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:

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

6: Cold Dyeing Failure

mommywitch
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.

Walks in March

The weather here in Denmark has been all that bad in March. I suppose you’re supposed to make some comment along the lines of “in like a lion, out like a lamb”, but really, good and bad weather just depends on expectations. I’ve been sitting outside in the sun a couple of times already, knitting. And we’ve been on several good walks. There isn’t much new growing yet, so the most interesting living things right now are mushrooms and lichens growing on trees.

This is Evernia prunastri spreading over a tree trunk. I didn’t gather any of it this time, but I have dyed with it before. You have to use the ammonia method on this lichen, in which case it yields nice tones of pink.

everniaprunastri

We also walked to the edge of Gudenaa, the largest stream in Denmark (I wonder if you could even call it a small river?). Early in March, it had flooded quite a large area, but that is already coming down now.

gudenaa

We have borrowed a piece of garden not far from there, and I managed to plant the first seeds on February 28th, dyer’s greenweed. Before that, I kept the seeds in the freezer for two weeks because they need cold stratification to break dormancy. I didn’t try the freezer last year, and none of them sprouted last year. So I hope it works this time.

We also found ourselves walking in the forest, which was full of interesting things despite the time of year.

Here, a lot of cones that have been picked apart. We found them in a big pile under a tree. It’s the work of a squirrel, its signature being that there are still some bits of material sticking out from the cone’s stem. If a mouse had eaten these cones, it would have cleaned everything off.

egernkogler

We also found jelly ear / wood ear (Auricularia auricula-judae). It is edible, but they were a bit slimy, so we just left them.

judasøre

A perfect leaf skeleton (found by my daughter)

blad

And this log, patterned by the paths eaten by worms when it had bark. I wish I could knit this pattern…

træstamme

Finally, I found a lot of rusty gilled polypore, Gloeophyllum sepiarium, which grows on dead coniferous tree, it even grows well on treated logs, like these ones:

fyrrekorkhat1

These polypores are old, there’s actually lichens growing on them

fyrrekorkhat3

And here it’s growing in neat lines, guided by the cracks in the tree

fyrrekorkhat4

This is what the mushroom looks like seen from the bottom. It looks like gills, but this mushroom is a polypore with quite oblong pores.

fyrrekorkhat2

Rusty gilled polypore is supposed to contain a quite good brown dye, so I harvested a nice pile of them. More to come on that!

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Feels Like Spring

Over the Easter, we had lots of sunny days, and temperatures around 15C. Over the past few weeks, more and more flowers peek out. It seems that spring is here, and that meant that the entire family could enjoy our Easter flu/stomach flu outside in the sun!

daffodils

This year, I’m making a real attempt to grow some dye plants myself. In the middle of February, I sowed dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria) in pots outside, only to have this happen a couple of days later:

snowpots

I was not thrilled. The seeds of dyer’s greenweed need cold stratification: a period of moist cold to break the seed’s dormancy and let it germinate. But surely this was too much? This scientific article shows that 5C for 3 months improves germination, so this was colder than that. But my seeds actually made it under the snow, and have just grown above soil now

dyersgreenweed

On March 11th, I sowed woad seeds, and they are also just visible now

woad

Maybe not very exciting in the grand scheme of things, I know, but I’m excited because my previous attempts at growing woad were less successful than this! Just in case, I’ve sowed some more woad seeds on April 3rd. Same day, seeds of coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria), St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), and yellow chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) went into the ground. So now it’s just fingers crossed.

In case you’re interested: I bought some of my seeds from Wild Colours and the rest from Urtegartneriet (their seeds are organic).

Planning my Dye Garden

Although I’ve had unsuccessful attempts in the past at growing dye plants myself, I’m determined to try it again this year. But it’s always a good idea with a plan B, and that’s my sister.
Last year, she grew Coreopsis in her garden, and since she is not a dyer herself, she decided to give me the dried plants. I threw them in my dye pot with a 10 g test skein, since the amount of dried plants wasn’t that large
coreopsis

but that was just the first skein of many. In the end, the small amount of plants in the top photo dyed 6 test skeins or 60 g of wool in a range of orange colors.

orange
FACTS – COREOPSIS
Mordant 10% alun
Water Tap
Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g
Yarn:Dyestuff ratio about 1:1 dried plant weight, but I could have used less
Conclusion Excellent dyestuff, contains a lot of color

I hope she grows some more this year – after googling around, I found that some types of coreopsis are annuals, some perennials, and some are annuals that self-seed very easily, but I don’t know which one my sister has. So I’m also going to try. So I have ordered these seeds from www.wildcolours.co.uk (they sent the seeds the same day, and they arrived in my mailbox in Denmark in 3 days). It’s woad, japanese indigo, coreopsis, and dyer’s greenweed.
seeds
And this is what I am going to do with them:
  • Japanese indigo – I’ve read in several places that you have to plant the seeds indoors. The timing depends who you ask, anything from 8 to 2 weeks before the last frost (wildcolours say 2-3 weeks). Here in Denmark, 2-3 weeks before the last chance of frost would be the beginning of May, so that’s my plan
  • Woad – I’ve tried planting woad seeds outside in the past and they didn’t grow. The information you can find online is mixed – some people say plant them inside, some say outside. This time, I’ll follow this and plant them outside in March. We’ve moved since I tried it last, and the old garden was in a very windy and cold spot, so maybe it will work this time
  • Coreopsis – this says you can sow the seeds directly in early spring, so that would probably be March-April around here. It also says it likes a South-facing wall
  • Dyer’s greenweed – this says to sow it outside in the fall, but this says you can also do it in February. Since it is now February and my seeds just arrived, I’m just going to try it now. Both sets of instructions agree that you should soak the seeds in warm water overnight or 24 h before planting, so that’s what I am doing. Then plant them outside in pots – they need cold to break dormancy
Jeg har før prøvet at gro farveplanter, uden succes. Men jeg har nydt godt af min søsters høst af skønhedsøje, som farver kraftig orange. I år prøver jeg igen at få noget til at gro: japansk indigo, vajd, skønhedsøje og farve-visse.

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