Amazing Dyeing Failures 2

The topic of my last post was failures in dyeing, and here’s more. First, my most serious and most annoying failure as a natural dyer.

3: Organic Indigo Failure

A while back, I experimented a bit with an indigo vat with fructose, but my results were not very convincing, in the sense that the amount of blue I got out of the vat was completely underwhelming given the amount of indigo that went in. Mona of Thread Gently on the Earth suggested trying another type of indigo vat that uses madder and bran. So, using what Mona wrote and what her source of the information, Aurora Silk wrote, I tried the madder/bran vat, since I’m still very interested in a natural fermentation vat for indigo.

In the beginning of May, I mixed 34 g of indigo, 17 g of ground madder, 17 g of wheat bran, and 116 g of sodium carbonate. I used at pot with a well-fitting lid, and filled with water so there wasn’t much air in the pot. We had a very warm early summer this year, so I just put the pot outside the house, where it was 27C during the day. But nothing happened. I had suspected that, since the pot would cool off during the night.

My next setup consisted of a simple electric hot plate for cooking. After a bit of experimentation, i figured out that on the lowest setting, and switching it on for 15 minutes out of every 2 hours with an electric timer plug, I could keep the vat around 37C. After a couple of weeks, though, I was forced to admit that nothing much was going on there.

So I started a bit of wild experimentation. Could it be lack of reducing power? I added fructose and more base, but that didn’t get the vat started. I then transferred part of the vat to a large jar, and tried warming it on a water bath. The jar was full and had a tightly closed lid, and that did improve things. The color didn’t shift to yellow-green, it was still blue with just the slightest green tinge (you can see it on the spoon, top left image above), but the jar vat developed the coppery film of a working indigo jar. I dyed small skeins, and they came out a lovely dusty blue.

indigo
Indigo dyeing with a madder/bran vat with a sprinkle of fructose along the way. The vat became slightly green-tinged (top left), but did develop the coppery film that shows it’s working (top right). Bottom, a small skein of yarn dyed dusty blue in the indigo jar.

So it’s sort of working – but not amazingly so. I can only dye very small skeins in this jar, but I did a lot of troubleshooting which may bring me closer to running a fermentation vat properly and over a long time. For now, I do consider it a failure, since I got so little blue out of my 34 g of indigo, but I’m clearly not done with this. Maybe one needs to set up a larger vat, using an amount of indigo that makes abandoning the vat unthinkable.

4: Common Broom Failure

I have tried – and failed – to grow dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria) a couple of times. The seeds need cold stratification, which I have tried to give them, but they never sprouted. Dyer’s greenweed is supposed to grow wild in my part of Denmark, and I have searched for it, but not found it.  Then in June, the landscape was dotted with yellow: it was common (or Scotch) broom (Cytisus scoparius). This plant is considered invasive in many places, but not in Denmark, where it occurs naturally. But it has been spreading in a new way for the past 30 years, so picking it is definitely fine, just keep in mind that the seeds are poisonous.

I studied my old flora a bit, and since both dyer’s greenweed and common broom belong to the legumes (family Fabaceae), I convinced myself that common broom would be worth a try in the dye pot. At that time (June), the flowers were already past their prime, but i picked some branches at the roadside.

Common broom is spreading, adding splashes of yellow to the roadside.

The result was not impressive – good old failure beige once again:

Wool dyed with common broom – hello beige…

I would have called it a failure and left it at that if I hadn’t come across an entry on common broom in John & Margaret Cannon’s excellent book “Dye Plants and Dyeing” (I recently bought a second hand copy). This book tells you that the part of the plant used for dyeing is young branches, picked in April or early May, not the flowering stalks picked in June as I did. The young branches should produce shades of yellow-green with alum and green with copper. I might try this again next year.

“Dye Plants and Dyeing” also mentions some confusion in the dye literature between common broom and dyer’s greenweed, since the latter is sometimes referred to as dyer’s broom. Not surprisingly, Cannon & Cannon (in a book published in association with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) recommend that the dyer relies on scientific nomenclature for dye plants. Actually the same conclusion is reached by Catharine Ellis in her run-in with “broom”.

5: Reindeer Lichen Failure

During my summer holiday, I gathered some lichen of the Cladonia family, I believe it’s reindeer lichen (Cladonia portentosa). In “Lichen Dyes: The New Source Book”, Casselman lists this lichen as a boiling water method lichen that should give a “leaf green” color. So into the dye pot it went, with a test skein of unmordanted wool, since lichen dyes are substantive. The result is not what I hoped. Beige, despite the fact that I used a large amount of lichen relative to yarn:

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Reindeer lichen (Cladonia portentosa) and yarn dyed with the lichen.

6: Cold Dyeing Failure

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Mommy is a witch. Check out my cauldron, a dye pot with mushrooms and wool.

At some point, I tried dyeing with old polypores, in the usual hot dyeing process, and that actually gave me a good yellowish brown. Recently, when cleaning up outside, a big hoard of old polypores surfaced. I don’t have enough space to store dyestuffs inside, so they were outside and were damp and looked like they would spoil.

I had a thousand other projects going, so I wasn’t really ready to dye with them – so I decided to try a very lazy experiment: cold dyeing (which I normally never do because it seems to me that it doesn’t really work). The experiment amounted to throwing the polypores into a bucket with rainwater that was just standing there, then put in a small, 12 g test skein of alum mordanted wool, and then letting it stand there for about 3 weeks. You have probably already guessed that it produced a smelly skein of beige wool, which I cannot even find now (I think I overdyed it with indigo). So all I have to show for this experiment is my 6-year old Dagmar’s drawing showing that “Mommy is a witch”. I am taking it as a compliment.

PS: Just as I wrote this, light samples of both the cold dye and hot dye with old polypores surfaced on my desk. None of them have the light-fastness achieved with fresh polypores in a hot dye bath.

Summer Rain

This summer passed in a big cloud of rain, which has been lovely for plants and mushrooms that came out early and in huge numbers. We went on lots of day trips, for example Skovsnogen Artspace:

skovsnogen
Skovsnogen artspace, a forest full of sculptures.

My mom has managed to finish a couple of knitting projects with yarn that I’ve dyed. An Elizabeth shawl designed by Dee O’Keefe in Einband that I’ve dyed with madder. This Icelandic wool is wonderful to knit with and to wear, but it also takes color beautifully. She also knit a pair of socks, the pattern is Laurel by Wendy D. Johnson, the yarn a sock yarn I’ve dyed purplish blue with indigo and a twist of cochineal.

wendyknitting
My Mom’s knitting successes, using yarn that I dyed with madder and indigo.

We went on a day trip to the hilly landscape at Rebild. The sheep are a perfect match for this landscape, and in the end, it is their grazing that maintains the heath (blueberries though, they don’t touch). I don’t remember ever seeing such steep hills anywhere else in Denmark – it tells you about the power of the melting waters from the end of the last ice age.

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The hills of Rebild.

Rold forest is close by. There, we saw the unusual old beech trees, called “purker” in Danish. They have multiple contorted growths because they were cut down repeatedly for firewood. Fallen logs are left to rot, giving mushrooms and insects a much needed habitat.

roldskov
The ancient forest of Rold.

We also encountered biodiversity on the island of Livø. We went on a guided tour of the organic test farm, where experiments are made with growth practices for organic farming, as well as testing new crops such as quinoa and buckwheat.

It’s always a good thing to see a field of crops with lots of other plants in it, such as clover and cornflower. I’ve always loved cornflowers, but I do see them in a new light after reading about their color in “Handbook of Natural Colorants” by Berchtold & Mussak. The color comes from a supramolecular, self-assembled, complex of cyanidins, flavones, and metal ions (Mg2+ and Fe3+), and that’s why it cannot be extracted for dyeing. The complex comes apart, and the individual parts are not blue. This could be the case with other pretty colors that are impossible to extract? The amethyst deceiver failure comes to mind.

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On the island of Livø, off the coast of mainland Denmark.

I obviously couldn’t walk outside an entire summer without looking for lichens. I’ve added two books to my lichen library, one is a small and useful Danish pamphlet, “Laver i Tisvilde Hegn” by Hørnell, Jeppesen & Søchting. The other is the elaborate, somewhat academic “Lichens, An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species” by Dobson.

I always find the most common lichens: Evernia prunastri, Ramalina fastigiataXanthoria parietina, and Hypogymnia physodes which I’ve already experimented with for for dyeing. So this summer, I’ve looked for Cladonia species.

I’ve often seen the funnel shaped lichen (top left in the image below) on the ground and on dead trees, and I believe it’s Cladonia fimbriata. I haven’t collected this lichen, since I’m not sure how to. One funnel at a time? Also, Casselman’s “Lichen Dyes, The New Source Book” does not mention this species.

Then there’s the reindeer lichens. Until recently, I thought they were mosses, but it’s never too late to learn something new. I found Cladonia portentosa (top right) in several places this summer, and my books do say that it is common, so I’ve collected a bit for dyeing.

I’ve only seen the bottom row lichens once each this summer, so I only took photos. Never pick a lichen if you don’t know if it’s rare. On the left, I believe, Cladonia rangiferina, and on the right, Cladonia coniocraea. Casselman does mention Cladonia rangiferina as a bwm (boiling water method) lichen that dyes shades of red to brown. Maybe it’s more common in other parts of the world.

cladonia
Different Cladonia lichens.

Home again, I’m beginning to prepare for the workshop on natural dyeing that I will teach the first weekend of October.