Curly Dock Mordant

Dock or sorrel are useful plants for mordanting – this was a fact that I’d gotten from reading and made a mental note of. I couldn’t remember where I read it, so I decided to just go ahead and try it. I picked curly (or curled) dock (Rumex crispus) in the roadside around July-August. Curly dock is a tall plant with a reddish seedhead.

rumexcrispus
The seeds of curly dock.

Curly dock can be distinguished from other related species from the fact that its seeds are enclosed by three petals that have a growth on the outside that looks like a seed but is not.

rumexcrispus_zoom
Enclosed seeds of curly dock.

I used about 100 g of stalks with flowers for a test skein of about 12 g of wool. I boiled the curled dock the first day and let it cool off. The next day, I heated the yarn in the sorrel bath to just under boiling, then let the yarn cool off in the sorrel bath (for a couple of days in the end, because I had other fish to fry). After the sorrel mordanting in the dark red sorrel soup, the yarn was coral red.

skraeppebejds
The concoction of curly dock, and yarn treated with it.

Finally to the dyeing part of the experiment. I dyed my sorrel mordanted yarn plus two other 12-g test skeins (one unmordanted and one mordanted with 10% alum, my standard mordant) with madder. The dye bath was 40 g of madder root in rainwater, and you can see the result below. As expected, the alum mordanted wool is an intense madder red, but the unmordanted and sorrel mordanted wools are the exact same shade of orange (and a nice orange I think). But I’m going to call this a failure, since the sorrel mordant didn’t make a difference from no mordant.

Alum treatment gives the usual madder red – no mordant or treatment with curly dock both give orange.

So what went wrong? In the end, I realized that I read about sorrel mordant in India Flint’s “Eco Colour”, the exact information she gives is:

“Dry and grind the roots and mix with water to make a tannin-rich soaking solution. The leaves of this genus are also rich in oxalic acid. Even the dried seeds have mordant qualities.”

This doesn’t completely solve my mystery, though. The roots contain tannin, which only works as a mordant on plant fibers, not wool. But I used the flower stands with leaves, which (like rhubarb leaves) contain oxalic acid, which should work as a mordant on wool. Maybe the amount was just too low? I have to try tris again next year.

Late Summer Greens

This summer, I’ve dyed a nice pile of green wool using reed flowers and velvet pax – two dyestuffs that are a highlight of the dyer’s year. Reed flowers because they give such an electric green. You have to admit it’s a bit strange that these red flowers dye wool a wild green, but only if you get them into the dye pot absolutely fresh. If the flowers have opened or are not freshly picked, they will only give yellow. Velvet pax because its dusty greens are so lightfast. The two skeins in the back are dyed with velvet pax, the three in the front with reed flowers.

grøn green
Greens from reed flowers and velvet pax, the essence of late summer dyeing.

I’m becoming better at finding velvet pax. The first couple of years, I looked for it too late in the season. This year, I’ve found it growing several places, for example this archetypical plantation, where Dagmar is picking a big one. Just the kind of place that velvet pax likes to grow.

Dagmarplukker
Dagmar picking velvet pax (with the arm that’s not broken).

Velvet pax can be found in August, and this year, everything was early, so it was there at the beginning of August. And the mushrooms were huge – I found some that were 25 cm across.

sortfiltet
Characteristic brown tops of velvet pax, captured in a typical habitat.

Big, fat spiders are another joy of late summer. This one, which is possibly the fattest spider I’ve ever seen, lives outside our house. When I was sticking my camera right in its face, the neighbor’s big dogs started barking. Immediately, the spider lifted its front legs as if to attack. I chose to run away, so I only got a good shot from underneath the spider, where its pattern looks a bit like eyes. I think it’s a very light colored cross spider, since its body is pointy at the back. After reading that they can bite if provoked, I think my decision to flee was not a bad one.

edderkop
My pet spider.

Summer is also the time of year to test light-fastness. I tested a handful of colors on the windowsill from early July to mid August, and their light-fastness was quite different.

  1. Old polypores, the two top ones warm baths and the lower one a cold bath that brewed outside for some weeks. None of these yellow browns are very light-fast.
  2. Velvet pax, the color didn’t change. I’ve seen this light-fastness in previous test, so it really is that good!
  3. Orange Cortinarius mushrooms, I don’t know which species. Not that light-fast
  4. A matrix of madder and indigo, showing that saturated colors are much more light-fast than pastels
  5. Sorrel root, not very light-fast
  6. Birch leaves. Surprisingly light-fast
  7. Weld. Surprised by the fact that it’s less light-fast than number 6…
  8. Henna on alpaca. I’d say this is a medium light-fastness
  9. Calendula flowers. Surprisingly light-fast
Light testing summer 2016.

I’ve also dyed with tansy, which doesn’t give green, but “just” yellow on alum mordanted wool (no pictures of that). But when I admired the flowers, I suddenly wanted to check if they really do stick to Fibonacci numbers.

The Fibonacci series begins with two ones, and then the next numbers are found by adding the two previous ones:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc.

The last time I thought about Fibonacci numbers were for calculating the numbers of my Vindauga blanket where rectangles obey the golden ratio, approximated by the ratio between neighboring numbers in the Fibonacci series, eg. 55/34 = 1.61.

Below is a close-up of a tansy flower. And as promised, the numbers of rows of tiny buds are Fibonacci numbers – 13 clockwise rows and 21 counter-clockwise.

DSC_2985
Tansy flower obeying Fibonacci’s sequence.

Dyeing with Sorrel Root

Sometimes when I read something and there is one key word that doesn’t compute, it’s like my brain just jumps over the entire topic. Some time ago, searching for information on Xanthoria parietina and its pigment parietin, I came across information on the Rumex family. This is what I wrote back then

Parietin, Wikipedia informs us, is also found in the roots of curled dock (Rumex crispus). Jenny Dean lists the roots of curled dock, dock, and sorrel as sources of reddish browns, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with its parietin content

but I didn’t connect it to anything, because I didn’t immediately see a plant in my mind’s eye. This summer, I actually went through the trouble of looking it up (sic), and found that it is a very common plant around here.

I gathered these plants in late June:

rumexplant

and I’m quite sure it’s Rumex acetosa (common or garden sorrel) which, according to this, you can also eat the young leaves from. It often grows in damp or even wet places. It is actually a bit hard to pull the root up, it’s easier the wetter the soil.

I tried dyeing with the roots according to the method in Jenny Dean’s “Wild Color”: I took 150 g of fresh roots, washed and chopped them, and at that point you can tell that they have some color in them:

rumexroot

I then soaked them overnight, although I’m not sure that step is necessary when using fresh roots. No color worth mentioning came out of it at that point…

But it did give very nice reddish brown (just as Dean promised) when heated. I just kept repeating with 10-g test skeins, it took 4 skeins to exhaust the bath. That’s a very good dye bath in my book! All the plant tops from those roots gave a brownish red-tinged yellow which is actually pretty nice, but I just tried that one one skein. Together they look like this – front to back its first to fourth root bath, then the plant tops all the way in the back:

rumexdyedwool

The result is quite pleasing, I think, and I began seeing similar plants just about everywhere. Another one that’s common around here is this one

rlongifolius

which is another member of the Rumex family, probably Rumex longifolius (dooryard dock) or Rumex crispus (curled dock). I’ve dug up some of these and dried the roots, to be saved for the meager dyeing days of winter.

FACTS – Rumex acetosa roots

Mordant 10% alum

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:15 fresh roots was enough for 4 dye baths

Conclusion Lovely red-brown color

Possible improvements Not sure! This works!

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