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.

Amazing Dyeing Failures 1

Failure in natural dyeing is commonly defined as not getting the result you expected. Beige, off white, baby yellow and other tones of grime are all examples of colors I have made no attempt to acheive, and yet, I have a big pile of skeins just like that. But there’s actually a lot to be learned from failures. Some give new ideas of what to try next. Others just tell you what not to do. Below, I’ll describe some of my failures – actually, I’ve failed so many times that this will only be the first installment, more to follow.

Alle de mislykkede og uønskede farver. Efter billedet blev taget overfarvede jeg med indigo.
Skeins of failure. They were all overdyed with indigo after taking the photo.

1: Bark Failure

Several books on dyeing will tell you that different types of barks are good dyestuffs. For example, Jenny Dean’s “Wild Color” mentions these barks and the color they should produce on alum mordanted wool: alder (brown-green), barberry (yellow), ash (bright yellow-green), apple (warm yellow), oak and willow (beige), and finally elm, birch, cherry, pear, and plum (pink).

For a while, the theme of my walks was bark; in the end, I found enough of these three to try them as dyestuffs:

  1. Birch (Betula) – I’ve used birch leaves several times for a sunny yellow, but not the bark. Some trees were cut down near our house, and I jumped at the chance. The trees had been left in a big pile, which I obviously had to climb to get to the good parts, and since I was of course wearing clogs, I fell down from that big pile in the end. With 60 g of birch bark in my pockets.
  2. Another day I hear some men working outside, shredding logs. On their day off, I casually walked by and managed to peel a good amount of bark off. The logs turned out to be alder (Alnus), the kind with the tiny cones. 70 g of bark.
  3. Last one is some bark from a forest walk. I jumped over a big, big ditch to get this. I’m pretty sure it’s beech (Fagus). My daughter jumped it too, so I had to save her afterwards. 94 g of bark.
Dagmar tæt på at falde i grøften
Dagmar, seen moping, came close to falling into a large ditch.

I used Jenny Dean’s general dyeing method for bark. She says that “barks are best soaked for several days or even weeks in cold water before processing. Then simmer them for one hour. Never boil bark, as this will release too much tannin”. So that’s what I did – left the three types of bark to soak for a couple of weeks. That was long enough that they started fermenting, and I can tell you that it didn’t smell that good.

But when I simmered 10 g test skeins of alum mordanted wools in the three bark dye baths, the color in the end was pale beige. I didn’t even bother taking pictures (because when you’ve seen one skein of pale beige wool, you really have seen them all), but you can see one sticking out between the pale pink skeins in the left side of the first picture above.

I have seen other dyers experiment with bark (for example, at my wool group’s dyeing day) and also get pale beige or off white. So right now, I’m not even convinced that it would ever work, and I probably won’t try it again unless someone can tell me what went wrong (please comment below if you know or if you’ve had good results dyeing with bark).

2: Slimy/Moldy Avocado Failures

There are established procedures for dyeing with avocados, but I’ve been experimenting with slightly different ways of doing it. I suppose to make the procedure easier and better, but of course ending up making it messy and complicated.

According to Carol Lee, avocado pits should not be allowed to dry before use because they will become so hard that they are impossible to chop. Instead, they should be frozen until use. I wanted to find a way to dry them anyway because my freezer is small.

So I chopped the pits and skins and then left them to dry. This worked well on a couple of occasions, but most times it did not because they became completely overgrown with mold before they had time to dry. Moldy materials may still work as dyes, but I think it is generally unwise to handle them repeatedly around the house, since many molds produce toxins that may be inhaled. So I went back to freezing the skins and pits.

dryavocado
Avocado pits and skin turn red as they dry, so it’s not that surprising that the dye bath they produce is also red.

Another experiment was to ferment the pits and shells for a looong time to see if they yielded more color that way. I used my dry material, soaked overnight, but I suspect the results would have been the same had I used frozen dyestuff.

I usually ferment avocado pits and skins by heating them up once in brine, then just leaving them. Normally for a few weeks or a month, this time for six months. And the dye bath did develop a deep red, but it also became extremely slimy.

Despite the sliminess, I tried dyeing a small test skein in this dye bath, but it didn’t yield good color. My guess is that the slime prevented good contact between yarn and dye. But I’m not convinced that a long fermentation couldn’t yield good color. I’ve been adviced to put avocado pits and skins in jars, close the jars, heat them up, and then ferment. Such jars should not go slimy. I’ll try that next time.

Beige med lidt rødlige striber
Beige with a red streak, that’s the look of yarn dyed with avocado slime.

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Avocado, Meet Blender

Remember these jars?

fermentation

They had been fermenting for over a week, and the color of the liquid didn’t change over the last days, so I decided it was time to try them.

The front jar contains the pit and peel from 1 avocado and 1 Tsp salt, the other one the same with the addition of 1 Tsp ammonia. I combined the pit and peel in one dye bath because my earlier attempts didn’t yield different colors with them separated. And this time I blended the pit and peel, carefully and a bit at a time to not destroy the blender.

The much deeper red in the ammonia jar does translate into more color, a reddish brown, on the yarn (in front) than the jar without ammonia (in the back) which just gave the standard beige. Again beige.

avoskeins

No pink this time, maybe because I didn’t heat the avocado before fermentation?

FACTS – AVOCADO PEELS + PITS, BLENDED

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 10 g yarn to one avocado

Conclusion Ammonia extracts more color

Possible improvements Boil before fermentation to get pink. Filter out blended avocado before dyeing

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that I have tried a lot of combinations with avocado fermentation of avocado pits, of the peels, and now blending them together and fermenting them with and without ammonia. I’ve achieved a range of colors from beige over pink into brown.

So I do think this concludes my experimentation with this for now. The only thing that remains to be seen is how light and wash fast this is over a longer time.

Dette er det – måske – sidste forsøg med avocado, for nu i hvert fald. Denne gang har jeg blendet skal og sten af avocado sammen og prøvet at fermentere dem i en uge med eller uden ammoniak. Sidstnævnte gav den kraftigste farve i glasset og også på ulden. Men ingen pink denne gang, kun beige og brun.

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Avocado Peels

My experiments in dyeing with avocado pits were quite successful if I do say so myself (although a couple of skeins needed a little boost of cochineal).

But what about the peels? They can also be used for dyeing, and since I remembered reading that they give a slightly different shade, I kept them separate. Other than that, the procedure was the same as for the pits (fermentation in slightly salty water for about a week).

And the result:

avocadopeels

The avocado peel skein is in the front, and the 3 avocado pit skeins from earlier are in the back. So in my hands, the peels and pits gave just about the same color, but less intense from the peels.

FACTS – AVOCADO PEELS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio Didn’t measure – but I’m guessing 1:10 or even more

Conclusion The color is pretty, but faint

Possible improvements Combine peels and pits to get more color

So that’s what I’ll do next time – and “next time” is actually underway already:

fermentation

These jars are fermenting right now. The one in the front is pit and peel from 1 avocado and 1 Tsp salt. It started bubbling from the bottom after about 3 days, and an orange color is beginning to develop with fermentation. The other jar is the same with the addition of 1 Tsp ammonia. The color is obviously a much deeper red in the ammonia jar, which, by the way, doesn’t ferment. I suppose the ammonia is killing the bacteria that would have fermented.

Next, I’ll try dyeing with liquid from the two jars, to see if the deeper color with ammonia also means more color captured by the wool!

Jeg har afprøvet farvning med gærede avocado-skaller, som giver en fin rosa farve, der ikke er lige så kraftig som den fra stenene. Så de kan godt bare blandes sammen, og det er lige hvad jeg har gjort i de glas der gærer i vinduet.

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Solving the Problem of Beige

My recent attempt at dyeing with fermented avocado pits was only partially successful – I got three nice pink-ish test skeins out of it (on the left, dry) but two skeins of sock yarn came out a drab beige (still in the pot, so wet, which makes the color look nicer than it is)

avocadopot

So I decided to tweak the color in the pink direction, but only a very little bit.

This could be a general strategy for all those beige skeins!! Beige twisted towards pink is a very attractive color to my eye, an old dusty rose, but beige is just that – beige. My least favorite color. The color that makes even beautiful people look plain. So plain-looking people should steer way clear of it. Not to mention old wrinkled people.

I made a dye bath with 1/4 g cochineal. My ordinary kitchen scale doesn’t go that low, so I weighed off 5 g, divided them roughly in 5, and then took a quarter of that pile. We are down to individual lice, here. I used that on 300 g of sock yarn, two that were already avocado dyed and one white:

avocochineal

The avocado/cochineal skeins are the two in the back, and the middle skein is the one that went into the same dye bath, so it got 1/3 of 1/4 g of cochineal. Not much at all! The two front skeins are two more fresh 100 g skeins of sock yarn that got each 1/8 g of cochineal.

I love all of these pinks, and what is even better is the light-fastness of cochineal. In many ways, the properties of cochineal seem closer to a chemical dye, but it’s all just from a small louse.

And here is one avocado pit/cochineal skein up close

avocado

FACTS – AVOCADO PITS + COCHINEAL

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap (avocado pits) and rain (cochineal)

Yarn Sock yarn 75% wool, 25% polyamide 350m/100g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:1 for avocado pits, then 0.08:1 for cochineal

Conclusion The final color is lovely, and tweaking with cochineal could well be a general solution to the beige problem

Her er endelig standardløsningen på de evindelige beige nøgler naturfarvet garn! Jeg har overfarvet med en lille smule cochineal, og det giver en dejlig gammelrosa.

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Avocado Pits

I’ve experimented with this salvage dye in the past, but not with much luck. Now, having tried many more dyestuffs, I’m returning to it.

The idea that you can get good color out of something you would have otherwise just thrown out is appealing and worth pursuing, especially in winter, where dyestuffs are scarcer.

I’ve saved avocado pits and peels in the freezer over a good amount of time. Maybe from 20 fruits in total? I’m not sure, and I forgot to weigh them before I started. Anyway, what I did:

  • I chopped the pits with my big knife. I read somewhere to blend them to a powder, but I only have my good blender and I don’t want to destroy it
  • Heated the pits in a couple of liters of salt water (2 Tsp salt per liter)
  • Left them to ferment for about a week. It really did ferment – the smell was unmistakable and air was bubbling out. Then it started to mold very slightly and I decided it was time to dye with it

The reason for adding salt is that it should prevent the dyestuff from spoiling during the fermentation time.

I tried the dye bath with 10 g test skeins of supersoft. The first one was a quite dull beige, but the next two progressively darker and more pink in tone. It seems that more color came out of the pits with each round of heating (I’ve seen this before with other dyestuffs, that later rounds with the same color bath actually gave more intense color instead of weaker). I added some ammonia to the washing water of the third skein, and maybe that turned the color more pink.

avocadoskeins

After the 3 test skeins, I bravely threw in two 100-g skeins of sock yarn.

There was still a lot of color left in the pot, but not of the pink kind  – the two skeins came out more to the beige side, in between test skein 1 and 2 in hue. So I didn’t even let them dry, as I’m planning to immediately overdye them – more later on this – and also, more later on the avocado peels (fermenting right now).

avocadopot

FACTS – AVOCADO PITS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g. Sock yarn 75% wool, 25% polyamide 350m/100g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:20 at least for the test skeins. More like 1:1 or 1:2 for the sock yarn

Conclusion The pink shades that can be obtained are nice, but some skeins turned out a dull beige

Possible improvements Maybe I should have used rainwater? It is often said that it helps with red shades. I think that using a blender would have helped extract the color better

 Jeg har forsøgt farvning med gærede avocadosten, og de gav en dejlig gammelrosa-beige farve på nogle små nøgler. Da jeg smed en større mængde garn i blev det dog bare en kedelig beige…

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Beige Again (Walnut Shells)

I lived in Grenoble for 2 years, and everybody there is always talking about walnuts. The region is famous for its walnuts – noix de Grenoble. But I have to admit that I didn’t actually see any nuts growing, nor did I eat very many of them while I lived there…

So one day here in Denmark, when I saw a big bag of noix de Grenoble at the supermarket, I just had to buy it. The nuts are eaten a long time ago, but I remembered reading somewhere that the shells can be used for dyeing (in addition, of course to the well known dye found in walnut hulls, but that’s another story).

I like the idea of salvage dyes, the dyes you find in something you would have just thrown out. So here they are, about 500 g of walnut shellswalnutshells

Following information from this article, I soaked the shells in water a couple of days, then boiled them for two hours. The next day, I removed the shells and simmered a 10 g alun-mordanted test skein in the dye bath for about an hour. As usual with browns, it looked good while in the bath, but after drying, what I have is just another beige skein:

beigeskein

Useful for color knitting, but not very exciting by itself. I had hoped to obtain a deeper brown, but that is, in fact, a difficult color to obtain in natural dyeing.

FACTS – WALNUT SHELLS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:50

Conclusion A lousy dyestuff

Possible improvements I don’t see any – other than forgetting about the walnut shell and befriending someone with a walnut tree, so I can get my hands on the hulls

Last year, I did get good browns from mushrooms. Here is my fresh weakly beige walnut skein next to a very nice brown from last year:

brownandbeige

The brown skein is dyed with a mushroom that is quite abundant around here. I’ve typed it as Ischnoderma benzoinum (gran-tjæreporesvamp) with the help of my Swedish book “Färgsvampar & svampfärgning” by Hjördis Lundmark and Hans Marklund, but it could also be its relative Ischnoderma resinosum (fall polypore, tjæreporesvamp in Danish) . I don’t have a picture of the mushrooms I used, but I’ll look for it again next fall.

Jeg har afprøvet farvning med valnøddeskaller, men det giver kun en svag beige farve. For at få en god brun fra valnødder, så skal man altså have fat på den grønne del der sidder udenpå selve nødden. Jeg har desværre ikke noget valnøddetræ, men sidste år fik jeg en god brun farve med tjæreporesvamp.

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