Friday, 4 September 2015

natural dyeing - colour potential method & russian comfrey

     i have been really interested in natural dyeing lately!  it's amazing that you can take a handful of leaves, boil them down and get a totally different colour!  you'd think you'd get green right?  but nope!  (green is actually not easy to achieve as far as natural dyeing goes)  it is a little unfortunate that my interests started now when my grandma is gone.  my grandma lived her whole life on a farm and did a lot of artsy crafty things including dyeing, and spinning her own yarn and then knitting or crocheting (probably both) lovely things from it and also weaving wonderful wall hangings and lots of other things!  many for which she even won awards for at fairs!  i am sure she could have taught me lots of things about what plants produce good dyes and methods of extracting them, but i guess i will just have to use the good old trial and error method and read stuff online and in books.

     to start off my natural dyeing experiments i decided to do 'colour potential tests' based on the method described in the book Colours From Nature by Jenny Dean (a pretty well known name in the natural dyeing world).  this is a three step method:
#1. the first step involves just letting a sample of the fiber you wish to dye soak with the plants in water overnight to see if that will extract any colour.  if it did, then yay!  and continue with steps 2&3, if not, ok, you still have steps 2&3.
#2. the second step involves steeping a sample by heating it but not allowing it to simmer (the same one as step one if it did not work, or a new one if it did) ..with the plants for about 45min - 1hr and then letting it cool in the pot overnight.
#3. the third step involves simmering the plants for 30min or so and then straining them and then adding a new sample and allowing it to sit in the pot overnight.  you can also simmer the sample in the dye for 30min or so to deepen the colour.

     my methods may not be exact or the best, but they are experiments and have produced some results, so hey, why not!  for my fiber i went to fabricland and bought the ~cheapest~ 100% cotton fabric i could find!  it ended up being a kinda flannel feeling type thing, and it turns out that it frays like crazy!!!  especially because i am cutting it into small pieces.  but i did not want to be spending a lot just for little tests.  the best fibers for dyeing are supposed to be animal fibers like wool and silk but i do not do silk, it kills the worms and i do not like to kill things and peace silk which is supposed to be cruelty free is ~expensive~ ...and like i said, i wanted cheap!  (i found out later that ikea has cheap fabric by the way)  and wool is a little less cruel but a lot of people in my family are allergic to wool, so it has been something that we avoid.  so, cotton.
     i premordanted the fabric with alum and washing soda using a recipe/method i read somewhere (probably that same book actually) that involved weighing out the fabric and using a ratio of 20% weight of alum and 6% washing soda, bringing it all to a simmer and letting it cool and then to help strengthen the colour potential, do it all again with 10% alum and 3% washing soda (using the same liquid).  washing soda is not readily available here, so that kinda sucks, but you can easily make it by heating baking soda in the oven!  look it up!

     the first plant i decided to test was russian comfrey!  (Symphytum × uplandicum) aka the giant plant in my back yard by the alley next to the rhubarb.  this thing is HUGE!  and i figured, if it works as a dye plant then that would be super!  i dont think i really found much info about it for dye online, but oh well.

     it also has pretty little purple bell shaped flowers that bees really like!

     i just used the leaves though, and i chopped them up really small, which i later learned was kind of a mistake.  a lot of things i read (pretty much everything i read) said if you use small pieces to put them in a little bag so they dont stick to your fiber, but i figured that meant really small, and they were talking about sticking to things like yarns and unspun wool, not a piece of fabric.  ugh.

     these little bits STUCK!

     but i did get a result!  its not a HUGE result, but it was a result, so i was pleased.  it was kinda a beige-ish colour i guess.  i took a picture when i finished washing the sample.  one thing though i learned though is that the colour usually (always) lightens quite a bit when it dries, so sometimes a happy result after washing it is a disappointment the next day when it has dried.  boo.  (same piece wet on the left, dry on the right, next to an undyed piece)

     that is just the result with no heat, just soaking in the leaves overnight.  i then added a new sample and did the next test.

      see how much it is fraying?!  i have a little collection of all the frayed pieces in a little bag, you can see all the different colours in layers as i have added them, its kinda  neat!  i am not sure what i am going to do with them?  but i thought, why throw them out!
     so, here are the results.   from left to right is heat, #2.with heat and #3.simmering.  i think the best result came from #2, steeping the fabric with the leaves.  the colour is kinda beige, so not anything amazing, but ..better than white?  maybe!  different anyway!


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