your wool is clean and thoroughly wet (soak in warm water with a touch of shampoo for at least 30min)

dissolve mordant in jar or container with hot or boiling water then stir in dissolved contents to your water filled pot

add wet wool to pot - make sure the fiber and the water in the pot are around the same temp. slowly heat pot to between 180-195 degrees holding temp. for at least 30 min, 1 hour is better- DO NOT BOIL YOUR WOOL

(if you are looking to dye your fiber evenly it should have ample room to move around in the pot - you can also rotate the goods around but do this carefully since hot water + agitation can cause your wool to felt)
allow pot to cool completely before removing fibers - allowing this to happen overnight is best
gently rinse fibers and proceed to dyeing

1) soak your dried dye stuffs

(unnecessary if you are using fresh plants/berries etc.)
i usually pour hot or boiling water over them in a jar then seal it up and forget about it for a couple of weeks/months;) but soaking overnight will suffice

(above: brazilwood, lac, madder)

2)pulverize it

- no, not in your food blender-

madder dye comes from the plant's roots and they do NOT like to be ground up so i snap the roots into smaller pieces first and then soak them for a good long while before i try and grind them up in my dye-only blender

soaked and snapped madder roots fighting the blender

3)cook 'em up
put your ground up dye parts into a pot with some water and heat for 30min to an hour or until the water looks thoroughly colored DO NOT BOIL your madder roots (some dyes, madder being one of them, loose their color/dull/turn brown if cooked at too high a temp) use a cooking thermometer to monitor and keep temp around 140-165 (other dyes can be stewed at higher temps or boiled during extraction but NOT when the wool is in there)

pulverized madder roots simmering in water to made dye bath
4) bootlegging your bath
after dye has had a solid simmer, strain the roots/dye parts out of the water (now your "dye liquor" or bath) - put aside the dye bath and repeat the process with fresh water (you will be mixing all these together later if you are going to do immersion dyeing )

at this point i usually put the strained dye parts into an over sized, makeshift tea bag of sort- the one below i actually made to be a sand bag but never got around to filling it- its a medium weight cotton canvas and works fine but if i were making it specifically for dying i would use a lighter weight fabric with a slightly looser weave and would have washed it first to remove any sizings/finishes since i really had to fight with this one to get it to strain.

bagging up your dye parts saves straining them each time you change the water and works great so long as a) the top is tied, b) the dye parts have enough room to move around in the bag

repeat steeping with clear water until no more color is left or until you have as much as you need (for the latter you can lay your dye bits on a screen to dry, put them away and re use them in the future for more muted dyes)

5) bath time for the woolies

time to dye your wool! in a pot big enough to let your woolies swim freely fill with enough water to cover your fiber and add some dye liquor- how much depends on you

(i am cheating with my visual aids -this is not a madder dye bath but rather a very overstuffed mixed dye bath i was trying to exhaust..apologies;)

darker shades can be attained, obviously, by adding more dye but dye guru, michele wipplinger of earth hues, suggests using multiple immersions to give the fiber a darker, more lustrous color- to do this simply remove the fiber from the dye bath after a half hour or so, add more dye liquor to the dye pot and reintroduce fiber (this can be done as many times as you like)

remember when eyeballing the color that wool dries 1-2 shades lighter than it appears in the bath

the temperature of the madder dye bath should be raised slowly once the wool has been added and maintained between 140-165 for at least an hour and allowed to cool over night

fiber can then be rinsed or can be air cured for a few days before rinsing

-painting's another story and another post-

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

when beans fly

i honestly never thought i would have a real, live garden and settled for an overly crowded studio with plants hanging from the walls, growing in old desk drawers and relying on energy saving light bulbs as supplemental sunshine.oddly enough, my safflower dye plants preferred it under my work table- they kicked it within a week of the move:( R.I.P little seedlings)

true, i did manage to grow potatoes in my living room, but i'm not convinced they were edible

(though that didn't stop me from keeping them in a bowl for 3 months as a trophy;)
but small successes aside my plants prefer their new outdoor life and after almost 5 months of an intensive dirt relocation program which has included:

  • digging up beer bottles and glass shards

  • hand picking tiny pieces plastic garden fencing (soooooooooo not biodegradable) and plastic mesh

  • exhuming 1 kitty skeleton (we hope) which, despite my pleas, c. will not allow me to repatriate into a house pet:(

  • unearthing and moving 3 dozen brick patio slabs

  • moving and re-moving more dirt that i ever thought possible (not possible after the wheelbarrow tire goes flat)
  • i will have to find some "before" pictures to post so i can brag more completely;) but the point is improvement! indoor hanging plants are happier in windows receiving actual sunshine

francis can now play in the back yard without broken glass as an obstacle course and she has some drought resistant grass of her very own to pee on and kill.

and i have a raised garden bed made from some of those dug-up brick slabs

after killing myself trying to level the ground enough to make the remaining slabs lay flat and patio-style i realized it was never going to happen without something, or someone, more hardcore than me, my shovel and my two stomping feet (which are surprisingly good levelers actually) - so started over and went for the "stagger" effect, hopefully my baby's tears will fill in nicely and obscure the crooked and slightly sloping end result.

so after many pulled muscles and much dirt relocation i am rewarded with flying lima beans babies!

First, a bobble headed baby literally erupts from the soil,

gets shy for a moment after it's very pushy entrance and tentatively checks out the situation..if all's well...

it turns into batman!

... and just lets it all hang out- i mean wow- they are like little alien creatures exploding out of their host mama bean. now i just have to convince some unidentified buggies to stop munching on their ginormous leaves and leave some for us (necessary pun- i won't apologize;)

the mixed greens i planted are less fascinating but very rewarding

less than a month after planting the seeds we've already had our first garden-picked salad and

it was crunchy and delicious.