Spring Cleaning

In the summer, when all the plants stand tall, I usually collect good bundles of tansy, yarrow, and other wild dye plants. And they have to go before the next harvest.

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My dyestuff stores from last year contained big bundles of mugwort and tansy, a smaller amount of yarrow, a box full of dry velvet pax, and dry pomegranate shells (among other things).

Spring has shown itself from its worst side this year, but I’ve managed to get outside with my little stove on an extension cord, working to bring down the amount of stored dyestuffs.

First, velvet pax. I found quite a nice harvest of this mushroom last year, more than half of what i found was from driving through a small forest, spotting the mushrooms, and hitting the brake!

I had 190 g of dried mushrooms. On 100 g of wool, that gave a good green (middle skein in photo below) and the afterbath a green-beige (right). I could not capture the color in the photo, but I was pleasantly surprised how well the dried mushrooms retain the color potential, including the green tones. In conclusion, velvet pax is a very good dye mushroom, fresh or dry.

There’s a beige skein on the left in the photo below. That’s 100 g of yarn, dyed with enough dried mugwort to fill a large dye pot completely. I even gave it an iron afterbath. Thinking back, this is actually the second time i get dull beige from dry mugwort, and the conclusion is that it does not dry well. The fresh plant, on the other hand, gives a nice yellow-green.

From left: dried mugwort and iron, dried velvet pax, 1. and 2. bath.

Next up, pomegranate shells. I had saved a very modest amount of shells, from just two fruits, weighing 85 g dry. I followed Jenny Dean’s “Wild Colour” and put the shells in a plastic bag and pounded them with a hammer. To test the new (to me) dyestuff, I wound two 12-gram skeins of Fenris (100% wool) and a small 5-gram skein of Bestla (silk-merino).

The pomegranate shells gave nice yellows on wool and silk. I modified one of the wool skeins with iron, and that gave a darker, greener tone, that actually looks a lot like the color from velvet pax.

Next time people eat pomegranates around here, the shells will be saved. They give a nice color, and they are available during winter, where little else is there in terms of fresh colors.

Pomegranate shells on silk-merino (back) and wool (middle), and modified with iron (front).

Several large bundles of yarrow, tansy, and mugwort turned into the yellow-beige first dye for a new round of matrix dyed yarn for Baby Vindauga kits. The second yellow os weld, and the skeins are overdyed with indigo as usual to produce the 9 different blues and greens.

Matrix dyed wool in blue and green.

And once I got started, a matrix in purple and blue, using cochineal and indigo, also appeared.

Matrix dyed wool in purple and blue.

The matrix skeins turned into contrast colors for new Baby Vindauga Kits, you can see them at my Etsy shop:

Purple-blue Baby Vindauga Kit.
Green-blue Baby Vindauga Kit.

Vindauga Baby

The design theme from my Vindauga Blanket just stayed in my brain after I knit the first one, demanding to be knit in more variations! And when that design theme met with my experiments in 2-dimensional gradients (or matrices), the result was the Vindauga Baby Blanket, which I’ve finally managed to publish the pattern for.

You can buy the Vindauga Baby Blanket pattern on Ravelry. I’ve also dyed a small number of kits, you can find them at my Etsy shop. The colorways are purple-blue (dyed with cochineal and indigo – sold out), red-blue (dyed with madder and indigo) and green-blue (dyed with weld, mugwort, and indigo).

From a set of 9 skeins of matrix-dyed yarn (on the left) to the Vindauga baby blanket.

I’ve now written the pattern, had it test knit, and corrected over and over again. It’s finished, and now published in Danish and English. I’ll be the first to admit that actually finishing a pattern is not my favorite part of the process from idea to pattern. But if I don’t pull myself together at some point, then my ideas end up as just that – ideas in my head.

But dyeing the matrix mini skeins is a lot of fun. I’ve worked with these 2-dimensional gradients for some time now, but it’s still difficult to get them just exactly right!

First, I dye gradients of red, pink, or red with madder, cochineal, weld, tansy, or mugwort. I make 3 skeins of each. Then, I overdye with an indigo gradient, giving each of the 3 identical skeins a different indigo overdye. This may not sound difficult, but both steps are hard to control.

When dyeing with cochineal and madder, I find that the first bath always gives a more intense color than the second one. But sometimes, the second and third give about the same. It’s also difficult to control the exact shade of blue with indigo dyeing. One factor is how long you dip skeins in indigo, another factor is the number of dips. But the amount of available indigo in the vat also changes over time. Even after making many sets of matrix dyed skeins, it’s still a challenge!

indigo overdye
Yellow, red, and white skeins soaking on the left. On the right, similar skeins in an indigo bath. The temperature is 52 degrees, pH is 9-10. Everything is under control!

See projects on Ravelry:

Green Matrix

Green is a difficult color to achieve with natural dyes. One might initially think that it was easy, given that green is the predominant color in nature. That’s not the case, since the green color of plants comes from chlorophyll, which doesn’t work as a natural dye (since it’s soluble in fat, not in water).

Since I had nice results with indigo overdyeing to get tones of purple, I repeated the process to get green. First, I mordanted my yarn with 10% alum. Then, I dyed it different shades of yellow:

  • a 1:1 bath of weld, gave a strong yellow
  • reused the bath above, gave a less strong yellow. Seen at the lower right in the picture above
  • a 2:1 bath of dry mugwort (so twice the amount of plant than wool) that I collected last summer. Gave a yellow-beige seen in the lower middle of the photo

greenmatrix

Then, I overdyed the different yellows with dark, medium, and light indigo. The 3 blue skeins in the left side of the photo are dyed with indigo on white yarn, just to show the shade of indigo. The next 3 green skeins are indigo on mugwort. The lighter indigo overdyes give dusty shades of green, while the darkest one gives an intense teal. Really worth remembering that such a dull beige can be turned into such nice shades of green.

The next 3 green skeins are indigo on less intense weld, while the last 3 skeins to the right are indigo on intense weld. Generally, indigo on weld gives clear, almost too clear shades of green. The indigo overdye on intense weld really gives an electric shade of green. The Robin Hood kind of green, which used to be known as Lincoln green.

The Quest for Light-Fast Purple, Part Two

A while ago, I wrote about the millennia-long quest for purple, a serious business in antiquity. Since my pocket money won’t afford me any quantity of murex purple, I decided to do a series of reds from madder and cochineal and overdye them with indigo blue.

I used 10 g test skeins of my Fenris yarn (450 m per 100 g), and made 9 test skeins for madder and 9 for cochineal. I made dye baths at the regular full strength for 30 of wool (so 30 g of madder, 3 g of cochineal) and dyed 3 skeins in those. Then 3 skeins in the second bath and 3 skeins in the third.

Then, I overdyed with 3 strengths of indigo: light, medium, and dark. I put skeins of the 3 different reds (from the 3 baths) into each round of indigo dyeing, and that gives me a color matrix where the intensity of red varies along one direction and the intensity of blue along the other. In other words, 9 different shades of purple from 2 dyes.

The results:

krap_indigo

These skeins are dyed with madder and indigo. For some reason, the indigo overdye is quite uneven. Some of the colors are a bit odd to my taste, like the top right skein, which is the weakest madder and indigo dyeing. But all together, I think they look quite good.

cochenille_indigo

These skeins are dyed with cochineal and indigo. And these are the purple colors I was dreaming of! For example the middle front skein, which is strong cochineal overdyed with medium indigo. I will clearly work with these colors again, because they are not only delicious, but I also expect them to have a very good light fastness.